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image of Monster vs. Coffee (Take Your Pick) – Energy Drink Hub

Monster vs. Coffee (Take Your Pick) – Energy Drink Hub

Aug 09, 2021 · How Many Cups of Coffee is Equivalent to a Monster? Because Monster is marketed as a coffee substitute, you might be wondering about its equivalent serving. A regular can (16 fl. oz.) of Monster Energy Drink is equivalent to about two cups of black coffee, while its 8 fl. oz serving is equivalent to one cup of coffee. Monster contains 160 mg of caffeine while one …Monster’s 16 fl. oz. can is roughly equivalent to two cups of coffee. While it has many supplements, it has high amounts of sugar, leaving coffee as the healthier choice. If you want something different from your usual coffee, you might be interested to try Monster Energy Drink. The sharp, tangy, and cool taste of ….
From: energydrinkhub.com

Monster’s 16 fl. oz. can is roughly equivalent to two cups of coffee. While it has many supplements, it has high amounts of sugar, leaving coffee as the healthier choice.

If you want something different from your usual coffee, you might be interested to try Monster Energy Drink. The sharp, tangy, and cool taste of Monster might be a welcome change from the bitter-tasting beverage coffee.

Monster is one of the most popular energy drinks worldwide, holding about 39% shares in the energy drink market next to Red Bull.

Unlike other energy drinks with niche customer groups, Monster has a rich and diverse customer base. It targets athletes, musicians, hipsters, geeks, and party-goers, among many others.

Monster has also been marketed as your go-to energy drink regardless of the time of the day. But is it really the best substitute for coffee?

With this question in mind, I’ll put Monster Energy Drink to the test and see if it’s a safe and healthy alternative to coffee.

To do this, I will examine the calorie content of Monster and compare it to coffee. I will also talk about the risks that come with each beverage’s caffeine and sugar level.

Now let’s begin with the nutrition facts of Monster and coffee to determine the difference between the two.

Monster vs. Coffee: Nutrition Facts

Inspecting the nutrition facts is the first thing you should do if you’re comparing two different drinks.

However, this can get a little tricky because coffee doesn’t have a uniform nutrition value. It all depends on how it is brewed and the additives used.

However, for the purposes of comparison in this article, I researched the nutritional facts of one cup or 240 ml of black coffee.

You can refer to the nutrition facts table I made below for a side-by-side comparison of the nutrients of Monster and coffee.

Later on, we’ll discuss the differences in more detail.

A quick scan of the table tells us that Monster and coffee greatly differ in calories, sugar, and caffeine levels.

Aside from that, Monster Energy drink contains more B-Vitamins than coffee.

Let’s break down this comparison by starting with caffeine.

Caffeine in Coffee vs Monster

A standard can of Monster Energy contains 160 mg of caffeine, while an average cup of coffee has 96 mg of caffeine.

Caffeine-wise, I believe both beverages are safe to consume for people with lower caffeine tolerance.

To put it in perspective, the caffeine in 16 fl. oz. can of Monster is equal to two cups of coffee which can definitely give you a lift for at least a few hours. So, for that reason, Monster could be a better choice.

In other words, Monster Energy really has an edge in terms of energy boost because of its higher caffeine content compared with coffee.

Furthermore, caffeine also provides the following health benefits:

Although these amazing health benefits may push you to drink as many caffeinated drinks as you want, you shouldn’t do it as too much caffeine will disrupt the normal functioning of your nervous system.

That being said, I think the 160 mg of caffeine in Monster is just the ideal range to put you in an energized state and focused mental space.

Still, you should strictly limit yourself to one can of Monster Energy Drink a day to avoid caffeine intoxication.

Aside from feeling panicky, you might experience the adverse effects of caffeine overdose, such as:

If you have low caffeine metabolism, there’s a higher risk for you to experience more severe symptoms, like:

Now that you know all about Monster and coffee’s caffeine content, let’s move on to calories.

Monster vs. Coffee: Calorie Content

The regular 16 fl. oz. serving of Monster contains 210 calories, while an unsweetened black coffee contains 1 or 2 calories. 

For a brief background, calories are the amount of energy you get from the food and beverages that you consume. So, calories aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

As you can see, the 210 calories in Monster is equal to 1/10th of your daily calorie allotment, which will not significantly affect your diet.

However, if you’re counting calories, you might favor black coffee over Monster Energy Drink because it contains fewer calories.

Now, let’s talk about the sugar content of both beverages.

Monster vs. Coffee: Sugar Content

Monster Energy Drink contains 54 g of sugar, which can be alarming as this is twice the daily recommended sugar intake.

As a sweet reminder, the American Heart Association set the following limit for sugar intake:

Based on the above figure, it is quite obvious that the sugar content in Monster exceeds the daily recommended limit for both men and women.

Because of this, you should limit your consumption of Monster to one can per day or better yet only have it occasionally when you really need a quick boost.

To help you understand the risks related to excessive sugar consumption, here are some health complications associated with it:

To reduce the risks of suffering from these symptoms, I strongly suggest choosing sugar-free energy drinks such as Bang, Reign, and Celsius.

If you’re keen on sticking to Monster, you should try Monster Zero Ultra Sugar, which is the sugar-free version of this drink.

It costs almost the same as a regular Monster Energy Drink and still has the same great flavor.

Sugar-wise, I’ll choose coffee over Monster because I have more control over the amount of sugar that I can add to it. I like the idea of black coffee more because it is far healthier than Monster or any energy drink.

Also, with coffee, there’s a wide selection of alternative sweeteners which are considered relatively healthy such as:

So, my verdict on which one is better between a cup of coffee and a can Monster, in terms of sugar, is coffee!

But don’t dismiss Monster too much. Consider it as a treat if you’re in need of a strong boost once in a while.

How Many Cups of Coffee is Equivalent to a Monster?

Because Monster is marketed as a coffee substitute, you might be wondering about its equivalent serving.

A regular can (16 fl. oz.) of Monster Energy Drink is equivalent to about two cups of black coffee, while its 8 fl. oz serving is equivalent to one cup of coffee.

Monster contains 160 mg of caffeine while one cup of black coffee has 96 mg of caffeine.

Take note, however, that if you consume the smaller can, it has a much lower caffeine level equivalent to just one cup of coffee.

Is Coffee or Monster Better for You?

The answer depends.

Based on the nutrition facts, Monster has more energy-boosting supplements and vitamins but has high levels of sugar. On the one hand, coffee provides a minimal energy boost but with lesser sugar-related complications.

From the ingredients list of Monster, you can see the additional supplements of the beverage which are:

What’s Worse Coffee or Energy Drinks?

The answer depends on the angle you look at it from. No beverage is worse than the other, but they both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Like I’ve mentioned earlier, sugar levels is something you should watch out for.

Energy drinks usually have higher sugar levels which pose a greater health risk relative to coffee. However, I cannot generalize because some brands formulate zero-sugar versions to address excessive sugar content.

Although energy drinks usually have a fixed amount of sugar that may or may not be dangerous to your health, you control the amount of sugar in your cup of coffee. Keeping the sugar content minimal is healthier for you in the long run.

Watch the video below to hear what the doctors have to say about this.

So, what do you think? My main takeaway here is you’ll be fine as long as you drink any beverage in moderation!

The Verdict

So, to answer the question, which is a better drink between coffee and Monster?

It really depends on your preference and whichever you choose between these two drinks, always remember to consume them moderately to prevent health complications.

Monster Energy Drink and coffee greatly differ in major aspects like caffeine, calories, and sugar level.

I recommend Monster Energy Drink if you want a greater and longer boost.

But you should look for Monster Zero Ultra, the sugar-free version of Monster, to avoid health complications from excess sugar.

I’d say a strong cup of black coffee is suitable for you if you need something to wake you up in the morning. Also, coffee is definitely a better choice for you if you’re sugar conscious as you can control how much sugar to add to your cuppa.

That’s it for now. Take your pick – is it coffee or Monster?


image of Monster Coffee Roasters - Scary Good Coffee!

Monster Coffee Roasters - Scary Good Coffee!

I can’t wait to try more coffee from Monster Coffee! Samantha Kohn. 09/14/2020. Yeti - Cold Brew Coffee Blend. Our latest blog. Women in the Coffee Industry. December 01, 2021. Read More. Diversity in the Coffee Industry. November 01, 2021. Read More. Coffee filters: types, advantages, and more. October 01, 2021.We provide the freshest roasted to order coffee. Offering exceptional single-origin coffee and house crafted blends. Try our Zombie Breakfast Blend. Delivered straight to your door!.
From: scarygoodcoffee.com

Our Process

We take pride in using only the best beans. We source them from different coffee growers in various regions around the world in order to bring you the best of their world straight to your kitchen. It is important for us focus on quality to guarantee consistency and taste. 

We have learned every detail about each different type of bean which has allowed us to roast them in a way that brings out their best flavors and aromas.

The richness of our coffee is most evident while it's fresh, that’s why we roast it as you order it. Within a single sip, you will taste what makes us unique.


Altruistic World Online Library • View topic - Hitler's ...

Dec 03, 2018 · The mobs of Paris cheered mass executions in 1789. While he loathed aristocratic cads, Heine also "closed his ears to the shouting of the Marseillaise." [32] The canaille were brutal illiterates, who let unscrupulous demagogues entice them with ….
From: survivorbb.rapeutation.com

1: Man of Letters

Johann Dietrich Eckart was born on March 23, 1868 in Neumarkt, an Upper Palatinate town of 4,500 souls near Nuremberg. His mother, Anna Bosner Eckart, was the daughter of a Bavarian Army 'quartermaster. She tried to raise Dietrich and his three siblings as Catholics, though her husband was Evangelical Lutheran. Her youngest daughter died as a young child. Dietrich suffered from a variety of illnesses. Family members recollected that his mother always seemed to be nursing him back to health. Anna has been described as a dreamy and sensitive soul. Unfortunately, this delicate hausfrau died of influenza in her thirties during the winter of 1878. Ten year old Dietrich never recovered psychologically from that blow. Episodes of depression plagued him for the rest of his life.

Dietrich's father, Georg Christian Eckart, practiced law and served as Neumarkt's royal notary. In 1888 Prince Regent Luitpold appointed him a district justice. Christian Eckart had a reputation for being rough, but fair. Albert Reich asserted that "his word was rarely contradicted in Neumarkt." [1] Judge Eckart assumed a dictatorial mien, and treated local farmers as country bumpkins. Dietrich later emulated his father's decisiveness, air of authority, and readiness to pass judgment on others.

Eckart senior's professional duties completely preoccupied him. In 1879, one year after his wife's death, he accepted a civil service post in Nuremburg, twenty miles from Neumarkt. Like most workaholics Georg Christian left something to be desired as a father, alternately ignoring and browbeating Dietrich and Wilhelm. A Franconian Lutheran himself, the brusque official neglected his sons' Catholic education when his wife died. They could empathize with criminals brought before their father, who viewed him as arbitrary and reluctant to temper justice with mercy.

Possibly due to his mother's coddling, restraints of any kind were always onerous to Dietrich Eckart. Despite his intelligence, he became a disciplinary problem at several different schools. Though kindly toward friends, adversaries could quickly provoke his volatile temper and sharp tongue. He found it difficult to follow rules. Members of a rival political party later dubbed this tough guy as "the man with elephant skin," [2] but his rough exterior concealed a hypersensitive psyche. Young Eckart's chronic misbehavior resulted in expulsion from a school in Nuremberg circa 1884. Georg Christian then sent him to Schwabach's Lateinschule. When he got into trouble there, Judge Eckart enrolled his obstreperous son at Regensburg Realsgymnasium, where he finally graduated. At Regensburg Dietrich met lifelong friend Karl Guido von Bomhard, the headmaster's son.

Twenty year old Dietrich Eckart went off to the University of Erlangen in 1888. At his father's insistence, he studied law, but hated the subject and changed his major to medicine. Hitler claimed that Eckart told him that he terminated his legal training "so as not to become a perfect imbecile," [3] adding that "the mere fact of wanting to be a lawyer came from a mental deficiency." [4] The law school drop-out once suggested "nailing the present juridical doctrines to the pillory and publishing (them) in a form easily accessible to the German people." [5] Eckart's lifelong abhorrence of lawyers stemmed in part from resentment toward his father.

The emblem of Onofdia Corps Erlangen, Dietrich Eckart's college fraternity

As a college student Dietrich willfully eschewed practical pursuits, devoting his efforts to poetry, drama, philosophy, fencing, and revelry. He joined his father's old dueling fraternity, The Onoldia Corps Erlangen (originally founded by Carl Freiherr von Pollnitz in 1798.) As a frat brother Eckart dueled, caroused, and fully indulged his appetite for mischief Though once suspended for misbehavior, he eventually became Onoldia's Master of Ceremonies. That office required him to write ditties which celebrated beer-drinking, comradeship, and German patriotism. Later in life he utilized this ability to write advertising slogans and song lyrics. The University recognized his literary talent by accepting a prologue he wrote for graduation ceremonies. In 1888 Eckart also received payment from Regensburg's leading newspaper for his eulogy commemorating the death of Emperor Wilhelm I.

Onoldia Corps fostered Eckart's life-long penchants for drinking, male camaraderie, song, and factionalism. German dueling fraternities served as hothouses for German nationalism and anti-Semitism. Although it had more of a reputation for partying than political activism, Onoldia Corps adopted the Teutonia Fraternity's "Aryan Clause" of 1877 which barred Jews and foreigners from membership.

While at Erlangen Eckart proposed to the daughter of a local school teacher. When the girl's father learned of the engagement, he broke it off immediately. This involuntary separation from a beloved female rekindled the trauma of his mother's untimely death, triggering a nervous breakdown that required hospitalization in a private sanitarium.

During his confinement Eckart wrote an article entitled "Hypnosis and the Novel" for Rudolf Heinrich Greinz's Cultural & Literary Illustrated. He theorized that the fictional characters dreamed up in creative "trance states" often represented authors' own alter egos. This topic suggests that Eckart underwent hypnosis therapy in the course of his treatment.

Dietrich Eckart became addicted to morphine in his early 20's. His friend Albert Reich claimed that a doctor administered the drug to treat a serious illness. Another story alleged that Eckart had access to morphine as a medical student. To deaden the pain of depression he sampled the drug and soon became hooked. Whatever the circumstances, his father had to send him back to the sanitarium for nearly two years. Eckart battled morphine dependency for the rest of his life. He would kick the habit a while, then go back to it. About his narcotic use Alfred Rosenberg wrote:

His German biographer Margarete Plewnia has affirmed that Eckart was a cultured man, well-versed in works by Plutarch, Plato, Luther, Angelus Silesius, Pascal, Spinoza, Shakespeare, Ibsen, Goethe, Kant, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Heine, Nietzsche, and Bismarck. However, he could not resist the temptation to dip into sub-literature such as the anti-Semitic writings of Paul Lagarde, bogus psychology of Otto Weininger, pseudo-scientific theories of Ernst Haeckl, and Ariosophic fantasies of Guido von List. Of the mainstream thinkers, Heinrich Heine, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Angelus Silesius exerted the most influence on him as a young man.

In the course of his unsystematic reading at the University of Erlangen Eckart discovered Heinrich Heine and Arthur Schopenhauer, two authors of opposite temperament. The German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine was his first literary model. He admired the "realistic romanticism" espoused by Heine's Young Germany movement, and his original style, which creatively utilized irony, slang, and poetic license. Eckart identified with the alienation his idol experienced as an expatriate artist victimized by philistines. Like Heine, he was attracted to poetry, theater, journalism, and philosophy. While convalescing at the Nerve Clinic, Eckart wrote "Heinrich Heine: A Selection of his Poetry for Women and Youths, with Foreword and Biography" (Leipzig, 1893.) In his adulatory preface he attacked the poet's critics as "bigots and reactionaries," [7] declaring that racial hatred was foreign to the noble German Spirit. Eckart strongly identified with Heine's

In later years Eckart would repudiate this hero of his youth, as well as his own juvenile liberalism.

Though he outgrew his enthusiasm for Heine, the pessimism of Arthur Schopenhauer's philosophy stayed with Eckart for life. In an epigrammatic style Schopenhauer's The World As Will and Idea argued that the human will strove toward no rational end. Men rarely got what they wanted and couldn't be satisfied with what they had. Schopenhauer's extensive reading of Buddhist scriptures strongly affected his philosophy. He accepted Buddha's view that most men were dazzled by Maya's illusory dance, and the Buddhist tenet that life consisted mainly of pain and ennui. Young Epicureans like Eckart might derive transient comfort from food, drink, sports, sexual love, art, the humanities, or a detached philosophical attitude, but they still had a spiritual duty to penetrate "Maya's Veil" (the world of appearances) and arrive at Truth.

Schopenhauer viewed "Romantic folly" as misleading and unphilosophical. Thus, he advocated literary realism with its anti-heroes and naturalistic depiction of life's seamier side ... Eckart's plain speaking and cynicism both derive from Schopenhauer's gloomy outlook. He shared Thomas Hobbes' view that life was "nasty, brutish, and short." Being upbeat indicated superficiality.

As a young man Dietrich Eckart also developed an appreciation for the poetry of Angelus Silesius, nom de plume of Johannes Scheffer (1624-1677), a German-Polish physician and priest educated at the University of Padua. Silesius wrote The Soul's Spiritual Delight, a hymn book, The Cherubic Pilgrim, a collection of poetry, and scores of theological treatises. Eckart especially liked Cherubic Pilgrim, which consisted of 1,600 rhymed couplets on religious themes. Although a convert from Lutheranism to Catholicism, Silesius admired the pantheism of occultist Jakob Boehme. A worn copy of Der Cherubinische Wandersmann always stood on Eckart's night stand. Its mystical verse reinforced his opposition to crass materialism.

Eckart returned from the hospital to Neumarkt in 1893 to pursue his dream of becoming a writer. Friends recalled him writing at a bar table, while others drank and played cards nearby. He published two books at his own expense: the appreciation of Heine, and "In the Foreign Land," a small volume of his own poetry. Eckart borrowed his title "In Der Fremde" from Heine's famous poem about alienation.

"In the Foreign Land" contains poems about fleeting youth, a prodigal son, and the anxieties of modern times. The longest poem, "Jordansblume" deals with Judaism. Ralph Engelman points out that "the length and subject of 'Jordansblue' suggest a preoccupation and element of identification with Jewry." [9] This work mentions the Jews' stateless plight and longing for a homeland. The writer speaks of his love for a pretty Jewish girl. "Because he enters the synagogue to observe her, she mistakes him for a pious Jew and smiles at him." [10] In adolescence Eckard found Jews exotic and intriguing. As the years went on, their image morphed into his nemesis, an alien "alter ego" which he reviled.

Eckard became an avid admirer of Wagner's operas as a young man. The ambience of Bayreuth during the festival thoroughly entranced him. Hitler, who accompanied him there in 1923, confirmed that "Eckart ... had always tole me of the extraordinary atmosphere prevailing there." [11]

The Augsburg Evening Times Literary supplement accepted a few articles and poems from Eckart in 1893, including an essay about Germany's long term prospects entitled "A Question on our Future." Sammler Magazine published two short stories. He convinced the Evening Times to let him cover the Wagnerfest in June, 1894. His "Letters from Bayreuth" praised Wagner, while deriding ticket-scalpers, ostentatious foreigners, and the inferior quality of some performances. This popular series was picked up by several newspapers, including Bayreuther Briefe and Munchener Abendzeitung. Eckart's reputation as a witty critic helped him sell articles on art, culture, and politics to the same papers. Cosima Wagner, the composer's widow, invited him to one of her parties. Shortly after that soiree the Bayreuth Festival commissioned him to write program notes for Parsifal.

Eckart published a fictional travelogue entitled Tannhauser auf Urlaub in 1895 which evaluated the condition of various German cities through the eyes of reincarnated 13th Century poet, Heinrich Tannhauser. This oracle favored liberty, equality, fraternity, and German idealism, but abhorred the leveling effect of democracy and socialism. He excoriated Reichstag deputies as garrulous egotists who didn't really care about their constituents. Tannhauser auf Urlaub contained Eckart's first anti-Semitic comments, which he expressed "with sorrow, noting his love for Jewry." [12]

In his preface Eckart claimed to love Jews' "excellent spirit," though he had reservations about their "egomania." He naively asserted that emancipated Jews had the duty to control wayward brethren -- as if individual Germans could reform their own scoundrels.

After a token nod to Jewish intelligence, Tannhauser pompously asserted that Jews must be denied a role in the coming Pan-German super-state because of their obsessions with "sensuality, materialism, and the present." [14] Like Wagner's Minnesingers young Germans must fight "the common vermin that crawl out of those big sacks of money and pollute the whole atmosphere." [15] Tannhauser auf Urlaub attacked parvenu mores and proclaimed that the New Germany demanded values based on high ideals, not man's lower nature.

Following his father's death in 1895, Eckart inherited a substantial amount of money. In early 1896 he made his first trip to Berlin to see the opening of Hauptmann's play Die Versunkene Glocke. The capital's bustling dynamism impressed him, but he decided to rent quarters in Regensburg, where he had previously attended boarding school with his friend Karl Guido Bomhard. After a year, Eckart decided to move on to Leipzig, the center of German publishing, with the intention of setting up a salon there.

Konrad Heiden described Eckart as "a Swabian who appreciated good living." [16] He was a trencherman who could easily consume twenty sausages along with tureen of sauerkraut, while washing all down with six pints of beer. A connoisseur of coffee, Eckart bought gourmet roasted beans from South America and Africa, then ground them with his hand-crank coffee mill every morning. When flush with money, he smoked fifteen or more cigars per day. All forms of alcohol appealed to him: beer, wine, schnapps, whiskey, absinthe. In the course of his life, he carried on several love affairs. Rumor had it that he engaged in homosexuality in his youth, and again while broke in Berlin between 1906 and 1911. Besides those indulgences, he took morphine almost continuously. His restless wanderings from Neumarkt to Regensburg, Leipzig, Berlin, Bad Blankenburg, Munich, and Berchtesgaden might have been "geographic solutions" -- futile attempts to escape the consequences of substance abuse by moving to new places.

Always a big spender, and generous with friends, Eckart squandered his patrimony on high living in Leipzig. According to Alfred Rosenberg he simply "could not say no to a friend and would give up his last cent even if it meant (going) without." [17] Wanting to recreate the festivity of Onoldia Corps, Eckart fully indulged his tastes for alcohol and humorous repartee as a habitue of Leipzig's bar scene.

By 1897 his funds ran low. Morphine use took a monetary and physical toll. He left Leipzig and went back to Regensburg to nurse himself back to health. While there he wrote a four page article that would later appear in Sammler Magazine's September 16, 1899 edition, "The Culture of the 19th Century," which extolled the realism of Heine, Balzac, Schopenhauer, and Ibsen, while scoffing at hazy symbolic works written by "nervous weaklings." However, he warned that lurid naturalism could never create an inspiring vision for New Germany.

Migration to Berlin

Dietrich Eckart, c. 1900

After more than a year of convalescence, Eckart moved to Berlin in the autumn of 1899. Germany's new capital, with its forty theaters, plethora of newspapers, and world-class orchestra, had become the Empire's cultural center. Theater critic Willy Haas described the city's vitality in Die Literarische Welt:

Eckart joined thousands of immigrants to Berlin. The city had grown from a town to major metropolis since Napoleon's defeat in 1812. Its Jewish population increased thirty-fold during that same period. However, very few were of the Ostjuden variety. Berlin's Jews had a reputation for being intelligent, secular, and well-assimilated.

The publication of three articles in Sammler magazine kept Eckart solvent for the remainder of 1899. In early 1900 he worked briefly for August Scherl's tabloid Lokalanzeiger, but intensely disliked its shallowness and lack of German values. He came to see himself as a Teutonic sage in the modern world. The Morning hired him in 1901. For that paper he wrote not only news reports and opinion columns, but play reviews, poems, short stories, and a serialized novella which satirized the German press. Unfortunately, this dream job ended when The Morning went bankrupt four months later. Eckart recycled his criticisms of nihilistic modern journalism into a tragicomedy entitled Familienvater.

In 1901 Germany's premiere humor magazine, Simplicissmus, devoted an entire issue to his short story "Der Kleine Martin Bauz," which poked fun at the abysmal "guidance" given an eight year old boy by his teacher, doctor, pastor, and drunken parents. "Martin Bauz" highlighted the breakdown of values besetting turn-of-the century Germany.

With encouragement from friends Eckart published four articles and several poems in Buhne und Brettle Magazine between March and May, 1902. This periodical had changed from a theatrical review to a journal of political commentary. One issue, illustrated with caricatures and accompanied by unsigned "Eckartian" verse, lampooned the "monolithic Jewish clique" which allegedly controlled Berlin theater. Those satirized included Siegfried Jacobsohn, Fritz Engel, Georg Hirschfeld, Oscar Bies, Maximilien Harden, Hermann Sudermann, Max Osborn, Alfred Klaar, and Max Reinhardt. In one article Eckart referred to Jewish playwrights George Hirschfeld and Hermann Suderman as "ghetto writers" [19] who treated drama as "just another commodity." [20]

In the early 1900's Eckart reinforced his Judeophobic bigotry by reading excerpts from Henri-Roger Gougenot des Mousseaux's The Jew, Judaism, and the Judaization of Christian Peoples (1869), originally published in France. Gougenot des Mousseaux (1805-1876), a minor French nobleman of bookish disposition, acquired the reputation of an authority on magic, Celtic folklore, ultramontane Catholicism, and demonology -- the field of study which guided his efforts to demonize Jews. His anti-Jewish invective bridged the gap between theological and modern anti-Semitism. He held that Christianity had rendered Judaism obsolete over 1,800 years ago. Thus, contemporary Jews, like the devil, were incorrigible deniers of revealed truth.

St. Paul declared Satan "Prince of the Air" (or Physical World.) Because they combined alleged prurience with phenomenal acumen for commerce and dialectical reasoning, Gougenot surmised that Jews might be the products of interbreeding between demons and humans. Jewish influence had burgeoned since the emergence of France's middle class after the 1789 Revolution in almost direct proportion to the debilitation of Church and aristocracy. In alliance with Freemasons Jews now threatened to take over Europe. Gougenot blamed them for every crisis, including gentile bank failures, the Franco-Prussian War, and deterioration of established moral standards.

In his capacity as President of Coulommiers' St. Vincent DePaul Society chapter, Gougenot met Vatican librarian David Paul Drach (1791-1868), a former rabbi who converted to Catholicism. Archbishop Quelen of Paris baptized Drach, his two daughters, and son on Holy Saturday, 1823. Shortly after his conversation, Drach's Jewish wife disappeared with their three children. Two years later, following a widely publicized police investigation and lawsuit, he divorced his wife, obtained custody of the children, and embarked on the career of a Catholic scholar. With the Holy See's imprimatur Drach published several books, including a new French Bible translation, Hebrew-Latin dictionary, learned treatise on the Jewish Kaballah, and his most popular work, Letters of a Converted Rabbi to his Brethren. Gougenot des Mousseaux used information about the Talmud supplied by Drach, as well as his own encyclopedic knowledge of devil-lore to weave a tale of organized Jewish treachery. He attributed such diabolical traits as deceit, pride, cunning, and wickedness to Jews, noting that they also shared Satan's propensity to roam earth's ends for the purpose of sowing discord. Just as Beelzebub, Baphomet, and Belial instructed their agents to circulate the untruth that devils did not exist, Jews contradicted all rumors that they were involved in a conspiracy for world domination. Gougenot, who wrote at the time of Pasteur's discoveries, might have been the first pundit to compare Jews to invisible microbes that subtly "infected" western civilization with the diseases of secularization and socialism. His writings strongly influenced the next generation of French anti-Semites, including Edouard Drumont, a leading anti-Dreyfusard, and Fascist ideologist Charles Maurras.

Eckart lapped up the scathing misrepresentations of Gougenot des Mousseaux, paying special heed to his prophecy that Jews would create much mischief in Germany, then suffer a devastating payback in return. During the early 1920's Eckart persuaded Alfred Rosenberg to translate Gougenot's book into German under the tide, The Eternal Jew.

Thirty-four year old Eckart turned into an intellectual thug by 1902. His excessive drinking produced characteristic behavioral changes: egocentricity, mood swings, excitability, strong biases, and a propensity to turn against former friends. He had the alcoholic's tender and swollen ego, which made him unable to accept criticism, and quick to blame others for his problems. Fault-finding became his modus operandi. To preserve his own unassailable dignity he tore down others, including close associates. During his Berlin period Eckart decided that his career setbacks were not due to personal shortcomings, but the pernicious influence of Jewish-controlled media. Ugly words such as "stooges," and "Judenkitsch" crept into his vocabulary. Though he did not yet have the temerity to attack individual Jews by name in signed articles, Eckart employed such derogatory terms as "yids" and "slick Cohns." [21]

According to him Jews had cornered the German literature market. They owned thirteen of Berlin's twenty-one daily newspapers, and several book publishing companies. The publishing houses of Rudolf Mosse and Leopold Ullstein determined who would succeed and who wouldn't. They had what poet Gottfried Benn called the Jewish merchant's "absolute .. , instinct for quality." [22] Mosse had acquired four papers in Berlin alone: The Berlin Daily News, The Morning Times, The People's Times, and Business Daily News. Ullstein presided over the Evening Post, Illustrated Times, New Berlin Daily News, and Berlin Midday Times. According to Eckart, Mosse and Ullstein promoted scribblers churning out drivel, while snubbing genuine German artists like himself He asserted that over half of Berlin's twenty-one newspapers were Jewish-owned, as well as all three of the city's satire magazines. He deeply resented Jewish editors such as Theodor Wolff of the Berliner Tageblatt, Georg Bernhard of the Vossiche Zeitung, and Bernhard Guttmann of the Frankfurter Zeitung, who exerted real power, while he couldn't even hang onto a steady job. To him these men represented "the antithesis of authentic German life." [23]

Ullstein Verlag did wield enormous influence, which could make or break authors.

Under this system nationalistic writers faced obscurity and failure. Dietrich Eckart's volkisch pieces struck big city editors as provincial and reactionary. Modern readers wanted fresh, cosmopolitan material. They were neither interested in Teutonic chauvinism, nor romantic treatments of German history. Thus, Eckart felt the necessity for "a counter-press and counter-culture" to present his views. In coming years he would bypass Germany's publishing establishment with vanity press ventures such as Herold Verlag and Hoheneichen Verlag.

Because of his festering Judeophobia Eckart's reverent attitude toward Heinrich Heine altered. In an entire 1919 issue of Auf Gut Deutsch magazine he denounced his former idol, "Chaim Heine," for "cunning deceit and lack of Germanic purity." [26] The poet's emigration to Paris in 1831 unmasked him as a rootless "International Jew."

Eckart also frowned on Jews who changed their surnames -- though future protege Adolf Hitler's father had done the same thing, amending his last name from Schicklgruber to Hitler.

Dietrich Eckart's German patriotism approached the blind loyalty of family love. Hence, he took exception to Heine's ambivalence about Germany.

Eckart hailed literary critic Wolfgang Menzel's suggestion that Heine's "Young Germany" group should be renamed the "Young Palestine Movement." He viewed himself as a wronged idealist, and accused Jews of ruining Germany. In his view they were responsible for shady business practices which lowered the quality of life on earth. Germany's "economic miracle" (c. 1866-1914) occurred during his lifetime. Utilizing loan capital from banks and the stock exchange, corporations built steel works, machine tool factories, warships, railroads, automobile assembly lines, and chemical plants. This rapid technological progress caused unprecedented social upheaval. Like other left-behind Germans, Eckart held the less-than-l % Jewish minority culpable for the dislocating consequences of industrialization, urbanization, political unrest, modernity, and erosion of old-fashioned values.

Eckart settled in Berlin because he perceived it as the center of German civilization. However, by 1905 the impersonal capital had dashed his hopes.

Dietrich Eckart had strong likes and dislikes. He loved Wagnerian opera, volkisch drama, comrades-in-arms, morphine, coffee, tobacco, Bavarian beers, and Rhenish wines, but hated lawyers, Jews, pacifists, and unsympathetic literary critics. His inability to obtain employment commensurate with ambitions engendered what Margarete Plewnia termed "his monomaniacal obsession ... with Jews." [30] In Eckart's mind their chicanery spawned the painful anxiety he felt every day of his adult life.

As a Bohemian in Berlin, Eckart built up the reputation as a "metaphysical poet," concerned with "soul's involvement and detachment from the world." [31] In an effort to understand "that Genius higher than human," he perused Theosophical works. His interest in occultism brought him into casual contact with Franz Hartmann

, Hugo Vollrath, and Rudolf Steiner

. Eckart attended lectures at the Theosophical Society, and probably read the 1903 German translation of Madame Blavatsky's Secret Doctrine

. Adolf Josef Lanz von Liebenfals, Viennese author of the racist TheoZoology

(1904), claimed that Eckart exchanged letters with him circa 1905, and esteemed his work so much that he "plagiarized" it.

When Ralph Engelman went through Eckart's papers in 1969 he found a dog-eared address book containing "the names and calling-cards of an occasional nobleman, diplomat, professor and officer," as well as scores of "unknown painters, sculptors, architects, actors, ... singers ... " [32] Bohemian poet Eckart socialized with people of all classes, from laborers to aristocrats. Solitude got him down at times. Therefore, except for those occasions when he suffered from clinical depression, he sought the company of others. As an alternately convivial and morose man-about-town, he hung out in bars and regularly went to plays and operas. Over the years his gregariousness led him to join several organizations: the Onoldia Corps Erlangen Fraternity, Fichte-Bund, Berlin Press Club, List Society, Hammer Union, Theosophical Society, Theater Guild, The Wagner Society, Nazi Party, and so on.

In Berlin Eckart experienced both triumphs and humiliations. Spurned by editors with trendy tastes, he submitted his manuscripts to the conservative market. Ultimately, his

Eckart's first published play Der Kleine Zacharias (1903) juxtaposed a genuine artist with a prosperous sell-out who pandered to the public's vulgarity. Most of Eckart's dramas were based on the premise of idealists being victimized by connivers. Though only performed briefly in Luneburg, Der Kleine Zacharias attracted a small cult following.

In 1904 Eckart met Georg Graf von Huelsen-Haeseler, superintendent of the The Royal State Theater, and nephew of military chief of staff, General Dietrich von Huelsen-Haesler. Between 1905 and 1918 he sent over a hundred letters to this patron. Huelsen-Haeseler agreed to produce Familienvater, a melodrama about idealistic reporter Heiderich, who works for a metropolitan daily owned by a villainous converted Jew named Heinze. When Heinze fires Timroth, a paterfamilias with eight children, Heiderich promises to support his brood by producing a play exposing the evils of modern journalism. Alarmed when audiences cheered themselves hoarse at sold-out performances, Heinze utilized his clout with corrupt politicians to close down the production for hyping anarchy. In despair, Heiderich commits suicide. Familienvater had runs in Regensburg, Hanover, Munich, Neumarkt, Graz, Vienna, and other cities, but barely broke even. Eckart suspected that Berlin's "Jewish cabal" scotched it because of his Pan- German and pro-Wagner sympathies. Frau Nahilde Ruth Lazarus, a gentile literary critic married to a Jewish professor, had faulted the play for its onedimensional Jewish stereotypes.

Through most of 1905 Eckart worked as an editor for the Deutscher Blatt newspaper. He exulted when Huelsen-Haeseler agreed to stage The Frog King (written in 1898.) Albert Reich remembered his friend triumphantly passing around the telegram of acceptance in a bar. Since the Royal Theater almost never produced new works, Eckart had scored a coup. Based loosely on the Grimm fairy tale, Der Froschkoenig portrayed the life of a swindler who preyed upon upper middle-class Germans. When Gerda, the pretty daughter of a wealthy businessman attempted to convert him from his life of crime, he refused. In such a fallen world one must be a blackguard to succeed. Much of the dialogue reflected Schopenhauer's fatalism. The Frog Prince informed Gerda that

Unfortunately, this existential amphibian from fairyland failed to enchant theatergoers. Euphoric during November rehearsals with director Max Staegemans, Eckart was crushed when the audience booed and hissed the play on opening night. One dissatisfied customer in the balcony whistled through a house key during the entire last act. Der Frosch Koenig bombed spectacularly, closing after four performances. In a letter to his teenaged friend Xaver Steinbach, Eckart wrote that Huelsen-Haeseler told him "the public and the press," [35] were responsible for the Frog King debacle. Meanwhile, he lashed our at Berlin's philistine public, the "Jewish conspiracy" against him, and lead actor Adalbert Mattkowsky's lackluster performance. According to the disgruntled playwright, all critics who panned his masterpiece were lackeys of Berlin's "Jewish theater monopoly." He went into a depression, got physically ill, quit his job at the Deutscher Blatt, and returned to Neumarkt, where weary relatives put him up for months. Dr. Paul Hermann Wiedeburg later confirmed that Eckart suffered a nervous breakdown-"a heavy, painful ... two year illness surrounded by darkness ... for which he took morphine." [36] On July 17, 1907, while still convalescing from the Frog King trauma, Eckart gave a copy of the play to his niece Mitzi with a melancholy dedication written in verse.

The Hunger Years

Still smarting from the Frog King disaster, Eckart wrote very little in 1906. His debts mounted because he accepted conditional advances on plays that earned nothing. Nevertheless, Huelsen-Haeseler treated him kindly, sending hundreds of marks over the next few years, and forgiving advance-refunds owed back to The Royal Theater.

Between 1906 and 1910 Eckart led a threadbare existence, surviving by freelance writing, pawnshop barter, hand-outs from friends, and credit extended by the owner of the Alt Bayern pub on Potsdammerstrasse, where he was a regular. Artist Albert Reich grew up with Eckart in Neumarkt and reconnected with him in the Steglitz section of southwestern Berlin. According to him, he occupied various tenements during his "Hunger Years." The many different return addresses on Eckart's correspondence with Geog Graf von Huelsen-Haeseler indicated frequent changes of residence between 1905 and 1910. For a while he shared a "rear bachelor flat" in The Black Piglet Rooming House at 11 Felderstrasse with an impecunious actor named Otto Fitzsche, and Paul Haase, an underemployed painter. Eckart's niece, Frau Claire Lormer-Schneider, heatedly denied rumors that her uncle had lived like a bum in Berlin. On January 31, 1936 she fired off a letter to the National Socialist Archive insisting that Eckart never had to rack out on park benches, since loving family members resided in a comfortable suburb of Berlin. However, his friend Albert Reich claimed that during the lowest period, circa 1908, Eckart occasionally slept on a "favorite park bench" [37] in Berlin's Tiergarten (zoological gardens.)

In the course of his 1906-to-1910 downward spiral friends mailed Eckart "care packages" containing toiletries, food, and schnapps. He freeloaded on his brother Wilhelm and family in Doeberlitz for weeks at a time. While there he developed closer relationships with nephew Hans and nieces Claire and Mitzi. Though Eckart never suffered from physical starvation during the "Hunger Years," his longing for professional fulfillment went unsatisfied. These failure pangs, combined with feelings of being wronged, scarred him for life, and intensified his revulsion toward Jews.

Being a sponger deeply wounded Eckart's vanity. But he had no choice. Many of his letters from this time rationalized his loss of status, then entreated friends for money. He even shook down adolescent friend Xaver Steinbach for cash. Eckart's letters to Royal Theater Superintendent Georg von Huelsen-Haeseler reveal his plight. In November, 1905 he asked if this patron could get him a job with the Theater. A March, 1906 letter confirmed: "all my attempts to find employment have failed." [38] He played the martyred great master in his epistle of December, 1908:

Eckart then asked Huelsen-Haeseler for money and added:

Huelsen-Haeseler showed this letter to Kaiser Wilhelm, who pronounced it "a masterpiece of the 'pump art.'" [41]

In a December, 1907 note to Hueslsen-Haeseler Eckart described his ordeal as "a moral trial." [42] His plaintive letters echoed Schopenhauer's essays on literature. The philosopher damned the public for mistaking newest for best, and authors because they "lived on literature, rather than for it." [43] He declared that the "new is seldom good (and)... a good thing is only new for a short time." [44] Schopenhauer condemned commercial publishing for perpetually inventing new fallacies to stimulate sales. The superficial epicycles of fashion contradicted each other. Yet, the public acclaimed frauds who traded in this transitory world of illusion, and boycotted artists who "were tormented without recognition (in their lifetimes) ... whilst fame, honor, and riches fell to the lot of ... worthless hacks." [45]

In 1907 Eckart wrote Der Erbgraf, a drama he couldn't sell , which related the plight of a young nobleman driven to suicide by the tawdriness of modern society. In 1910 he finished Ein X-Belieber Mensch, an adaption of Charles Dickens' Our Mutual Friend, which never saw the light of day. Like the Frog King, X-Belieber Man revived and embellished an existing work. This set the pattern for his final period as a dramatist. Instead of confecting new plays from scratch Eckart injected Peer Gynt, Henry Hohenstaufen, and Lorenzaccio with volkisch notions, then livened them up with his aphoristic style. Two years later he finished Ein Ked, Der Spekuliert about Jewish water heater and chemical manufacturer Moritz Silberstahl ("silver stealer") who also sold quack nostrums. Eckart later claimed that the play was never performed because he refused to comply with Jewish impresario Alfred Halm's demand that Silberstahl be deleted, or transformed into a gentile. As Eckart recounted in Auf Gut Deutsch.

Eckart's unwillingness to compromise killed the deal. To his young friend Xaver Steinbach in Neumarkt he wrote that he might adopt a "Jewish pseudonym" [47] in order to win over the critics.

Believing himself to be an unappreciated genius, Eckart let his anti-Semitic prejudices burgeon between 1902 and 1918. He joined the nationalistic Fichte-Bund, Theodor Fritsch's anti-Semitic Hammer Union, and studied the racial theories of Guido von List

and Adolf Josef Lam von Liebenfals. His paranoia about Jews repeatedly surfaced in letters to Huelsen-Haeseler: "the enemies of my convictions, that is, the Jews, are everywhere I go -- busy with their crafty work." [48] He thought they would cause him to have another nervous collapse. In an apparent cry from the heart Eckart subsequently wrote that Jews drove "men to despair, to madness, to ruin." [49] Traumatized by early 20th Century Germany's accelerating pace of change, he blamed the disconnectedness of contemporary life on Jewish influence.

Albert Reich remembered an afternoon circa 1909 in the Old Bavarian Pub, when Eckart had just spent his last pfennig on drink. A pharmaceutical salesman sauntered in and mentioned that his firm was looking for a catchy jingle to promote "gout water." Eckart disappeared into the bathroom for a few moments, then reappeared at a corner table where he dashed off four rhymed lines, which the company bought for 1,000 marks. Although an excellent "Reklamedichter" (ad copywriter), he did not often capitalize on this knack, feeling that such work was beneath his dignity as a poet.

At this same time forty year old Eckart acquired a seventeen year old girlfriend named Eleonore. Topping that, he somehow managed to extract an 1,800 mark "loan" from her father, which he never repaid. In 1924 Eleonore Holthausen, then a married woman with children, tried unsuccessfully to recover this money from Eckart's estate. Despite his "unfaithfulness" [50] and failure to reimburse her father, she did not harbor bitter feelings toward him, realizing that "artists, after all, must have freedom to create great works of art." [51]

Roommate Otto Fritzsche noticed Eckart's extreme moodiness. He would be affable one day, and anti-social the next. By 1909

Eckart's manic-depression produced mood swings that made him a truculent blowhard one day and shrinking violet the next. After his relationship with Eleonore unraveled, he again slid into the Slough of Despond, moping in his room for days. One of his neighbors, architect Ernst Rossius-Rhyn, observed that he seemed "a most lonely man ... always sunk in his thoughts ... " [53] Physically ravaged by substance abuse, dejected about his stalled career and failed romance, Eckart again checked into an asylum.

The downtrodden author kept himself afloat by writing popular magazine articles, humorous verse, and advertising copy for manufacturers of perfume, shampoo, and hair pomade. Some friends in Neumarkt started a spring water bottling company, Neumarkter Natur-Brunnen. Eckart received shares for putting together an advertising campaign, but this venture went nowhere. Though still destitute in 1910, Eckart somehow raised 5,000 marks to invest in Die Neu Aeroplan-Baugesellschaft, an airplane factory set up by Karl Guido Bomhard and his partner Josef Sablatnig, who later established the Fokker Aircraft Co. Despite his dire straits, Eckart still "spent a small fortune on beer, ... wine, and entertaining drinking chums." [54]

_______________

Endnotes

1 Ralph Max Engelman, Dietrich Eckart and the Genesis of Nazism, UMI, Ann Arbor, MI, 1971, p. 3, op. cit. Albert Reich, Dietrich Eckart, Munich, 1933, p. 7.

2 Ibid., p. 192, op. cit Volkisher Beobachter, 3/15/1921.

3 Hugh Trevor-Roper, editor, Hitler's Secret Conversations 1941-1944, trans. Norman Cameron and R. H. Stevens, Farrar, Straus and Young, New York, 1953, p. 306, Hitler's conversation of 3/29/1942.

4 Ibid., p. 215, Hitler's conversation of 1/30/1942.

5 Ibid., p. 306, Hitler's conversation of 3/29/1942.

6. James Webb, The Occult Establishment, Open Court Publishing Co., LaSalle, IL, 1976, p. 283, op. dt. Alfred Rosenberg, Dietrich Eckart: Ein Vermachtis (A Legacy), Franz Eher Verlag, Munich, 1928.

7 Engelman, p. 8.

8 Ibid., p. 11.

10 Ibid., p. 10, op. cit. Dietrich Eckart In der Fremde, Leipzig, 1893.

11 Hugh Trevor-Roper, editor, Hitler's Secret Conversations, trans. Norman Cameron and R. H. Stevens, Farrar, Strauss & Young, New York, 1953, p. 283, Hitler's conversation of 2/28/1942.

12 Engelman, p. 19.

13 Ibid., p.20, op. cit. D. Eckart Tannhauser auf Urlaub.

14 Margarete Plewnia, Auf Dem Weg Zu Hitler: Der Volkische Publizist Dietrich Eckart, Schunemann Universitatasverlag, Bremen, 1971, p. 14.

15 Ibid., op. cit. Eckart, Tannhauser auf Urlaub.

16 William Gillespie, "Dietrich Eckart: An Introduction for the English-Speaking Student," vnnforum.com, 1975, op. cit. Alfred Rosenberg, Ein Vermachtis (A Legacy), p. 25.

37 Gillespie, op. cit. Albert Reich, Dietrich Eckart-Vorkampfer der NS-Bewegung, Munich, 1933, p. 60.

38 Plewnia, p. 20.

39 Ibid.

40 Ibid.

41 Ibid.

42 Engelman, p. 55, op. cit. D.E. December, 1907 letter to Georg Graf von Huelsen- Haeseler.

43 Arthur Schopenhauer, "On Authorship and Style," etext.library.Adelaide.edu.au, p. 4.

44 Ibid.

45 Arthur Schopenhauer, "On Reading and Books," extext.library.Adeiaide.edu.au, p. 9, op. cit. Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Collected Works, Vol. II, p. 302.

46 Gillespie, pp. 5-6, op. cit. Dietrich Eckart, Auf Gut Deutsch, January 31, 1919.

47 Plewnia, p. 20, op. cit. D.E. 3/14/1906 letter to Xaver Steinbach.

48 Ibid., p. 57 D.E. letter to Georg Graf Huelsen-Haeseler, 4/17/1917.

49 Eckart, Chapter VIII, p. 1.

50 Engelman, p. 59.

51 Ibid., p. 60, op. cit. January, 1924 letter of Frau Eleonore Holthausen, Eckart Estate Papers, Anna Obster Rosner, custodian.

52 Ibid.

53 Ibid., p. 15, op. cit. Ernst Rossius-Rhyn, article in Illustrierte Zeitschrift fur Volk, Arbeit und Aufbau, 1934.

54 Gillespie, op. cit. Alfred Rosenberg, Dietrich Eckart, Ein Vermachtis, p. 25.


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Joachim C. Fest HITLER

All this was overlaid by the craving to find simple formulas to account for the opaque, intricately involved causes of moroseness, and to flee from all the vexations the age provided into the shelter of an imperious authority. Hitler as the point of convergence for so many nostalgias, anxieties, and resentments became a historical figure..
From: booksfb2.com

The course of this life, and the pattern of events themselves, will throw light upon the whole matter. Yet here we may well ask ourselves a few pertinent questions. If Hitler had succumbed to an assassination or an accident at the end of 1938, few would hesitate to call him one of the greatest of German statesmen, the consummator of Germany’s history. The aggressive speeches and Mein Kampf, the anti-Semitism and the design for world dominion, would presumably have fallen into oblivion, dismissed as the man’s youthful fantasies, and only occasionally would critics remind an irritated nation of them. Six and one-half years separated Hitler from such renown. Granted, only premature death could have given him that, for by nature he was headed toward destruction and did not make an exception of himself. Can we call him great?

The phenomenon of Hitler demonstrates, to an extent surpassing all previous experience, that historical greatness can be linked with paltriness on the part of the individual concerned. For considerable periods his personality seemed disintegrated, as if it had evaporated into unreality; and it was this seemingly fictitious character of the man that misled so many conservative politicians and Marxist historians—in curious agreement—to regard Hitler as the instrument for the ends of others. Far from possessing any greatness and any political, let alone historical, stature, he seemed to embody the very type of the “agent,” one who acts for others. But both the conservatives and the Marxists were deceiving themselves. It was actually an ingredient in Hitler’s recipe for tactical success that he made political capital out of this mistake, in which class resentment against the petty bourgeois was then, and still is, expressed. His biography includes, among other things, the story of a gradual disillusionment. In his day he excited a good deal of ironic contempt, and that attitude persists, though kept in check by the memory of the toll of lives he took. But it was, and still is, a misreading of his character.

We are still asking, however, whether historical greatness can be associated with a hollow individuality. It is challenging to imagine what Hitler’s fate would have been had history not produced the circumstances that first awakened him and made him the mouthpiece of millions of defense complexes. It is easy to picture his ignored existence on the fringes of society, to see him embittered and misanthropic, longing for a great destiny and unable to forgive life for having refused him the heroic role he craved. “For the oppressive thing was… the complete lack of attention we found in those days from which I suffered most,” Hitler wrote concerning the period of his entry into politics.11 The collapse of order, the age’s anxieties and climate of change, played into his hands by giving him the chance to emerge from the shadow of anonymity. Great men, in Burckhardt’s judgment, are needed specifically in times of terror.12

If men do not make history in the way that traditional hero-worshiping literature assumed, or do so to a far smaller extent, Hitler certainly made much more history than many others. But at the same time history made him, to an altogether extraordinary degree. Nothing entered into this “unperson,” as he is defined in one of the following chapters, that was not already present; but whatever did enter acquired a tremendous dynamic. Hitler’s biography is the story of an incessant, intensive process of interchange.

But the question remains whether Hitler was not the last politician who could so largely ignore the weight of conditions and interests; whether the coercion of objective factors has not grown visibly stronger, and whether with this the historical possibility of a great doer has not grown ever smaller. For, unquestionably, historical rank is dependent upon the freedom that the person who acts maintains in the face of circumstances. In a secret speech delivered in the early summer of 1939, Hitler declared: “There must be no acceptance of the principle of evading the solution to problems by adjustment to circumstances. Rather, the task is to adjust circumstances to requirements.”10 Following this motto, he, the “visionary,” practiced an imitatio of the great man; the attempt was boldly carried to the utmost extreme, and ultimately failed. It would appear that such attempts ended with him—just as so much else ended with him.

The signal importance of objective preconditions (which this book attempts to deal with in a series of special “interpolations”) also raises the question of how Hitler particularly affected the course of events. There is no doubt that a movement gathering together all the racist-nationalistic tendencies would have formed during the twenties without the intervention of Hitler’s influence and following. But it would very likely have been only one more political grouping within the context of the system. What Hitler conferred upon it was that unique mixture of fantastic vision and consistency which, as we shall see, to a large extent expressed his nature. The radicalism of Gregor Strasser or Goebbels never amounted to more than an infraction of the existing rules of the political game, which underlined the validity of those rules by the very act of challenging them. Hitler’s radicalism, on the other hand, annulled all existing assumptions and introduced a novel element into the game. To be sure, the numerous emergencies of the period would have led to crises, but without Hitler they would never have come to those intensifications and explosions that we shall witness. From the first party battle in the summer of 1921 to the last few days of April, 1945, when he expelled Goring and Himmler, Hitler held a wholly unchallenged position; he would not even allow any principle, any doctrine, to hold sway, but only his own dictates. He made history with a highhandedness that even in his own days seemed anachronistic. It is unimaginable that history will ever again be made in quite the same fashion—a succession of private inspirations, filled with surprising coups and veerings, breathtaking perfidies, ideological self-betrayals, but with a tenaciously pursued vision in the background. Something of his singular character, of the subjective element he imposed upon the course of history, emerges in the phrase “Hitler Fascism” favored by Marxist theoreticians in the thirties. In this sense National Socialism has quite rightly been defined as Hitlerism.

This close connection tends to refute that school of thought which attributes superhuman abilities to Hitler. His career depended not so much on his demonic traits as on his typical, “normal” characteristics. The course of his life reveals the weaknesses and ideological bias of all the theories that represent Hitler as a fundamental antithesis to the age and its people. He was not so much the great contradiction of the age as its mirror image. We will constantly be encountering traces of that correlation.

Hitler as the point of convergence for so many nostalgias, anxieties, and resentments became a historical figure. It is no longer possible to conceive the second quarter of the twentieth century without him. In him an individual once again demonstrated the stupendous power of a solitary person over the historical process. Our account will show to what virulence and potency the many intersecting moods of an age can be brought when demagogic genius, an extraordinary gift for political tactics, and the capacity for that “mysterious coincidence” Burckhardt spoke of, meet in a single person. “History tends at times to become suddenly concentrated in one man, who is then obeyed by the world.”9 It cannot be too strongly emphasized that Hitler’s rise was made possible only by the unique conjunction of individual with general prerequisites, by the barely decipherable correspondence that the man entered into with the age and the age with the man.

Necessarily, then, the background comes more prominently into the fore than is customary in biographies. Hitler must be shown against a dense pattern of objective factors that conditioned, promoted, impelled, and sometimes braked him. The romantic German notion of politics and the peculiarly morose grayness of the Weimar Republic belong equally in this background. So also do the declassing of the nation by the Treaty of Versailles and the secondary social declassing of large sections of the population by the inflation and the world-wide Depression; the weakness of the democratic tradition in Germany; fears of the miscalculations of conservatives who had lost their grip; finally, the widespread fears aroused by the transition from a familiar system to one new and still uncertain. All this was overlaid by the craving to find simple formulas to account for the opaque, intricately involved causes of moroseness, and to flee from all the vexations the age provided into the shelter of an imperious authority.

This argument is strengthened by the fact that the personality of Hitler scarcely arouses our interest. Over the years it remains oddly pallid and expressionless, acquiring tension and fascination only in contact with the age. In Hitler there is a great deal of what Walter Benjamin called “social character.” That is, he incorporated all the anxieties, protests, and hopes of the age in his own self to a remarkable degree. But in him all emotions were enormously exaggerated, distorted, and infiltrated with weird features, though never unrelated or incongruent to the historical background. Consequently, Hitler’s life would hardly deserve the telling if it were not that extrapersonal tendencies or conditions came to light in it; his biography is essentially part of the biography of the age. And because his life was inextricably linked to his time, it is worth the telling.

Fundamentally, the argument is directed at the very possibility of arriving at historical knowledge by way of a biographical study. No single person, it runs, can ever make manifest the historical process in all its complexities and contradictions, upon all its many, forever shifting areas of tension. Strictly speaking, the argument continues, the biographical approach merely continues the old tradition of court and adulatory writing, and after 1945 went right along employing basically the same methodology, with merely a change of sign: Hitler remained the all-moving, irresistible force and “merely changed his quality; the savior became the diabolic seducer.”8 Ultimately, the argument continues, every biographical account willy-nilly serves the needs for justification felt by the millions of onetime followers who can easily see themselves as the victims of so much “greatness” or who at any rate can place all responsibility for what happened upon the pathological whims of a diabolic and imperious leader. In short, biography amounts to a surreptitious maneuver in the course of a broad campaign of exculpation.

Today this tendency is reversed, and we ascribe little importance to personality compared with the interests, relationships, and material conflicts within the society. This approach has also been applied to Hitler. Thus he has been portrayed as the “hireling” or “sword arm” of capitalism, who organized the class struggle from above and in 1933 subjugated the masses, who had been pressing for political and social self-determination. Later, by unleashing the war, he carried out the expansionist aims of his employers. In this story, which has been presented in a great many variants, Hitler appears as totally interchangeable, “the most vulgar of tin soldiers,” as one of the leftist analysts of Fascism wrote as early as 1929. For the proponents of this theory he was, at any rate, merely one factor among others, not a determining cause.

It may be that the concept of greatness has become problematical. In one of the pessimistically toned political essays Thomas Mann wrote in exile, he used the terms “greatness” and “genius” in regard to a then triumphant Hitler, but he spoke of “botched greatness” and of a debased stage of genius.7 In such contradictions a concept takes leave of itself. Perhaps this idea of greatness also springs from the historical consciousness of a past era, which placed almost all its weight on the actors and ideas of the historical process and almost none on the extensive network of forces.

And yet we hesitate to call Hitler “great.” Perhaps what gives us pause is not so much the criminal features in this man’s psychopathic face. For world history is not played out in the area that is “the true site of morality,” and Burckhardt has also spoken of the “strange exemption from the ordinary moral code” which we tend to grant in our minds to great individuals.6 We may surely ask whether the absolute crime of mass extermination planned and committed by Hitler is not of an utterly different nature, overstepping the bounds of the moral context recognized by both Hegel and Burckhardt. Our doubts of Hitler’s historic greatness also spring from another factor. The phenomenon of the great man is primarily aesthetic, very rarely moral in nature; and even if we were prepared to make allowances in the latter realm, in the former we could not. An ancient tenet of aesthetics holds that one who for all his remarkable traits is a repulsive human being, is unfit to be a hero. It may be—and evidence will be offered—that this description fits Hitler very well. His many opaque, instinctual traits, his intolerance and vindictiveness, his lack of generosity, his banal and naked materialism—power was the only motive he would recognize, and he repeatedly forced his table companions to join him in his scorn of anything else as “bosh”—and in general his unmistakably vulgar characteristics give his image a cast of repugnant ordinariness that simply will not square with the traditional concept of greatness. “Impressiveness in this world,” wrote Bismarck in a letter, “is always akin to the fallen angel who is beautiful but without peace, great in his plans and efforts, but without success, proud and sad.” If this is true greatness, Hitler’s distance from it is immeasurable.

In this ability to uncover the deeper spirit and tendencies of the age, and to represent those tendencies, there certainly is an element of historic greatness. “It appears to be the destiny of greatness,” Jacob Burckhardt wrote in his famous essay on historical greatness, in Reflections on History, “that it executes a will going beyond individual desires.” Burckhardt speaks of “the mysterious coincidence between the egoism of the individual and the communal will.” In general terms and at times in specific details, Hitler’s career seems like a classic illustration of this tenet. The following chapters contain a wealth of evidence of that. The same is true for the other elements that in Burckhardt’s view constitute historical greatness. Irreplaceability is one; “he leads a people from one stage of cultivation to another.” He “stands not only for the program and the fury of a party, but for a more general aim.” He manifests the ability “to jump boldly across the abyss”; he has the capacity of simplification, the gift of distinguishing between real and illusory powers, and finally the exceptional will power that creates an atmosphere of fascination. “Contest at close quarters becomes utterly impossible. Anyone desiring to oppose him must live outside of the reach of the man, with his enemies, and can meet him only on the battlefield.”5

In 1925, Hitler had been sitting in a furnished room in Munich, a failed Bavarian local politician, drawing his sketches of imaginary arches of triumph and domed halls. In spite of the collapse of all his hopes after the attempted putsch of November, 1923, he did not take back a single one of his words, did not mute his battle cry, and refused to modify any of his plans for domination of the world. In those days, he later remarked, everyone had branded him a visionary. “They always said I was crazy.” But only a few years later everything he had wanted was reality, or at any rate a realizable project, and those institutions that had recently seemed to be permanent and unchallenged were on their way out: democracy and political-party government, unions, international workers’ solidarity, the European system of alliances, and the League of Nations. “Who was right?” Hitler triumphantly demanded. “The visionary or the others?—I was right.”4

He also had an amazing instinct for what forces could be mobilized at all and did not allow prevailing trends to deceive him. The period of his entry into politics was wholly dominated by the liberal bourgeois system. But he grasped the latent oppositions to it and by bold and wayward combinations seized upon these factors and incorporated them into his program. His conduct seemed foolish to political minds, and for years the arrogant Zeitgeist did not take him seriously. The mockery he earned was justified by his appearance, his rhetorical flights, and the theatrical atmosphere he deliberately created. Yet in a manner difficult to describe he always stood above his banal and dull-witted aspects. One particular source of his strength lay in his ability to build castles in the air with an intrepid and acute rationality.

Hitler’s peculiar greatness is essentially linked to the quality of excess. It was a tremendous eruption of energy that shattered all existing standards. Granted, gigantic scale is not necessarily equivalent to historic greatness; there is power in triviality also. But he was not only gigantic and not only trivial. The eruption he unleashed was stamped throughout almost every one of its stages, down to the weeks of final collapse, by his guiding will. In many speeches, he recalled, with a distinctly rapturous note, the period of his beginnings, when he had “nothing at all to back (him), nothing, no name, no fortune, no press, nothing at all, nothing whatsoever,” and how, entirely by his own efforts, he had risen from “poor devil” to rule over Germany and soon over part of the world as well. “That has been almost miraculous!”2 In fact, to a virtually unprecedented degree, he created everything out of himself and was himself everything at once: his own teacher, organizer of a party and author of its ideology, tactician and demagogic savior, leader, statesman, and for a decade the “axis” of the world. He refuted the dictum that all revolutions devour their children; for he was, as has been said, “the Rousseau, the Mirabeau, the Robespierre and the Napoleon of his revolution; he was its Marx, its Lenin, its Trotsky and its Stalin. By character and nature he may have been far inferior to most of these, but he nevertheless managed to achieve what all of them could not: he dominated his revolution in every phase, even in the moment of defeat. That argues a considerable understanding of the forces he evoked.”3

History records no phenomenon like him. Ought we to call him “great”? No one evoked so much rejoicing, hysteria, and expectation of salvation as he; no one so much hate. No one else produced, in a solitary course lasting only a few years, such incredible accelerations in the pace of history. No one else so changed the state of the world and left behind such a wake of ruins as he did. It took a coalition of almost all the world powers to wipe him from the face of the earth in a war lasting nearly six years, to kill him—to quote an army officer of the German resistance—“like a mad dog.”

Neither blindness nor ignorance corrupts people and governments. They soon realize where the path they have taken is leading them. But there is an impulse within them, favored by their natures and reinforced by their habits, which they do not resist; it continues to propel them forward as long as they have a remnant of strength. He who overcomes himself is divine. Most see their ruin before their eyes; but they go on into it.1

Thus it was not the case of a single aggrieved and aggressive nation trying to impose a totalitarian pattern on Europe. The liberal age was reaching its twilight in a widespread mood of disgust and the mood manifested itself under all kinds of auspices, reactionary and progressive, ambitious and altruistic. From 1921 on, Germany had lacked a Reichstag majority that professed faith in the parliamentary system with any conviction. The ideas of liberalism had scarcely any advocates but many potential adversaries; they needed only an impetus, the stirring slogans of a leader.

Mussolini spoke of the “more or less decayed corpse of the goddess Liberty.” He argued that liberalism was about to “close the portals of its temple, which the peoples have deserted” because “all the political experiences of the present are antiliberal.” And in fact throughout Europe, especially in the countries that had gone over to a liberal parliamentary system only after the end of the World War, there had been growing doubts of adequacy of the parliamentarism. These doubts became all the stronger the more these countries moved into the present age. There would be the feeling that the country lacked the means to meet the challenges of the transition: that the available leadership was not equal to the crisis. Witnessing the endless parliamentary disputes, the bitterness and bargaining of partisan politics, people began to long for earlier days, when rule was by decree and no one had to exercise a choice. With the exception of Czechoslovakia, the parliamentary system collapsed throughout the newly created nations of eastern and central Europe and in many of the countries of southern Europe: in Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Austria, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, and finally in Germany. By 1939 there were only nine countries with parliamentary regimes. And many of the nine, like the French Third Republic, had stabilized in a drole d’etat, others in a monarchy. “A fascist Europe was already a possibility.”21

Fascism satisfied more than romantic needs. Sprung from the anxieties of the age, it was an elemental uprising in favor of authority, a revolt on behalf of order. Such paradox was its very essence. It was rebellion and subordination, a break with tradition and the sanctification of tradition, a “people’s community” and strictest hierarchy, private property and social justice. But whatever the slogans it appropriated, the imperious authority of a strong state was always implied. “More than ever the peoples today have a desire for authority, guidance and order,” Mussolini declared.

Hitler’s unshakable confidence, which often seemed sheer madness, was based on the conviction that he was the only real revolutionary, that he had broken free of the existing system by reinstating the rights of human instincts. In alliance with these interests, he believed, he was invincible, for the instincts always won out in the end “against economic motivation, against the pressure of public opinion, even against reason.” No doubt the appeal to instinct brought out a good deal of human baseness. No doubt what Fascism wanted to restore was often a grotesque parody of the tradition they purported to honor, and the order they hailed was a hollow sham. But when Trotsky contemptuously dismissed the adherents of Fascistic movements as “human dust,” he was only revealing the Left’s characteristic ineptness in dealing with people’s needs and impulses. That ineptness led to a multitude of clever errors of judgment by those who purported to understand the spirit of the age better than anyone else.

Thus Fascism served the craving of the period for a general upheaval more effectively than its antagonists. It alone seemed to be articulating the feeling thai everything had gone wrong, that the world had been led into an impasse. That Communism made fewer converts was not due solely to its stigma of being a class party and the agency of a foreign power. Rather, Communism suffered from a vague feeling that it represented part of the wrong turn the world had taken and part of the disease it pretended it could cure. Communism seemed not the negation of bourgeois materialism but merely its obverse, not the superseding of an unjust and inadequate system, but its mirror image turned upside down.

The success of Fascism in contrast to many of its rivals was in large part due to its perceiving the essence of the crisis, of which it was itself the symptom. All the other parties affirmed the process of industrialization and emancipation, whereas the Fascists, evidently sharing the universal anxiety, tried to deal with it by translating it into violent action and histrionics. They also managed to leaven boring, prosaic everyday life by romantic rituals: torchlight processions, standards, death’s heads, battle cries, and shouts of Heil, by the “new marriage of life with danger,” and the idea of “glorious death.” They presented men with modern tasks disguised in the costumery of the past. They deprecated material concerns and treated “politics as an area of self-denial and sacrifice of the individual for an idea.” In taking this line they were addressing themselves to deeper needs than those who promised the masses higher wages. Ahead of all their rivals, the Fascists appeared to have recognized that the Marxist or liberal conception of man as guided only by reason and material interests was a monstrous abstraction.

In spite of all its revolutionary rhetoric, National Socialism could never conceal its basically defensive attitude, which contrasted perceptibly with the brash gladiatorial poses its advocates loved to adopt. Konrad Heiden called the Fascistic ideologies “boasts while in flight”; they were, he said, “fear of ascent, of new winds and unknown stars, a protest by the flesh, craving its rest, against the restless spirit.” And Hitler himself, soon after the beginning of the war against the Soviet Union, remarked that he now understood how the Chinese had come to surround themselves with a wall. He, too, was tempted “to wish for a gigantic wall to shield the new East against the Central Asiatic masses. In spite of all history, which teaches that a people’s vigor slackens off in a bulwarked area.”

He was not counting on doing so by economic or social means, which he despised. Like Marinetti, one of the spokesmen of Italian Fascism, he regarded European socialism as a “despicable fuss over the rights of the belly.” Instead, he aimed at inner renewal out of the blood and the dark realms of the soul. What was wanted was not politics but the restoration of instinct. In its aims and slogans Fascism was not a class revolution but a cultural revolution; it claimed to serve not the emancipation but the redemption of mankind. One reason for its considerable appeal may well have been that it sought utopia where all paradises are located by the natural inclination of the human mind: in mythic, primordial states of the past. The prevailing fear of the future only strengthened the tendency to shift all apotheoses backward. In Fascistic conservatism, at any rate, the desire was to reverse historical development and to return once more to the starting point, to those better, more nature-oriented, harmonious times before the human race began to go astray. In a 1941 letter to Mussolini, Hitler wrote that the last 1,500 years had been nothing but an interruption, that history was on the point of “returning to the ways of yore.” Without attempting, perhaps, to restore the conditions of the past, it craved the past’s system of values, the style, the austerity, the morality, as a defense against the forces of dissolution thrusting from all sides. “At last a bulwark against approaching chaos!” as Hitler exclaimed.

But behind it there was always more than muddled reactionary impulses. Hitler was by no means interested in bringing back the good old days. The sentimental reactionaries who in persistent blindness supported him thought he would reinstitute the old feudal social structure. Hitler had no such ideas. What he proposed to overcome was the sum of human alienation caused by the development of civilization.

The combination of petty bourgeois and military elements gave the National Socialist Party (NSDAP) a peculiar dual character from the very start. This duality was apparent in the organizational division between the Storm Troops (SA) and the Political Organization (PO). It was apparent also in the confusing disparate character of the membership. For the party was made up of idealists as well as of social outcasts, of semicriminals as well as of opportunists. The oddly equivocal conservatism of most Fascistic organizations can also be traced to this initial dualism. For although these organizations were officially bent on preserving the troubled and violated world order, they nevertheless manifested—wherever they had the power—a desire for change without regard to tradition. An odd mixture of medievalism and modernity was typical of them all: they considered themselves a vanguard but stood with their backs to the future; they would plant their folkloristic villages on the asphalt pavements of a coercive totalitarian state. Once again, they dreamed the faded dreams of their forefathers and hailed a past in whose mists they saw glimmerings of a glorious future of territorial expansion: a new Roman Empire, a Spain of Catholic majesty, a Greater Belgium, Greater Hungary, Greater Finland. Hitler’s fling at hegemony, carefully planned, cold-blooded, and realistic as it was, and dependent on the most modern weaponry, was justified in the name of a quaint and vanished Germanism. The world was to be conquered for the sake of thatched roofs and an upright peasantry, for folk dances, celebrations of the winter solstice, and swastikas. Thomas Mann spoke of an “explosion of antiquarianism.”

The same factors underlay the paramilitary aspects of the Fascistic movements, the uniforms, the rituals of saluting, reporting, standing at attention. The insigne of the movements all came down to a few basic motifs—various forms of crosses (such as the St. Olaf’s cross of the Norwegian Nasjonal Samling and the red St. Andrew’s cross of Portugal’s National Syndicalists), also arrows, bundles of fasces, scythes. These symbols were constantly displayed on flags, badges, standards, or armbands. To some extent they were meant as defiance of the boring old bourgeois business of tailcoats and stiff collars. But primarily they seemed more in keeping with the brisk technological spirit of the age. Then, too, uniforms and military trappings could conceal social differences and bring some dash to the dullness and emotional barrenness of ordinary civilian life.

It is clear, however, that within the Fascistic movements the idea was again heavily influenced by the war. For those movements did not think of themselves as political parties in the traditional sense, but as militant ideological groups, as “parties above the parties.” And the struggle they took up with their sinister symbols and resolute miens was nothing but the prolongation of the war into politics with virtually unchanged means. “At the moment we are in the continuation of the war,” Hitler repeatedly proclaimed. The leader cult, viewed in terms of the “fiction of permanent warfare,” was in one sense the translation of the principles of military hierarchy to political organization. The leader was the army officer lifted to superhuman heights and endowed with supernal powers. Those powers were conferred by the craving to believe and the yearning to surrender self. The tramp of marching feet on all the pavements of Europe attested to the belief in militaristic models as offering a solution to the problems of society. It was the future-minded youth in particular who were drawn to these models, having learned through war, revolution, and chaos to prize “geometrical” systems.

Around the same time, Max Weber also sketched a picture of the towering personality of the leader with what he termed “plebiscitary legitimacy” and the claim to “blind” obedience. But Weber saw such a leader as a counterforce to the inhuman bureaucratic organizational structures of the future. We would have to probe more deeply than is possible within the present context if we were to examine all the many sources from which the idea of the leader took support.

The appearance of Hitler signaled a union of those forces that in crisis conditions had great political potential. The Fascistic movements all centered on the charismatic appeal of a unique leader. The leader was to be the resolute voice of order controlling chaos. He would have looked further and thought deeper, would know the despairs but also the means of salvation. This looming giant had already been given established form in a prophetic literature that went back to German folklore. Like the mythology of many other nations unfortunate in their history, that of the Germans has its sleeping leaders dreaming away the centuries in the bowels of a mountain, but destined some day to return to rally their people and punish the guilty world. Into the twenties pessimistic literature repeatedly called up these longings, which were most effectively expressed in the famous lines of Stefan George:

What linked Hitler with the leading Fascists of other countries was the resolve to halt this process of degeneration. What set him apart from them, however, was the manic single-mindedness with which he traced all the anxieties he had ever felt back to a single source. For at the heart of the towering structure of anxiety, black and hairy, stood the figure of the Jew: evil-smelling, smacking his lips, lusting after blonde girls, eternal contaminator of the blood, but “racially harder” than the Aryan, as Hitler uneasily declared as late as the summer of 1942.17 A prey to his psychosis, he saw Germany as the object of a world-wide conspiracy, pressed on all sides by Bolshevists, Freemasons, capitalists, Jesuits, all hand in glove with each other and directed in their nefarious projects by the “bloodthirsty and avaricious Jewish tyrant.” The Jew had 75 per cent of world capital at his disposal. He dominated the stock exchanges and the Marxist parties, the Gold and, Red Internationals. He was the “advocate of birth control and the idea of emigration.” He undermined governments, bastardized races, glorified fratricide, fomented civil war, justified baseness, and poisoned nobility: “the wirepuller of the destinies of mankind.”18 The whole world was in danger, Hitler cried imploringly; it had fallen “into the embrace of this octopus.” He groped for images in which to make his horror tangible, saw “creeping venom,” “belly-worms,” and “adders devouring the nation’s body.” In formulating his anxiety he might equally hit on the maddest and most ludicrous phrases as on impressive or at least memorable ones. Thus he invented the “Jewification of our spiritual life,” “the mammonization of our mating instinct,” and “the resulting syphilization of our people.” He could prophesy: “If, with the help of his Marxist creed, the Jew is victorious over the other peoples of the world, his crown will be the funeral wreath of humanity and this planet will, as it did millions of years ago, move through the ether devoid of men.”19

His early years had contributed their share to that experience of overwhelming anxiety which dominated his intellectual and emotional constitution. That lurking anxiety can be seen at the root of almost all his statements and reactions. It had everyday as well as cosmic dimensions. Many who knew him in his youth have described his pallid, “timorous” nature, which provided the fertile soil for his lush fantasies. His “constant fear” of contact with strangers was another aspect of that anxiety, as was his extreme distrust and his compulsion to wash frequently, which became more and more pronounced in later life. The same complex is apparent in his oft-expressed fear of venereal disease and his fear of contagion in general. He knew that “microbes are rushing at me.”15 He was ridden by the Austrian Pan-German’s fear of being overwhelmed by alien races, by fear of the “locust-like immigration of Russian and Polish Jews,” by fear of “the niggerizing of the Germans,” by fear of the Germans’ “expulsion from Germany,” and finally by fear that the Germans would be “exterminated.” He had the Volkische Beobachter print an alleged French soldier’s song whose refrain was: “Germans, we will possess your daughters!” Among his phobias were American technology, the birth rate of the Slavs, big cities, “industrialization as unrestricted as it is harmful,” the “economization of the nation,” corporations, the “morass of metropolitan amusement culture,” and modern art, which sought “to kill the soul of the people” by painting meadows blue and skies green. Wherever he looked he discovered the “signs of decay of a slowly ebbing world.” Not an element of pessimistic anticivilizational criticism was missing from his imagination.16

It remained for Hitler to bring together these feelings and to appoint himself their spearhead. Indeed, Hitler regarded as a phenomenon seems like the synthetic product of all the anxiety, pessimism, nostalgia, and defensiveness we have discussed. For him, too, the war had been education and liberation. If there is a “Fascistic” type, it was embodied in him. More than any of his followers he expressed the underlying psychological, social, and ideological motives of the movement. He was never just its leader; he was also its exponent.

The vigilante groups and the free corps that were being organized in great numbers, partly on private initiative, partly with covert government support, chiefly to meet the threat of Communist revolution, formed centers of bewildered but determined resistance to the status quo. The members of these paramilitary groups were vaguely looking around for someone to lead them into a new system. At first there was another reservoir of militant energies alongside the paramilitary groups: the mass of homecoming soldiers. Many of these stayed in the barracks dragging out a pointless military life, baffled and unable to say good-bye to the warrior dreams of their recent youth. In the front-line trenches they had glimpsed the outlines of a new meaning to life; in the sluggishly resuming normality of the postwar period they tried in vain to find that meaning again. They had not fought and suffered for years for the sake of this weakend regime with its borrowed ideals which, as they saw it, could be pushed around by the most contemptible of their former enemies. And they also feared, after the exalting sense of life the war had given them, the ignobility of the commonplace bourgeois world.

This first phase of the postwar era was characterized both by fear of revolution and anticivilizational resentments; these together, curiously intertwined and reciprocally stimulating each other, produced a syndrome of extraordinary force. Into the brew went the hate and defense complexes of a society shaken to its foundations. German society had lost its imperial glory, its civil order, its national confidence, its prosperity, and its familiar authorities. The whole system had been turned topsy-turvy, and now many Germans blindly and bitterly wanted back what they thought had been unjustly taken from them. These general feelings of unhappiness were intensified and further radicalized by a variety of unsatisfied group interests. The class of white-color workers, continuing to grow apace, proved especially susceptible to the grand gesture of total criticism. For the industrial revolution had just begun to affect office workers and was reducing the former “non-commissioned officers of capitalism” to the status of last victims of “modern slavery.” It was all the worse for them because unlike the proletarians they had never developed a class pride of their own or imagined that the breakdown of the existing order was going to lead to their own apotheosis. Small businessmen were equally susceptible because of their fear of being crushed by corporations, department stores, and rationalized competition. Another unhappy group consisted of farmers who, slow to change and lacking capital, were fettered to backward modes of production. Another group were the academics and formerly solid bourgeois who felt themselves caught in the tremendous suction of proletarianization. Without outside support you found yourself “at once despised, declassed; to be unemployed is the same as being a communist,” one victim stated in a questionnaire of the period. No statistics, no figures on rates of inflation, bankruptcies, and suicides can describe the feelings of those threatened by unemployment or poverty, or can express the anxieties of those others who still possessed some property and feared the consequences of so much accumulated discontent. Public institutions in their persistent weakness offered no bulwark against the seething collective emotions. It was all the worse because the widespread anxiety no longer, as in the time of Lagarde and Langbehn, was limited to cries of woe and impotent prophecies. The war had given arms to the fearful.

Throughout the years of the republic the intellectual Right, which continued to hold to the anticivilizational views of the Wilhelmine era, showed a notable tendency toward alliance with the Soviet Union. Or rather, with Russia, regarded as maternal soil, heartland, the “fourth dimension,” the object of indefinite expectations. While Oswald Spengler was calling for struggle against “the England within us,” Ernst Niekisch, another defendant of the nation’s psychological identity, was writing: “To turn our eyes toward the East is already a sign of Germany’s awakening…. The movement toward the West was in itself Germany’s descent; veering to the East will once again be an ascent to German greatness.”

This complex of attitudes helps explain the stubborn resistance of the Germans to their newly established democratic republic and the roles which had been assigned it within the Versailles peace-keeping system. Still haunted by their anticivilizational philosophies, they could not see the republic and the Versailles Treaty as mere aspects of an altered political situation. To them all this was a fall from grace, an act of metaphysical treason and profound unfaithfulness to true selfhood. Only treachery could have delivered Germany, romantic, pensive, unpolitical Germany, into servitude to that idea of Western civilization which threatened her very essence. Significantly, the Volkische Beobachter called the Treaty of Versailles a “syphilitic peace,” which, like the disease “born of brief, forbidden lust, beginning with a small hard sore, gradually attacks all the limbs and joints, even all the flesh, down to the heart and brain of the sinner.”14 The passionate opposition to “the system” sprang directly from the refusal to participate in the hated “imperium of civilization” with its blabber about human rights, its progressivistic demagoguery, its craze for enlightenment, its superficiality, its corruption, and its vulgar worship of prosperity. The stern German ideals of loyalty, divine rights, love of country, were, as one of the many pamphlets of the time put it, “extinguished mercilessly in the storms of the revolutionary and postrevolutionary period.” In their place had come “democracy, the nudist movement, arrant naturalism, and companionate marriage.”

The war unleashed and radicalized these manifold hostilities of the bourgeois age toward itself. Life seemed bogged down in the banalities of civilization. Now once again great exaltations were possible; the war sanctified violence and wrought glories of destruction. As Ernst Junger wrote, its flame throwers accomplished a “great cleansing by Nothingness.” War was the perfect negation to the liberal and humanitarian ideal of civilization. The tremendous impact of the war experience, felt throughout Europe and recorded by an extensive European literature, came from this liberating sense of renewal by destruction. Those who considered themselves children of the war had learned the worth of swift, solitary decisions, absolute obedience, and the power of large numbers united by a single idea. The compromising temper of parliamentary systems, their feeble capacity for decision making and frequent self-imposed paralysis invalidated them to a generation that had come away from the war with the myth of a perfect military machine operating at peak performance.

Finally, the anticivilizational mood of the period struck up an alliance with anti-Semitism. “German anti-Semitism is reactionary,” wrote Hermann Bahr, the Austrian journalist, in 1894, after intensive study of the question. “It is a revolt of the petty bourgeois against industrial development.”12 In fact, the equating of Judaism and modernity, like the thesis, that Jews had a special talent for the capitalistic free-enterprise economy, was not unfounded. And modernity and capitalistic competition were the very things on which anxiety about the future centered. Werner Sombart, the noted economist, actually spoke of “a Jewish mission to promote the transition to capitalism… and to clear away the still preserved remnants of pre-capitalistic organization.”13 Against the background of this economic development, the old hatred of Jews, which had had a religious basis, evolved during the second half of the nineteenth century into an anti-Semitism built on biological and social prejudices. In Germany the philosopher Eugen Diihring and the failed journalist Wilhelm Marr popularized these attitudes. (The latter wrote a pamphlet significantly titled, “The Victory of Judaism over Germanism, Regarded from a Non-denominational Point of View. Vae Victis!”) Anti-Semitism in Germany seemed hardly more intense than in France, let alone in Russia and Austro-Hungary. The anti-Semitic publications of the period repeatedly complained that their ideas, despite their wide dissemination, were not being taken seriously enough. But while irrational nostalgias were skulking about “like masterless dogs,” anti-Semitism served as the vehicle for widespread discontent, precisely because of the half-truths contained in it. With the numerous current theories of a conspiracy of dark powers, or a malignant world-wide disease, the figure of the “Wandering Jew” had a curious credibility. In fact, it was still another embodiment of generalized anxiety. And, on another plane, there were the music dramas of Richard Wagner, which restated the problems of the age in mythic terms. The misgivings about the future, the awareness of the dawning age of gold, racial fears, antimaterialistic impulses, horror of an era of plebeian freedom and leveling, and premonitions of impending doom—all this expressed in highly sensuous art spoke to the cultivated middle classes struggling in the toils of their malaise.

The alliance between these anticivilizational sentiments and nationalism was to have grave consequences. Nearly as portentous was the link between those sentiments and antidemocratic ideas. In opposition to democracy, the anticivilization people joined hands with the theoreticians of Social Darwinism and racism. For both groups saw no good in the liberal Western society which traced its beginnings to the principles of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. This antidemocratic current was present, again, in all of Europe but was especially strong in France and Italy. In those countries, as Julien Benda later wrote, the writers around 1890 “realized with astonishing astuteness that the doctrines of arbitrary authority, discipline, tradition, contempt for the spirit of liberty, association of the morality of war and slavery were opportunities for haughty and rigid poses infinitely more likely to strike the imagination of simple souls than the sentimentalities of Liberalism and Humanitarianism.”10 And although all literary successes not withstanding, unhappiness with modernity remained the affair of a sensitive intellectual minority, these attitudes—to revert to Germany—gradually produced a lasting effect. The youth movement particularly was identified with them and gave them a pure and ardent expression. Friedrich Nietzsche described the tendency as follows: “The whole great tendency of the Germans ran counter to the Enlightenment, and to the revolution of society, which, by a crude misunderstanding, was considered its consequence: piety toward everything still in existence sought to transform itself into piety toward everything that has ever existed, only to make heart and spirit full once again and to leave no room for future goals and innovations. The cult of feeling was erected in place of the cult of reason.”11

The values they opposed to the utilitarian ones of the modern age included the sacredness of nature, the loftiness of art, the value of the earthy. They extolled the past, aristocracy, the beauty of death, and the claims of the strong, Caesarean personality. They lamented the decay of German culture while at the same time they were filled with an imperialistic missionary fervor: fear was translated into aggression, and despair sought comfort in the idea.of greatness. The most famous book expressive of this trend, Julius Langbehn’s Rembrandt als Erzieher (“Rembrandt as Educator”) had a spectacular success when it was published in 1890 and went through forty printings within two years. The widespread approval for this curious document, approval deriving from panic, antimodernity, and nationalistic missionary delusions suggests that the book itself was an expression of the crisis it so furiously deplored.

This tradition, too, went far back. Such pangs at the onslaughts of civilization could be traced back to Rousseau or to Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, whose hero had already sensed the mighty force approaching “like a thunderstorm, slowly, slowly, but… it will come and strike.” In Germany the spokesmen for this attitude despised progress and professed themselves, with a good measure of pride, unworldly reactionaries; they preferred to be, in Nietzsche’s phrase, untimely onlookers who, as Lagarde charged, longed for a Germany that had never existed and perhaps never would exist. They treated the facts that were held up to them with haughty contempt and roundly ridiculed “one-eyed reason.” With no regard for logic but with flashes of considerable shrewdness, they opposed the stock exchange and urbanization, compulsory vaccination, the global economy and positivistic science, “communistic” movements and the first attempts at heavier-than-air flight. In brief, they were against the whole concept of modern improvement, and summed up all efforts in that direction as a disastrous “decline of the soul.” As “prophets of enraged tradition,” they invoked the day when the mad whirl would be checked and “the old gods would once more rise out of the waves.”

Such writers as Paul de Lagarde, Julius Langbehn, and Eugen Duhring became spokesman for a widespread mood hostile to modern civilization. This mood was not confined to Germany. Elsewhere, too, there was a reaction against the unimaginative, life-affirming optimism of the age, and the present was fiercely condemned both from the right and from the left. Around the turn of the century this note was sounded in the United States as well as in the France of the Dreyfus case. It inspired the formation of the Action Francaise and the manifestos of Maurras and Barres. Gabriele d’Annunzio, Enrico Corradini, Miguel de Unamuno, Dmitri Merezhkovski and Vladimir Soloviev, Knut Hamsun, Jacob Burckhardt and D. H. Lawrence, for all their individual differences, became spokesmen for similar fears and antagonisms. But the sharpness of the change in Germany, which shot the country so abruptly from Biedermeier to modernity, with all the painful breaches and partings that such precipitation involves, gave to the protest an especially nysterical high pitch in which anxiety and disgust with modern reality mingled with romantic yearnings for a vanished Arcadia.

There were anachronistic features in the total picture of imperial Germany, but these came from a quarter other than the economic or social reality. Over this hard-working country, seemingly so sure of its future, with rapidly growing metropolises and industrial areas, there arched a peculiarly romantic sky whose darkness was populated by mythic figures, antiquated giants, and ancient deities. Germany’s backwardness was chiefly ideological in nature. A good deal of professorial obscurantism and Teutonic folklorism was involved. So also was the desire for self-improvement on the part of a middle class that longed for “the higher things” even as it so dynamically pursued material goals. Underlying these tendencies on the part of the cultivated middle class was an antagonism to the very modern world it was creating so energetically and successfully. This opposition produced defensive gestures against the new, antipoetic reality, gestures springing not from skepticism but from romantic pessimism. An impulse for counterrevolutionary protest could be detected in these ambivalent attitudes.

The fashionable pessimism of the time found a formula for all this: “the decline of the West.” It was feared the day would come when all these resentments would fuse and lead to exasperated counteraction. For the Germans, with their conservative temperament, reacted violently to these blithe inroads on familiar social and cultural forms. More than elsewhere, their quickly rising opposition could link up with attitudes and arguments of the end of the nineteenth century. The process of technical and economic modernization had been late in coming to Germany, but for that very reason struck with unusual speed and force. In the abruptness, thoroughness, and extent of her industrial revolution, Germany was unexampled among Western nations, as Thorstein Veblen had noted.9 The pace of change consequently stirred violent anxieties and reactions. Yet in contrast to the usual cliche, the Germany that united achievement with neglect, feudal elements with highly progressive measures, authoritarianism with state socialism, in a unique and variegated pattern, must be considered as probably the most modern industrial state in Europe on the eve of the First World War. In the previous twenty-five years it had more than doubled its gross national product. The proportion of the population earning the minimum income subject to taxation had risen from 30 to 60 per cent. Steel production, for example, which had amounted to only half of British production in 1887, had attained nearly double the British production. Colonies had been conquered, cities built, industrial empires created. The number of corporations had risen from 2,143 to 5,340, and the tonnage handled in the port of Hamburg had moved up to third place in the world, still behind New York and Amsterdam, but ahead of London. Along with this, the country was governed soberly and frugally. Despite certain areas of autocracy, it provided a high degree of domestic freedom, administrative justice, and social security.

In the visual arts the revolutionary breakthrough had already come about before the First World War, though, as we have remarked, both in Vienna and Munich Hitler had paid scant attention to this development. Before the war the new art could be considered the quirk of a handful of visionaries. But against the background images of upheaval, revolution, and disintegration it took on the cast of an assault upon the traditional European conception of humanity. The Fauves, the Blaue Reiter, the Brucke, or Dada seemed to be as great a menace as the revolution, and in fact were branded by the popular phrase “cultural Bolshevism.” The defensive reaction was therefore just as furious; again what was feared was anarchy, arbitrariness, and formlessness. Modern art was “chaotic hack work”; that was the general opinion.

The abrupt and challenging breach with previous standards of morality touched people at their most sensitive point. Marriage, as a book titled Sexual Ethics of Communism (by E. Friedlander) stated, was nothing but the “evil spawn of capitalism”; the revolution would do away with it along with any prohibition against abortion, homosexuality, bigamy, or incest. But many of the members of the respectable middle classes still felt themselves guardians of time-honored morality and took such attacks as personal threats. In their minds marriage as a mere matter of civil registration, as it was understood in the Soviet Union, was just as intolerable as the “glass of water theory” that sexual desire, like thirst, was a natural appetite and should be satisfied without fuss. The fox trot and brief skirts; pleasure seeking in “Berlin, the national sewer”; the “swinish pictures” of Magnus Hirschfeld, the scientific explorer of sexual pathology; or the prototype of the stylish young man about town (“the rubber cavalier with sleeked-back hair, crepe-soled shoes and Charleston trousers”) aroused a shocked resentment in the popular consciousness, which in hindsight is hard to grasp and requires some effort on the historian’s part. The theater during the twenties staged celebrated provocations, treating of parricide, incest, and crime. There was a strong streak of self-mockery, typified by the final scene of the Brecht-Weill opera Mahagonny, where the actors step up to the footlights and raise placards reading “Up with the chaotic state of our cities,” “Up with love for hire,” “Up with honor for assassins,” or “Up with the immortality of vulgarity.”8

The early issues of the Volkische Beobachter give shrill voice to this panic. “How large must our cities still grow before a retroactive movement sets in, before the tenements are torn down, the accumulations of stone shattered, the caves ventilated and… gardens planted among the walls so that men can catch their breath again?” Prefabricated housing, Le Corbusier’s machines for living, the Bauhaus style, tubular steel furniture—the “technical matter-of-factness” on which such creations plumed themselves were a further threat to the traditionbound, who spoke of all this as “jailhouse style.” The romantic hostility to the modern world also gave rise to a large back-to-the-country movement in the twenties. The Artaman Leagues contrasted the earthbound happiness of the simple life to the woes of “asphalt civilization” and hailed the comfort of natural ties against the alienation of the urban world.

This fear of a standardized, termitelike existence was expressed in the hostility to increasing urbanization, to the canyon streets and grayness of the cities, and in lamentations over the factory chimneys cropping up in quiet valleys. In the face of a ruthlessly practiced “transformation of the planet into a single factory for the exploitation of its materials and energies,” belief in progress for the first time underwent a reversal. The cry arose that civilization was destroying the world, that the earth was being made into “a Chicago with a sprinkling of agriculture.”.

The trend to bigness was also expressed in the extraordinary increase in cartels—from several hundred to approximately twenty-five hundred—so that in industry “only a few outsiders” remained unattached to some cartel. The number of independent businesses in the major cities had diminished by half in the thirty years before the World War. Now that war and inflation had destroyed their material base, their number dwindled more rapidly. The cruelty of the corporation, which absorbed, consumed, and dropped the individual, was felt more keenly than ever before. Fear of individual economic disaster became generalized. A considerable literature grew up around the theme that the individual’s function was disappearing, that man was becoming a cog in a machine he could not understand. “In general, life seems full of dread.”7

Rarely has any age been so aware of its own transitional state. In accelerating the process, the war also created a general consciousness of it. For the first time Europe had a glimpse of what awaited it. Pessimism, so long the basic attitude of an elite minority, abruptly became the mood of the whole period.

Anxiety was the permanent emotion of the time. It sprang from the intuition that the end of the war meant not only the end of familiar prewar Europe with its grandeur and its urge to world domination, its monarchies, and gilt-edged securities, but also the end of an era. Along with the old forms of government, the accustomed framework of life was being destroyed. The unrest, the radicalism of the politicalized masses, the disorders of revolution were interpreted as the afterpains of the war and simultaneously as harbingers of a new, strange, and chaotic age. “That is why the foundations of life quake beneath our feet.”6

But the fear of revolution would not have been enough to endow the movement with that fierce energy, which for a time seemed to stem the universal trend toward democracy. After all, for many people revolution meant hope. A stronger and more elemental motivation had to be added. And in fact Marxism was feared as the precursor of a far more comprehensive assault upon all traditional ideas. It was viewed as the contemporary political aspect of a metaphysical upheaval, as a “declaration of war upon the European… idea of culture.” Marxism itself was only the metaphor for something dreaded that escaped definition.

National Socialism owed a considerable part of its emotional appeal, its militancy, and its cohesion to this defensive attitude toward the threat of Marxist revolution. The aim of the National Socialist Party, Hitler repeatedly declared, “is very brief: Annihilation and extermination of the Marxist world view.” This was to be accomplished by an “incomparable, brilliantly orchestrated propaganda and information organization” side by side with a movement “of the most ruthless force and most brutal resolution, prepared to oppose all terrorism on the part of the Marxists with tenfold greater terrorism.” At about the same time, for similar reasons, Mussolini was founding his Fasci di combattimento. Henceforth, the new movements were to be identified by the general name of “Fascism.”

This threat dominated Hitler’s speeches of the early years. In garish colors he depicted the ravages of the “Red squads of butchers,” the “murderous communists,” the “bloody morass of Bolshevism.” In Russia, he told his audiences, more than thirty million persons had been murdered, “partly on the scaffold, partly by machine guns and similar means, partly in veritable slaughterhouses, partly, millions upon millions, by hunger; and we all know that this wave of hunger is creeping on… and see that this scourge is approaching, that it is also coming upon Germany.” The intelligentsia of the Soviet Union, he declared, had been exterminated by mass murder, the economy utterly smashed. Thousands of German prisoners-of-war had been drowned in the Neva or sold as slaves. Meanwhile, in Germany the enemy was boring away at the foundations of society “in unremitting, ever unchanging undermining work.” The fate of Russia, he said again and again, would soon be ours!5 And years later, when he was already in power, he spoke again of “the horror of the Communist international hate dictatorship” that had preyed on his mind at the beginning of his career: “I tremble at the thought of what would become of our old, overcrowded continent if the chaos of the Bolshevistic revolution were to be successful.”

In what may have been a direct rejoinder to this, National Socialist Party headquarters issued the following proclamation: “Will you wait until you see thousands of people hanging from the lamp posts in every city? Will you wait until, as in Russia, a Bolshevistic murder commission sets to work in every city…? Will you wait until you stumble over the corpses of your wives and children?” The threat of revolution no longer had to be pictured as emanating from a few lonely, harried conspirators. It could now be seen coming from great, uncanny Russia, the “brutal power colossus,” as Hitler called it.4 Moreover, Bolshevik propaganda heralded the imminent conquest of Germany by the united strength of the international proletariat; this would be the decisive step on the road to world revolution. The obscure activities of Soviet agents, the continual unrest, the soviet revolution in Bavaria, the Ruhr uprising of 1920, the revolts in Central Germany during the following year, the risings in Hamburg and later in Saxony and Thuringia, were all too consistent with the Soviet regime’s threat of permanent revolution.

Yet the horrifying reports of atrocities in the East were not unfounded and were confirmed by credible witnesses. One of the chiefs of the Cheka, the Latvian M. Latsis, at the end of 1918 established the principle that sentences were not to be determined by guilt or innocence but social class. “We are engaged in exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class. You need not prove that this or that man acted against the interests of Soviet power. The first thing you have to ask an arrested person is: To what class does he belong, where does he come from, what kind of education did he have, what is his occupation? These questions are to decide the fate of the accused. That is the quintessence of the Red Terror.”3

Dreadful times in which Christian-hating, circumcised Asiatics everywhere are raising their bloodstained hands to strangle us in droves! The butcheries of Christians by the Jew Issachar Zederblum, alias Lenin, would have made even a Genghis Khan blush. In Hungary his pupil Cohn, alias Bela Kun, marched through the unhappy land with a band of Jewish terrorists schooled in murder and robbery, to set up, among brutal gallows, a mobile machine gallows and execute middle-class citizens and peasants on it. A splendidly equipped harem served him, in his stolen royal train, to rape and defile honorable Christian virgins by the dozen. His lieutenant Samuely has had sixty priests cruelly butchered in a single underground room. Their bellies are ripped open, their corpses mutilated, after they have been plundered to their blood-drenched skin. In the case of eight murdered priests it has been established that they were first crucified on the doors of their own churches! The very same atrocious scenes are… now reported from Munich.2

This old fear was revived by the pseudorevolutionary events in Germany and by the menace of the October Revolution in Russia. Diabolical traits were ascribed to the Reds. The refugees pouring into Munich described bloodthirsty barbarians on a rampage of killing. Such imagery had instant appeal to the nationalists. The following article from one of Munich’s racist newspapers is a fair example of the fears of the period and the way these were expressed:

First of all, and most immediate, there was the fear of revolution, that grande peur which after the French Revolution had haunted the European bourgeoisie throughout the nineteenth century. The notion that revolutions were like forces of nature, elemental mechanisms operating without reference to the will of the actors in them, following their own logic and leading perforce to reigns of terror, destruction, killing, and chaos—that notion was seared into the public mind. That was the unforgettable experience, not Kant’s belief that the French Revolution had also shown the potentiality for betterment inherent in human nature. For generations, particularly in Germany, this fear stood in the way of any practical revolutionary strivings and produced a mania for keeping things quiet, with the result that every revolutionary proclamation up to 1918 was countered by the standard appeal to law and order.

They had such names as New Fatherland, Council of Intellectual Work, Siegfried Ring, Universal League, Nova Vaconia, League of Socialist Women, Free Union of Socialist Pupils, and Ostara League. The German Workers’ Party was one such group. What united them all and drew them together theoretically and in reality was nothing but an overwhelming feeling of anxiety.

National Socialism rose from provincial beginnings, from philistine clubs, as Hitler scornfully described them, which met in Munich bars over a few rounds of beer to talk over national and family troubles. No one would have dreamed that they could ever challenge, let alone outdo, the powerful, highly organized Marxist parties. But the following years proved that in these clubs of nationalistic beer drinkers, soon swelled by disillusioned homecoming soldiers and proletarianized members of the middle class, a tremendous force was waiting to be awakened, consolidated, and applied.

This movement recorded its most lasting successes in countries in which the war had aroused considerable discontent or made it conscious of existing discontent, and especially in countries in which the war had been followed by leftist revolutionary uprisings. In some places these movements were conservative, harking back to better times when men were more honorable, the valleys more peaceable, and money had more worth; in others these movements were revolutionary and vied with one another in their contempt for the existing order of things. Some attracted chiefly the petty bourgeois elements, others the peasants, others portions of the working class. Whatever their strange compound of classes, interests, and principles, all seemed to be drawing their dynamic force from the less conscious and more vital lower strata of society. National Socialism was merely one variant of this widespread European movement of protest and opposition aimed at overturning the general order of things.

But the image of democracy victorious was also deceptive. The moment in which democracy seemed to be achieving historic fulfillment simultaneously marked the beginning of its crisis. Only a few years later the idea of democracy was challenged in principle as it had never been before. Only a few years after it had celebrated its triumph it was overwhelmed or at least direly threatened by a new movement that had sprung to life in almost all European countries.

Germany’s former enemies regarded the multifarious symptoms of nationalistic protest as the response of an inveterately authoritarian people to democracy and civic responsibility. To be sure, the Germans were staggering beneath terrible political and psychological burdens: there was the shock of defeat, the moral censure of the Versailles Treaty, the loss of territory and the demand for reparations, the impoverishment and spiritual undermining of much of the population. Nevertheless, the conviction remained that a great moral gap existed between the Germans and most of their neighbors. Full of resentment, refusing to learn a lesson, this incomprehensible country had withdrawn into its reactionary doctrines, made of them a special virtue, adjured Western rationality and humanity, and in general set itself against the universal trend of the age. For decades this picture of Germany dominated the discussion on the reasons for the rise of National Socialism.

Only Germany seemed to be opposing this mood of the times, after having been temporarily gripped and carried along by it. Those who would not acknowledge the reality created by the war organized into a fantastic swarm of volkisch [racist-nationalist] parties, clubs, and free corps. To these groups the revolution had been an act of treason; parliamentary democracy was something foreign and imposed from without, merely a synonym for “everything contrary to the German political will,” or else an “institution for pillaging created by Allied capitalism.”1

At the end of the First World War the victory of the democratic idea seemed beyond question. Whatever its weaknesses might be, it rose above the turmoil of the times, the uprisings, the dislocations, and the continual quarrels among nations as the unifying principle of the new age. For the war had not only decided a claim to power. It had at the same time altered a conception of government. After the collapse of virtually all the governmental structures of Central and Eastern Europe many new political entities had emerged out of turmoil and revolution. And these for the most part were organized on democratic principles. In 1914 there had been only three republics alongside of seventeen monarchies in Europe. Four years later there were as many republics as monarchies. The spirit of the age seemed to be pointing unequivocally toward various forms of popular rule.

There is no denying that the collapse of the old order opened the way for him to enter politics. As long as the bourgeois world persisted and politics was a bourgeois career, he had few prospects of winning a name in it. The formal strictures of that sphere would all have operated against him.

Only when he discovered his own oratorical powers did he overcome his qualms against the political life and his fear of odium as a disturber of public order. Even so, when he leaped on the stage as a revolutionary personality, he became, as he justified himself four years later in his trial before the Munich People’s Court, a revolutionary against the revolution. But was he any the less an unsociable, easily depressed artist personality whom the peculiar circumstances of the times, together with a monstrous special gift, had propelled into a realm for which he was never intended? The question will arise repeatedly in the course of this biography, and repeatedly we will be tempted to ask whether politics ever meant more to him than the means he employed to practice it: rhetorical overpowering of his enemies, for example; the histrionics of processions, parades, and Party Days; the spectacle of military force applied in war.

If this was so, we can understand why not even the revolution drove him to enter the fray on one side or the other. The November events, the collapse of all authority, the downfall of the dynasties and the prevailing chaos had certainly challenged his conservative instincts. But even these violent changes did not rouse him to active protest. Even stronger than his contempt for political affairs was his repugnance for riot and rebellion. Bourgeois that he was, he was not one to go into the streets. Even twenty-five years later, he told his dinner companions, referring to his experiences at the time of the November revolution, that rebels were no more or less than criminals. He could see in them nothing but an “asocial lot”; the best thing to do with them was to kill them.

On November 23, 1939, when his faith in his own power was at its height, he himself made the astonishing remark to his military commanders that in 1919 he had entered politics only after a long struggle with himself. That had been, he said, “the most difficult decision of all.” And although this was said to emphasize that beginnings are always the hardest part of a venture, it also reveals his strong inner reservations about a political career. One element may have been the traditional German contempt for politics as something by nature lower than creative activity. He would have thought a political career demeaning by comparison with his unattainable youthful dream of becoming “one of the foremost architects of Germany, if not the foremost architect.” Even at the climax of the war he remarked that he would far sooner have gone to Italy as an “unknown painter” and that only the deadly menace to his own race had forced him on to the road of politics, which was fundamentally alien to him.

Looking back over this period, it is astonishing to see that Adolf Hitler, who was to become the century’s political phenomenon, did not feel tempted by politics until his thirtieth year. At a comparable age, Napoleon was already First Consul, Lenin in exile after years of persecution, Mussolini editor in chief of the socialist paper Avanti. Hitler, however, had not been impelled to take a single step in behalf of any of those ideas that would soon send him forth on a mission of world conquest. He had not entered a single party, had not joined any of the numerous associations of the period, with the exception of the Viennese League of Anti-Semites. There is nothing betokening any impulse toward political action, no sign of anything more than a stammering participation in the platitudes of the era.

Now for the first time he was beginning to attract attention, to emerge from the anonymity that had so long concealed and depressed him. He himself called his work for the investigating commission his “first more or less purely political activity.”71 He was still letting himself drift; but the direction in which he now floated rapidly brought him to the end of his formative years, which were compounded of asocial apathy and a messianic sense of vocation.

Afterward, a commission was set up to look into events during the soviet rule, and there has been much speculation on the role Hitler may have played in conjunction with these investigations. All that is certain, however, is that he offered his services to the board of inquiry established by the Second Infantry Regiment. He supplied information for the tribunals, which often handed down very harsh sentences reflecting the bitterness of the recent struggle. He located fellow soldiers who had taken part in the soviet regime, and seems to have carried out his assignment so well that he was soon sent to a training course in “civic thinking.”

It is much more likely that his behavior at this time was a mixture of embarrassment, passivity, and opportunistic adjustment. He took no noticeable part even in the. turbulent events of early May, when the troops of Colonel von Epp’s Free Corps, a paramilitary organization, together with other formations, overthrew the soviet government in Munich. Otto Strasser, who for a time was one of his followers, later asked publicly: “Where was Hitler on that day? In what corner of Munich was the soldier hiding who ought to have fought in our ranks?” In fact Red Army man Adolf Hitler was arrested and questioned by the invading troops; some officers who knew him intervened, and he was released again. Possibly the story of the attempted arrest by the Central Council is the retouched version of this incident.

It is true that he also had no choice. The army was the only social framework in which he could feel sheltered. To leave it meant returning to the realm of the shipwrecked. Hitler was distinctly aware of the hopelessness of his personal predicament: “At that time endless plans chased one another through my head. For days I wondered what could be done, but 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.”70 Plainly, he was as far as ever from thinking of a job, of earning a living, and achieving bourgeois status. Instead, he was agonizingly aware of his insignificance. According to his story, his political activity at that time had incurred “the disapproval of the Central Council” of the new soviet government in Munich, so that at the end of April they came to arrest him. “Faced with my leveled carbine, the scoundrels lacked the necessary courage and marched off as they had come.” But in reality the Central Council was no longer in existence at the time he gives.

Since he did not know where else to go, he took up quarters in the barracks in Oberwiesenfeld. Presumably, the decision did not come easily to him, for it meant he had to subordinate himself to the dominant Red Army and don its red armband. Nevertheless, he put up with taking orders from the revolutionary Left at a time when he might have joined units of the Right, a fact revelatory of his underdeveloped political instincts and lack of discrimination at the time. Later, the mere mention of the word “Bolshevism” would drive him wild. But all subsequent revision of the facts to the contrary, at this stage his political indolence was obviously stronger than any horror he might have had at being counted a soldier of the world revolution.

At the beginning of February, craving something to do, he volunteered for guard duty in a prisoner-of-war camp at Traunstein, near the Austrian border. But about a month later the few hundred French and Russian soldiers were released, and both camp and guard detail were dissolved. Once more, Hitler was left at loose ends. He returned to Munich.

Certainly his behavior during the following months suggests this interpretation. For when he was discharged from Pasewalk hospital at the end of November, he went to Munich and reported to the reserve battalion of his regiment. Munich had played an important part in the November events and had led the way in the overthrow of the German ruling houses. But although the city was vibrating with political excitement, Hitler remained indifferent. In spite of his alleged decision to go into politics, he neither joined nor opposed the political currents. Rather tersely, he comments that Red rule was repugnant to him. But since by his own contention the “Reds” were in power basically throughout the period of the republic, such an observation scarcely justifies the meager interest he took in politics at this period.

Adolf Hitler, now some thirty years old, was seized by this general mood in the hospital at Pasewalk. A vague but furious sense of misfortune and betrayal swept over him. It brought him a step closer to politics, but his decision to go actively into politics, which in Mein Kampf is linked to the events of November, 1918, actually was made a year later, when he discovered his oratorical gifts. The overwhelming moment came to him in the haze of a small meeting; in a burst of rapture he suddenly saw a way out of a hopelessly blocked life and found that he had prospects for a future.

Within Germany, the bitterness over the terms of the peace treaty increased the resentment against the republic, for it had proved incapable of sparing the country the distresses and privations of this “shameful dictated peace.” How unwanted the republic really had been now became evident. It had been merely the product of embarrassment, chance, craving for peace, and weariness. Its impotence in domestic affairs had already lost it much credit. To this bad record was now added its weakness in foreign affairs. To a growing number of Germans the very term “republic” seemed synonymous with disgrace, dishonor, and powerlessness. The feeling persisted that the republic had been imposed on the Germans by deception and coercion, that it was something altogether alien to their nature. It is true that in spite of all its drawbacks it held a certain promise; but even in its few fortunate years it was “unable to arouse either the loyalty or the political imagination of the people.”69

The treaty solved scarcely any of the problems that had led to the recent hostilities. Instead, it all but destroyed the sense of European solidarity and common tradition that had survived so long, despite the wars and angry passions of centuries. The new order imposed by the peace treaty diii little to restore this sense. For all intents and purposes, Germany remained excluded, seemingly forever, from the European community. This discrimination turned the Germans decisively against European co-operation. In challenging the victors, Hitler was able to build on this feeling. Actually, a large part of Hitler’s early successes in foreign affairs were gained by his posing as a firm adherent of Woodrow Wilson’s principles and the maxims posited by the Versailles Peace Treaty with regard to the self-determination of national and ethnic groups. “A terrible time is dawning for Europe,” wrote one clear-sighted observer on the day the peace treaty was ratified in Paris, “a sultriness before the storm which will probably end in an even more terrible explosion than the World War.”68

The contradictions and hypocrisies in the 440 articles of the treaty were all too evident. The victors assumed the pose of judges and insisted on the Germans’ confessing their sins, where in fact their interests were purely material. The pointless vengeful moralism was what awoke so much hatred and ridicule. Even in the Allied countries there was strong criticism of this hypocritical tone. The right of self-determination, for example, which in President Wilson’s proclamations had been raised to the height of a sacred principle, was quietly dropped whenever it might have worked to the advantage of the Germans. There was no question of the German remnant of the shattered Hapsburg monarchy becoming part of the Reich. Supranational states were destroyed and nationalism triumphantly confirmed; but, paradoxically, the League of Nations was created, whose essence was the denial of nationalism.

In general, the psychological affronts rather than the material exactions were what produced the extraordinarily traumatic effects of the Treaty of Versailles, so that from Right to Left, running across all factions and parties, it produced a sense of unforgettable humiliation. The territorial demands, the requirements for compensation and reparations, which at first dominated public discussion, certainly did not have that “Carthaginian harshness” which was so much talked about. The terms in fact could stand comparison with the conditions Germany had imposed on Russia in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and on Rumania in the Treaty of Bucharest. But certain clauses seemed intolerably insulting and soon figured in rightist agitation as the “disgrace” of Versailles. These were the clauses that struck at German honor: above all Article 228, which provided for the handing over of certain German officers for judgment by Allied military tribunals, and the celebrated Article 231, which placed sole moral guilt for the outbreak of the war upon Germany.

One thing is certain: the victorious powers arranged the surrounding circumstances with deliberate desire to harass and insult the Germans. They had opened the peace conference on January 18, 1919, the anniversary of the day the German Empire had been proclaimed barely fifty years before; and they chose as the place for signing the treaty the same Hall of Mirrors in which that proclamation had been issued. Perhaps that could be borne with. But their choosing for the signing date June 28, the fifth anniversary of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand at Sarajevo, stood in what was felt to be cynical contrast to the altruism of Wilsonian pledges.

The terms of the Versailles peace treaty increased the resentment. The public statements of President Wilson had fostered the illusion that overthrow of the monarchy and the adoption of Western constitutional principles would soften the wrath of the victors and cause them to adopt a milder tone toward men who, after all, were only acting as executors of the legacy of a deceased regime. Many Germans also believed that the “order of world peace,” for which the discussions at Versailles were ostensibly laying the groundwork, excluded punishment, injustices, and any kind of coercion. This period of understandable but unrealistic hopes has been called “the dreamland of the Armistice period.” The country’s reaction at the beginning of May, 1919, when the peace terms were presented to it, was all the more dumfounded. There was a great outcry. The public consternation was expressed politically by the resignations of Chancellor Philipp Scheidemann and of Foreign Minister Count Ulrich von Brockdorff-Rantzau.

For the bedeviled and directionless public soon blamed the battles and controversies of that period on the republic, which was only defending itself. Everything was equated with “the revolution,” and the political form that finally emerged from these troubled times was in the common mind obscurely connected with mutiny, defeat, national humiliation, street battles, chaos, and public disorder. Nothing so damaged the prospects of the republic as the fact that the public associated its very beginnings with a “dirty” revolution. Much of the population, including even the political moderates, remembered the inception of the republic with shame, sorrow, and disgust.

In the confusion and perplexity of those weeks, only the radical Left was capable of drafting a revolutionary program for the future. But it had neither a following nor, in Max Weber’s phrase, the spark of “Catilinarian energy.” On January 6, 1919, a crowd numbering tens of thousands of persons in a revolutionary mood gathered in the Siegesallee in Berlin and waited in vain until evening for some sign from the endlessly debating revolutionary committee. Finally, freezing, weary, and disappointed, the crowd dispersed. The gap between thought and deed was as insurmountable as ever. Nevertheless, the revolutionary Left, especially up to the assassination of its two outstanding leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, engaged in sufficiently violent struggles with counterrevolutionary soldiery to produce turmoil and internecine conflicts. What remained historically unsuccessful was not without its consequences.

Indecision and lack of courage early sapped the strength of the new regime. The new men could of course point to the exhaustion of the nation and to the fear of what had happened in Russia. Faced with the multitudinous needs of a defeated country, they might well cite many reasons for restraining the desire for political innovation that was spontaneously springing up on the workers’ and soldiers’ councils. But the events had prepared the nation for the abandonment of traditional attitudes. That readiness was not exploited. The revolution was hailed even on the right, and “socialism” as well as “socialization” constituted one of the magic formulas for solving the situation even among conservative intellectuals. But in fact its sole program was the restoration of law and order, and the new leaders thought they could accomplish this only in alliance with the traditional powers. Not even a timid approach toward socialization was attempted. The great feudal landholders remained untouched; the civil servants were prematurely guaranteed their positions. With the exception of the ducal and royal houses, the social groups that had hitherto wielded decisive influence emerged from the transition to a new form of government virtually without loss of power. With some cogency Hitler could later ask scornfully who had prevented the men of November from setting up a socialist state, since they had the power to do it.67

Given these discouraging circumstances, there was only one way the quasi revolution might have become a real one—by exploiting the attraction of novelty. But the new holders of power, Friedrich Ebert and the Social Democrats, were hard-working, sobersided men. They thought they had done pretty well to eliminate right at the start a whole slew of honorary titles, decorations, and medals. The peculiar pedantry and lack of psychological flair that marked all their behavior explain why they could not fire the masses or draft any major social changes. Theirs was “a revolution entirely lacking in ideas,” as one man who lived through it recognized.66 Certainly they had no answer to the emotional needs of a defeated and disillusioned nation. The Constitution, which was discussed during the first half of 1919 and went into force in Weimar on August 11, fell far short of what was needed. It was intended, strictly speaking, merely as a technical instrument for installing a democratic power system, but it revealed scarcely any understanding of the ends of power.

The whim of history had robbed the revolution of that emotional verve which might otherwise have made it memorable in the mind of the nation. As early as October, 1918, the Chancellor, Prince Max von Baden, had met the demands both of President Wilson and his own public by instituting a number of domestic political reforms. Germany was given a parliamentary government. Finally, on the morning of November 9, the Chancellor, acting to a considerable extent on his own initiative, had announced the Kaiser’s abdication. The revolution had reached its goal before it had even broken out; it had at any rate missed the chance to define itself by any concrete act. Abruptly, it had been cheated of its storming of the Bastille and its Boston Tea Party.

The force of this unrevolutionary revolution was spent chiefly in gestures that suggest a curiously helpless perplexity. From the early days of November on, deserters marched through the streets all over Germany, hunting down officers. Groups of enlisted men lay in wait for the officers, seized them, and with scornful and insulting comments ripped off their decorations, epaulets, and cockades. This was an act of revolt after the fact against the overthrown regime and was as pointless as it was understandable. In the case of the officers, it bred a permanent ire that was to have far-reaching consequences, a deep-seated antipathy for the revolution and hence for the regime which had begun under such circumstances. That antipathy was shared by all the advocates of law and order.

For the end of the war deprived the sergeant Hitler of a role he had found at the front, and he lost his homeland at the moment he was dismissed for home. In shocked surprise he noted that at the home front the much-vaunted discipline of the German army collapsed as if on cue. Increasing numbers of soldiers had only one remaining desire: to throw off the suddenly unbearable burden of four years, to make an end of it and go home. They could no longer conceal the fears and humiliations of existence at the front behind patriotic formulas or warrior poses. An overwhelming sense of the vanity of it all became the general sentiment: “And so it had all been in vain. In vain all the sacrifices and privations; in vain the hunger and thirst of months which were often endless; in vain the hours in which, with mortal fear clutching at our hearts, we nevertheless did our duty; and in vain the death of two millions who died.”65

We may assume, however, that such remarks were merely meant to explain the transition between the preceding years of bohemianism, apathy, and vague reveries and the phase of revealed genius. In reality, the November days had numbed him and left him in a quandary. “I knew that everything was lost.” The requirements imposed by the hated bourgeois world, those requirements that four years of war had set aside, were confronting him once more. He was no further along in meeting the problems of vocation and earning his livelihood. He had no training, no work, no goal, no place to stay, no friends. In that outburst of despair, when he wept into his pillow at the news of the defeat and the revolution, he was expressing more of a personal than a national sense of loss.

In daily life the so-called genius requires a special cause, indeed, often a positive impetus, to make him shine…. In the monotony of everyday life even significant men often seem insignificant, hardly rising above the average of their environment; as soon, however, as they are approached by a situation in which others lose hope or go astray, the genius rises manifestly from the inconspicuous average child, not seldom to the amazement of all those who had hitherto seen him in the pettiness of bourgeois life…. If this hour of trial had not come, hardly anyone would ever have guessed that a young hero was hidden in this beardless boy…. The hammer-stroke of Fate which throws one man to the ground suddenly strikes steel in another.64

To Hitler the disillusionment was as sudden and incomprehensible as had been his failure to win acceptance into the Academy. He magnified it into a legend and made it one of the basic themes of his career. Later he ascribed his resolve to enter politics to this moment. In virtually every major speech Hitler would ritualistically refer to the November revolution. He would speak of it as if his whole life dated from that event. This obsession has led some analysts to suggest that the revolution triggered the great political awakening of his life. It has also been suggested that his going blind in October, 1918, was to some extent a hysterical symptom, precipitated by the shock he felt at the abrupt change in the course of the war. Hitler himself occasionally furnished some support for such theories. In a speech to army officers and officer candidates in February, 1942, for example, he referred to the danger he had faced of going completely blind, and declared that eyesight meant nothing if all one could see was a world in which the nation was enslaved. “In that case what can I see worth seeing?” And at the end of 1944, faced with approaching defeat, he gloomily told Albert Speer that he had reason to fear that once again, as toward the end of the First World War, he would go blind.63

On November 10, 1918, however, the truth was brought home to him, “the most terrible certainty of my life.” Summoned to a meeting by the hospital pastor, the patients learned that a revolution had broken out, that the House of Hohenzollern had fallen and a republic had been proclaimed in Germany. Sobbing gently to himself—thus Hitler described the “old gentleman”—the pastor recalled the merits of the ruling house, and “not an eye was able to restrain its tears.” But when the pastor began to tell them that the war was now lost and that the Reich was throwing itself unconditionally upon the mercy of its previous enemies—“I could stand it no longer. It became impossible for me to sit still one minute more. Again everything went black before my eyes; I tottered and groped my way back to the dormitory, threw myself on my bunk, and dug my burning head into my blanket and pillow. Since the day I had stood at my mother’s grave, I had not wept…. But now I could not help it.”62

In the hospital a curious excitement prevailed. Confusing rumors went the rounds—that the monarchy was about to fall, that the war would soon be over. Hitler—characteristically as if he bore larger responsibilities—feared local unrest, strikes, insubordination, even though these rumors seemed to him “more the product of the imagination of individual scoundrels”; strangely, he noticed nothing of the discontent and exhaustion so widespread among the people. At the beginning of November the condition of his eyes began to improve, but he still could not read newspapers and expressed his fears to fellow patients that he would never be able to draw again. The revolution came, for him, “suddenly and unexpectedly”; it was led, he thought, by “a few Jewish youths” who had “not been at the front” but had come “by way of a so-called ‘clap hospital’ and ‘raised the red rag.’ ” Hitler believed that what he was seeing was “a more or less local affair.”61

It was a particular shock to the brooding, overtense private, first class of the List Regiment who had surveyed the war in the sweeping terms of a general. His regiment had been thrown into the defensive battle in Flanders in October, 1918. On the night of October 13, south of Ypres, the British launched a gas attack. On a hill near Wervick, Hitler came into several hours of drumfire with gas shells. Toward morning he felt violent pain, and when he arrived at the regimental command post around seven o’clock, he could barely see. A few hours later he went blind: “My eyes had turned into glowing coals,” he afterward wrote. He was shipped back to the Pasewalk hospital in Pomerania.”60

Unprepared politically and psychologically, the nation, which in a contemporary phrase had believed in the superiority of its arms “as in a gospel,” was plunged into an abyss. An illuminating although almost unbelievable remark of Hindenburg’s shows how hard the national illusion died. Immediately after Ludendorff’s admission that the war was lost, old Hindenburg in all seriousness asked the Foreign Minister to do everything possible in the impending negotiations to obtain annexation of the mines of Lorraine. Here was a first example of that peculiar trick of denying reality to which growing numbers of Germans resorted throughout the postwar years to help them through the misery of the times. They continued to do so right up to the intoxicating days of Spring, 1933. The shock effect of this alternation “from the fanfare of victory to the dirge of defeat” strongly colored the history of the period—so much so that we may say the period can scarcely be understood without taking that disenchantment into consideration.

For the operations of the spring months, with their heavy casualties, had used up the soldiers’ last physical strength. Failure had consumed their remaining psychological reserves. There is much truth in Winston Churchill’s remark that it was the Germans’ own offensive, not that of the Allies, that devoured the forces of the army on the Western front. Ludendorff, that is, not Joffre or Haig, brought defeat to the Germans. Nevertheless, the troops held their ground on the whole in an amazing fashion. The defensive battles of that final phase were, in both military and human terms, among the most impressive achievements of the war, and paradoxically they added to the myth of the German army. Once again Ludendorff, who had daily expected a vast catastrophic breakthrough by the Allies, found that he was mistaken.

The majority were therefore all the more stunned by the sudden plunge into reality. On September 29, 1918, Ludendorff hastily summoned the political leaders and demanded that they immediately ask for an armistice. His nerves were at breaking point; he would not hear of any tactical safeguards. Significantly, in spite of his talk about victory or doom he had launched the new offensive without giving any thought to the possible consequences of its failure. He does not seem to have even developed a clear strategic goal. At any rate, when the Crown Prince questioned him on that, he replied, with characteristic irritability: “We’re going to chop a hole. Then we’ll see what comes next.” And when the new Chancellor, Prince Max von Baden, wanted to know what would happen in case of failure, Ludendorff snarled: “Then Germany is done for, that’s all.”

The consequence was that the German public regarded victory and the longed-for end of the war as closer than ever before—in this summer of 1918 when the country was on the verge of defeat. This state of affairs completely refutes Hitler’s arguments about the weakness of German propaganda—although he drew accurate conclusions from his inaccurate premises. Even responsible politicians, even high army officers with a broad view of conditions, were prone to the most amazing delusions. Very few among those who should have known better were able to find their way in the fog of misguided hopes.

But then the offensive ground to a halt. Once again the German armies had displayed that fatefully limited power which enabled them to win only sham victories. The toll of lives that their gains had cost, the desperate shortage of reserves, the effectiveness of the enemy in stabilizing the front after each of the German breakthroughs—all this was in part concealed from the German public, in part repressed by that public as it exulted over the good news from the front. The German operations came to a standstill, and the Allies passed over to counterattack on a broad front. Yet Hindenburg and Ludendorff continued their policy of systematic deception. A Privy Council meeting was held at army headquarters on August 14, long after the German lines had broken. The army leaders presented such an illusory picture of the military situation to Chancellor Hertling and Foreign Minister Hintze that both men went away completely unaware of the gravity of the military collapse. To be sure, Hertling himself was largely responsible for the policy of bowing to the military authorities. But since the High Command itself had staked everything on the radical alternative of victory or defeat, it was obliged by its own premise to admit defeat, since victory had not been won. Instead, it continued its deceptions into September—purportedly in order not to dishearten the people. It took into account the obvious hopelessness of the situation only by sounding its claims of German invulnerability in a somewhat more muted key.

Throwing their last remaining forces into the fight, determined after so many fruitless successes and vain exertions to win victory at last by breaking through on a broad front, the German units went over to the attack. Hitler participated in these battles as a soldier in the List Regiment; he was in the pursuit after the breakthrough at Montdidier-Nyons and later took part in the battles of Soissons and Reims. During the early part of the summer the German formations actually succeeded in throwing the British and French armies back to within nearly forty miles of Paris.

In the summer of 1918, however, a German victory seemed once more within grasp. A few months earlier the Reich had won a resounding success, not just one more of those temporary victories in battles that were bleeding it to death. Early in March Germany had imposed upon Russia the peace of Brest-Litovsk, and a month or so later had demonstrated to Rumania, in the Treaty of Bucharest, that its power was still formidable. The two-front war had come to an end, and the German army of the West, with 200 divisions and approximately 3.5 million men had been brought up to the manpower of the Allied armies. In equipment and arms, however, it remained distinctly inferior; to the enemy’s 18,000 artillery pieces the Germans had only 14,000. But the High Command, supported by a new although not entirely wholehearted feeling of public confidence, had at the end of March launched the first of five offensives intended to force a decision before American troops could arrive. Now the German people had only the choice between victory or doom, Ludendorff declared in a statement that rang with the same passion for a great gamble that in later years possessed Hitler.

To this extent, then, there is something to the thesis of extramilitary causes for the German defeat. It cannot be laid solely to the Siegfried complex of a nation that preferred to think it had been defeated by cunning and treachery than in open battle. That thesis, in endless variations, later became a staple item in the repertory of the Right. But it contained a kernel of truth. For in fact Germany had also been defeated on fields other than the battlefields, although in a sense the nationalistic spokesmen did not mean. An outmoded, anachronistic political system had proved itself inferior to a democratic order more in keeping with the needs of the age. For Hitler’s part, he was for the first time seized by the thought that an idea can never be successfully combatted by sheer force but only with the aid of another and more suggestive idea. “Any attempt to combat a philosophy with methods of violence will fail in the end, unless the fight takes the form of attack for a new spiritual attitude. Only in the struggle between two philosophies can the weapon of brutal force, persistently and ruthlessly applied, lead to a decision for the sake of the side it supports.”59 It may very well be that these reflections, set down in Mein Kampf, were still vague in Hitler’s mind at the time of the war. But, even so, they represent his lasting profit from the war years.

Again he was deeply struck by the mobilizing power of ideas. He appreciated the crusading formulas with which the Allies decked their cause and made it seem that they were defending the world and its most sacred values against the onslaught of barbarism. The German side had scarcely anything to oppose to this missionary elan. The Allied line proved to be all the more telling because the Germans, in the pride of their early military successes, had abandoned the thesis that they were fighting a purely defensive war. More and more boldly they had been announcing the aim of a peace with victory and wholesale annexations—failing to realize that the world might look askance on such ambitions. Some better reason would have had to be found than what Germany offered: that she had come too late to the distribution of the world’s lands and so had to make up for it now by territorial aggrandizement. Meanwhile, at the end of 1917, defeated Russia in the fervor of social redemptionism was calling for a “just and democratic peace without annexations based on the right of self-determination of peoples, such as the exhausted and tormented classes of the workers and laborers of all countries long for.” And, on the other side, Woodrow Wilson, at the beginning of 1918, presented to the Congress a comprehensive draft of a peace that was to refashion the world on new and better lines. He held out the promise of an order based on justice, of political and moral self-determination, of a world without force and aggression. It was inevitable that these proposals, contrasting with the assertion of sheer might by the Reich, should have had a strong effect upon the exhausted country. A significant anecdote of the autumn of 1918 tells of a German General Staff officer who in a moment of sudden insight clapped his hand to his brow and exclaimed, “To think that there are ideas we have to fight against and that we are losing the war because we didn’t know anything about these ideas!”

Even now he began to have intimations of this superiority. For he regarded his experiences in this late phase of the war as confirmation of the opinion he had formed during his Vienna years: that without the masses, without knowledge of their weaknesses, virtues and sensitivities, politics was no longer possible. In his mind the great democratic demagogues, Lloyd George and Clemenceau, joined his idol Karl Lueger. Later he added to these President Wilson—even though the American President was sicklied over by the pale cast of thought. One of the principal reasons for the ever more obvious German inferiority was, Hitler believed, that there was no convincing opponent in the Reich to these Allied populist leaders. Isolated from the common people and incapable of recognizing their growing importance, the German ruling class remained frozen in stubborn conservatism. Arrogant and unimaginative, it clung to its traditional positions. Recognition of its failures was one of the major perceptions Hitler drew from this period in German history. Free of those class prejudices and the self-centeredness that was the characteristic sign of weakness in an abdicating ruling class, Hitler thought only in terms of effects. Hence he admired the stale fables of enemy propaganda when it portrayed German soldiers as butchers hacking off the hands of children or slitting the bellies of pregnant women. For such images exploited the special spell of fear, the mechanism by which atrocities are magnified in the fantasies of the masses.

The enemy, Hitler argued, had done it differently. Their atrocity propaganda, “as ruthless as it was brilliant,” had made a deep impression upon Hitler, and he repeatedly extolled its psychological acumen and boldness. He admired the “rabid, impudent bias” and “indefatigable persistence” of the enemy lies,58 and said that he “learned enormously” from them. In general, Hitler tended to illustrate his own ideas by pointing to what the enemy had done. There is no doubt that he drew his belief in the effectiveness of psychological influence from the example of enemy propaganda of the World War. It must be recognized, however, that a large part of the German public was convinced of the enemy’s superiority in psychological warfare. This was actually just one more of those legends with which a nation proud of its military strength attempted to explain on nonmilitary grounds what otherwise seemed inexplicable: that after so many victories on all the battlefields and after so many efforts and sacrifices Germany had nevertheless lost the war. But Hitler, with that characteristic mixture of insight and vapidity that made him wise in his mistakes, used this transparent rationalization as the starting point for his views on the nature and power of propaganda. Propaganda must above all be popular, he argued; it must not be aimed toward the intelligentsia but “always and exclusively to the masses,” and its level “must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to.” Furthermore, effective propaganda must concentrate on a few plausible points and hammer away at these in the form of slogans. It must always appeal to the emotions, never to the intellect, and must eschew any attempt at objectivity. Not even the shadow of a doubt in the rightness of one’s own cause is permissible; propaganda must present “love or hate, right or wrong, truth or lie, never half this way and half that way.” Again these were not original ideas. But the energy with which Hitler framed them and the frankness with which he viewed the masses—without contempt but recognizing their limitations, their apathy and resistance to change—would soon put him far ahead of every rival for the favor of those same masses.

According to his argument, Germany lost the war because “the form was inadequate, the substance was psychologically wrong: a careful examination of German war propaganda can lead to no other diagnosis.” Because Germany’s leaders did not recognize the true power of this weapon, they were incapable of creating propaganda worthy of the name. Instead, Germany produced only “insipid pacifistic bilge” that could never “fire men’s spirits till they were willing to die.” Although “the most brilliant psychologists would have been none too good” for this task, the Germans employed aesthetes and half-hearted failures, with the result that the country derived no advantage and sometimes actual harm from its propaganda.

Such an aspiration sprang from the notion he had cherished since his Vienna days, that all modes of human reactions are the calculable result of guidance and background influences. The idea of hidden wirepullers, so disturbing and at the same time so fascinating to him, took on new and seductive colors as soon as he imagined himself as some day being one of the wirepullers. His view of humanity excluded all spontaneity. Everything could be produced by manipulation—“tremendous, almost incomprehensible results,” as he noted with a touch of astonishment—if only the right players moved the right members at the right moment. He preposterously considered the movements of history, the rise and decline of nations, classes, or parties largely as the consequence of differing propagandists abilities. In the famous sixth chapter of Mein Kampf he expatiated upon this view, illustrating his points by the difference between German and Allied propaganda.

Returning to the front in the spring of 1917, he felt once more exalted and still more alienated from the civilian world to which he had never been able to adjust. Military documents indicate that he participated in the positional battles in French Flanders, in the spring Battle of Arras, and in the fierce autumnal conflict of Chemin des Dames. Apprehensively he noted the “senseless letters of thoughtless females” which helped infect that front with the mood of resignation that prevailed back home. At this time he frequently discussed his prospects for a future vocation with a fellow soldier, the painter Ernst Schmidt. Schmidt related that even then Hitler had begun to consider whether he ought not to try politics, but that he had never really decided. There are other indications that he still believed he could make a career as an artist. When he came to Berlin, the political heart of the country, in October, 1917—shortly after the Reichstag’s controversial peace resolution and shortly before the German military triumph in the East—Hitler wrote in a postcard to Schmidt: “Now at last have opportunity to study the museums somewhat better.” Later he declared that in those days he used to tell a small circle of his friends that when the war was over he meant to be active politically in addition to taking up his profession as an architect. According to his own account, he also knew what form that activity was going to take: he wanted to become a political speaker.

It was the same when, nearly cured, he was sent to a reserve battalion in Munich. “I thought I could no longer recognize the city.” He turned his resentment against those who had robbed him of his illusions and destroyed the lovely dream of German unity—the first positive social experience he had had since the days of his childhood. He was filled with fury against the “Hebrew corruptors of the people” on the one hand—12,000 or 15,000 of them should be held “under poison gas”—and against the politicians and journalists on the other hand. “Jabberers,” “vermin,” “perjuring criminals of the Revolution,” they deserved nothing but annihilation. “All the implements of military power should have been ruthlessly used for the extermination of this pestilence.”57 He still longed hysterically for victory; no prophetic sense or strategic instinct told him that defeat would serve him far better as a basis for his rise from namelessness.

August, 1914, and his experiences at the front had above all impressed upon him the inner unity of the nation. For two years he had basked in this new-found sense of togetherness, which he was sure nothing could affect. Having no family, no home address, no destination whatsoever, he had renounced his right to furloughs. His superzeal untroubled, he stayed on in his unreal world. “It was still the front of the old, glorious army of heroes,” he later nostalgically recalled.56 The shock was all the harsher when, in Beelitz and during a first visit to Berlin, he encountered the political, social, and national contradictions of the past. With deep distress he realized that the enthusiasm of the early phase of the war had drained away. Parties and factionalism had replaced that exalted sense of sharing a common destiny. It may be that his future resentment toward the city of Berlin had its origins in this experience. He saw discontent, hunger, and resignation. He was outraged at meeting slackers who boasted of their shrewdness; he noted hypocrisy, egotism, war profiteering, and, faithful to the obsession that dated back to his days in Vienna, he decided that behind all these manifestations was the work of the Jew.

At the beginning of October, 1916, at Le Barque, Hitler was lightly wounded in the left thigh and sent to Beelitz Hospital near Berlin. He stayed in Germany until March, 1917, and it would appear that this was when there arose in him the first, still unclear signs of that “awakening” which two years later prompted him to enter politics.

Politically, this letter carries on the ideological obsessions of Hitler’s Vienna years: the fear of overwhelming foreign elements in the nation, together with a defensive reaction against a world of enemies. There were borrowings, also, from the Pan-German teachings, which later led to his thesis of the primacy of domestic over foreign affairs. National and racial unity took precedence over territorial expansion. Greater Germany was first to be German and only subsequently great.

I think about Munich so often, and each of us has only this one wish, that the final settlement with that gang will soon come, that we’ll be able to go at them, no matter what the cost, and that those of us who have the good fortune to see our homeland again will find it purer and more purified of foreignism, so that by the sacrifices and sufferings which so many hundreds of thousands of us are undergoing daily, by the torrent of blood which is pouring out here day after day against an international world of enemies, not only Germany’s enemies outside will be shattered, but also our inner internationalism. That would be worth more than all territorial gains. With Austria it will turn out as I have always said.

But the war also magnified Hitler’s tendency to brooding. Like many of his fellow soldiers, he became convinced that the old leadership of society had failed, that the very social order he had marched to war to defend was perishing of internal exhaustion. “I would make the leaders responsible for these men who have fallen,” he once declared to an astonished comrade. Hitler’s generation, obsessed with its own idiosyncrasies and wrestling with its problems in a literary output of vast dimensions, was searching for a new meaning to life. Basically, this signified, it was searching for a meaningful social order. Hitler himself decided that he wanted “to know nothing about politics at that time.” But his need to communicate, his unquenchable craving for speculative thinking, ran counter to such resolves. Soon he was attracting attention by “philosophizing about political and ideological questions in the crude manner of ordinary folk.” From the early phase of the war we have a twelve-page letter of his to a Munich acquaintance which bears this out. After giving a detailed description of a frontal attack in which he participated, Hitler concludes the letter:55

Hitler himself declared that the war had transformed him. It hardened this touchy and sentimental young man and gave him a sense of his own worth. Caught up in the machinery of war, he learned toughness, the uses of solidarity, and self-discipline. He acquired that belief in fate which was one component of his generation’s high-flown irrationality. The coolness with which he moved in the fiercest fire earned him, among his fellows, a reputation for invulnerability. If Hitler was around, they told one another, “nothing will happen.” His luck seems to have made the deepest impression on Hitler himself and to have reinforced his faith in his special mission. Through all the years of failure and misery he had clung and continued obstinately to cling to that faith.

One of his former superiors has said this very thing and in much the same language: “For Pfc. Hitler the List Regiment was his homeland.” When we understand this, we need no longer be puzzled by the contradiction between his determined desire for subordination in wartime and his lone-wolf asociality in the preceding years. Not since his mother’s death had he felt as much at home anywhere, and never afterward was his simultaneous need for adventurousness and order, for unconstraint and discipline fulfilled as it was in the command headquarters, the trenches, and the dugouts at the front. In contrast to the humiliations of the preceding years, the war was Adolf Hitler’s great affirmative educational experience, the one to which he exuberantly applied such phrases as “mighty impression,” “overwhelming,” “so happy.”

What Hitler found in the billets and dugouts of wartime was the kind of human relationship that suited his nature. In its impersonality it was the life style of the home for men, but with the difference that the army satisfied his cravings for prestige, his inner restiveness, and his sense of solemnity. Here was the social framework that corresponded both to his misanthropic withdrawnness and his longing for contact. On the battlefield Hitler found the native land he did not possess. In no man’s land he felt at home.

This complex incapacity for human relationships may be the reason why in four years at the front he never won promotion beyond the rank of private, first class. At the Nuremberg trial the adjutant of the List Regiment recounted that the question of promoting Hitler to the rank of noncommissioned officer had occasionally arisen but had always been decided in the negative “because we could discover no leadership qualities in him.” Moreover, the adjutant added, Hitle, himself had not wanted to be proposed for promotion.

In the field, however, among his fellow soldiers, his exalted sense of responsibility, his anxiety over the total military picture were not appreciated. “We all used to yell at him,” one of his fellows later recalled. Others said, “That fellow is bucking for stripes.” Others noted that he always looked under some sort of strain. Yet he was, apparently, not distinctly unpopular. Rather, he merely let them see the distance that separated him from them. In contrast to the others, he had no family; he scarcely received or wrote letters, and he did not share in their commonplace worries, amusements, and laughter. “I hated nothing so much as that trash,” he later recalled. Instead, he said, he meditated a great deal on the problems of life, and read Homer, the Gospels, and Schopenhauer. The war did for him what thirty years at the university might have done, he alleged. He thought he alone knew what the war was about, and from his isolation he derived a sense of being specially elect. Strictly speaking, what he was defending was not his homeland but the country he was proud of. The photographs taken of Hitler as a soldier suggest something of his peculiarly alienated relationship toward his fellows. Hitler sits beside them with a fixed expression, obviously sharing not at all in their viewpoint.

However, to this day it has been impossible to discover the specific grounds for these decorations. Hitler himself gives no clues, possibly because he had been proposed for the decorations by the Jewish regimental adjutant Hugo Gutmann. The history of the regiment does not mention them; the accounts that exist differ sharply. They report, apparently on the basis of the above-mentioned anecdote, that Hitler took a fifteen-man English patrol captive, or they describe the dramatic capture of ten, twelve, and even twenty Frenchmen. Some of the stories even endow Hitler with a knowledge of French that he did not have. Still another account claims that he fought his way through the heaviest fire to an artillery unit and in this way prevented the threatening shelling of his regiment’s position. But whatever he won them for, those wartime decorations proved of inestimable value for Hitler’s future. They gave him, although an Austrian, a kind of spiritual claim to citizenship in Germany. Thus they provided a prerequisite for the beginning of his career. They lent a degree of legitimacy to his claim to participate in German politics and to his demand for loyalty from his followers.

Without a doubt, he was a brave soldier; the charges of cowardice raised later were politically motivated. As early as December, 1914, he received the Iron Cross Second Class; in May, 1918, he was awarded a regimental certificate for bravery in the face of the enemy; and on August 4 of the same year he received the Iron Cross First Class, seldom awarded to enlisted men.

His exemplary zeal concealed the man behind a picture cut out of a patriotic calendar; it was another way of escaping from the world, escaping into cliches. On a patrol, enemy machine guns suddenly began to fire; Hitler swept his commander out of the way, took up “a protective position in front of him,” and begged the officer “to preserve the regiment from losing its commander twice in so short a time.”

Even the eccentric qualities he displayed have an oddly impersonal character. There would be times when he would break out of his broodings into wild monologue. But this would not be the normal soldier’s griping, revolving around all the bothers of a soldier’s life. Rather, he would express his fears that victory would be lost, his suspicions of betrayal, his anxieties over invisible foes. Not a single episode brings him out as an individual. The only anecdote that was told about him—one that later found its way into German school readers—is in fact nothing but a schoolreader anecdote. While carrying dispatches, the story goes, Hitler came upon a squad of fifteen Frenchmen in a trench near Montdidier. Due to his presence of mind, his courage, and his skillful surprise tactics, he succeeded in overpowering the enemy soldiers and leading them captive back to his commander.

Throughout the war Hitler served as a courier between the regimental staff and the advanced positions. This mission, in which he was dependent on no one but himself, suited his solitary temperament. One of his superiors remembered him as a “quiet, rather unmilitary looking man who appeared to differ in no way from his fellows.” He was reliable, obedient, and according to the same source, of rather sober disposition. Even in the army he was considered eccentric; the members of his company almost all agreed in calling him a “pipe-dreamer.” He often sat “helmet on his head, in a corner, lost in thought, and none of us were able to get him out of his slump.” Although impressions of Hitler the soldier are fairly plentiful and date from different periods in nearly four years, they all sound much the same. None of them really brings him to life; but their colorlessness evidently is in keeping with the subject.

And then came a damp, cold night in Flanders, through which we marched in silence, and when the day began to emerge from the mists, suddenly an iron greeting came whizzing at us over our heads, and with a sharp report sent the little pellets flying between our ranks, ripping up the wet ground; but even before the little cloud had passed, from two hundred throats the first hurrah rose to meet the first messenger of death. Then a crackling and a roaring, a singing and a howling began, and with feverish eyes each one of us was drawn forward, faster and faster, until suddenly past turnip fields and hedges the fight began, the fight of man against man. And from the distance the strains of a song reached our ears, coming closer and closer, leaping from company to company, and just as Death plunged a busy hand into our ranks, the song reached us too and we passed it along: Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles, uber Alles in der Welt!54

The description given by Hitler of his first war experience in Mein Kampf will not stand close examination of the details. But the unusual care he devoted to the literary shaping of this passage, his efforts at poetic elevation, show how much the experience meant to him:

In the second half of October, after a training period of barely ten weeks, the List Regiment was sent to the Western front. Hitler had waited impatiently for shipment; he was afraid the war might be over before he saw action. But what was then called the baptism of fire—on October 29, in the first battle of Ypres, one of the bloodiest clashes of the first phase of the war—made him aware of the realities. The British units on this section doggedly and at last successfully opposed the massive German efforts to break through to the Channel coast. The German General Staff regarded this breakthrough as vital to its war plans. For four days the fighting raged. Hitler himself, in a letter to his Munich landlord, reported that in this battle the regiment was reduced by half, from 3,500 to about 1,700 men. Shortly afterward, near the village of Becelaere, it lost its commander; it acquired, partly as the result of stupid orders, a “mournful popularity.”

The very day after he had submitted the petition, the answer arrived. “With trembling hands I opened the document,” he relates. It summoned him to report to the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, also known by its commander’s name as the List Regiment. There now began for Hitler “the greatest and most unforgettable time of my earthly existence.”53

Hitler’s own feelings had their quota of spurious elements: “Thus my heart, like that of a million others, overflowed with proud joy….” he wrote and attributed his enthusiasm to the fact that he would now have a chance to prove by deeds the strength of his nationalistic convictions. On August 3 he addressed a petition directly to the King of Bavaria requesting permission, in spite of his Austrian citizenship, to volunteer for a Bavarian regiment. The contradiction between his draft evasion and this step is not a real one. For peacetime military service would have subjected him to a coercion he regarded as pointless. The war, on the other hand, meant liberation from the conflicts and miseries of his chaotic emotions, from the aimless emptiness of his life. In his boyhood two popular books about the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71 had fired his enthusiasm for the powerful German army. Now he was entering that army with its nimbus of childhood reading. The past few days had vouchsafed him these feelings of belonging and union with his fellow men that he had lacked for so long. Now, for the first time in his life, he saw his chance to share in the prestige of a great and feared institution.

This feeling of unity was an illusion. The old contradictions survived behind the image of a nation reconciled. A welter of motives underlay the surge of rejoicing: personal and patriotic wishful thinking, revolutionary impulses, antisocial rebellions, dreams of hegemony, and, always, the yearning of adventurous spirits to break out of the routine of the bourgeois order. But for that one sublime moment it all combined into a storm of selfsacrifice on behalf of the threatened fatherland.

In Germany those days brought an unparalleled sense of community experience, almost religious in its nature. The expression of it, struck up spontaneously in the streets and squares, was the song “Deutschland, Deutschland uber Alles,” which had been written by a long-controversial, liberal revolutionary of 1848 and only now became the real national anthem. On the evening of August 1 Kaiser Wilhelm II proclaimed to tens of thousands assembled in the palace square in Berlin that he no longer recognized “parties or denominations” but “only German brothers.” Those were undoubtedly the most popular words he ever spoke. In a traditionally deeply divided nation that statement swept away, for one unforgettable moment, a multitude of barriers. German unity, attained barely fifty years before, seemed only now to have become a reality.

Photographs taken during those early days of August, 1914, have preserved the hectic air of festivity, the gay expectancy, with which Europe entered the phase of its decline: mobilizing soldiers pelted with flowers, cheering crowds on the sidewalks, ladies in bright summer dresses on the balconies. It was as though fate were mixing the cards afresh in a game that had grown monotonous. The nations of Europe hailed victories they would never win.

Virtually the whole era shared this emotion; seldom had Europe seemed more unified than it was in the martial frenzy of those August days in 1914. One did not have to be an artistic wastrel with no prospects to regard the day on which the war “broke out and swept away the ‘peace’…” as “beautiful for a sacred moment” and even to feel that it satisfied an “ethical yearning.”51 The whole European world, including Germany, was suffering from profound ennui. The war seemed an opportunity to escape from the miseries of normality. Here again we may see Hitler’s intense attunement to his time. He shared its needs and longings, but more sharply, more radically; whereas his contemporaries felt mere discontent, he felt desperation. He hoped that the war would overturn all relationships, all starting points. And wherever the resort to arms was cheered, people sensed, at bottom, that an age was at last coming to its end and a new one was in the making. Fin de siecle—that was the formula in which the bourgeois age, with more than a touch of melancholy complacency, summed up this mood of farewell. In keeping with the romanticizing tendencies of the age, the war was viewed as a purification process, the great hope of liberation from mediocrity, weariness with life, and self-disgust. And so the war was hailed in “sacred hymns”; it was described as “the orgasm of universal life,” creating chaos and fructifying it so that the new might be born.52 When Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Minister, declared at the outbreak of the war that the lights were going out all over Europe, he was sorrowing at the end of civilization as he knew it. But there were many who exulted at this end.

By chance a photograph has been preserved in which Adolf Hitler can be seen in the cheering crowd on the Odeonsplatz in Munich when the state of war was proclaimed on August 1, 1914. His face is plainly recognizable: the half-open mouth, the burning eyes, which at last have a goal and see a future. For this day liberated him from all the embarrassments, the perplexities, and the loneliness of failure. Describing his own emotions in Mein Kampf, he wrote:

As early as my Vienna period, the Balkans were immersed in that livid sultriness which customarily announces the hurricane, and from time to time a beam of brighter light flared up, only to vanish again in the spectral darkness. But then came the Balkan War and with it the first gust of wind swept across a Europe grown nervous. The time which now followed lay on the chests of men like a heavy nightmare, sultry as feverish tropic heat, so that due to constant anxiety the sense of the approaching catastrophe turned at last to longing: let Heaven at last give free rein to the fate which could no longer be thwarted. And then the first mighty lightning flash struck the earth; the storm was unleashed and with the thunder of Heaven there mingled the roar of the World War batteries.50

Hitler’s premonition—if Greiner has reported it accurately—was not mistaken. In Mein Kampf Hitler has impressively described the earthquake atmosphere of the prewar years, the intangible, almost unendurable feeling of tension on the verge of discharge. It is surely not accidental that these sentences stand out as among the most successful passages in the book, as writing:

Later, he declared that by this time he had given up all plans to become a painter and that he painted only enough to earn a living so that he would be able to pursue his studies. For hours he sat over the newspapers in cafes or in the Hofbrauhaus, brooding, sallow, easily irritated. Sometimes, amid the fumes of beer, he dashed down vignettes of the scene around him, or a rendering of an interior in the sketch pad he carried with him. Josef Greiner claims to have met him in Munich at that time and to have asked what he had in mind to do in the future. Hitler answered, Greiner says, “that there would be a war shortly in any case so that it did not matter whether or not he had a profession beforehand, because in the army a corporation director was no more important than a dog barber.”

By all indications, Hitler was not altogether unhappy in Munich. He later spoke of the “heartfelt love” this city had inspired in him from his first moment there. This was a phrase that did not normally occur in his vocabulary. He applied it above all to “the wonderful marriage of rustic strength and fine artistic mood, this unique line from the Hofbrauhaus to the Odeon, from the October Fest to the Pinakothek.” Significantly, he does not adduce any political motive to explain his affection. He continued to be solitary, holing up on Schleissheimer Strasse; but he seems to have been as unaware as ever of his lack of human relationships. Actually, he did form a rather tenuous connection with his landlord, the tailor Popp, and with the latter’s neighbors and friends, and engaged in a certain amount of socializing and political discussion with them. For the rest, he evidently found in the Schwabing taverns—where origins and status counted for nothing and everyone was socially acceptable—the kind of human contact that was the only kind he could stand because it afforded him closeness and strangeness simultaneously: the loose, chance acquaintanceships over a glass of beer, easily formed and easily lost. These were those “small circles” he later spoke of, where he was considered “educated.” Here, for the first time, he apparently encountered more agreement than disagreement when he expatiated on the shakiness of the Dual Monarchy, the dire potentialities of the German-Austrian Alliance, the antiGerman, pro-Slavic policy of the Hapsburgs, the Jews, or the salvation of the nation. In a milieu that favored outsiders and assumed that eccentric opinions and manners were a sign of genius, such views did not seem peculiar. If a question excited him, he frequently began to shout; but what he said, no matter how excessively he behaved, struck his listeners as consistent. He also liked to predict political developments in prophetic tones.

Some two weeks later, on February 5, 1914, Hitler appeared before the draft board in Salzburg. The record of his physical examination, which the candidate had to sign, and which bears his signature, read: “Unfit for military and auxiliary service; too weak. Incapable of bearing arms.”49 He immediately returned to Munich.

As far as my sin of omission in the autumn of 1909 is concerned, this was a terribly bitter time for me. I was an inexperienced young man, without any financial aid and also too proud to accept any from anyone, let alone to ask for it. Without any support, dependent on myself alone, the few crowns or often coppers I earned from my works were scarcely sufficient to provide me with a bed. For two years I had no other friend but care and need, no other companion but eternally gnawing hunger. I never knew the beautiful word youth. Today, even after five years, I have the mementos in the form of chilblain sores on my fingers, hands and feet. And yet I cannot recall this period without a certain rejoicing, now that I am after all over the worst. In spite of the greatest misery, in the midst of often more than dubious surroundings, I have always preserved my name unsullied, am altogether blameless before the law, and pure before my own conscience….

The explanation he offered for his conduct was extremely flimsy. He had missed his first notice to report but shortly afterward had reported of his own accord, only to have his documents lost in the bureaucratic channels. In lachrymose accents, full of self-pity and a servile cunning, he attempted to excuse the omission on the grounds of his desperate circumstances during his years in Vienna:

I submit as evidence of this my tax statement and request you kindly to return this document to me. My income is estimated as 1200 marks, rather too much than too little, and does not mean that I make exactly 100 marks a month. Oh no. My monthly income is extremely variable, but certainly very bad right now, since the art trade sort of goes into its winter sleep around this time in Munich…

In the summons I am called an artist. Although I am rightly accorded this title, it is nevertheless only conditionally correct. It is true that I earn my living as a free-lance painter, but only, since I am entirely without property (my father was a government official), in order to further my education. I am able to devote only a fraction of my time to earning a living, since I am still training myself as an architectural painter. Therefore my income is a very modest one, just large enough for me to get along.

But again, as was to happen repeatedly, chance came to his aid. The Linz authorities had given him so little time to report that it was impossible for him to obey the summons. A postponement afforded him the opportunity to draw up a carefully calculated written statement. In a letter of several pages to the Linz Magistracy, Section II—the most voluminous and important document of his youth—he attempted to justify his conduct. The letter shows that his spelling and command of German were still deficient. Beyond that, it reveals that his life in Munich had remained as irregular and aimless as it was during his Vienna years.

The charge he faced was serious, and Hitler, after having imagined himself quite safe, was in imminent danger of a prison sentence. This was one of those prosaic incidents which, like so many later ones, might have changed the whole direction of his career. For with the disgrace of draft dodging on his record it was scarcely likely that Hitler could have mobilized a following of millions and created his paramilitary forces.

For a time the Austrian authorities searched for him fruitlessly. On August 22, 1913, a Constable Zauner of Linz, who was conducting the investigation, noted: “Adolf Hietler [sic] appears to be registered with the police neither in this city nor in Urfahr, nor can he be located in other places.” Hitler’s former guardian, Josef Mayrhofer, could provide no information about his whereabouts; and the two sisters, Angela and Paula, when queried about their brother, declared that they had “known nothing about him since 1908.” Inquiries in Vienna, however, disclosed that he had moved to Munich and was registered there at 34 Schleissheimer Strasse. On the afternoon of January 18, 1914, an official of the criminal police suddenly turned up at this address, arrested the wanted man, and the following day took him to the Austrian consulate.

But all these reasons were not the decisive ones. What actuated him was once again his repugnance toward normality, his horror of the rules and obligations to which everyone else was subject. In the 1950’s the military records pertaining to Adolf Hitler came to light again; in March, 1938, immediately after the invasion of Austria, he had ordered a feverish search for these papers. The documents make it plain beyond a doubt that in moving to Munich he was determined to escape his military obligations. In order to conceal the facts, he registered with the police in Munich as stateless. In Mein Kampf he also falsified the date of his departure from Vienna. Actually he left the city not in the spring of 1912, as he maintained, but in May of the following year.

It is possible that he did have some such yearnings. Other factors of greater or lesser weight conceivably contributed to the decision. He himself later confessed that he had never been able “to learn the Viennese jargon.” He had also decided that the city and Austria as a whole “in the field of cultural and artistic matters… showed all symptoms of degeneration.” Thus there were no opportunities for him as an aspiring architect, and he was simply wasting his time. “The new architecture could achieve no special successes in Austria, if for no other reason because since the completion of the Ring its tasks, in Vienna at least, had become insignificant….”48

But finally I wanted to enjoy the happiness of living and working in the place which some day would inevitably bring about the fulfillment of my most ardent and heartfelt wish: the union of my beloved homeland with the common fatherland, the German Reich.47

But fear weighed upon him as oppressively as ever, the fear of sinking to the point of being indistinguishable from the down-and-outs, the antisocial, the proletarians. The “school of life” had taught him to think in terms of catastrophe. Fear was the overwhelming experience of his formative years, and ultimately, as will be seen, the impulse behind the fierce dynamism of his whole life. His apparently consistent views of the world and of people, his harshness and inhumanity, were preponderantly gestures of defense and a compensation for that “frightened manner” which the few witnesses of his early years observed in him. Wherever he looked he saw nothing but symptoms of exhaustion, dissolution, loss and contamination; signs of blood-poisoning, racial submergence, ruin and catastrophe. In this, it is true, he shared the fundamentally pessimistic attitude that was one of the deeper strains of the nineteenth century and cast its shadow over the faith in progress and science which was another aspect of the age. But in the radical extremes to which he carried this feeling, in the thoroughness with which he yielded to these fears, he made them unmistakably his own.

The more conscious he became, deep within himself, of his insufficient abilities as an artist and of his general failure, the more he had to find reasons for asserting his own superiority. He thought himself highly developed because he could recognize the “often infinitely primitive views” of his fellow men. It served a similar purpose that he saw all around him only the basest instincts at work: corruption, the scheming for power, ruthlessness, envy, hatred. It was essential for him to blame his tribulations on the world. His racial identification also helped to raise him in his own eyes. It meant that he was different and better than all proletarians, tramps, Jews, and Czechs who had crossed his path.

The intellectual ferment, like the artistic experimentation of the period, passed Hitler by in Munich as it had in Vienna. Vassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, or Paul Klee, who also lived in the Schwabing neighborhood and were opening new dimensions in painting, meant nothing to Hitler. Throughout all the months he lived in Munich he remained the modest postcard copyist who had his visions, his nightmares, and his anxieties, but did not know how to translate them into art. The pedantic brushwork with which he rendered every blade of grass, every stone in a wall, and every roofing tile, shows his intimate craving for wholeness and idealized beauty. But the phantom world of his complexes and aggressions remained completely unexpressed.

Oswald Spengler, at that period, was setting out to proclaim the decline of the West and announcing a line of new Caesars who would, for a time, stem the tide. Lenin had lived at 106 Schleissheimer Strasse, and at number 34 on the same street, only a few blocks away, Adolf Hitler now took a room as a tenant in the apartment of a tailor named Popp.

At the center of one of the most important of those circles that formed at cafe tables around individuals or ideas was the poet Stefan George. He had gathered around him a band of highly talented disciples who imitated him in his contempt for bourgeois morality, glorification of youth and of instinct, faith in the superman, and an austere ideal of life as art and the life of the artist. One of his disciples, Alfred Schuler, had rediscovered the forgotten swastika. Ludwig Klages, who for a time was close to George, proclaimed “mind as the antagonist of the soul.”

The same torpor and friendlessness that had marked the years in Vienna continued in Munich. It rather seems as if he spent his youth in a great hollow space. He made no contacts with parties or political factions; and ideologically, too, he remained solitary. Munich was an intellectually restive city, whose whole aura favored human relationships. Here even obsessions were highly thought of, for they betokened originality. Yet even here the young Hitler formed ties with nobody. He could have found his way to those who shared his racist notions, for even the most bizarre variants of volkisch ideas had their place in the city. Anti-Semitism also flourished, especially in the economically dislocated petty bourgeoisie. There were also radical leftist movements of widely differing character. It is true that all these tendencies were softened by the climate of Munich and usually expressed in sociable, rhetorical, neighborly forms. In the then suburb of Schwabing anarchists, bohemians, reformers, artists, and various apostles of new principles mingled easily. Pale young geniuses dreamed of an elitist renewal of the world, of redemptions, cataclysmic purgations, and barbarous rejuvenation cures for degenerate mankind.

Like all such self-descriptions, this one has plainly been tailored so that Hitler can pretend to early judgment in political matters. He practiced the same kind of tailoring in writing Mein Kampf. In fact, his moving to Munich, rather than Berlin, the capital of the Reich, is rather plain proof of his continuing unpolitical disposition. Or perhaps we should say that he was guided by romantic and artistic impulses far more than political motives. For prewar Munich had the reputation of being a city of the Muses, a charming, humanely sensual, lighthearted center of art and science. The “life style of the painter was regarded here as the most legitimate of all.”46 This picture of the city stemmed precisely from the contrast it made to noisily modem, proletarian Berlin. The latter city was a Babylon, in which social questions took precedence over aesthetics, ideologies over culture—or, in sum, politics over art. The atmosphere of Munich was more like that of Vienna, which again suggests that Hitler was drawn there by a general feeling rather than by any specific reasons that would have made him choose it in preference to Berlin—if, indeed, he felt confronted with any choice at all. In the Reich Handbook of German Society (a kind of Who’s Who) for 1931 he explained that he had moved to Munich to find “a wider field for political activity.” He would have found, however, better conditions in the capital of the Reich.

On May 24, 1913, Hitler left Vienna and moved to Munich. He was twenty-four years old, a despondent young man who gazed out upon an uncomprehending world with a mixture of yearning and bitterness. The disappointments of the preceding years had reinforced the brooding, withdrawn strain in his nature. He left no friends behind. In keeping with his antirealistic temperament, he tended to feel closest to those who were beyond reach: Richard Wagner, Ritter von Schonerer, Lueger. That “foundation” of his “personal views,” acquired “under the pressure of fate,” consisted of an assortment of prejudices which from time to time, after periods of vague brooding, were discharged in passionate outbursts. He left Vienna, as he later remarked, “a confirmed anti-Semite, a deadly foe of the whole Marxist world outlook, and pan-German.”

His principal fear was that the circumstances of the times might block his dream. He was afraid of an uneventful era. Even as a boy, he later declared, he had “indulged in angry thoughts concerning my earthly pilgrimage, which… had begun too late” and had “regarded the period ‘of law and order’ ahead… as a mean and undeserved trick of fate.”45 This much he sensed: that only a chaotic future and social upheaval could close the gap that separated him from reality. Wedded to his dreams, he was one of those who would prefer a life of disaster to a life of disillusionment.

His uncertainty about his future increasingly depressed him. At the end of 1910 and the beginning of 1911 he appears to have received a considerable sum of money from his aunt, Johanna Polzl. But these additional funds produced in him no initiative, no effort to make a serious new beginning. He continued to drift aimlessly: “So the weeks passed by.” He still pretended that he was a student, painter, or writer. He went on cherishing vague hopes of a career in architecture. But he did nothing to make a reality of any of these pretensions. Only his dreams were ambitious, directed toward a great destiny. The persistence with which he continued to dream in the face of the actual conditions of his life, confers upon this period a striking note of inner consistency. He avoided being pinned down by anything, persisted in keeping all his relationships tentative. His refusal to enter the union saved him from being identified as a member of the proletariat and allowed him to hang on to his claim to middle-class status. Similarly, as long as he remained in the home for men and did nothing in particular, he could believe his own promise of genius and future fame.

Hitler called the Vienna years “the hardest, though most thorough school of my life”; when he left it, he declared, he had “grown quiet and serious.” He hated the city ever after for the rejection and insults he had suffered there—in this, too, resembling his model, Richard Wagner, who never overcame his grudge against Paris for the disappointments of his youth and had visions of the city going down to destruction in smoke and flames.44 It is not far-fetched tn suspect that Hitler’s subsequent plans for turning Linz into a cultural metropolis on the Danube were inspired by resentment toward Vienna. Although he may not have gone so far as to wish the city burned to the ground, the fact is that in December, 1944, he refused a request for additional antiaircraft units for the city, remarking that Vienna might just as well find out what bomb warfare was like.

Once again Richard Wagner enters the picture—Nietzsche used the example of Wagner to illustrate this misunderstanding of Schopenhauer. For the Master of Bayreuth was not only Hitler’s great exemplar; he was also the young man’s ideological mentor. Wagner’s political writings were Hitler’s favorite reading, and the sprawling pomposity of his style unmistakably influenced Hitler’s own grammar and syntax. Those political writings, together with the operas, form the entire framework for Hitler’s ideology: Darwinism and anti-Semitism (“I hold the Jewish race to be the born enemy of pure humanity and everything noble in man”), the adoration of barbarism and Germanic might, the mystique of blood purification expressed in Parzifal, and the general histrionic view in which good and evil, purity and corruption, rulers and the ruled, stand opposed in black and white contrasts. The curse of gold, the inferior race grubbing underground, the conflict between Siegfried and Hagen, the tragic genius of Wotan—this strange brew compounded of bloody vapors, dragon slaying, mania for domination, treachery, sexuality, elitism, paganism, and ultimately salvation and tolling bells on a theatrical Good Friday were the perfect ideological match for Hitler’s anxieties and needs. Here he found the “granite foundations” for his view of the world.

Hitler absorbed the complex notions that gave his period its mood and peculiar coloration, absorbed them with that heightened sensitivity which was in fact the only quality he shared with the artist. Along with anti-Semitism and Social Darwinism, the age passed on to him the nationalistic missionary faith that was the obverse of pessimistic anxiety dreams. His views, highly confused and haphazardly arranged, also contained scraps drawn from the broader intellectual fads of the turn of the century: skepticism about reason and humanity, romantic glorification of blood and instinct. Oversimplified interpretations of Nietzsche’s sermons about the strength and radiant amorality of the superman also formed part of this stock of ideas. It is worth noting, however, that it was Nietzsche who remarked that the nineteenth century took over from Schopenhauer not his desire for clarity and rationality, or his doctrine of the intellectual nature of intuition, but—“determined to be barbarously fascinated and seduced”—his unprovable doctrine of the will, his denial of the individual, his ravings about genius, his hatred of the Jews, and his hostility to science.

Chamberlain carried the parallel even further, comparing the Teutons thronging to the gates of Rome with the noble race of Prussians who had rightly been victorious in their clash with the racially chaotic Austro-Hungarian monarchy. But the mood of this elitist individualist was far from being cocky, was rather one of anxiety and defensiveness. In recurrent pessimistic visions he saw the Teutons “on the brink of the racial abyss,” engaged “in a mute life-and-death struggle.” He was tormented by fantasies of bastardization: “It is still morning, but again and again the powers of darkness stretch out their octopus arms, fasten their sucking cups on us in a hundred places and try to draw us back into the darkness.” Hitler’s Social Darwinist views, therefore, were not simply the “philosophy of the doss-house.”42 Rather, they show him once again in harmony with the bourgeois age, whose product and destroyer he was. He merely picked up the kind of ideas current in the newspapers he found in cheap cafes, in the books and pamphlets on newsstands, in operas, and in the speechifying of cynical politicians. His experiences in the home for men were reflected only in the whiff of corruption that rises like a penetrating stench from his theories. Of similar origin was the ugly vocabulary that came to his lips, even when he was a statesman and master of a continent, so that he would speak of the “filthy trash from the East,” the “swinish pack of parsons,” the “crippled dung art,” or would characterize Churchill as a “hopeless square-snout,” and the Jews as “this vilest sow’s brood that ought to be beaten to a pulp.”43

Even more influential, as far as the German middle class was concerned, was an Englishman who subsequently became a German citizen. This was Houston Stewart Chamberlain, scion of a noted family of military men. Highly educated, but of feeble, nervous constitution, Chamberlain devoted himself to study, writing, and the work of Richard Wagner. In the year of Hitler’s birth he came to Vienna, and instead of the intended casual visit remained in the city for twenty years. At once fascinated and repelled by it, he derived many of the ideas that underlay his racial theory of history from the Hapsburg multinational state. In his best known work, Foundations of the Nineteenth Century (1899), he interpreted European history—in a series of bold hypotheses—as the history of racial struggle. He regarded the decline of the Roman Empire as the classical model of historical decadence resulting from contamination of blood lines. Like declining Rome, he posited, the Dual Monarchy was being swamped by the admixture of Oriental races; the “disease” was advancing at a furious pace. In both cases “not one specific nation, not just one people or one race” was causing disintegration, but “a motley agglomeration” of races who in their turn were the consequence of multiple mixings. “Easy talents, and also, peculiar beauty, what the French call un charme troublant, is frequently characteristic of bastards. Nowadays this can daily be observed in cities where, as in Vienna, a wide variety of races meet. But at the same time one can also perceive the peculiar spinelessness, the low resistance, the lack of character, in short, the moral degeneration of such people.”41

The close link between the ideas of Social Darwinism and the antidemocratic tendencies of the period led to the condemnation of liberalism, parliamentarism, egalitarianism, and internationalism as violations of natural law and symptoms of degeneracy due to racial mixture. Count Arthur de Gobineau, the first important racial ideologist (Essai sur l’inegalite des races humaines, 1853), became the spokesman for pronounced aristocratic conservatism. He denounced democracy, revolution from below, and everything that he contemptuously called the “community spirit.”

The initial concept was that just as in untrammeled nature, social processes and the destinies of nations are determined by biological premises. Only a rigorous process of selection, involving both extermination and deliberate breeding, can prevent faulty lines of evolution and assure one nation superiority over others. Writers like Georges Vacher de Lapouge, Madison Grant, Ludwig Gumplowicz, and Otto Ammon took up the theme and were popularized in their turn by lesser journalists. They had already hit on the whole sinister program : the annihilation of unworthy organisms, the techniques of deliberate population policy, the forcible institutionalization and sterilization of the unfit, the determination of genetic superiority by the size of the head, the shape of the ears or the length of the nose. Often these views were accompanied by a frank rejection of Christian morality, tolerance, and humanitarian progress—all of which, it was argued, favored the weak and were therefore counterselective. To be sure, Social Darwinism was never elaborated into a comprehensive system, and some of its advocates later retracted their views. But this did not diminish its widespread popularity. On the whole, Social Darwinism was one of the classical ideologies of the bourgeois age. The imperialistic practices and robust capitalistic aggrandizement of the period could be justified as part and parcel of inescapable natural law.

Nevertheless, the component of Social Darwinism in Hitler’s thought cannot be attributed solely to his personal experiences in the home for men. He was really reflecting the tendency of the age. Science had become the one truly unchallenged authority. As the laws of evolution and selection put forth by Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer were popularized in numerous pseudoscientific publications, the average man soon came to know that the “struggle for existence” was the fundamental principle of life, the “survival of the fittest” the basic law governing the societal conduct of individuals and nations. The so-called “Social Darwinist” theory served, for a while at least, all camps, factions, and parties in the second half of the nineteenth century. It became a component of leftist populist education before the Right took up the creed for its own purposes, and argued the unnaturalness of democratic or humanitarian ideas by appealing to Darwinist principles.

His experiences and circumstances during this phase of his life helped Hitler arrive at that philosophy of struggle that became the central core of his view of the world, its “granite foundation,” as he stressed, which he had no need of ever again changing. The views he formed from his contacts with the inmates in the home for men came to the fore again and again in later years, whenever he professed his belief in brutal struggle, in harshness, cruelty, destruction, the rights of the stronger—as he did in countless speeches and discussions, in the pages of his book, and in his table talk at the Fuhrer’s headquarters during the war. He never forgot the lessons he had learned in that school for meanness in Vienna.

Hitler spent three and a half of his formative years in this setting. We can well understand how repellent it would all have been to an artistically inclined young man full of highflown ambitions. Even years later, by his own testimony, he shuddered With horror at the memory of the “sordid scenes of garbage, repulsive filth, and worse.” Characteristically, he felt no compassion.

At the beginning of August Hitler and Hanisch quarreled. Hitler had spent several days painting a view of the Vienna Parliament, a building in the style of a classical temple, which he had called “a Hellenic masterpiece on German soil.” His admiration evidently led him to outdo himself. At any rate, he thought the picture was worth fifty crowns, but Hanisch claimed he had sold it for only ten. They quarreled, and when his partner then stayed away for some time, Hitler abruptly had him arrested and instituted legal proceedings. At the trial, on August 11, 1910, Hanisch was sentenced to seven days in jail. He subsequently asserted that the court was prejudiced against him because he was registered at the home for men under the false name of Fritz Walter. The buyer’s widow subsequently declared that her husband had indeed paid only about ten crowns for the picture; but Hanisch did not call him as a witness.

Like a woman, whose psychic state is determined less by grounds of abstract reason than by an indefinable emotional longing for a force which will complement her nature, and who, consequently, would rather bow to a strong man than dominate a weakling, likewise the masses love a commander more than a petitioner and feel inwardly more satisfied by a doctrine tolerating no other beside itself than by the granting of liberalistic freedom with which, as a rule, they can do little, and are prone to feel that they have been abandoned. They are equally unaware of their shameless spiritual terrorization and the hidden abuse of their human freedom, for they absolutely fail to suspect the inner insanity of the whole doctrine. All they see is the ruthless force and brutality of its calculated manifestations, to which they always submit in the end…. I achieved an equal understanding of the importance of physical terror toward the individual and the masses.

These accounts are dubious. We are on firmer ground when we read what Hitler himself had to say about his study of Social Democratic practice: its propaganda, its demonstrations, and its speeches. The lessons he derived were to shape his own approach:

In the Vienna period we can already see those themes emerging which haunt many of his later utterances: the persistent search for “those who are behind it,” the “secret wirepuller” who makes a dupe of the masses. Hanisch tells how one day Hitler emerged “altogether overwhelmed” from a movie based on the novel The Tunnel (Der Tunnel), by Bernhard Kellermann, in which one of the chief characters was a popular orator. “Henceforth there were eloquent speeches in the Home for Men,” Hanisch reports. And Josef Greiner tells of having once referred Hitler to a woman named Anna Csillag who sold a hair-growing lotion by means of false testimonials. For almost an hour, Greiner’s story goes, Hitler waxed enthusiastic about the woman’s skill and the vast potentialities of psychological persuasion. “Propaganda, propaganda!” he is supposed to have raved. “You must keep it up until it creates a faith and people no longer know what is imagination and what reality.” Propaganda, he is quoted as saying, is “the fundamental essence of every religion… whether of heaven or hair tonic.”

In retrospect, Hitler laid claim to an intense intellectual development. During the approximately five years he spent in Vienna, he maintained, he read “enormously and thoroughly.” Aside from architecture and visiting the opera, he wrote, he “had but one pleasure: books.” But it would probably be more accurate to say that the real influences of this phase of his life stemmed not so much from the intellectual realm as from that of demagogy and political tactics. As a construction worker, a declassed bourgeois filled equally with his sense of superiority and fear of intimacy, he kept carefully to one side while the other men had their lunch. Nevertheless, he eventually was drawn into political wrangles. When his fellows threatened, according to his story, to throw him off the scaffolding, he learned something from the clash. As he later put it, with an undertone of admiration, he discovered that a very simple method existed to deal with arguments: “bashing in the head of anybody who dared to oppose.” The pages of Mein Kampf that deal with his political awakening are extremely scanty on theory; they do not suggest that grappling with the ideas of the time which he claims to have engaged in. Rather, he uncritically followed the existing, widespread ideology of the German bourgeoisie. On the other hand, questions of the manipulation of ideas, of their power over the masses, aroused his eager interest and produced his first flashes of insight.

Hitler’s theatrical, essentially unpolitical relationship to the world, in the vein of Richard Wagner, emerges from an anecdote he himself relates. Once, after days of “musing and brooding,” he came upon a mass demonstration of Viennese workers. His description of the experience, recollected fifteen years later, still vibrates with the impression that those “endless columns four abreast” made upon him. For nearly two hours, he says, he stood “watching with bated breath the gigantic human dragon slowly winding by,” before he turned away “in oppressed anxiety” and went home. What had chiefly moved him, to all appearances, was the theatrical effect of the parade. At any rate, he writes not a word about the background or the political motivations for the demonstration. Evidently these concerned him much less than the question of how to achieve such effects upon masses of human beings. He brooded on theatrical problems; as he saw it, the chief concerns of the politician were matters of staging. Kubizek had in fact been struck by the importance his friend, in his occasional attempts at drama, attributed to “the most magnificent possible staging.” Although this naive early admirer of Hitler could not recall afterward the contents of Hitler’s plays, he never forgot the “enormous pomp” Hitler went in for, which put anything Richard Wagner had ever demanded for the stage “completely in the shade.”39

Hitler, to be sure, entirely lacked the self-discipline and the artist’s capacity for taking pains that distinguished Wagner. Hitler’s lethargy, his almost narcoticized dullness, are his alone. But at bottom we find in both men a horror of proletarianization, which they are determined to fend off at any cost. Their struggle to raise themselves to the level for which they felt themselves destined represents a remarkable achievement of the will. That sense of destiny was crucial: they were sustained by their premonitions that some time in the future everything would change for them, and all the humiliations they had endured, all the wretchedness of years in the lower depths, would be fearfully avenged.

There are still other parallels. The innate tendency toward “dilettantism,” which Friedrich Nietzsche noted even while Wagner was still his admired friend, was likewise a trait of Hitler’s. In both men there was the same striking need to intervene officiously in all sorts of spheres; both had to be forever proving themselves, dazzling the world with their many talents. Yesterday’s glory rapidly turned stale for both of them; they had constantly to be surpassing themselves. In both cases we find an outrageous pettiness side by side with far-ranging inspiration; this very conjunction seems to have defined their peculiar mentality.

Another point in common was a kind of cunning knowledge of the popular mind along with a remarkable insensitivity to banality. This combination resulted in an air of plebeian pretentiousness in which again they were remarkably similar. Gottfried Keller once called the composer a “barber and charlatan”; similarly, a contemporary observer described Hitler, with the acuteness born of hatred, as having “the aura of a headwaiter”; another spoke of him as a speechmaking sex murderer.38 The element of vulgarity and unsavoriness that phrases of this sort tried to catch was present in both Hitler and Wagner. They were masters of the art of brilliant fraudulence, of inspired swindling. And just as Richard Wagner could call himself a revolutionary yet pride himself on his friendship with a king (“Wagner, the government bandleader,” Karl Marx said scornfully), so Hitler, in his vague dreams of mounting the social ladder, reconciled his hatred of society with his opportunistic instincts. Wagner dismissed the patent contradictions in his views by declaring that art was the goal of life and that the artist made the ultimate decisions. It was the artist who would intervene to save the situation wherever “the statesman despairs, the politician gives up, the socialist vexes himself with fruitless systems, and even the philosopher can only interpret but cannot prophesy.” His doctrine then was that of the aesthetician who would subordinate life entirely to the dictates of the artist. The state was to be raised to the heights of a work of art; politics would be renewed and perfected by the spirit inherent in art. Elements of this program are clearly visible in the theatricalization of public life in the Third Reich, the regime’s passion for histrionics, the staginess of its practical politics—a staginess that often appeared to be the sole end of the politics.

But there are other striking parallels between Hitler and Wagner: the uncertainty about ancestry, the failure at school, the flight from military service, the morbid hatred of Jews, even the vegetarianism, which in Wagner ultimately developed into the ludicrous delusion that humanity must be saved by vegetarian diet. Also common to both was the violent quality of their moods: the abrupt alternation of depressions and exaltations, triumphs and disasters. In many of Richard Wagner’s operas the theme is the classic conflict between the outsider, subject only to his own laws, and a rigid social order governed by tradition. In Rienzi or Lohengrin or Tannhauser, Hitler, the rejected Academy candidate sitting over his water colors in the reading room of the home for men, recognized magnified aspects of his own confrontation with the world. Both Wagner and Hitler, moreover, possessed a furious will to power, a basically despotic tendency. All of Richard Wagner’s art has never been able to conceal to what extent its underlying urge was the boundless need to dominate. From this impulse sprang the taste for massive effects, for pomposity, for overwhelming hugeness. Wagner’s first major composition after Rienzi was a choral work for 1,200 male voices and an orchestra of one hundred. This blatant reliance on mass effects, employed to cover up basic weaknesses, this medley of pagan, ritual and music-hall elements anticipated the era of mass hypnosis. The style of public ceremonies in the Third Reich is inconceivable without this operatic tradition, without the essentially demagogical art of Richard Wagner.

Must we not, even against our will, recognize in this phenomenon an aspect of the artist’s character? We are ashamed to admit it, but the whole pattern is there: the recalcitrance, sluggishness and miserable indefiniteness of his youth; the dimness of purpose, the what-do-you-really-want-to-be, the vegetating like a semi-idiot in the lowest social and psychological bohemianism, the arrogant rejection of any sensible and honorable occupation because of the basic feeling that he is too good for that sort of thing. On what is this feeling based? On a vague sense of being reserved for something entirely indefinable. To name it, if it could be named, would make people burst out laughing. Along with that, the uneasy conscience, the sense of guilt, the rage at the world, the revolutionary instinct, the subconscious storing up of explosive cravings for compensation, the churning determination to justify oneself, to prove oneself…. It is a thoroughly embarrassing kinship. Still and all, I would not want to close my eyes to it.37

The parallels are, in fact, not at all hard to detect. The points of contact between the two temperaments—all the more marked because the young postcard painter consciously modeled himself after his hero—produce a curious sense of family resemblance, which Thomas Mann first pointed out in his disturbing essay Brother Hitler. In 1938, when Hitler was at the height of his peacetime triumphs, Mann wrote:

Hitler himself, in fact, later declared that with the exception of Richard Wagner he had “no forerunners,” and by Wagner he meant not only the composer, but Wagner the personality, “the greatest prophetic figure the German people has had.” One of his favorite ideas, to which he returned frequently, concerned Wagner’s towering importance “for the development of German man.” He admired the courage and energy with which Wagner exerted political influence “without really wishing to be political,” and on one occasion admitted that a “literally hysterical excitement” overcame him when he recognized his own psychological kinship with this great man.36

The boy who fled the disciplines of school and then fell prey to the delusive promises of the big city found his idol in the Master of Bayreuth. Many young men of his generation followed the same course, and with similarly exalted expectations. It was a way with great appeal to gifted “outsiders” who otherwise would have no choice but to sink into mediocrity. It may surprise us to find that this unprepossessing son of a Linz customs official represents so typical a phenomenon. With the turn of the century legions of these sons of the nineteenth-century middle class made their appearance. In 1906 Hermann Hesse, in Under the Wheel, vividly described the sufferings of one such youth under contemporary conditions and gave a dismal forecast of his future. Robert Musil, in Young Torless, and Frank Wedekind, in The Awakening of Spring, were among the many writers who dealt with the same theme. Whether these heroes sought escape from the toils of the world or went down to destruction, all of them opposed to the bourgeois world a wild enthusiasm for the arts. They despised their fathers’ mean accomplishments and felt only contempt for their values. By contrast, an artist’s existence was noble, precisely because it was socially unfruitful. Everything that stood for order, duty, endurance, they dismissed as “bourgeois.” The bourgeois mentality, they maintained, promoted efficiency but did not tolerate the extraordinary. The tremendous intensifications of true culture, on the other hand, the glories of the “spirit,” could be achieved only in isolation, in extreme human and social aloofness. The artist, the genius, the complex personality in general, was bound to be utterly out of place in the bourgeois world. His true locale was far out on the fringes of society, where the morgue for suicides and the pantheon for immortals were both situated—as Henri Murger, the first analyst of this type bathetically observed. Though the lodginghouses to which Hitler betook himself were squalid, though his notion of being an artist was ridiculously highflown; though no one so far had acknowledged his talent; though his actual life in the home for men was marked by deceit, parasitism, and asociality—all this could be secretly justified in terms of the prevailing concept of genius. And Richard Wagner was the supreme example of the validity of that concept.

If we were to define the characteristic quality of that period in the life of this eccentric, solitary twenty-year-old (Hitler, too, spoke of himself as having been “eccentric” at this time),34 we should have to stress the essentially unpolitical nature of his interests. Richard Wagner was his idol during those years, not only “in music.” In fact, Hitler saw Wagner’s early disappointments, lack of recognition, and obstinate faith in his own vocation, a “life flowing into the glory of world fame,”35 as a prototype of his own destiny. Hitler was not the only victim to be seduced by that romantic concept of genius whose merits and failings Richard Wagner embodied. Because of Wagner a whole generation was confused, misguided, and alienated from the bourgeois world.

Meanwhile, reputedly through Greiner’s mediation, he produced a poster advertising a hair tonic, another poster for a bed-feathers shop, another for an antiperspirant sold under the brand name “Teddy.” A copy of this last poster, with Hitler’s signature in a corner, has been found. It shows two rather stiff, clumsily drawn figures of letter carriers; one has sat down in exhaustion wringing heavy blue drops of sweat out of his sock; the other is informing his “dear brother” that 10,000 steps a day are “a pleasure with Teddy powder.” In another poster that has come down to us the tower of St. Stephan’s cathedral rises majestically above a mountain of soap. What Hitler himself considered noteworthy about this period of his life was that he was at last master of his own time. During the long hours he spent over the newspapers in cheap little cafes, he read by preference the anti-Semitic Deutsches Volksblatt.

Radical alternatives, wild exaggerations formed the pattern of his thinking. His hate-filled mind pushed everything to extremes, magnified events of minor importance into metaphysical catastrophes. From early on only grandiose themes had attracted him. This tendency was one of the reasons for his naive and reactionary leaning toward the heroic, the nobly decorative, the idealizing elements in art. Gods and heroes, gigantic aspirations, or horrendous superlatives stimulated him and helped to mask the banality of his circumstances. “In music Richard Wagner brought him to bright flames,” Hanisch writes clumsily but vividly. Hitler himself later claimed that as far back as this he began sketching his first plans for the reconstruction of Berlin. His bent for grandiose projects fits into this context. A job in the office of a construction company instantly awoke his old dreams of being an architect; and after a few experiments with model planes he already saw himself as the owner of a great airplane factory and “rich, very rich.”

Hitler evidently argued his views sharply and consistently. During the Vienna years he was in a constant state of perturbation, in strong contrast to the famous lightheartedness of the city but in fact far more in keeping with the temper of the times. He was obsessed by fears of Jews and Slavs, hated the House of Hapsburg and the Social Democratic Party, and envisioned the doom of Germanism. His fellows in the home for men did not share his paranoid emotions.

Again, in the home for men Hitler had no friends aside from Hanisch. Those who knew him there remembered him as a fanatic; on the other hand, he himself spoke of his dislike for the Viennese personality, which he felt to be “obnoxious.” Possibly he avoided friendships; intimacies of any kind irritated and exhausted him. What he became acquainted with, on the other hand, was that sort of cameraderie among ordinary people which simultaneously affords contact and anonymity, and offers a kind of loyalty that can be canceled at any time. This was an experience he was never to forget, and in the following years he repeatedly renewed it on the most varied social planes, with virtually unchanging personnel: in the trenchcs during the war; in the midst of his orderlies and chauffeurs, whose company he preferred as a party leader and later as Chancellor; and finally in the underground bunker of the Fuhrer’s headquarters. He always seemed to be repeating the life style of the home for men, which provided only distant forms of social life and in general neatly fitted into his concept of human relations. The management of the home considered him difficult, a political troublemaker. “Tempers often rose,” Hanisch later recalled. “The exchanges of hostile looks made the atmosphere distinctly uncomfortable.”

The inhabitants of the home for men came from all classes; the largest group consisted of young workers, both blue- and white-collar, with jobs in nearby factories and shops. In addition there were some solid, industrious small craftsmen. Hanisch mentions music copyists, sign painters, and monogram carvers. But more characteristic of the place and the neighborhood were the shipwrecked of various kinds, adventurers, bankrupt businessmen, gamblers, beggars, moneylenders, discharged army officers—flotsam and jetsam from all provinces of the multinational state. There were also the Jews from the eastern regions of the monarchy who, as door-to-door salesmen, peddlers, or knitware dealers were trying to rise. What linked them all was common wretchedness; what separated them was the desperate determination to escape from that world, to scramble out even at the expense of all others. “The lack of solidarity is the supreme characteristic of the great class of the declassed.”33

The enterprising Hanisch, wise in the ways of the world, familiar with all the miseries and shifts open to his class, one day asked Hitler his occupation. Hitler replied that he was a painter. Assuming that Hitler meant a house painter, Hanisch said that he certainly should be able to earn money at such a trade. And, despite all our suspicions of Hanisch’s reliability, we cannot help recognizing the young Hitler in the phrases that follow: “He was insulted and replied that he was not that kind of painter, but an academician and an artist.” The two men eventually went into partnership—the idea seems to have come from Hanisch. Shortly before Christmas they moved into a kind of hostel, the home for men on Meldemann Strasse, in the Twentieth District of Vienna. By day, when regulations forbade staying in the tiny bedrooms, Hitler sat in the reading room perusing the newspapers or popular-science journals, or else copying postcards and lithographs of Viennese scenes. Hanisch sold these careful water colors to picture dealers, framers, and sometimes to upholsterers who, in the fashion of the day, “worked them into the high backs of easy chairs or sofas.” The proceeds were shared on a fifty-fifty basis. Hitler himself felt that he would not be able to sell his works since he “could not be seen in his bedraggled clothes.” Hanisch, however, maintains that he managed “sometimes to get a very good order, so that we could live fairly well.”

For about seven months, until the summer of 1910, Hitler and Hanisch spent their time together in close friendship and joint business affairs. To be sure, this witness is not much more credible than all the others from this early phase of Hitler’s life. Nevertheless, there are bits of Hanisch’s story which ring true: that Hitler had the tendency to sit idly brooding, and that nothing would persuade him to go job hunting with his pal Hanisch. The contradiction between Hitler’s longing for middle-class respectability and his real situation certainly never appeared more plainly than during those weeks in the flophouse, surrounded by broken-down derelicts, befriended by no one but the crudely cunning Reinhold Hanisch. In 1938, when he could do so, he had Hanisch tracked down and killed. At the height of his career, still needing to drown out the humiliating memory of those years, he insisted: “But in imagination I lived in palaces!”

He lived on his orphan’s pension, which he continued to draw by fraudulently asserting that he was attending the Academy. His inheritance from his father, however, as well as his share in the sale of his parents’ home—which for so long had provided him with the means for a carefree and untrammeled existence—appear to have been used up by the end of 1909. At any rate, he gave up the room on Simon Denk Gasse which he had sublet from September to November. Konrad Heiden, the author of the first important biography of Hitler, relates that at this time Hitler “sank into bitterest misery” and spent a few nights without shelter, sleeping on park benches and in cafes, until the advanced season forced him to seek shelter. November, 1908, was unusually cold; there was much rain, often mixed with snow.32 Sometime during this month Hitler queued up in front of the home for men in Meidling, a Vienna suburb. Here he met a vagabond named Reinhold Hanisch, who in an account he wrote in later years described how “after long wanderings on the roads of Germany and Austria I came to the Refuge for the Homeless in Meidling. On the wire cot to my left was a gaunt young man whose feet were quite sore from tramping the streets. Since I still had some bread that peasants had given me, I shared it with him. At that time I spoke a heavy Berlin dialect; he was enthusiastic about Germany. I had passed through his home town of Braunau on the Inn, so I could easily follow his stories.”

Hitler soon gave up the apartment on Felberstrasse that he had taken after parting from Kubizek. Up to November, 1909, he changed his residence several times. Once he listed his occupation as “writer.” There is some indication that he wanted to avoid registering for military service and hoped by moving around to throw the authorities off his track. But it may also be that this constant moving reflected both his heritage from his father and the neurasthenia and aimlessness of his life. Those who knew him during this period have described him as pale, with sunken cheeks, hair brushed low over his forehead, his movements jerky. He himself later declared that at that stage of his life he had been extremely shy and would not have ventured to approach a great man or to speak out in the presence of five persons.

Hitler would have it that he refrained from joining either of these parties because of these objections. But it would be more accurate to say that for most of his Vienna years he had no independently thought-out political line. Rather, he was filled with inchoate emotions of hatred and defensiveness of the sort to which Schonerer appealed. Alongside these were vague, upwelling prejudices against Jews and other minorities and an aching desire to be influential in some way. He grasped what was happening in the world around him more by instinct than by reason. So excessively subjective was his interest in public affairs at this time that he cannot really be called political. Rather, he was still being “politicalized.” He himself admitted that at the time he was so filled with his artistic aspirations that he was only “incidentally” interested in politics; it took the “fist of fate” to open his eyes. Proof of this is the tale he tells of himself as a young building worker deeply disliked by his fellows. The anecdote later found its way into all German schoolbooks as a staple item of the Hitler legend. But, for us, the significant detail is this: that when asked to join the union he refused, giving as his reason that he “did not understand the matter.” It would seem that for a long time politics represented to him principally a means for unburdening himself, a way to blame his misfortunes on the world, to explain his own fate as due to a faulty social system, and finally, also, to find specific scapegoats. Significantly, the only organization he joined was the League of Anti-Semites.31

If, in addition to its enlightened knowledge of the broad masses the Christian Social Party had had a correct idea of the importance of the racial question, such as the Pan-German movement had achieved; and if, finally, it had itself been nationalistic, or if the Pan-German movement, in addition to its correct knowledge of the aim of the Jewish question, had adopted the practical shrewdness of the Christian Social Party, especially in its attitude toward socialism, there would have resulted a movement which even then in my opinion might have successfully intervened in German destiny.30

In later life Hitler did not like to recall these forerunners, although his ties with them, especially in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, were for a time very close. The existence of these predecessors obviously cast doubt upon his claim, as leader of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), to sole authorship of the idea that was to determine the fate of the century. In Mein Kampf he attempted to derive this idea from his comparison between Lueger and Schonerer, and to represent it as his personal synthesis:

To these Germans the inseparability of their national and social interests seemed to be an obvious and universal truth, which they opposed to the high-flown and imprecise internationalism of the Marxists. They thought they would find the reconciliation of socialism and nationalism in the idea of a “national community”—Volksgemeinschaft. The program of their party united, in somewhat contradictory fashion, whatever ideas answered their craving for self-defense and self-assertion. The goals of the party were predominantly anticapitalistic, revolutionary-libertarian, and democratic; but from the beginning this was mingled with authoritarian and irrational notions, along with fierce antipathies toward Czechs, Jews, and other so-called “foreign elements.” The early followers of the party were workers from small mines, from the textile industry; there were also some railroad workmen and artisans. They regarded themselves as closer to the German bourgeois types, the pharmacist, the industrialist, the high official, or the businessman than to the unskilled Czech workers. Soon they took to calling themselves National Socialists.

The mass party Lueger formed with the aid of emotional slogans was living proof that anxiety was—as happiness had been a century before—a new idea in Europe, powerful enough to bridge even class interests. For the time being, the idea of a nationalistic socialism took much the same course. The Bohemian and Moravian regions of the Danube Monarchy were rapidly becoming industrialized. In 1904 a congress in Trautenau founded the German Workers’ Party (DAP—Deutsche Arbeiterpartei). Its aim was to defend the interests of the German workers against cheap Czech labor pouring into the factories from the countryside and frequently acting as strikebreakers. This action was one step—there would be others throughout Europe under the most varied auspices—toward meeting a key weakness of Marxist socialism: its inability to overcome national antagonisms and to give concrete reality to its humanitarian slogans. For there was no room within the theory of class struggle for the German worker’s sense of a separate national existence. In fact, the adherents of the new German Workers’ Party were recruited largely from among former members of the Social Democratic Party. They had turned away from their previous political convictions out of concern that the policy of proletarian solidarity would favor only the Czech majority in the region. That policy, as the program of the DAP formulated it, was “misguided and immeasurably harmful to the Germans of Central Europe.”

But Hitler admired Lueger for more than his Machiavellian qualities. He believed he had discovered a deeper concord between the mayor and himself. Certainly Lueger had things to teach him; but beyond that, Hitler regarded the man as a kindred soul. Like himself the son of simple folk, Lueger had made his way against all obstacles, all slurs and social disparagement. He had prevailed over even the objections of the Emperor, who three times refused to confirm him as mayor, and had won that recognition from society which Hitler, too, was bent on having. While Schonerer scotched his chances by making enemies, Lueger had worked his way up by continuously seeking and cementing alliances with the ruling groups. He had known how—as Hitler in his homage described the well-remembered lesson—“to make use of all existing implements of power, to incline mighty existing institutions in his favor, drawing from these old sources of power the greatest possible profit for his own movement.”

Unlike Schonerer, whose arrogance and fixation aroused strong opposition and thus condemned him to ineffectiveness, Lueger was conciliatory, skillful, and popular. He merely exploited ideologies; privately, he despised them. His thinking was tactical and pragmatic; accomplishment meant more to him than ideas. In his fifteen years in office the transportation network of Vienna was modernized, the educational system extended, social welfare improved, green belts laid out, and almost a million jobs created. Lueger based his power on the Catholic working class and the petty bourgeoisie: white-collar workers and lower-rank government officials, small shopkeepers, the concierges and lower clergy, all of whom industrialization and changing times threatened with social downgrading or poverty. He, too—in this resembing Schonerer—profited by the widespread feelings of anxiety, but he exploited these feelings only against select and defeatable opponents. Moreover, he did not arouse more anxiety by painting the future in gloomy colors. Instead, he won support with infallibly effective humanitarian platitudes, vividly expressed in his recurrent phrase: “We must do something for the little man!”

Dr. Karl Lueger, the other spokesman for petty bourgeois anti-Semitism, evidently made an even more lasting impression upon Hitler. Lueger was the mayor of Vienna and the eloquent leader of the Christian Social Party. In Mein Kampf Hitler expressed his unequivocal admiration for Lueger, hailing him as “truly gifted,” “the greatest German mayor of all times,” and “the last great German to be born in… the Ostmark.”29 It is true that Hitler sharply criticized his program, especially his casual and opportunistic anti-Semitism and his faith in the multinational state. But Lueger’s demagogic talent impressed him all the more, as did the mayor’s adeptness at making use, for his own purposes, of the prevailing socialistic, Christian, and anti-Jewish impulses of the people.

Schonerer was a difficult personality, deeply embittered, rigid in his principles. He organized the Away-from-Rome Movement, incurring the hostility of the Catholic Church. He was the first to give European hatred for the Jews, hitherto mostly religious and economic in its motivations, the twist that turned it into formal anti-Semitism with a political, social, and above all, biological basis. A demagogue with a keen sense for the effectiveness of primitive emotions, he led a general fight against the trend toward Jewish assimilation. “Religion’s only a disguise, in the blood the foulness lies,” ran one of his slogans. In the monomania with which he regarded the Jews as agents of all the evils and troubles of the world, and in the radicality of his declaration of war on them, he can be recognized as Hitler’s forerunner. Within the tepid and tolerant atmosphere of old Austria, he was the first to demonstrate the possibilities inherent in organizing racial and national fears. Anxiously, he saw the day coming when the German minority would be overwhelmed and “slaughtered.” To ward off that day, he demanded special anti-Jewish laws. His followers wore on their watch chains the insigne of the anti-Semite: a hanged Jew. There were some who spoke up in the Parliament at Vienna, calling for bounties to be awarded for every murdered Jew, either as a set payment or a portion of the victim’s property.

These rhymed maxims gave the gist of von Schonerer’s program. His Pan-German movement, unlike the association of the same name in Germany, did not pursue expansionist imperialistic goals but worked instead for the union of all Germans in one national state. In marked contrast to the Pan-German Association of Germany, it was for giving up the non-German lands of the Danube Monarchy. In general it opposed the existence of the multinational state. The founder and leader of this movement, Georg von Schonerer was a landowner of the frontier Waldviertel, which was also the native soil of Hitler’s family. He had begun his career as a radical democrat, but subsequently more and more subordinated ideas of political and social reform to extreme nationalism. Obsessed by fears of drowning in a sea of foreignness, he saw deadly threats to his Germanism all around him: from the Jews and equally from Roman Catholicism, from Slavs and Socialists, from the Hapsburg monarchy and every type of internationalism. He signed his letters “with German greetings”; he launched all sorts of proposals for reviving ancient Germanic customs; he recommended that German chronology begin with 113 B.C., date of the Battle of Noreia at which the Cimbri and the Teutons won a decisive victory over the Roman legions.

Vienna, the German bourgeois Vienna of the turn of the century, may be regarded as under the aegis of three men. Politically, it was the city of Georg Ritter von Schonerer and Karl Lueger. But in that peculiarly iridescent area where politics and art meet—that border region that so significantly determined Hitler’s career—the overwhelmingly dominant figure was Richard Wagner. Ideologically, these three were the key personalities of his formative years.

Perhaps we may never be able to trace Hitler’s overwhelming Jewish phobia down to its roots. But on the whole we may say that an ambitious and desperate loner was finding a formula for politicizing his personal problems. For he saw himself bit by bit going downhill and was forced to fend off his terror of being declassed. The apparition of the Jew helped to support his self-esteem; he could draw the conclusion that he had the laws of history and of nature on his side. Hitler’s own account, incidentally, sustains the view that he became a full-fledged anti-Semite at the time he had used up his inheritance. Although he never suffered the utter destitution he later described, he was under some financial pressure, and at any rate had socially fallen much lower than he could bear, given his dreams of being an artist, a genius, the object of public adulation.

Kubizek, Hitler’s boyhood friend, and other companions from the dim twilight of underground Vienna, have pointed out that Hitler had early on fallen out with everybody, that his hatred lashed out in all directions. It is conceivable, therefore, that his anti-Semitism was merely the concentrated form of his hitherto general and undirected hatred, which finally found its object in the Jews. In Mein Kampf Hitler argued that the masses must never be shown more than one enemy, because to be aware of several enemies would only arouse doubts. This principle, a number of writers have pointed out, applied to him even more than to the masses. He always concentrated his feelings with undivided intensity upon a single phenomenon as the presumptive cause of the evils in the world. And that phenomenon was always a specifically imaginable figure, never any elusive cluster of causes.

Contrasting with this lack is a significant dream, the—in his own words—“nightmare vision of the seduction of hundreds and thousands of girls by repulsive, bandy-legged Jew bastards.” Lanz, too, had been tormented by the recurrent bugbear of blonde noblewomen in the arms of dark, hairy seducers. His race theory was permeated by sexual-envy complexes and deep-seated antifemale emotions; woman, he maintained, had brought sin into the world, and her susceptibility to the lecherous wiles of bestial submen was the chief cause for the infection of Nordic blood. The same obsession, expressing the toils of a delayed and inhibited masculinity, emerges in a similar vision of Hitler’s: “With satanic joy in his face, the black-haired Jewish youth lurks in wait for the unsuspecting girl whom he defiles with his blood, thus stealing her from her people.” In both cases we have the fetid, insipid imagery of the sex-starved daydreamer; and it may well be that the peculiarly nasty vapors that rise from large tracts of National Socialist ideology derive from the phenomenon of repressed sexuality within the bourgeois world.28

After the war a member of the dictator’s entourage published an extensive list of the women in Adolf Hitler’s life. Characteristically, the beautiful Jewish girl from a wealthy family figures in the list. It is far more likely that he had no “actual encounter with the girl,” either in Linz or in Vienna. Or, if so, the affair would have been lacking the kind of passion that might have liberated the young man from his theatrical egocentrism.

We can probably no longer plumb the real cause of this ever-growing hatred, which lasted literally to the last hour of Hitler’s life. One of his dubious cronies of those years attributed the hatred to sexual envy on the part of a dropout from the middle class. This crony has described an incident involving a model, the essence of Germanic femininity, a half-Jewish rival, and an attempt on Hitler’s part to rape the girl while she was posing. The story is as grotesque as it is stupidly plausible.27 The theory that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was connected with pathological sexual fixations is supported by the whole uneven pattern of Hitler’s ideas about sexual relations, which from his boyhood oscillated remarkably between strained idealism and obscure anxiety feelings. It is supported likewise by the language and argumentation of his own account wherever the figure of a Jew enters the story. The scent of obscenity, which can be detected in all the pages of Mein Kampf in which he attempts to deal with his repugnance for Jews, is surely not an accidental and superficial characteristic. Nor is it merely an echo of the trashy pamphlets and periodicals to which he owed the unforgotten “illuminations” of his youth. Rather, in that obscenity his own personality and the inner nature of his resentment is revealed.

Since I had begun to concern myself with this question and to take cognizance of the Jews, Vienna appeared to me in a different light than before. Wherever I went, I began to see Jews, and the more I saw the more sharply they became distinguished in my eyes from the rest of humanity. Particularly the Inner City and the districts north of the Danube Canal swarmed with a people which even outwardly had lost all resemblance to Germans…. All this could scarcely be called very attractive, but it became positively repulsive when, in addition to their physical uncleanliness, you discovered the moral stains on this “chosen people.”… Was there any form of filth or profligacy, particularly in cultural life, without at least one Jew involved in it? If you cut even cautiously into such an abscess, you found, like a maggot in a rotting body, often dazzled by the sudden light—a kike!… Gradually I began to hate them.26

In Mein Kampf Hitler speaks of an “inner struggle” lasting two years, in the course of which his emotions resisted the inexorable commands of his reason “a thousand times” before he completed his metamorphosis from “a weak-kneed cosmopolitan” to a “fanatical anti-Semite.” In fact, what he calls his “greatest spiritual upheaval” was merely development from a groundless and almost elusive dislike to fixed hostility, from mere mood to ideology. The anti-Semitism of Linz had been of a dreamy sort, tending toward neighborly compromises; now it took on the sharpness of principle. It focused on a well-defined enemy. At the beginning of his stay in Vienna Hitler had sent “respectfully grateful” regards to Dr. Eduard Bloch, his parents’ Jewish family doctor. Dr. Josef Feingold, the lawyer, and Morgenstern, the picture framer, had encouraged the would-be artist by buying his small water colors. Toward Neumann, his Jewish companion at the home for men, Hitler had felt an exaggerated sense of obligation. Now, during the process of change that continued for several years, all these marginal figures of his youth started to recede into the background. Their place was taken by a vision that steadily acquired an almost mythological power, the “apparition in a long caftan and black hair locks” which once struck him “as I was strolling through the Inner City.” He forcefully described how this chance impression “twisted” in his brain and gradually began to become an obsession that dominated all his thinking:

At the Realschule, the spokesman for these trends was Dr. Leopold Potsch, town councilor and teacher of history. Evidently he had made a deep impression upon young Hitler. His eloquence, and the colored oleos of yesteryear with which he supplemented his lessons, guided the imaginations of his pupils in the desired direction. The pages his pupil devoted to him in Mein Kampf contain a measure of hindsighted exaggeration. But the border dweller’s sense of being menaced, the hatred for the Danube monarchy’s mixture of nations and races, and Hitler’s fundamental anti-Semitic attitudes undoubtedly came to him through his old schoolmaster. It is also probable that Hitler read the largely satiric magazine of the Schonerer movement, Der Scherer, Illustrierte Tiroler Monatsschrift fur Politik und Laune in Kunst und Leben (“Illustrated Tyrolean Monthly for Politics and Entertainment in Art and Life”) which was published in Linz during those years. It had a good deal to say about the decline of morals and the evils of alcoholism, but it specialized in attacks on the Jews, the “papists,” the suffragettes and members of Parliament. As early as the first issue of May, 1899, it carried a picture of the swastika, which was being taken up as the symbol of Germanic, volkisch, (i.e., racial and nationalistic) attitudes. In the magazine, however, it was still described as the “fire whisk” which, according to Germanic myth, had twirled the primal substance at the creation of the universe. Hitler also seems to have read—both during his schooldays and in the following aimless years—the Pan-German and aggressively anti-Semitic sheet Linzer Fliegende Blatter. For it was not only in Vienna that anti-Semitism formed a component of political and social ideology—as the author of Mein Kampf would have had his readers believe. It was just as strong in the provinces.

Linz at the turn of the century swarmed with nationalistic groups and sects. Moreover, a decidedly nationalistic temper prevailed at the secondary school that Hitler attended. The pupils flaunted in their buttonholes the blue cornflower popular among German racist groups. They gave preference to the colors of the German unity movement, black-red-gold; they greeted one another with the Germanic “Heil!” and sang the tune of the Hapsburg imperial anthem with the text of “Deutschland uber Alles.” They felt themselves part of a nationalistic opposition directed chiefly against the Hapsburg dynasty and even put up some youthful resistance to school religious services and Corpus Christi processions—for they identified with the “Protestant” German Reich.

In later years Hitler always went to considerable lengths to represent his thought as the fruit of personal struggles. He was supposed to have arrived at his ideas by his own penetrating observation and the labors of his intellect. In order to deny all determining influences he even pretended to have been through a period of wild liberalism. For example, he stressed the “repugnance” that “unfavorable remarks” about Jews had aroused in him during his years in Linz. It is more likely, and various persons have attested to this, that his youthful views were marked by the ideological climate of that provincial city.

The need to legitimize and consolidate this affinity also underlay his first groping efforts to give some ideological shape to his resentments. With the morbidly intensified egotism of one who felt threatened by social debasement, he more and more took over the prejudices, slogans, anxieties, and demands of upper-class Viennese society. Among the elements were both anti-Semitism and those master-race theories that reflected the apprehensions of the German populace of the empire. Two other ingredients were a horror of socialism and what were called “social-Darwinist” notions—all founded upon exacerbated nationalism. These were upper-class ideas, and by adopting them he attempted to raise himself to the level of that class.

From this and other influences, such as the newspaper articles and cheap pamphlets that Hitler himself mentioned as early sources of his knowledge, some scholars have concluded that his world view was the product of a perverted subculture opposed to bourgeois culture. And in fact the plebeian hatred for bourgeois mores and bourgeois humanity repeatedly erupts in his ideology. The dilemma, however, consisted in the fact that this culture was in a way permeated by its subculture and had long ago become a blasphemy of everything it was founded on. Or, to put the same thought in a different way, the subculture that Hitler found expressed by Lanz von Liebenfels and others of his ilk in turn-of-the-century Vienna was not the negation of the prevailing system of values but only its rather battered and sordid image. Turn where he might in his craving for ties with the bourgeois world, he came upon the same notions, complexes, and panicky fears that were expressed in the cheap pamphlets, only in a more sublimated and respectable form. He did not have to abandon a single one of the trivial ideas that had helped him to achieve his initial orientation in the world. Everything he had picked up, with reverent astonishment, in the speeches of the most influential politicians of the metropolis, seemed familiar to him. And when he sat in the upper balcony of the Opera House and listened to the works of the most celebrated composer of the era, he encountered only the artistic expression of the familiar vulgarities. Lanz, the Ostara pamphlets, and the trashy tracts merely opened for him the rear entrance into the society he wanted to belong to. But, rear or not, it was an entrance.

The importance of this rather ludicrous founder of an order does not consist in anything he suggested to or did for Hitler but in the symptomatic place he occupied: he was one of the most eloquent spokesmen of a neurotic mood of the age and contributed a specific coloration to the brooding ideological atmosphere, so rife with fantasies, of Vienna at that time. To say this both describes and delimits his influence upon Hitler. One might say that Hitler did not so much absorb the man’s ideology as catch the infection that underlay it.

Near his room on Felberstrasse there was a tobacco shop that sold periodicals, including one highly popular magazine devoted to racial anthropology. Its title page carried the headlines: “Are you blond? Then you are a creator and preserver of civilization. Are you blond? Then you are threatened by perils. Read the Library for blonds and advocates of Male Rights.”[1] Its editor was a defrocked monk with the arrogated name of Joorg Lanz von Liebenfels. The magazine, which he had named Ostara after the Germanic goddess of spring, proclaimed a doctrine, as deranged as it was dangerous, of the struggle between heroic men whom he called Asings or Heldings, and dwarfish, apelike creatures called Afflings or Schrattlings. Some wealthy industrialist backers had made it possible for Lanz von Liebenfels to buy the castle of Werfenstein in Lower Austria. From this headquarters he directed the formation of a heroic Aryan league that was to form the advance guard of the blond and blue-eyed master race in the coming bloody confrontation with the inferior mixed races. Under the swastika flag, which he had already raised over his castle in 1907, he promised to counter the socialistic class struggle by race struggle “to the hilt of the castration knife.” Thus early he called for a systematic program of breeding and extermination: “For the extirpation of the animal-man and the propagation of the higher new man.” Along with genetic selection and similar eugenic measures, his platform included sterilization, deportations to the “ape jungle,” and liquidations by forced labor or murder. “Offer sacrifices to Frauja, you sons of the gods!” he wrote. “Up, and sacrifice to him the children of the Schrattlings.” In order to popularize the Aryan idea, he suggested racial beauty contests.

Significantly, the series of ideas that he defended against the construction workers—nation, fatherland, authority of the law, school, religion, and morality—contains virtually the complete catalogue of standards for bourgeois society, against which he himself was at this time conceiving his first resentments. It is precisely this divided relationship that will come to the fore repeatedly on the most diverse planes throughout his life. It will reappear in the political tactics of constantly seeking alliances with the despised bourgeois, and in the ritualistic formality—verging on the ridiculous—that prompted him to greet his secretaries by kissing their hands, or at the afternoon teas in the Fuhrer’s headquarters to serve them personally their cream cake. In all vulgarity he cultivated the airs of a “gentleman of the old school.” His manners were his way of demonstrating that he had achieved a desired social affinity; and if there is anything in the picture of young Hitler that betrays specifically Austrian traits, it must be this special status consciousness with which he defended the privilege of being bourgeois. In a society whose craze for titles tended to assign a social ranking to every activity, he wanted at least to be a Herr, a gentleman. It did not matter that his life was narrow and gloomy as long as he could claim this distinction. This was why he stayed away from the artistic and political oppositions of the period. Much of his outward behavior, his language and his clothing, and his ideological and aesthetic choices as well can be most plausibly explained as the effort to conform to the bourgeois world, which he admired uncritically, even to its presumptions. Social disdain he felt to be far more painful than social wretchedness; and if he despaired, it was not from the flawed order of the world, but from the insufficient part granted to him to play in it. He was therefore very careful to avoid any dispute with society; he wanted only to be reconciled to it. Staggered by the grandeur and glamour of the metropolis, wistfully standing outside locked gates, he was not revolutionary. He was merely lonely. No one seemed less destined to be a rebel than he.

His first brush with political reality took a similar course. Once again, despite his feelings of alienation, revolutionary ideas had no attraction for him. Instead he once again revealed himself a partisan of the establishment, paradoxically defending a reality that he simultaneously repudiated. Rejected himself, he seemingly canceled the humiliation by taking over the cause of the society that had rejected him. Beneath this psychological mechanism was concealed one of the lines of fracture in Hitler’s character. He himself has related how as a construction worker he would go off to one side during the noon lunch break to drink his bottle of milk and eat his piece of bread. And whatever we may or may not believe in this story, his “extremely” irritated reaction to the attitude of his fellow workers was consonant with a basic element in his personality: “They rejected everything: the nation as an invention of the ‘capitalistic’… classes; the Fatherland as an instrument of the bourgeoisie for the exploitation of the working class; the authority of the law as a means for the repression of the proletariat; school as an institution for breeding slave material, but also for training the slavedrivers; religion as a means for stupefying the people intended for exploitation; morality as a sign of stupid, sheeplike patience, etc. There was absolutely nothing at all that was not dragged through the mire of horrible depths.”24

Vienna in those years shortly after the turn of the century was one of the centers of ferment, but Hitler, astonishingly, remained unaware of this. A sensitive young man with many reasons for protest, for whom music had been among the great liberating experiences of his youth, knew nothing about Schonberg. No reverberations of the “greatest uproar… in Vienna’s concert halls in the memory of man,” which Schonberg and his pupils, Anton von Webern and Alban Berg, had unleashed at that very time seemed to have reached his ears. Nor did he pay any attention to Gustav Mahler or Richard Strauss, whose work seemed to a contemporary critic in 1907 the “hurricane center of the musical world.” Instead, the young man from Linz relived in Wagner and Bruckner the raptures of his parents’ generation. Kubizek had reported that names like Rilke, whose Book of Hours had been published in 1905, or Hofmannsthal, had “never reached” either of them. And although Hitler had applied to the Academy of Fine Arts, he took no part in the affairs of the Secessionists and was in no way stirred by the sensations that Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele or Oskar Kokoschka were provoking. Instead, he battened on the works of the midnineteenth century, venerating Anselm Feuerbach, Ferdinand Waldmuller, Karl Rottmann or Rudolf von Alt. And this future architect with his soaring visions stood enthralled before the classicistic facades of the Ringstrasse, unaware of the proximity of the revolutionary leaders of a new architecture: Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffman, and Adolf Loos. In 1911 a heated controversy had flared over the flat unornamented facade of Loos’s commercial building on Michaeler Platz, directly opposite one of the baroque portals of the Hofburg. Moreover, Loos had written an article maintaining that there was an inner link between “ornament and crime”—a scandalous thing to say. But Hitler consistently directed his naive enthusiasm toward the fulsome style accepted by Viennese salons and respectable society. Here, too, he proved himself reactionary. In everything new he seemed to sense a tendency toward the debasement of sublimity, the emergence of something alien and unknown. And with his bourgeois instincts he shrank back from anything of that sort.

In spite of the occasional rebellious gestures, such behavior reveals the young Hitler’s intrinsic craving for approval and for a sense of belonging, which is basic to the bourgeois personality. It is in this light that we must evaluate his remark that from early on he was a “revolutionary” in both artistic and political matters. In fact, the twenty-year-old Hitler never questioned the bourgeois world and its values. Rather, he moved toward it with undisguised respect, dazzled by its brilliance and its wealth. He remained a civil servant’s son from Linz, full of sentimental admiration for the bourgeois world. He craved a share in it. His response to his rejection by the bourgeois world was an intensified longing for acceptance and recognition—and this, perhaps, is one of the more remarkable aspects of a youth unusual in many other respects. Europe, after all, had been ringing with denunciations of bourgeois sham for nearly twenty years, so that he could easily have picked up arguments enough to rationalize his own humiliation, and exonerate himself by passing judgment on the age. Instead, worsted and submissive, he held silently aloof from any of that. The rage for total unmasking had no appeal for him. Indeed, all the artistic excitement and clash of ideas so characteristic of the era were lost on him—as well as its intellectual daring.

His spontaneous emotions turned against the bourgeois world that had rejected him, although he felt he belonged to it by inclination and origins. The embitterment he harbored toward it henceforth is among the paradoxes of his existence. That bitterness was both nourished and limited by his fear of social upheaval, by the terrors of proletarianization. In Mein Kampf he describes with surprising frankness the deep-seated “hostility” of the petty bourgeois for the working class, a hostility he too was imbued with. The reason for it, he declares, is the fear “that it will sink back into the old, despised class, or at least become identified with it.”22 He still had some money left from his parental legacy, and he continued to receive his monthly allowance, but the uncertainty of his personal future nevertheless depressed him. He dressed carefully, still went to the opera, the theater, and the coffeehouses of the city; and, as he himself remarks, he continued, by careful speech and restrained bearing, to keep up his sense of bourgeois superiority to the working class. If we are to believe a somewhat dubious source on those years, he always carried with him an envelope of photographs showing his father in parade uniform and would smugly inform people that his late father had “retired as a higher official in his Imperial Majesty’s Customs Service.”23

First, he rented an apartment in the Fifteenth District, Felberstrasse 22, Entrance 16. It was here that he was introduced to the ideas and notions that decisively influenced his future course. He had long explained his failures in terms of his singular character, of precocious genius uncomprehended by the world. By now he needed more specific explanations and more tangible adversaries.

This new rejection, even more definite and offensive in its tone, seems to have been one of those “awakening” experiences that determined Hitler’s future. How deeply wounded he was is indicated by his lifelong hatred for schools and academies. He was fond of pointing out that they had misjudged “Bismarck and Wagner also” and rejected Anselm Feuerbach. They were attended only by “pipsqueaks” and aimed at “killing every genius.” At his headquarters thirty-five years later, leader and warlord of the German people, he would launch into furious tirades against his wretched village teachers with their “dirty” appearance, their “filthy collars, unkempt beards and so on.”21 Humiliated and evidently keenly embarrassed, he withdrew from all human contact. Soon his married half-sister, Angela, who lived in Vienna, heard no more from him. His guardian, too, received only a last curt postcard, and at the same time his friendship with Kubizek broke up. At any rate, he utilized Kubizek’s temporary absence from Vienna to move abruptly out of their shared apartment, without leaving so much as a word of explanation. He disappeared into the darkness of flophouses and homes for men. Thirty years passed before Kubizek saw him again.

In September, 1908, Hitler once more made an attempt to enter the painting class at the Academy. The candidates’ list noted that this time he was “not admitted to the test”; the paintings he had submitted did not meet the preliminary requirements for the examination.

In this behavior, despite all the elements of bizarre overstrain and sheer fantasizing—in fact, partly because of those elements—the later Hitler is already recognizable. He himself later remarked upon the connection between his seemingly confused reformist zeal and his subsequent rise. Similarly, the peculiar combination of lethargy and tension, of phlegmatic calm and wild activity, points to the future pattern. With some uneasiness Kubizek noted the abrupt fits of fury and despair, the variety and intensity of Hitler’s aggressions, and his seemingly unlimited capacity for hate. In Vienna his friend had been “completely out of balance,” he remarked unhappily. States of exaltation alternated frequently with moods of deep depression in which he saw “nothing but injustice, hatred, hostility” and “solitary and alone [railed] against the whole of humanity, which did not understand him, would not accept him, which he felt persecuted and cheated him” and had everywhere set “snares” for him for the sole purpose of preventing his rise.

He gave himself up to such fantasies with almost maniacal passion. Until the small hours of the morning he would sit over projects to which he brought equal measures of practical incompetence, intolerance, and priggish conceit. “He could not let anything alone,” we are told. Because bricks, he decided, were “an unsolid material for monumental buildings,” he planned to tear down and rebuild the Hofburg. He sketched theaters, castles, exhibition halls; he developed a scheme for a nonalcoholic drink; he looked for substitutes for smoking or drew up plans for the reform of schools. He composed theses attacking landlords and officials, outlines for a “German ideal state,” all of which expressed his grievances, his resentments, and his pedantic visions. Although he had learned nothing and achieved nothing, he rejected all advice and hated instruction. Knowing nothing of composition, he took up an idea Richard Wagner had dropped, and began writing an opera about Wieland the Smith, full of bloody and incestuous nonsense. Despite his uncertain spelling he tried his hand as a dramatist, using themes from Germanic sagas. Occasionally, too, he painted; but the small water colors filled with finicky detail betrayed nothing of the forces raging in him. Incessantly, he talked, planned, raved, possessed by the urge to justify himself, to prove that he had genius. He concealed from his roommate his failure to pass the entrance examination at the Academy. When Kubizek occasionally asked him what he was doing so intensively day after day, he replied, “I am working on a solution to the wretched housing conditions in Vienna and carrying on certain studies to that end.”20

In the latter half of February August Kubizek came to Vienna, on Hitler’s urging, to study at the Conservatory of Music. Thereafter the two friends lived together in the rear wing of Stumpergasse 29, occupying a “dreary and wretched” room let to them by an old Polish woman named Maria Zakreys. But while Kubizek pursued his studies, Hitler continued the aimless idler’s life he had already become accustomed to. He was master of his own time, as he cockily stressed. Usually it was almost noon before he got up, sauntered in the streets or in the park at Schonbrunn, visited the museums, and at night went to the opera. There, during those years alone, he blissfully heard Tristan und Isolde thirty to forty times, as he afterward averred. Then again he would bury himself in public libraries, where, with the indiscriminateness of the self-educated, he read whatever his mood and the whim of the moment suggested. Or else he would stand in front of the pompous buildings on Ringstrasse and dream of even more monumental structures he himself would erect some day.

Among the persisting elements of the legend that Hitler himself constructed over the carefully obscured trail of his life is the allegation that “necessity and harsh reality” formed the great and unforgettable experience of those years in Vienna: “For me the name of this Phaeacian city represents five years of hardship and misery. Five years in which I was forced to earn a living, first as a day laborer, then as a small painter; a truly meager living which never sufficed to appease even my daily hunger. Hunger was then my faithful bodyguard; he never left me for a moment….”18 However, careful calculation of his income has since shown that during the first period of his stay in Vienna, thanks to his share in his father’s inheritance, his mother’s legacy, the orphan pension, and without counting any earnings of his own, he had at his disposal between eighty and one hundred crowns a month.19 This was the monthly earnings of a junior magistrate at that time.

Hitler afterward called the following five years the worst of his life. In some respects they were also the most important. For the crisis of those years formed his character and provided him with those formulas for mastering fate to which he clung forever after. They became, in fact, so calcified within his mind that they account for the impression his life gives, despite his mania for mobility, of utmost rigidity.

The recommendation seemed to open the way for him to enter his dream world: the free life of an artist; music and painting combined in the grand pseudo-world of opera. But there is no indication of how the meeting with Roller came out. The sources are silent. Hitler himself never said a word about it. It seems most likely that the famous man advised him to work, to learn, and in the autumn to apply once more for admission to the Academy.

Herewith, esteemed and gracious lady, I wish to express my sincerest gratitude for your efforts in obtaining access for me to the great master of stage decoration, Prof. Roller. It was no doubt somewhat overbold of me, Madam, to make such excessive demands upon your kindness, since you after all had to act in behalf of a perfect stranger. All the more, therefore, must I ask you to accept my sincerest thanks for your undertakings, which were accompanied by such success, as well as for the card which you so kindly placed at my disposal. I shall at once make use of this fortunate opportunity. Once again my deepest gratitude. I respectfully kiss your hand.

Only a few days later the answer came that Roller was prepared to receive Hitler, and the Linz landlady thanked her mother in a second letter: “You would be rewarded for your pains if you could have seen the young man’s happy face when I had him summoned here…. I gave him your card and let him read Director Roller’s letter! Slowly, word for word, as though he wanted to learn the letter by heart, as if in reverence, with a happy smile on his face, he read the letter quietly to himself. Then, with fervent gratitude, he laid it down in front of me. He asked me whether he might write you to express his thanks.”

A letter of recommendation gave him new hope. Magdalena Hanisch, the owner of the house in which his mother had lived until her death, had connections with Alfred Roller, one of the best-known stage designers of the period, who worked at the Hofoper and also taught at the Vienna Academy of Arts and Crafts. In a letter dated February 4, 1908, she asked her mother, who was living in Vienna, to arrange for Hitler to meet Roller. “He is an earnest, aspiring young man,” she wrote, “nineteen years old, more mature and sedate than his years warrant, pleasant and steady, from a very honorable family…. He has the firm intention of learning something substantial. As far as I know him now, he will not ‘loaf,’ since he has in mind a serious goal. I trust you will not be interceding for someone unworthy. And you may well be doing a good deed.”

Possibly his mother’s death reinforced his intention to return to Vienna. The eighteen-year-old boy’s decision to go back to the city that had rejected him, to try again to find his way and his opportunities there, testifies equally to his determination and to his desire to escape into anonymity from the inquiring looks and admonitions of his relatives in Linz. Moreover, in order to qualify for his orphan’s pension he had to give the impression that he was engaged on a formal course of studies. Consequently, as soon as the formalities and legal questions were settled, he called on his guardian, Mayor Mayrhofer, and declared—“almost defiantly,” as the mayor afterward reported—“Sir, I am going to Vienna.” A few days later, in the middle of February, 1908, he left Linz for good.

It is probable that after such a failure he shied away from the humiliation of going home to Linz, and above all of returning to his former school, the scene of his previous defeat. In perplexity, he stayed in Vienna for the present and evidently did not write a word home about his not being accepted. Even when his mother fell severely ill and lay dying, he did not venture to return. He did not go back to Linz until after his mother’s death on December 21, 1907. The family doctor who had treated his mother in her last illness declared that he had “never seen a young man so crushed by anguish and filled with grief.” According to his own testimony, he wept. For not only were his own hopes shattered, but he had now to face alone, without help, the shock of disenchantment. The experience intensified his already pronounced tendency to keep to himself and to indulge in self-pity. With the death of his mother whatever affection he had ever had for any human being came to an end—except one later emotional tie, again linked to a close relative.

It was a cruel shock. In his consternation, Hitler called on the director of the Academy, who suggested that the young man study architecture, at the same time repeating that the drawings “incontrovertibly showed my unfitness for painting.” Hitler later described this experience as an “abrupt blow,” a “glaring flash of lightning.”15 Now he was being punished for having quit secondary school, for he would have needed to have passed the final examination in order to enroll in a school of architecture. But his aversion for school and for all regular study was so great that it did not even occur to him to try to make up for this omission by working toward the examination. Even as a grown man he called this requirement of completing his preliminary education “incredibly difficult” and remarked tersely: “By all reasonable judgment, then, fulfillment of my dream of being an artist was no longer possible.”16

In this city of Vienna, against this background, Adolf Hitler spent his next six years. He had come to Vienna full of high hopes, craving rich impressions and intending to continue his pampered life style in a more brilliant, more urban setting, thanks to his mother’s financial support. Nor did he have any doubts of his artistic vocation. He was, as he himself wrote, full of “confident self-assurance.”14 In October, 1907, he applied for the drawing examination at the Academy. The classification list contains the entry: “The following gentlemen submitted unsatisfactory drawings or were not admitted to the examination:… Adolf Hitler, Braunau a. Inn, April 20, 1889, German, Catholic, Father civil servant, upper rank, four grades of Realschule. Few heads. Sample drawing unsatisfactory.”

Historical circumstances had confined the Jews to specific roles and specific economic activities. These same circumstances had also bred in them a freedom from bias, an uncommon flexibility and mobility. Representatives of the old bourgeois Europe were still caught up in their traditions, their sentiments and their despairs, and hence were far more apprehensive about the future. The type of personality the Jews had developed corresponded better to the urban, rationalistic style of the age. That, as much as the fact that they had thronged into the academic professions in disproportionate numbers, exerted a dominant influence upon the press, and controlled virtually all the major banks in Vienna and a considerable portion of local industry13—produced in the Germans a sense of danger and of being overwhelmed. Generalized anxiety condensed into the charge that the Jews were rootless, seditious, revolutionary, that nothing was sacred to them, that their “cold” intellectuality was opposed to German “inwardness” and German sentiment. In support of this idea anti-Semites could point to the many Jewish intellectuals prominent in the working-class movement. It is characteristic of a minority outcast for generations that it will incline toward rebellion and dreaming of utopias. Thus Jewish intellectuals had indeed flung themselves into the socialist movement and become its leaders. Thus there arose that fateful picture of a grand conspiracy with parts carefully assigned, some to work within capitalism, some within the coming revolution. The small tradesman confusedly feared that both his business and his bourgeois status were being menaced by the Jews in a kind of two-pronged attack. And his racial uniqueness was under assault as well. In the 1890’s one Hermann Ahlwardt wrote a book with the significant title, Der Verzweiflungskampf der arischen Volker mit dem Judentum (“The Desperate Struggle of the Aryan Peoples with Jewry”). Ahlwardt drew the materials for its “documentation” from events and conditions in Germany. Yet, in the Berlin of the nineties, despite all the fashionable currents of anti-Semitism, this book sounded like the crotchet of a pathological crank. In Vienna, however, it caught the imagination of wide strata of the population.

Such troubles naturally gave rise to many contrary movements that reflected the increasing craving for an escape from reality. These were chiefly defensive ideologies with nationalistic and racist overtones, offered by their advocates as panaceas for a threatened world. Such doctrines gave concrete form to vague anxieties, expressing these in familiar, hence manageable, images. One of the most extreme of these complexes was anti-Semitism, which drew together a variety of rival parties and leagues, from the Pan-Germans under the leadership of Georg Ritter von Schonerer to the Christian Socialists under Karl Lueger. There had been an outbreak of anti-Jewish feeling at the time of the depression at the beginning of the 1870’s. This emerged afresh when the stream of immigrants from Galicia, Hungary, and Bukovina increased. In the temperate atmosphere of the Hapsburg metropolis, Jews had made considerable progress toward emancipation. But for that very reason the Jews in the East flocked in greater numbers to the more liberal zones of the West. In the interval from 1857 to 1910 their proportion of the population of Vienna rose from 2 per cent to more than 8.5 per cent, higher than in any other city of Central Europe. There were some districts of Vienna where Jews formed about a third of the population. The new immigrants retained both their customs and their style of dress. In long black caftans, tall hats on their heads, their odd and alien-seeming presence strikingly affected the street scene in the capital.

The anxiety underlying such reactions can be fully understood only against the broader background of a general crisis. In the course of a creeping revolution “old, cosmopolitan, feudal and peasant Europe”—which had anachronistically survived in the territory of the Dual Monarchy—was going down to destruction. No class was spared the shocks and conflicts connected with its death. The bourgeois and petty bourgeois in particular felt threatened on all sides by progress, by the abnormal growth of the cities, by technology, mass production, and economic concentration. The future, which for so long had been imagined in hopeful terms, in the form of pleasant private or societal utopias, became associated for greater and greater numbers of people with uneasiness and dread. In Vienna alone, in the thirty years after the abolition of guild regulations in 1859, some 40,000 artisans’ shops went bankrupt.

In addition, the surging nationalism of the various peoples of the empire was no longer countered by the traditional calmness of a self-assured German leadership. Rather, the epidemic spread of nationalism had seized the ruling class of Germans with special intensity from the time that Austria was excluded from German politics in 1866. The Battle of Konig-gratz had turned Austria’s face away from Germany toward the Balkans and forced the Germans into the role of a minority within their “own” state. They felt themselves being swamped by alien races and began to grumble at the monarchy for ignoring that danger. They themselves compensated by a more and more immoderate glorification of their own breed. “German” became a word with a virtually moralistic cast, carrying strong missionary overtones. It developed into a concept imperiously and pretentiously opposed to everything foreign.

Naturally, the currents of the period—nationalism and racial consciousness, socialism and parliamentarism—made themselves felt with particular force in this precariously balanced political entity. For a long time it had been impossible to pass a law in the country’s Parliament unless the government made outright concessions to various groups in the virtually inextricable tangle of crisscrossing interests. The Germans, approximately a quarter of the population, were ahead of all the other peoples of the empire in education, prosperity, and general development; but their influence was disproportionately smaller. The policy of makeshift concessions worked against them precisely because they were expected to be loyal, whereas efforts had to be made to satisfy the unreliable nationalities.

But the precarious equilibrium of the empire had been visibly shaken after 1867, when Hungary wrested special rights for herself in the famous Ausgleich. Soon it was being said that the Dual Monarchy was nothing but a pot cracked in many places and held together by a piece of old wire. For the Czechs demanded that their language be given equal status with German. Conflicts erupted in Croatia and Slovenia. And in the year of Hitler’s birth Crown Prince Rudolf escaped from a net of political and personal entanglements by his suicide in Mayerling. In Lemberg (Lvov), at the beginning of the century, the Governor of Galicia was assassinated in the street. The number of military draft evaders rose from year to year. At Vienna University there were student demonstrations by national minorities. Columns of workers staged enormous parades down the Ring under bedraggled red banners. From all these symptoms of unrest and weakness it was easy to predict that Austria was on the point of falling apart. It could be expected that the denouement would come when the old Emperor died. In 1905 it was rumored in the German and Russian newspapers that there had been feelers between Berlin and St. Petersburg concerning the future of the Dual Monarchy. Supposedly, inquiries had been made whether it would not be well to agree beforehand on what parts of territory neighbors and other interested parties might count when the empire collapsed. The rumors became so rife that on November 29, 1905, the Foreign Office in Berlin felt compelled to arrange a special meeting with the Austrian ambassador and reassure him.

By the end of the nineteenth century the inner contradictions of the multinational state were emerging with increasing sharpness. For generations that state had been ruled with highhanded indolence. Problems were evaded, crises ignored. The point was to keep all the nationalities “in equal, well-tempered dissatisfaction.” That was how the onetime Premier Count Eduard Taafe ironically defined the art of rule in Austria, and on the whole it was not unsuccessful.

Nevertheless, for all its contemporaneity and show, Vienna was already a “world of yesterday”—full of scruples, decrepitude, and deep-seated doubts about itself. As the twentieth century began, the brilliance displayed in its theaters, its bourgeois mansions and green boulevards was overhung by this eschatological mood. Amid all the lavish festivals the city celebrated in fact and fiction there was palpable awareness that the age had lost its vital force, that only a lovely semblance still survived. Weariness, defeats, anxieties, the more and more embittered quarrels among the nations of the empire, and the shortsightedness of the ruling groups were eroding the unwieldy structure. Nowhere else in old Europe was the atmosphere of termination and exhaustion so palpable. The end of the bourgeois era was nowhere experienced so resplendently and so elegantly as in Vienna.

At that point, the empire still seemed destined for permanence. Emperor Franz Joseph, who had celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of his reign in 1898, had become virtually a symbol of the state itself, of its dignity, its continuity, and its anachronisms. The position of the high nobility likewise seemed unshakable. Skeptical, haughty, and weighed down by traditions, it dominated the country politically and socially. The bourgeoisie had attained wealth but no significant influence. Universal suffrage did not yet exist. But industry and commerce were expanding feverishly, and the petty bourgeoisie and working class were being increasingly courted by parties and demagogues.

Vienna at the turn of the century was the metropolis of a European empire, the scintillating imperial city embodying the glory and heritage of centuries. Brilliant, self-assured, prosperous, it governed an empire that extended into what is now Russia and deep into the Balkans. Fifty million people, members of more than ten different nations and races, were ruled from Vienna and held together as a unit: Germans, Magyars, Poles, Jews, Slovenes, Croats, Serbs, Italians, Czechs, Slovaks, Rumanians, and Ruthenians. Such was the “genius of this city” that it was able to modulate all the discords of the far-flung empire, to balance its tensions and make them fruitful.

In Mein Kampf Hitler described how his father once set out for the city vowing “not to return to his beloved native village until he had made something of himself.”11 With a similar resolve, Hitler left Linz in September, 1907. And however far he diverged from his youthful fantasies, the central craving remained alive: to see the city lying at his feet in fear, shame, and admiration, to transform the “lovely dream” of the past into present reality. During the war he frequently spoke, wearily and impatiently, of his plan to retire to Linz in his old age, to build a museum there, listen to music, read, write, pursue his thoughts. All this was nothing but the ancient daydream of the lordly house with the “extremely elegant lady” and the “spirited circle of friends,” still capable of stirring him after all the intervening years. In March, 1945, when the Red Army was at the gates of Berlin, he had the plans for the rebuilding of Linz brought to him in the bunker under the chancellory and for a long time stood dreamily over them.12

It is unclear, however, why after his return to Linz he waited for a year and a half before once more setting out for the city to apply for a place in the Academy of Fine Arts. His mother’s qualms may have played a part, but there would also have been his own unwillingness to take a step that would end his existence of ideal drifting and once again subject him to the routines of schooling. In fact, Hitler repeatedly called the years in Linz the happiest time of his life, “a lovely dream.” Only the memory of his failure at school somewhat darkened its brightness.

In May, 1905, Adolf Hitler went to Vienna for the first time. He stayed two weeks and was dazzled by the brilliance of the capital, by the splendor of Ringstrasse, which affected him “like magic from the Arabian Nights,” by the museums and, as he wrote on a postcard, by the “mighty majesty” of the Opera. He went to the Burgtheater and attended performances of Tristan and The Flying Dutchman. “When the mighty waves of sound flooded through the room and the whine of the wind gave way before the fearful rush of billows of music, one feels sublimity,” he wrote to Kubizek.

He also succumbed to the music of Richard Wagner and often went to the opera night after night. The charged emotionality of this music seemed to have served him as a means for self-hypnosis, while he found in its lush air of bourgeois luxury the necessary ingredients for escapist fantasy. Significantly, at this period he loved the kind of painting that corresponded to this music: the luscious pomp of Rubens and, among the moderns, Hans Makart. Kubizek has described Hitler’s powerful reaction to a performance of Wagner’s Rienzi, which they attended together. Overwhelmed by the resplendent, dramatic musicality of the work, Hitler was also stirred by the fate of the late medieval rebel and tribune of the people, Cola di Rienzi, alienated from his fellow men and destroyed by their incomprehension. After the opera the two young men went on the Freinberg. There, with nocturnal Linz lying in darkness below them, Hitler began to orate. “Words burst from him like a backed-up flood breaking through crumbling dams. In grandiose, compelling images, he sketched for me his future and that of his people.” When these boyhood friends met again thirty years later in Bayreuth, Hitler remarked: “It began at that hour!”10

Quite accurately, he described himself as he was during this period as a “loner.” In a concentrated and obstinate manner, he lived only for himself. Aside from his mother and “Gustl,” who naively admired him and served him as an audience, not another human soul occupies the scene during the most important years of his boyhood. In leaving school, he had effectively left society also. On his daily stroll through the center of the city, he would regularly meet a girl accompanied by her mother, who would be passing the Schmiedtoreck at the same time he was going by. He conceived an interest in this girl, whose name was Stefanie, which quickly developed into an intense romantic feeling that lasted for years. At the same time, he consistently refused to speak to her. There is reason to think that his refusal was based not on normal shyness but on a desire to protect his imaginary relationship from the breath of insipid reality. If we may believe the account of his friend, Hitler wrote “innumerable love ps” to this girl. In one of them she appeared “as a damsel of high degree, dressed in a dark-blue, flowing velvet robe and riding upon a white palfrey over flower-strewn meadows, her loose tresses failing over her shoulders like a golden flood. A bright spring sky overhung the scene. All was pure, radiant happiness.”9

He was still incapable of any systematic work. Constantly, he sought new occupations, new stimuli, new goals. For a short while he took piano lessons; then boredom set in and he abandoned them. For a while he had a single boyhood friend, August Kubizek, the son of a Linz decorator, with whom he shared a sentimental passion for music. On August’s birthday he made a present to his friend of a villa in the Italian Renaissance style: a gift out of his large stock of delusions. “It made no difference whether he was talking about something finished or something planned.”8 When he bought a lottery ticket, he was at once transported into a future where he occupied the third floor of a fine house on the bank of the Danube. He spent weeks deciding on the decor, choosing furniture and fabrics, making sketches, and unfolding to his friend his plans for a life of leisure and devotion to art. The household would be managed by an “elderly, already somewhat gray-haired but extremely elegant lady.” He could already see her receiving “their guests on the festively illuminated landing,” guests who belonged “to the choice, spirited circle of friends.” The daydream seemed to him already a fact, and when the lottery drawing shattered that dream, he flew into a fit of rage. Significantly, it was not only his own bad luck at which he stormed; he denounced human credulity, the state lottery organization, and finally condemned the cheating government itself.

He visibly retreated into this fantasy world after he had for the first time failed to meet a challenge. In his own world he compensated for his early experiences of helplessness vis-a-vis his father and his teachers. There he celebrated his solitary triumphs over defenseless antagonists; and from this secret realm he hurled his first bolts of anathema against the ill-wishers he believed surrounded him. Everyone who knew him at this time later recalled his low-keyed, withdrawn, “anxious” nature. Unoccupied as he was, everything preoccupied him. The world, he decided, must be “changed thoroughly and in all its parts.” Until the late hours of the night, he sat feverishly over clumsy projects for the total rebuilding of the city of Linz. He drew sketches for theaters, mansions, museums, or for that bridge over the Danube which he triumphantly ordered built thirty-five years later on the basis of his own adolescent plans.

It would seem that he sought elevation through art in a social sense as well. Behind all the whims and decisions of his formative years lay the overpowering desire to be or to become something “higher.” His eccentric passion for art was tangibly related to his notion that art was a pursuit of the “better class of society.” After his father’s death his mother had sold the house in Leonding and moved into an apartment in Linz. Here the sixteen-year-old boy sat idly around. Thanks to his mother’s adequate pension, he was in a position to suspend all plans for the future and to assume that appearance of privileged leisure which counted very heavily in his mind. He would take a daily stroll on the promenade. He regularly attended the local theater, joined the musical club, and became a member of the library run by the Association for Popular Education. An awakening interest in sexual questions impelled him, as he related later, to visit the adult section of a wax museum. And around the same time he saw his first film in a small movie house near the Sudbahnhof. According to the descriptions we have, he was lanky, pallid, shy, and always dressed with extreme care. Usually he sported an ivory-tipped black cane and tried to look like a university student. His father had been driven by social ambition but had achieved what the son regarded as a paltry career. His own goals were pitched far higher. In the dream world that he set up for himself, he cultivated the expectations and the egotism of a genius.

Hitler left the school “with an elemental hatred,” and in spite of all his efforts to explain away his failure by references to his artistic vocation, he never entirely recovered from the smart. Free from the demands of schooling, he was now determined to dedicate his life “wholly to art.” He wanted to be a painter. This choice was prompted equally by his talent for sketching and the rather florid notion an official’s son from the provinces must have had of the free and untrammeled artist’s life. Quite early he showed a bent for attitudinizing. A onetime boarder in his mother’s house later described the way the young Adolf would sometimes abruptly begin to draw at meals and with seeming obsessiveness dash down sketches of buildings, archways, or pillars. To be sure, such behavior can be explained as a legitimate way of using art to escape the coercions and confinements of the bourgeois world, and soar instead into realms of the ideal. It is only the manic fervor with which he threw himself into his painting exercises, or into music arid dreams, forgetting and rejecting everything else, that casts a disturbing light on this passion. Arrogantly, the young Adolf declared that he would have none of any definite work, any sordid vocation for the sake of a livelihood.

Although she seems to have held out for a while against her son’s demand that he be allowed to leave school, she soon could find nothing to pit against his self-willed temperament. After losing so many children, her anxiety about the two who remained constantly manifested itself as weakness and indulgence, which her son had quickly learned to exploit. When, in September, 1904, he was promoted only on condition that he leave school, his mother made one last attempt. She sent him to the Realschule in Steyr. But there, too, his work continued to be unsatisfactory. His first report card was so bad that Hitler, as he himself relates, got drunk and used the document for toilet paper; he then had to request a duplicate. When his report for the autumn of 1905 likewise showed no improvement, his mother at last gave in and allowed him to leave school. However, the decision was not entirely her own. For, as Hitler involuntarily confessed in Mein Kampf, he was “aided by a sudden illness.”7 There is, however, no evidence for such an illness; the principal reason seems to have been that he had again not been promoted.

Moreover, the father saw only the beginning of Adolf’s years in the Realschule. For, in January, 1903, he took a first sip from a glass of wine in the Wiesinger tavern in Leonding and fell over to one side. He was carried into an adjoining room, where he died immediately, before a doctor and a priest could be sent for. The liberal Linz Tagespost gave him a lengthy obituary, referring to his progressive ideas, his sturdy cheerfulness, and his energetic civic sense. It praised him as a “friend of song,” an authority on beekeeping, and a temperate family man. By the time his son gave up school out of disgust and capriciousness, Alois Hitler had already been dead for two and a half years. Nor could Adolf’s sickly mother have tried to force the boy into a civil servant’s career.

In fact, we must rather assume that his father paid little attention to his son’s vocational future. Certainly he did not insist upon any one course. That is apparent if only because attendance at the Gymanasium would have been much more to the point for a civil service career, given the structure of the Austrian school system. But what Hitler does describe accurately is the mood of persistent tension that sprang partly from the difference in temperament between father and son, partly from the father’s realizing his long-cherished dream of early retirement—a dream that we may see curiously recurring in the son. When, in the summer of 1895, Alois Hitler retired and was liberated at last from the stringent duties of his vocation, he began living for his leisure and his inclinations. For young Adolf his father’s retirement meant an abrupt reduction in his freedom of movement. Suddenly he was continually running into the powerful figure of his father, who insisted on respect and discipline, and who translated his pride in his own achievement into inflexible demands for obedience. The reasons for the conflict are evidently to be sought in this general situation, rather than in any specific differences of opinion over the son’s uncertain future.

Hitler later represented his failure at secondary school as a way of defying his father, who wanted to steer him into the civil service where the father himself had had so successful a career. In after years Hitler told a vivid story about being taken to the main customs office in Linz; his father hoped the visit would fill him with enthusiasm for the profession, while he himself was filled with “repugnance and hatred” and could see the place only as a “government cage” in which “the old men sat crouching on top of one another, as close as monkeys.” But the description of the allegedly prolonged conflict, which Hitler dramatized as a grim struggle between two men of iron will, has since been exposed as pure fantasy.

This debacle is unquestionably due to a complex of reasons. One significant factor must have been humiliation. If we are to believe Hitler’s story that in the peasant village of Leonding he was the uncontested leader of his playmates—not altogether improbable for the son of a civil servant, given the self-esteem of officialdom in Imperial Austria—his sense of status must have suffered a blow in urban Linz. For here he found himself a rough-hewn rustic, a despised outsider among the sons of academics, businessmen, and persons of quality. It is true that at the turn of the century Linz, in spite of its 50,000 inhabitants, was still pretty much of a provincial town with all the dreariness and somnolence the term connotes. Nevertheless, the city certainly impressed upon Hitler a sense of class distinctions. He made “no friends and pals” at the Realschule. Nor was the situation any better at the home of ugly old Frau Sekira, where for a time he boarded with five other schoolmates his age during the school week. He remained stiff, aloof, a stranger. One of the former boarders recalls: “None of the five other boys made friends with him. Whereas we schoolmates naturally called one another du, he addressed us as Sie, and we also said Sie to him and did not even think there was anything odd about it.” Significantly, Hitler himself at this time first began making those assertions about coming from a good family which in the future unmistakably stamped his style and his manner. The adolescent fop in Linz, as well as the subsequent proletarian in Vienna, would seem to have acquired a tenacious “class consciousness” and a determination to succeed.

In reality Adolf Hitler was a wide-awake, lively, and obviously able pupil whose gifts were undermined by an incapacity for regular work. This pattern appeared quite early. He had a distinct tendency to laziness, coupled with an obstinate nature, and was thus more and more inclined to follow his own bent. Aesthetic matters gave him extraordinary pleasure. However, the reports of the various grammar schools he attended show him to have been a good student. On the basis of this, evidently, his parents sent him to the Realschule, the secondary school specializing in modern as opposed to classical subjects, in Linz. Here, surprisingly, he proved a total failure. Twice he had to repeat a grade, and a third time he was promoted only after passing a special examination. In diligence his report cards regularly gave him the mark Four (“unsatisfactory”); only in conduct, drawing, and gymnastics did he receive marks of satisfactory or better; in all other subjects he scarcely ever received marks higher than “inadequate” or “adequate.” His report card of September, 1905, noted “unsatisfactory” in German, mathematics, and stenography. Even in geography and history, which he himself called his favorite subjects and maintained that he “led the class,”6 he received only failing grades. On the whole, his record was so poor that he left the school.

Hitler portrays himself as invariably victorious in battles on the village common and in the vicinity of the old fortress tower—nothing else would be in keeping with the precocity of genius. According to his story, the other boys accepted him as a born leader, and he was always ready with masterful plans for knightly adventures and exploration projects. Through these innocent games young Adolf developed an interest in warfare and the soldier’s trade that pointed toward the future. In retrospect the author of Mein Kampf discovered “two outstanding facts as particularly significant” about the “boy of barely eleven”: that he had become a nationalist and had learned “to understand and grasp the meaning of history.”5 The whole fable is brought to a neat and affecting conclusion with the father’s sudden death, the privations, illness, and death of the beloved mother, and the departure of the poor orphaned boy “who at the age of seventeen had to go far from home and earn his bread.”

In spite of obvious signs of nervous instability, the dominant feature of this picture is one of respectable solidity and instinct for security. But the cloak of legend Hitler threw over this background (later, with the beginnings of the Hitler personality cult, to be embellished by melodramatic touches and sentimental embroidery) contrasts strongly with the reality. The legend suggests deep poverty and domestic hardship, with the chosen boy triumphing over these dire conditions and over the tyrannical efforts of an obtuse father to break the son’s spirit. In order to introduce a few effective touches of black into the picture, the son actually made Alois a drunkard. Hitler tells of scolding and pleading with his father in scenes “of abominable shame,” tugging and pulling him out of “reeking, smoky taverns” to bring him home.

Adolf Hitler, born April 20, 1889, in Braunau am Inn, in the suburban house numbered 219, was the fourth child of this marriage. Three older children, born 1885, 1886, and 1887, had died in infancy; of the two younger, only the sister, Paula, survived. The family also included the children of Alois’s second marriage, Alois and Angela. The small border town had no influence on Adolf’s development, for the following year his father was transferred to Gross-Schonau in Lower Austria. Adolf was three years old when the family moved again to Passau, and five when his father was transferred to Linz. In 1895 his father bought a farm of nearly ten acres in the vicinity of Lambach, site of a famous old Benedictine monastery where the six-year-old boy served as choir boy and acolyte. There, according to his own account, he often had the opportunity “to intoxicate myself with the solemn splendor of the brilliant church festivals.”4 But his father soon sold the farm again. That same year he retired on pension, at the age of only fifty-eight. Soon afterward he bought a house in Leonding, a small community just outside Linz, and settled down to his retirement years.

But this respectability overlaid an obviously unstable temperament marked by a propensity for impulsive decisions. Among other things, his frequent changes of residence suggest a restiveness that the sober practical work of the customs service could not satisfy. He moved at least eleven times in barely twenty-five years—although some of these moves were connected with his job. He also married three times. While his first wife was still alive, his subsequent second wife expected a child by him, and the same was true for the subsequent third during the life of the second. His first wife, Anna Glassl, was fourteen years his senior; his last, Klara Polzl, twenty-three years younger. She had first entered his household as a maid. Like the Hiedlers or Huttlers, she came from Spital; and after his change of name she was his niece, at least legally, so that a dispensation from the church had to be obtained for them to marry. The question of whether she was indeed related to him by blood remains as unanswerable as the question of who Alois Hitler’s father was. She quietly and conscientiously carried out her domestic tasks, regularly attended church—in accordance with her husband’s wishes—and was never quite able to rise above the status of housemaid and bedmate. For many years she had difficulty in regarding herself as the customs official’s wife, and used to address her husband as “Uncle Alois.” Her picture shows the face of a modest village girl, earnest, impassive, with a trace of despondency.

This rustic intrigue may very well have been set in motion by Alois himself. For he was an enterprising man who in the interval had made quite a career for himself. He may therefore have felt the need to provide himself with security and a firm footing by obtaining an “honorable” name. At the age of thirteen he had been apprenticed to a shaker in Vienna. But, by and by, he decided against being an artisan and instead entered the Austrian Finance Office. He advanced rapidly as a customs official and was ultimately promoted to the highest civil service rank open to a man of his education. He was fond of appearing as the representative of constituted authority on public occasions and made a point of being addressed by his correct title. One of his associates in the customs office called him “strict, precise, even pedantic,” and he himself told a relation who asked his advice about a son’s choice of occupation that working for the treasury demanded absolute obedience and sense of duty, and that it was not for “drinkers, borrowers, card players, and other people who go in for immoral conduct.” The photographs that he usually had made on the occasion of his promotions show a portly man with the wary face of an official. Underneath that official mask, bourgeois competence and bourgeois pleasure in public display can be discerned. He presents himself to the viewer with considerable dignity and complacency, his uniform aglitter with buttons.

The parish priest allowed himself to be deceived or persuaded. In the old registry, under the entry of June 7, 1837, he altered the item “illegitimate” to “legitimate,” filled in the space for the name of the father as requested, and inserted a false marginal note: “The undersigned confirm that Georg Hitler, registered as the father, who is well known to the undersigned witnesses, admits to being the father of the child Alois as stated by the child’s mother, Anna Schicklgruber, and has requested the entry of his name in the present baptismal register. XXX Josef Romeder, witness; XXX Johann Breiteneder, witness; XXX Engelbert Paukh.” Since the three witnesses could not write, they signed with three crosses, and the priest put in their names. But he neglected to insert the date. His own signature was also missing, as> well as that of the (long-since deceased) parents. Though scarcely legal, the legitimation took effect: from January, 1877, on Alois Schicklgruber called himself Alois Hitler.

Twenty-nine years later, after Maria Anna Schicklgruber had died of “consumption in consequence of thoracic dropsy” in Klein-Motten near Strones, and nineteen years after the death of her husband, the brother Johann Nepomuk Hitler appeared before parish priest Zahnschirm in Dollersheim, accompanied by three acquaintances. He asked for the legitimation of his “foster son,” the customs official Alois Schicklgruber, now nearly forty years of age. Not he himself but his deceased brother Johann Georg was the father, he said; Johann had avowed this, and his companions could witness the facts.

These two brothers are two of the presumptive fathers of Alois Schicklgruber. The third possibility, according to a rather wild story that nevertheless comes from one of Hitler’s closer associates, is a Graz Jew named Frankenberger in whose household Maria Anna Schicklgruber is said to have been working when she became pregnant. Such, at any rate, is the testimony of Hans Frank, for many years Hitler’s lawyer, later Governor General of Poland. In the course of his trial at Nuremberg Frank reported that in 1930 Hitler had received a letter from a son of his half-brother Alois. Possibly the intention of the letter was blackmail. It indulged in dark hints about “very odd circumstances in our family history.” Frank was assigned to look into the matter confidentially. He found some indications to support the idea that Frankenberger had been Hitler’s grandfather. The lack of hard evidence, however, makes this thesis appear exceedingly dubious—for all that we may also wonder what had prompted Frank at Nuremberg to ascribe a Jewish ancestor to Hitler. Recent researches have further shaken the credibility of his statement, so that the whole notion can scarcely stand serious investigation. In any case, its real significance is independent of its being true or false. What is psychologically of crucial importance is the fact that Frank’s findings forced Hitler to doubt his own descent. A renewed investigation undertaken in August, 1942, by the Gestapo, on orders from Heinrich Himmler, produced no tangible results. All the other theories about Hitler’s grandfather are also full of holes, although some ambitious combinational ingenuity has gone into the version that traces Alois Schicklgruber’s paternity “with a degree of probability bordering on absolute certainty” to Johann Nepomuk Hitler.3 Both arguments peter out in the obscurity of confused relationships marked by meanness, dullness, and rustic bigotry. The long and short of it is that Adolf Hitler did not know who his grandfather was.

At House No. 13 in Strones, the home of Johann Trummelschlager, an unmarried servant girl by the name of Maria Anna Schicklgruber gave birth to a child on June 7, 1837. That same day the child was baptized Alois. In the registry of births in Dollersheim parish the space for the name of the child’s father was left blank. Nor was this changed five years latsr when the mother married the unemployed journeyman miller Johann Georg Hiedler. That same year she turned her son over to her husband’s brother, Johann Nepomuk Hitler, a Spital farmer—presumably because she thought she could not raise the child properly. At any rate the Hiedlers, the story has it, were so impoverished that “ultimately they did not even have a bed left and slept in a cattle trough.”

On both his father’s and his mother’s side, his family came from a remote and poverty-stricken area in the Dual Monarchy, the Waldviertel between the Danube and the Bohemian border. A wholly peasant population, with involved kinship ties resulting from generations of inbreeding, occupied the villages whose names repeatedly recur in Hitler’s ancestral history: Dollersheim, Strones, Weitra, Spital, Walterschlag. These are all small, scattered settlements in a rather wretched, heavily wooded landscape. The name Hitler, Hiedler, or Hitler is probably of Czech origin (Hidlar, Hidlarcek); it first crops up in one of its many variants in the 1430’s. Through the generations, however, it remained the name of small farmers; none of them broke out of the pre-existing social framework.

But foreignness did not sufficiently conceal him. His feeling for order, rules, and respectability was always at variance with his rather unsavory family history, and evidently he never lost a sense of the distance between his origins and his claims on the world. His own past always stirred his anxieties. In 1930, when rumors arose that his enemies were preparing to throw light on his family background, Hitler appeared very upset: “These people must not be allowed to find out who I am. They must not know where I come from and who my family is.”

His efforts to muddy the waters were favored by the fact that he came from across the border. Like many of the revolutionaries and conquerors of history, from Alexander to Napoleon to Stalin, he was a foreigner among his countrymen. There is surely a psychological link between this sense of being an outsider and the readiness to employ a whole nation as material for wild and expansive projects, even to the point of destroying the nation. At the turning point of the war, during one of the bloody battles of attrition, when his attention was called to the tremendous losses among newly commissioned officers, he replied with surprised incomprehension: “But that’s what the young men are there for.”

But even if this is so, his efforts at concealment did not spring entirely from the desire to introduce a note of allure into his portrait. Rather, we have here the anxieties of a constricted nature overwhelmed by a sense of its own ambiguousness. He was forever bent on muddying still further the opaque background of his origins and family. When, in 1942, he was informed that a plaque had been set up for him in the village of Spital, he flew into one of his violent rages. He transformed his ancestors into “poor cottagers.” He falsified his father’s occupation, changing him from a customs official to a postal official. He curtly repulsed the relatives who tried to approach him. For a time his younger sister Paula ran his household at Obersalzberg, but he made her take another name. After the invasion of Austria he forbade Jorg Lanz von Liebenfels to publish; he owed some vague, early suggestions to this man, the eccentric exponent of a racist philosophy. Reinhold Hanisch was his onetime chum from his days in the home for men; he had Hanisch murdered. He insisted that he was no one’s disciple. All knowledge had come to him from his own inspiration, by the grace of Providence and out of his dialogues with the Spirit. Similarly, he would be no one’s son. The picture of his parents emerges in the dimmest of outlines from the autobiographical chapters of his book, Mein Kampf, and only to the extent that it supported the legend of his life.

Even as leader of the struggling young NSDAP (National Socialist Workers’ Party) he regarded interest in his private life as insulting. As Chancellor he forbade all publicity about it.1 The statements of all those who knew him more than casually, from a friend of his youth to the members of his intimate dinner circle, stress how he liked to keep his distance and preserve his privacy. “Throughout his life he had an indescribable aloofness about him.”2 He spent several years in a “home for men”; but of all the many people who met him there, few could recall him later. He moved about among them as a permanent stranger, attracting no attention. At the beginning of his political career he jealously took care that no pictures of him were published. Some have explained this obsession as the strategy of a bom propagandist; it has been argued that as a man of mystery he deliberately aroused interest in himself.

All through his life he made the strongest efforts to conceal as well as to glorify his own personality. Hardly any other prominent figure in history so covered his tracks, as far as his personal life was concerned. With a carefulness verging on pedantry, he stylized his persona. The concept he had of himself was more like a monument than like a man. From the start he endeavored to hide behind it. Rigid in expression, early conscious of his calling, at the age of thirty-five he had already withdrawn into the concentrated, frozen inapproachability of the Great Leader. In obscurity legends form; in obscurity the aura of being one of the elect can grow. But that obscurity which cloaks the early history of his life also accounted for the anxieties, the secrecy, and the curiously histrionic character of his existence.

Yet he saved himself through rhetoric. His version of the incident revealed how little he understood reality and how well he understood how to present reality, color it, mold it to his propagandist purposes. The elements of the gambler and the knight-errant were always present, as well as his propensity for the hopeless situation, the lost cause. In every critical juncture during 1923 Hitler had shown a pathological tendency not to leave himself any tactical options. He seemed always to be seeking out a wall to have at his back. He was always doubling his stakes, which were already too high for him. One might well consider this a suicidal mentality. Then again, he would always pour scorn on other politicians who tried to follow a prudent course, calling them “political Tom Thumbs.” He had nothing but contempt for those who “never expose themselves to extreme strain.” Bismarck’s description of politics as the art of the possible Hitler considered “a cheap excuse.” We can see a consistency, too, in the fact that from 1905 on he repeatedly threatened to take his own life. But he kept postponing the act until the very last moment, until the alternatives of world power or downfall ceased to exist, and nothing remained but a sofa in the shelter under the Berlin chancellery. Certainly much of his behavior continued to seem overwrought and verged on grandiose farce. But are we only projecting from later experience when we see the high-strung actor of that early phase already surrounded by an aura of catastrophe?

Hans Frank, Hitler’s lawyer, and later governor of Poland, remarked at the Nuremberg trials that Hitler’s “entire historical life,” the “substance of his whole personality” were revealed in the course of the November putsch. The most striking qualities are the jumble of contradictory states of mind and the whipping up of his own emotions, which are so in character with the hysterical daydreaming and egotistic fantasies of the adolescent city planner, composer, and inventor—as are the sudden collapse, the desperate gambler’s grandiose gesture of abdication, the headlong plunge into apathy. In September he had told his entourage: “Do you know Roman history? I am Marius and Kahr is Sulla; I am the leader of the people, but he represents the ruling class. This time, however, Marius will win.” But with the first signs of difficulty he had dropped everything. He was not the man of action but its herald. He could set himself great tasks, that was clear, but his nerves were not equal to his lust for action. He had predicted a “battle of the Titans” and then disgracefully taken to his heels, “not wanting to have anything more to do with this mendacious world,” as he explained in court. He had once more played for highest stakes—and lost.

Hitler emerged from the defeat at the Feldherrnhalle, therefore, with a good deal more than a clearly formulated tactical recipe. His relationship to politics in general had changed. Up to this time he had distinguished himself by his categorical refusal to compromise, by his radical alternatives. He had behaved “like a force of nature,” had thought of politics—drawing his model from the battle fronts—as storming the enemy positions, breaking through the lines, fighting at close quarters, and coming out in the end either victorious or dead. Only now did Hitler seem to grasp the meaning and the opportunities of the political game, the tactical dodges, the sham compromises and maneuvers by which one played for time. Only now did he progress beyond his emotionally overcharged, naively demagogic, “artistic” relationship to politics. The image of the agitator carried away by events and by his own impulsive reactions was replaced by that of the cool and methodical technician of power. The unsuccessful putsch of November 9 marks an important caesura: it concludes Hitler’s political apprenticeship. In fact, strictly speaking, it marks Hitler’s first real entry into politics.

Hitler’s new strategy called for a changed relationship to the Reichswehr. He attributed his defeat on November 9 in no small part to his inability to win over the leaders of the army and the police. In his concluding words before the Munich court he already intimates the goal of his future tactics : “The hour will come,” he cried to the courtroom, “when the Reichswehr will be on our side.” With this goal in mind, he firmly consigned his own party army to a secondary role. But at the same time he freed his storm troops from their dependency on the army; the SA was to be neither a part nor a rival of the Reichswehr.

At the same time, Hitler’s dropping to the ground before the guns of the police at the Feldherrnhalle had clarified once and for all his relationship to government. The events of November 23 taught him that it was hopeless to attempt to conquer a modern state by violent means. His struggle for power would succeed only if he based it on the Constitution, he concluded. Of course, this did not mean any real deference to the Constitution on Hitler’s part; rather, it meant cloaking his illegal acts in the guise of legality. In subsequent years he left no doubt that all his protestations of loyalty to the Constitution were valid only for this interim period; he spoke openly of the time of reckoning that would follow. As early as September 24, 1923, Scheubner-Richter had stated in a memorandum: “The nationalist revolution must not precede the acquisition of political power; rather, control over the nation’s police constitutes the prerequisite to the nationalist revolution.” Hitler transformed himself into a man of strict law and order. Thus he won the good opinion of dignitaries and powerful institutions, and veiled his revolutionary intentions with untiring protestations of how well he was determined to behave and how dearly he cherished tradition. He muted his earlier aggressive tone, only now and then dropping into it for the shock effect. For he purported to seek not the defeat but the co-operation of the state. This pose deceived many observers and interpreters, and continued to deceive them. “Adolphe Legalite,” as some of his witty contemporaries dubbed him, could well be taken for a boring, reactionary petty bourgeois.

For Hitler himself and the history of his party the debacle also proved a turning point, for the tactical and personal lessons he drew from it were to guide his entire future course. Later on, he would stage a memorial procession year after year, marching to the Konigsplatz, where he called on the victims of that grim November day to rise from their bronze caskets and come to the last reveille. This may be explained not merely in terms of his love for theater, his penchant for turning historical event into political spectacle. It may also be seen as the act of a successful politician paying tribute to one of his most instructive experiences, indeed to “perhaps the greatest stroke of good luck” in his life, the “real birthday” of the party. For the first time the name of Hitler reached far beyond the boundaries of Bavaria. The party acquired martyrs, a legend, the romantic aura of persecuted loyalty, and the nimbus of stern resolve. “Let there be no mistake about it,” Hitler would stress in a later memorial address, “had we not acted then, I would never have been able… to found a revolutionary movement. People would have justifiably told me: you talk like all the others and you act as little as they.”

Nevertheless, it seemed as though Hitler’s period of ascent was over. To be sure, immediately after November 9, there had been mass demonstrations in Munich in his favor. The elections to the Bavarian Landtag as well as to the Reichstag brought sizable gains for the volkisch forces. Yet the party, or the front that had taken its place after it was banned, began to show the effects of Hitler’s absence. It would seem that only his personal magic and Machiavellian gifts held it together. It broke down into jealous, bitterly hostile factions of little significance. Drexler was already accusing Hitler of “destroying the party for good with his insane putsch.” The party had drawn its strength principally from general discontent; toward the end of 1923 this element was in somewhat shorter supply. Conditions in the country began to stabilize. The inflation was overcome, and the “happy years” of the so far ill-fated republic commenced. The events of November 9, though local in character, in a way represented the turning point in the larger drama of the Weimar Republic; they marked the end of the postwar period. The shots fired in front of the Feldherrnhalle seemed to introduce a new sobriety and draw the gaze of the nation away from dreams and delusions and back to reality.

The verdict handed down by the Munich Volksgericht was not so far removed from the verdict of “the eternal court of history” that Hitler had invoked. The presiding judge had a hard time cajoling the three lay judges into passing any guilty verdict at all; he had to assure them that Hitler would certainly be pardoned before serving his full sentence. The reading of the verdict was a real event for Munich society. The courtroom was crowded with spectators ready to applaud this troublemaker with so many friends in high places. The verdict once more laid stress on the “pure patriotic motives and honorable intentions” of the defendant, but sentenced him to a minimum of five years in prison. However, he would become eligible for parole after six months. Ludendorff was acquitted. The law called for the deportation of any troublesome foreigner, but the court decided to waive this in the case of a man “who thinks and feels in such German terms as Hitler.” This decision called forth a storm of approving bravos from the audience. When the judges had filed out, Bruckner raised the cry: “It’s up to us now!” Hitler appeared at a window of the court building to show himself to the cheering crowd. Bouquets of flowers were piling up in the room behind him. The state had once again lost the match.

The army we have trained is growing from day to day, from hour to hour. At this very time I hold to the proud hope that the hour will come when these wild bands will be formed into battalions, the battalions into regiments, the regiments into divisions, that the old cockade will be rescued from the mud, that the old banners will wave on ahead, that reconciliation will be achieved before the eternal judgment seat of God which we are ready to face. Then from our bones and our graves will speak the voice of that court which alone is empowered to sit in judgment upon us all. For not you, gentlemen, will deliver judgment on us; that judgment will be pronounced by the eternal court of history, which will arbitrate the charge that has been made against us. I already know what verdict you will hand down. But that other court will not ask us: did you or did you not commit high treason? That court will judge us, will judge the Quartermaster-general of the former army, will judge his officers and soldiers, as Germans who wanted the best for their people and their Fatherland, who were willing to fight and to die. May you declare us guilty a thousand times; the goddess of the Eternal Court will smile and gently tear in two the brief of the State Prosecutor and the verdict of the court; for she acquits us.

The assumption being, of course, that he had every right to call himself a great man. Such unabashed self-aggrandizement did not fail to have its effect, and made Hitler from the very outset the central figure of the trial. True, the official transcript followed the “proper” order of rank to the bitter end, listing Ludendorff before Hitler; but the desire of all parties to avert any blame from the distinguished general again redounded to Hitler’s advantage. He was quick to recognize this. With his claim to sole responsibility he thrust himself past Ludendorff into the vacant position of leader of the entire volkisch movement. And as the trial went on, he managed to wipe out the desperado character of the undertaking. Similarly, he was unable to gloss over his own passive and confused behavior on the morning of the demonstration. More and more the events took on the’ semblance of a cleverly planned and daringly executed masterstroke. “The operation of November 8 did not fail,” he told the court, thus laying the ground for the future legend. As he came to the end of his statement, he prophesied his ultimate victory in politics and history in visionary terms:

In what small terms small minds think! I want you to come away from here with the clear understanding that I do not covet the post of a minister. I consider it unworthy of a great man to want to make his name go down in history by becoming a minister…. What I had in mind from the very first day was a thousand times more important than becoming a minister. I wanted to become the destroyer of Marxism. I shall carry through this task, and when I do, the title of minister would be utterly ridiculous. When I first stood at Wagner’s grave, my heart overflowed with pride that here was a man who had forbidden his family to write on his stone, “Here lies Privy-councillor, Music Director, his Excellency Baron Richard von Wagner.” I was proud that this man and so many men in German history have been content to transmit their names to posterity, not their titles. It was not out of modesty that I wanted to be a “drummer” [i.e., rabble-rouser]; that is what counts, and everything else is a mere triviality.

All of this helped Hitler turn the trial to his own purposes. Still, one should not fail to mark the boldness with which Hitler faced the proceedings, even after so recent a defeat. He assumed responsibility for the whole sorry operation and thus contrived to justify his actions in the name of higher patriotic and historic duty. Unquestionably, this was one of his “most impressive political accomplishments.” In his concluding speech, which is of a piece with his self-confident tone throughout the trial, he referred to a remark by Lossow, who described him as a mad “propagandist and rabble-rouser”:

Under these circumstances Kahr and Seisser soon lost hope. The former state commissioner looked fixedly before him and ascribed the responsibility for everything to Hitler. He kept falling into contradictions and did not seem to realize that he was playing into Hitler’s hands. Only Lossow resisted energetically. Time and again he accused his antagonist of lying: “No matter how often Herr Hitler says so, it is not true.” Speaking with the full arrogance of his class he described the Fuhrer of the NSDAP as “tactless, limited, boring, sometimes brutal, sometimes sentimental, and unquestionably inferior.” He had a psychiatrist certify that Hitler “considers himself the German Mussolini, the German Gambetta, and his following, which has inherited the Byzantine manners of the monarchy, speaks of him as the German messiah.” Hitler occasionally shouted Seisser down. For this he received no “penalty for contempt of court,” which, the presiding judge declared, would have only “slight practical value.” Instead, he was simply asked to control himself. Even the chief prosecutor interspersed his charges with tributes to Hitler, remarking on his “unique gifts as an orator,” and holding that it would be “unjust to describe him as a demagogue.” Benevolently the prosecutor stated: “He has always kept his private life impeccable, something which merits particular note, given the temptations to which he, as the celebrated leader of the party, was naturally subject…. Hitler is a highly gifted man, who has risen from humble beginnings to achieve a respected position in public life, the result of much hard work and dedication. He has devoted himself to the ideas he cherishes, to the point of self-sacrifice. As a soldier he did his duty to the utmost. He cannot be accused of having used the position he created for himself in any self-serving way.”

None of those under attack knew how to answer these arguments. Hitler managed not only to turn the trial into a “political carnival,” in the phrase of one journalist, but also to reverse the roles of accuser and accused, so that the state prosecutor found himself forced to defend the former triumvirate. The presiding judge did not seem exactly displeased at these developments. He did not object to any of the denunciations and challenges hurled at the “November criminals,” and only when the applause from the audience became too stormy did he issue a mild rebuke. Even when Pohner referred to Germany’s President as “Ebert Fritze” and maintained that he was in no way bound by the laws of the Weimar Republic, the judge did not demur. As one of the Bavarian ministers stated at the cabinet meeting of March 4, the court had “never yet shown itself to be on any side but that of the defendants.”52

I cannot declare myself guilty. True, I confess to the deed, but I do not confess to the crime of high treason. There can be no question of treason in an action which aims to undo the betrayal of this country in 1918. Besides, by no definition can the deed of November 8 and 9 be called treason; the word can at most apply to the alliances and activities of the previous weeks and months. And if we were committing treason, I am surprised that those who at the time had the same aims as I are not sitting beside me now. At any event, I must reject the charge until I am joined by those gentlemen who wanted the same action as we, who discussed it with us and helped prepare it down to the smallest details. I consider myself not a traitor but a German, who desired what was best for his people.51

The trial for high treason opened on February 24, 1924, in the former Infantry School on Blutenburgstrasse. Throughout the proceedings, all parties were tacitly agreed “on no account to bring up the ‘central facts’ of the events under discussion.” The defendants were Hitler, Ludendorff, Rohm, Frick, Pohner, Kriebel, and four other participants, while Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser appeared as witnesses. Hitler made maximum capital of this strange confrontation, which corresponded so little to the complicated alliances of the recent past. He did not want to follow the example of the perpetrators of the Kapp putsch, who had all pleaded innocent: “Thereupon every man raised his hand to swear that he had known nothing. He had had no plans and no intentions. This was what destroyed the bourgeois world: the fact that they did not have the courage to affirm their deed, to stand before the judge and say, ‘Yes, this is what we did, we wanted to overthrow this state.’ ” Hitler, on the contrary, openly acknowledged his intentions, but rejected the charge of high treason:

Characteristically enough, he regained his spirits when it became apparent that an ordinary court trial was in the offing. He instantly saw his chance for playing a dramatic role. Later he referred to the defeat of November 9, 1923, as “perhaps the greatest stroke of luck in my life.” As part of the good fortune he must have included the opportunity offered by this trial, which shook him out of his despondency and cast him in his favorite role, that of gambler. Once more he could stake everything on a single card. The disaster of the bungled putsch could be converted into a demogogic triumph.

Once behind bars he remained in a state of total despondency. At first he believed “that he was going to be shot.” In the following days Amann, Streicher, Dietrich Eckart, and Drexler were also brought in. Scattered about in various Munich jails were Dr. Weber, Pohner, Dr. Frick, Rohm, and others. The government had not dared to arrest Ludendorff. Hitler himself apparently felt he was in the wrong simply because he had survived. In any case, he considered his cause lost. For a few days he considered—how seriously it is impossible to say—cheating the firing squad by starving himself to death in a hunger strike. Anton Drexler later claimed credit for talking him out of this plan. The widow of his slain friend, Frau von Scheubner-Richter, also helped him come through the depression of this period. For the shots fired in front of the Feldherrnhalle meant not only the sudden end of three years of progress that had verged on the miraculous; it also meant a terrible collision with reality. Hitler’s whole system of tactics had been demolished.

Ludendorff’s heroic bearing had cast an unflattering light on Hitler, whose nerves had again failed him. The reports of his followers are contradictory only in small details: they agree that even while the situation was still fluid, he scrambled up from the pavement and took to his heels, leaving behind him the dead and wounded. His later excuse that in the confusion he had thought Ludendorff had been killed was hardly impressive, for in that event there would have been even more reason for him to stay. In the midst of the general chaos he managed to escape with the help of an ambulance. A few years later he concocted the legend that he had carried a child out of the firing line to safety; he even produced the child. But the Ludendorff circle demolished this legend before Hitler himself abandoned it. He reached Uffing on the Staffelsee, about thirty-five miles from Munich, where he took refuge in Ernst Hanfstaengl’s country house and nursed the painful sprained shoulder he had suffered in the course of the battle. Broken in spirit, he kept repeating that the time had come to put an end to things and shoot himself, but the Hanfstaengls managed to dissuade him. Two days later he was arrested and taken off to the fortress of Landsberg am Lech. “His face was pale and hunted, with a wild lock of hair falling into it.” Concerned with his image even in the depths of defeat, he had the officer of the arrest party pin the Iron Cross First Class to his lapel before he was led off.

What happened next is not exactly clear. From the confusion of accounts, some fanciful, some in the nature of apologies, agreement prevails on only one point: a single shot rang out, provoking a steady exchange of fire that lasted only about sixty seconds. The first to fall was Scheubner-Richter, fatally wounded. In his fall, he pulled Hitler with him, wrenching his arm out of joint. Oskar Korner, the former vice-chairman of the party, was hit, as was Chief Magistrate von der Pfordten. When it was all over, fourteen members of the procession and three policemen lay dead or dying on the street, and many others, including Hermann Goring, had been wounded. Amidst the hail of bullets, while all were dropping to the ground or scurrying for cover, Ludendorff stalked upright, trembling with rage, through the police cordon. The day might possibly have ended differently had a small band of determined men followed him; but no one did. It was certainly not cowardice that forced many to the ground; it was the rightists’ respect for the legitimate representatives of government authority. With grandiose arrogance the general stood waiting for the commanding officer and allowed himself to be arrested. Bruckner, Frick, Drexler, and Dr. Weber also submitted to arrest. Rossbach fled to Salzburg, Hermann Esser to Czechoslovakia. In the course of the afternoon Ernst Rohm also capitulated; earlier he had occupied army headquarters, after a short exchange of gunfire that had cost two members of the Kampfbund their lives. His standard bearer on this particular day was a young man with a somewhat girlish face and wearing glasses, the son of a respected Munich gymnasium headmaster. The young man’s name was Heinrich Himmler. In a farewell march, the company paraded silently through the streets, unarmed, the men carrying their dead on their shoulders. Then it disbanded. Rohm himself was arrested.

On the Isar bridge the procession was met by a strong detachment of state police, but Goring intimidated the policemen with the threat that if a single shot was fired, all the hostages would be killed instantly. As the policemen wavered, they found themselves being pushed aside by the columns of sixteen men abreast, surrounded, disarmed, spat, upon, and cuffed by the crowd. In front of the Munich City Hall Streicher was just delivering a speech from the top of a staircase; the crowd was large. How grave a juncture this was for Hitler can be measured from the fact that he, to whom the masses had rushed as “to a savior,” marched silently on this day. He had taken Scheubner-Richter’s arm as if he needed support; this, too, was an odd gesture, scarcely according with his image of a Fuhrer. Amidst the cheering of the crowd the procession swung haphazardly into the narrow streets of the Old City; when it neared the Residenzstrasse the lead party began to sing “O Deutschland hoch in Ehren” (“Oh, Germany high in honor”). At the Odeonsplatz the procession again encountered a police cordon.

But during these hours Hitler was isolated from the public, cut off from the impetus and encouragement he might have received from the crowds. Thus, as the day wore on, he began to have second thoughts; even at this early stage in his career he appeared to be entirely dependent on the masses for increasing or diminishing his assurance, energy, and courage. Early in the morning he had sent the Kampfbund’s communications director, Lieutenant Neunzert, to Crown Prince Rupprecht in Berchtesgaden to ask him to act as intermediary. Now he was waiting inactively for Neunzert’s return. He also feared that a demonstration might lead to a clash with armed soldiers and police and thus repeat the debacle of May 1 in a far more fatal manner. Ludendorff finally put an end to Hitler’s temporizing with an energetic, “We shall march!” Toward noon several thousand persons lined up behind the standard bearers. The leaders and officers were sent to the head of the line: Ludendorff appeared in civilian clothes; Hitler had thrown a trench coat over his tail coat of the previous evening. Beside him stood Ulrich Graf and Scheubner-Richter; then came Dr. Weber, Kriebel, and Goring. “We set out convinced that this was the end, one way or another,” Hitler later remarked. “I remember someone who said to me as we were coming down the steps, ‘this finishes it!’ Everyone had that same conviction.” They set out singing.

And in fact the prospects for a “March on Berlin” were by no means unfavorable. As became clear the next morning, public sentiment was clearly on the side of Hitler and the Kampfbund. From numerous apartment house windows and even from City Hall and public buildings the swastika flag fluttered, and the newspaper accounts of the events in the Burgerbraukeller had an approving tone. Many people came to the campaign headquarters the Kampfbund had set up in various parts of the city, while in the barracks the lower rank officers and the enlisted men frankly expressed their sympathy with Hitler’s plans for the march. The speakers whom Streicher had sent around were met with hearty applause in the strangely feverish atmosphere of that bleak November morning.

This last-ditch effort was not merely a typical Hitler reaction; it represented the only avenue still left to him. Most historians have concluded that Hitler failed as a revolutionary at the decisive moment. Such criticism, however, ignores Hitler’s basic assumptions and goals.50 True, his nerves gave way, but it would not have been consistent with his policy for him to try to occupy telegraph offices and ministries, railroad stations and barracks. He had never planned a revolutionary take-over in Munich; rather, he had intended to march against Berlin, with Munich’s might behind him. His resigned attitude, after this one night, was more realistic than his critics would have us believe. For he saw that the loss of his partners rendered the entire undertaking impossible. He apparently did not hope for any turnabout as a result of the demonstration and the planned wave of propaganda; all he counted on was that a massive show of support would serve to protect the erstwhile conspirators from reprisals. Now and then, during one of the wild shifts of mood he went through that night, Hitler must have dreamed of sweeping the masses along and heading for Berlin after all, leaving Munich aside. Drunk with such visions, Hitler conceived the plan of sending patrols through the streets shouting, “Show the flag!” “Then we’ll see if we don’t whip up some enthusiasm!”

As always, when he found himself blocked or disappointed, Hitler’s sensitive nervous system gave way. With the collapse of this one project, all his projects collapsed. In the wee hours of the morning Streicher turned up at the Burgerbraukeller and urged Hitler to address an impassioned appeal to the masses and thus seize the initiative again. According to Streicher’s story, Hitler stared at him wide-eyed and then scrawled a statement handing “the entire organization” over to Streicher, as if he had completely given up.49 He then went through a strange alternation of moods, first apathy, then violent despair, histrionics that anticipated the convulsions and rages of later years. Finally he let himself be persuaded to order a demonstration the following day. “If it comes off, all’s well, if not, we’ll hang ourselves,” he declared, and this statement, too, anticipated those of later years, when he swung from one extreme to another, from total victory to downfall, from conquest of the world to suicide. However, a group he had dispatched to sound out the general mood returned with a favorable report, and Hitler instantly regained hope, exuberance, and faith in the power of agitation: “Propaganda, propaganda,” he exclaimed, “now it all depends on propaganda!” He promptly slated fourteen mass meetings for the coming evening, at each of which he would appear as the principal speaker. The day after that, an enormous rally would be held on the Konigsplatz, where tens of thousands would celebrate the national uprising. As dawn broke, he was giving instructions for posters to be printed for these events.

In the meantime countermeasures were already under way. Lossow had met with his officers. They greeted him with the rather menacing remark that they assumed the show of solidarity with Hitler had been sheer bluff. Whatever the vacillating general’s real position may have been, in the face of his outraged officers he abandoned any thoughts he may have had of really undertaking a putsch. Shortly afterward, Kahr issued a proclamation rescinding his statements in the Burgerbraukeller; they had been wrung from him at gunpoint, he claimed. He declared the National Socialist Party as well as the Kampfbund dissolved. Hitler, all unsuspecting and reveling in his role, was mobilizing his forces for the great march on Berlin. The state commissioner general had already given orders that no Hitler followers should be allowed to enter Munich. One SA shock troop, carried away by revolutionary fervor, smashed the premises of the Munchener Post, the Social Democratic newspaper. Other units were rampaging, taking hostages, and looting a bit at random, while Rohm seized control of the District Army Command headquarters on Schonfeldstrasse. Once that was done, no one quite knew what to do next. A light, wet snow began to fall. Midnight came, and still Hitler had no word from Kahr and Lossow. He began to grow uneasy. Messengers were sent out but failed to return. Frick seemed to have been arrested, and somewhat later Pohner could not be found. Hitler began to realize that he had been tricked.

All the same, it was a great night for Hitler, rich in the elements he loved best: drama, cheering, defiance, the euphoria of action, and the supreme ecstasy that comes of half-realized dreams, an ecstasy that no reality can yield. In the anniversary ceremony he was to stage in later years, he would attempt to recapture the momentousness of this evening. “Now better times are coming,” he said extravagantly to Rohm as he embraced him. “We shall all work day and night on the great task of rescuing Germany from shame and suffering.” He issued a proclamation to the German people and two decrees establishing a special tribunal to try political crimes, and declaring “the scoundrels who engineered the betrayal of November 9, 1918,” outlaws from this day: it was every citizen’s duty “to deliver them dead or alive into the hands of the volkisch national government.”

As the meeting broke up, Prime Minister von Knilling, the ministers present, and the police commissioner were arrested. The leader of the SA student company, Rudolf Hess, took charge of transferring the prisoners to the villa of the rightist publisher Julius Lehmann. Meanwhile, Hitler was called away to deal with some minor crisis outside the barracks of the engineers. As soon as he left the room, at about 10:30 P.M., Lossow, Kahr, and Seisser said comradely good-byes to Ludendorff and disappeared. When Scheubner-Richter and Hitler returned, they immediately expressed suspicion. But Ludendorff snapped that he forbade them” to doubt a German officer’s word of honor. Some two hours earlier, Seisser had protested that Hitler in launching the putsch had broken his word of honor. Honor was certainly a fetish with these people. They were crippled by their high principles, while Hitler, the new man, respected nothing but the pragmatics of power. For years he had been piously using these bourgeois principles and platitudes of honor, solemnly invoking rules that he despised, at the same time recognizing their erosion. This gave him a great advantage vis-a-vis a class unable to free itself from principles in which it no longer believed. But on this night Hitler had run into “opponents who answered breach of faith with breach of faith, and won the game.”48

But in the end Kahr yielded to the pressures from all around him and submitted. The five returned to the hall to put on a show of brotherhood. The semblance of unity was enough to fire the audience. As the spectators climbed up on chairs and applauded tumultuously, the actors shook hands. Ludendorff and Kahr appeared pale and stiff, while Hitler seemed to be “glowing with joy,” as the report tells us, “blissful… that he had succeeded in persuading Kahr to co-operate.” For a short, precious moment the thing he had long dreamed of seemed achieved. He had come so far! Here he stood, the focal point of cheers, flanked by dignitaries whose approval gave him such satisfaction after all he had suffered in Vienna. At his side stood Kahr and the other most powerful men in the country, as well as the great General Ludendorff. And he, as the national dictator designate, towered above them all—he, Hitler, the man without a profession, the failure. “It will seem like a fairy tale to later ages,” he was fond of saying, amazed himself at the bold upturn in his fortunes. In fact he could rightly say that no matter how this putsch gamble turned out, he would no longer be performing on provincial stages; he had stepped out on the great national stage. With great emotion, he concluded, “Now I am going to carry out what I swore to myself five years ago today when I lay blind and crippled in the army hospital: neither to rest nor to sleep until the November criminals have been hurled to the ground, until on the ruins of the present pitiful Germany has been raised a Germany of power and greatness, of freedom and glory. Amen!” And as the crowd shouted and applauded, the others, too, had each to give a short speech. Kahr muttered a few vague phrases of allegiance to the monarchy, the Bavarian homeland, and the German fatherland. Ludendorff spoke of a turning point in history and, though still infuriated by Hitler’s behavior, assured the assemblage: “Deeply moved by the majesty of this moment and taken by surprise, I place myself of my own accord at the disposal of the German national government.”

In the meantime, Ludendorff had arrived, testy at Hitler’s elaborate secrecy as well as at not having been consulted when posts were assigned, so that he had received only command of the army. Without preliminaries, he launched into speech, urging the three men to shake hands on the coup; he himself had also been taken by surprise, but a great historical event hung in the balance. Only now, under the personal sway of the legendary national figure did the men begin to give in, one by one. Lossow, like a good soldier, took Ludendorff’s recommendation as a command; Seisser followed his lead; and only Kahr stubbornly refused. When Hitler offered Kahr, as the supreme inducement, the promise that “the people will kneel down before you,” Kahr replied dryly that such a thing meant nothing to him. This little exchange between the two men points up all the difference between Hitler’s hunger for stagy triumphs and the experienced politician with his sober grasp of power relationships.

In actual fact he did not have much to tell the gathering. In a peremptory tone he simply announced what up to then had been largely his own fantasy: the new names, the new offices, and a series of proposals. “The task of the provisional German national government is to muster the entire might of this province and the additional help of all the German states for the march on that sinful Babylon, Berlin, for the German people must be saved. I will now put the question before you: out there are three men, Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser. The decision to act has cost them severe inner struggle. Are you in agreement with this solution of the German question? You can see that what guides us is not self-interest, not egotism. Rather, we wish to take up the cudgels for our German fatherland, at the eleventh hour. We want to rebuild Germany as a federation in which Bavaria shall receive her rightful due. Tomorrow morning will either find Germany with a German nationalist government—or us dead!” Hitler’s persuasiveness as well as his clever trick of implying that Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser were already won over created what the eyewitness calls a complete turnabout; Hitler left the hall “with the authorization of the gathering to tell Kahr that the whole assembly would stand behind him if he joined in.”

For a moment it seemed as though the calm indifference of the three might spell the doom of the entire operation. Meanwhile, Scheubner-Richter had dashed off in the Mercedes to fetch Ludendorff, who had not been let in on the secret. Hitler now hoped that Ludendorff, with his authority, would turn the trick. Nervous and somewhat shaken by his failure to convince Kahr and the other two, Hitler returned to the crowd, where he felt surer of himself. The historian Karl Alexander von Muller was present and has described the indignation of the prominent people in the audience at being trapped in the hall and bullied by the crude SA men. And now the leader was forcing his way through to the podium, a pretentious young man of obscure origins who seemed somewhat cracked and yet had some sort of appeal for the common man. There he stood, ludicrous in his tail coat, looking much like a waiter by contrast with the urbane, complacent notables in the audience—and in a masterly speech he turned “the mood of the meeting completely inside out… like a glove, with just a few words. I have seldom experienced anything of the kind. When he stepped up to the podium, the noise was so great that he could not be heard. He fired a shot. I can still see the gesture. He took the Browning out of his rear pocket…. He had actually come in to apologize for taking so long, for he had promised that people would be free to go in ten minutes.” But no sooner was he standing before the crowd and noting how the faces all turned his way, expecting something from him, and the voices subsided, than he regained his self-confidence.

To Hitler’s astonishment his three prisoners hardly seemed impressed. Kahr especially proved equal to the situation. With visible distaste for this whole melodrama, he replied, “Herr Hitler, you can have me shot, you can shoot me yourself. But whether or not I die is of no consequence to me.” Seisser upbraided Hitler for having broken his word of honor. Lossow said nothing. Meanwhile, Hitler’s henchmen stood at all the doors and windows and occasionally gestured menacingly with their rifles.

Despite the contradictions and obscurities, the basic outlines of events are fairly plain. Gesturing wildly with his pistol, Hitler first threatened the three men that not one of them would leave the room alive, then excused himself with considerable formality for having had to create a fait accompli in such an unusual manner. He had only wanted to make it easier for the gentlemen to assume their new posts. To be sure, their only choice was to co-operate: Pohner had been named the Bavarian Prime Minister with dictatorial powers; Kahr was to be state administrator; he himself was taking over the presidency of the new national government. Ludendorff was to command the national army in its march on Berlin, and Seisser had been appointed minister of police. In mounting excitement he exclaimed, “I know that you gentlemen find this step difficult, but the step must be taken. I shall have to make it easier for you to get set for the leap. Each of you must assume his allotted position; whoever fails to do so has forfeited his right to exist. You must fight with me, triumph with me—or die with me. If things go wrong I have four bullets in this pistol: three for my collaborators should they desert me, and the last bullet for myself.” To emphasize his point he theatrically pressed the pistol against his forehead and swore: “If I am not victorious by tomorrow afternoon, I am a dead man.”

A large crowd was milling about in front of the Burgerbraukeller, so large that Hitler feared he might be unable to storm the meeting, which was already under way. Hitler summarily ordered the police officer on duty to clear the area. Kahr was well into his speech, evoking the image of the “new man” as the “moral justification for dictatorship,” when Hitler appeared in the door of the beer hall. According to eyewitness accounts, he was extremely agitated. In a moment some trucks full of SA men roared up, and the troops swarmed out to cordon off the building in good warlike style. With his typical love for the theatrical gesture, Hitler held up a beer stein, and as a heavy machine gun made its appearance at his side, he took a dramatic swallow, then dashed the stein to the floor, and with a pistol in his raised hand stormed into the middle of the hall at the head of an armed squad. As steins crashed onto the floor and chairs toppled, Hitler leaped up on a table, fired his famous shot into the ceiling to catch the crowd’s attention, and forced his way through the dumfounded throng to the podium. “The national revolution has begun,” he cried. “The hall is surrounded by 600 heavily armed men. No one may leave the premises. Unless quiet is restored immediately, I shall have a machine gun placed in the gallery. The Bavarian government and the national government have been overthrown, and a provisional national government is being formed. The barracks of the Reichswehr and the state police have been occupied; the Reichswehr and the state police are already approaching under the swastika flag.” He then told Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser “in a harsh tone of command,” the account goes, to follow him into the next room. The crowd inside the hall began calming down, only spluttering now and then, “Playacting!” or “South America!” The SA, however, suppressed such remarks in its own special fashion. Meanwhile, Hitler, in a bizarre scene, attempted to win the reluctant representatives of state power over to his side.

The meeting was to begin at 8:15 P.M. Dressed in a black dress suit, wearing his Iron Cross, Hitler drove to the Burgerbraukeller. Next to him in the recently acquired red Mercedes sat Alfred Rosenberg and Ulrich Graf, as well as the unsuspecting Anton Drexler, for whom this was to be the last appearance with Hitler’s coterie. For reasons of secrecy he had been told that the group was driving out to the country for a meeting. When Hitler now revealed that he was going to strike at 8:30, Drexler replied shortly and testily that he wished Hitler luck in his undertaking but he himself would have nothing to do with it.

The two days leading up to November 8 were filled with nervous activity. Everyone negotiated with everyone else, Munich reverberated with warlike preparations and rumors. The Kampfbund’s original plan called for staging a major night maneuver north of Munich on November 10; the next morning they would march into the city, still pretending to be an ordinary parade, and on reaching the center would proclaim the nationalist dictatorship, thus forcing Kahr, Lossow, and Seisser to commit themselves. While consultations were still going on, it was learned that Kahr was planning to deliver an important address on the evening of November 8 in the Burgerbraukeller; the cabinet, Lossow, Seisser, the heads of all the government agencies, industrial leaders and directors of the patriotic organizations were invited. Fearing that Kahr might get the jump on him, Hitler revised all his plans at the last moment and decided to act the following day. The SA and the Kampfbund units were mobilized in great haste, and the stage was set.

At the end of September, in the midst of all the hectic preparations and maneuverings for position, Hitler had staged a “German Day” in Bayreuth and used the occasion to present himself at Wahnfried, the home of the Wagners. Deeply moved, he had gone through the rooms, sought out the Master’s study, and stood a long time before the grave in the garden. Then he was introduced to Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who had married one of Richard Wagner’s daughters and through his books had been a formative influence on Hitler. It was a poor sort of interview with the partially paralyzed, speechless old man; yet Chamberlain sensed the quality of the visitor. Writing to him a week later, on October 7, he lauded Hitler not as the precursor for someone greater, but as the savior himself, the key figure of the German counterrevolution. He had expected to meet a fanatic, he wrote, but now his instinct told him that Hitler was of a higher order, more creative and, despite his palpable force of will, not a man of violence. The meeting, Chamberlain added, had set his soul at rest, for “the fact that in the hour of her greatest need Germany should produce a Hitler is a sign that she is yet alive.”47

Yet there were other reasons besides the calculable ones that spoke in favor of action; in fact, the course of history has shown Hitler to have been right in a broader sense. For the undertaking that ended in debacle nevertheless turned out to be the decisive breakthrough on Hitler’s way to power.

Nevertheless, he hoped that sufficient boldness on his part would extort this approval, and even the Prime Minister’s participation. “We were convinced that action would only come if desire were backed up by will,” Hitler later told the court. The sum total of significant reasons for action was thus counterweighed only by the risk that the coup might fail to ignite the courage of the triumvirate. It would seem that Hitler gave little thought to this danger, for he felt that he would only be forcing the triumvirate into something it had been planning in any case. In the end the entire undertaking foundered on this one point. The episode showed up the weakness of Hitler’s sense of reality. He himself, to be sure, never accepted this charge; on the contrary, he was always somewhat proud of his disdain for reality. He quoted Lossow’s statement that he would take part in a coup d’etat only if the odds were 51 to 49 for a successful outcome as an example of hopeless enslavement to reality.

Hitler had not only to worry about the morale of his troops; the mere passage of time also had its dangers. The revolutionary discontent threatened to evaporate; it had been strained far too long. Meanwhile, the end of the struggle for the Ruhr and the defeat of the Left had brought a turn toward normality. Even the inflation seemed about to be checked, and the spirit of revolution seemed to be vanishing along with the crisis. There was no question that Hitler’s effectiveness was entirely bound up with national distress. So to hesitate now would be fatal, even if certain pledges he had made stood in his way. These did not trouble him so much as a flaw in the plan: contrary to his principles he would have to venture on the revolution without the approval of the Prime Minister of Bavaria.

I had the impression that the Reichswehr officers were dissatisfied too, because the march on Berlin was being held up. They were saying: Hitler is a fraud just like the rest of them. You are not attacking. It makes no difference to us who strikes first; we are going along. And I myself told Hitler: one of these days I will not be able to hold the men back. Unless something happens now, the men will take off on you. We had many unemployed in the ranks, fellows who had sacrificed their last pair of shoes, their last suit of clothing, their last penny for their training and who thought: soon things will get under way and we’ll be taken into the Reichswehr and be out of this mess.46

Their restlessness had various causes. They were professional soldiers, who after weeks of conspiratorial preparations were all keyed up for action. Some of the paramilitary organizations, which had been on battle alert for weeks, had taken part in the “fall maneuvers” of the Reichswehr, but now all their funds had been used up. Hitler’s treasury was also exhausted, and the men were going hungry.

In actual fact Hitler no longer had a choice on the evening of November 6. Since the defeat of May 1, from which he had barely recovered, the call to act was almost unavoidable. Otherwise he would jeopardize the very quality that made him unique among the profusion of parties and politicians: the radical, almost existential seriousness of his sense of outrage. It was his unyieldingness and refusal to compromise that made him impressive and credible. As leader of the Kampfbund he had acquired command over a striking force whose will to act was no longer fragmented by collective leadership. And finally, the storm troopers themselves were impatiently pressing for action.

This decision is often cited as proof of Hitler’s theatrical, overwrought, megalomaniac temperament. There is a tendency to make the operation seem ridiculous by the use of such terms as “Beer-hall Putsch,” “Political Fasching,” and so on. To be sure, the undertaking had its comic aspect. Nevertheless, it also reveals Hitler’s knack for sizing up a situation, his courage, and his tactical consistency.

Thereupon the triumvirate called in the leaders of the patriotic organizations on November 6 and peremptorily informed them that they, the heads of government, were directing the forthcoming operation and would smash any private initiatives. This was their final attempt to regain control. Hitler was excluded from this meeting as well. That same evening the Kampfbund resolved to seize the next opportunity for striking, thus bringing the triumvirate and as many of the undecided as possible to join in a contagious rush on Berlin.

Even now Kahr could not make up his mind to act. Perhaps he had never meant, any more than Lossow, to attempt to overthrow the government by force. It seems far more likely that the triumvirate encouraged the bellicose preparations in order to prod Seeckt and the conservative nationalist “gentlemen from the North” into imposing their own dictatorship. If the venture went well, the Bavarians would then join in and see to it that Bavarian interests were given their due. Early in November Kahr and Lossow sent Colonel Seisser to Berlin to feel out the situation. His report, however, proved disappointing: no action was to be hoped for, and Seeckt especially had responded very coolly.

The only question seemed to be who would strike first and thus receive “the victor’s laurel at the Brandenburg Gate” from the redeemed nation. Even while the excitement mounted, a certain regional quality gave the whole thing a comic cast, a dash of cowboy-and-Indian gamesmanship. Seemingly forgetful of issues, the protagonists blustered that the time had come “to march and finally solve certain problems in the manner of Bismarck.” Others hailed the Ordnungszelle Bayern (“Bavaria as the mainstay of public order”) or the “Bavarian fist” that would have to “clean up that Berlin pigsty.” The image of Berlin as a great Babylon was often invoked; it had a cozily familiar ring, and many a speaker won the hearts of his listeners by promising the “sturdy Bavarians a punitive expedition to Berlin, conquest of the apocalyptic Great Whore, and perhaps a bit of a fling with her.” A reliable informant from the Hamburg area let Hitler know that “on the day of reckoning millions of North Germans” would be on his side. There was widespread confidence that once Munich had led the way, all of Germany’s tribes and regions would join in and that a “springlike uprising of the German people like that of 1813” was just around the corner. On October 30 Hitler withdrew his pledge to Kahr not to press forward on his own.

On October 24 Lossow summoned representatives of the Reichswehr, the state police, and the patriotic organizations to a meeting at District Headquarters, so that he could present the Reichswehr’s plans of mobilization for the march on Berlin. The code name of the operation was Sunrise. He had also invited Hermann Kriebel, the military leader of the Kampfbund, but Hitler had been omitted, along with the leadership of the SA. In response, Hitler promptly staged a “grand military review,” of which we have a contemporary description: “All over the city the beat of drums and peals of band music could be heard from early in the morning. As the day wore on, one saw uniformed men everywhere with Hitler’s swastika on their collars… Kahr must have understood the implications, for he issued an announcement “in order to put down the many rumors in circulation” that he totally refused to enter into any negotiations with the present national government.

By the second half of October the plans for a march on Berlin began to take more definite shape. On October 16 Kriebel signed an order for strengthening the border guard to the north; this was represented as a security measure in response to the disturbances in Thuringia. The actual directive, however, was cast in military terminology: there are references to “deployment areas” and “opening of hostilities,” “offensive morale,” “spirit of pursuit,” and “annihilation of the enemy forces.” The directive in fact was tantamount to a mobilization order. The volunteers meanwhile were using a map of Berlin as the basis of their war games. Speaking to the cadets of the Infantry Academy, Hitler told them: “Your highest obligation under your oath to the flag, gentlemen, is to break that oath.” The speech received thunderous applause. To put further pressure on their partners, the National Socialists called upon members of the state police to join the SA. Hitler later noted that from sixty to eighty mortars, howitzers, and heavy artillery pieces had come out of hiding and been added to the common arsenal. At a debate at the Kampfbund on October 23 Goring presented details for the “Offensive Against Berlin,” and recommended, among other things, that blacklists be drawn up: “The most vigorous forms of terror must be employed; anyone who creates the slightest obstruction must be shot. It is essential that the leaders decide now which individuals must be eliminated. As soon as the decree is issued at least one person must be shot immediately as an example.”

Hitler seemed fairly sure that Kahr could be relied on. But he suspected the triumvirate of intending to launch the operation without him or of meaning, to replace his revolutionary slogan of “On to Berlin!” with the Bavarian separatist cry of “Away from Berlin!” At times he must have feared that there might be no action at all. There is some evidence that he started thinking early in October of ways to force his partners to attack and have himself put in command of the assault. But he never doubted that the people would follow him rather than Kahr once the fight was on. He despised the members of the so-called ruling class, their bland assumption of superiority, their inability to move the masses, whom he could so masterfully sway. In an interview he referred to Kahr as a “feeble prewar bureaucrat.” True, the triumvirate officially held power, but he, Hitler, had on his side the “national commander” Ludendorff, “the army corps on two legs,” whose political obtuseness Hitler had quickly recognized and learned to exploit. By now his self-confidence tended to go beyond all bounds. He compared himself to the French statesman Gambetta and Mussolini; it did not matter that his partners treated him as a laughable figure or that Kriebel explained to a visitor that of course Hitler could not be considered for a leadership position, since he had nothing in his head but his own propaganda. Hitler, on the other hand, told one of the high officers close to Lossow that he felt himself called to save Germany, although he would need Ludendorff to win over the Reichswehr. “In politics he will not interfere with me in the slightest…. Did you know that Napoleon also surrounded himself with insignificant men when he was setting himself up as consul?”

Both factions devoted the month of October to preparing for the fray. The atmosphere was heavy with secrecy, intrigue, and deep mutual distrust. Councils of war were held almost continuously, plans of action forged, passwords coined. In a more serious vein, weapons were collected and military exercises staged. By the beginning of October the rumors of a Hitler putsch had become so persistent that Lieutenant Colonel Kriebel, the military commander of the Kampfbund, felt it necessary to address a letter to Bavarian Prime Minister von Knilling denying any intentions of overthrowing the national government. Walls bloomed with slogans and counterslogans, and “the march to Berlin” became a magic formula that seemed to promise an end to all problems. Hitler fanned the flames with his own brand of rhetoric: “This November Republic is nearing its end. We begin to hear the soft rustling which heralds a storm. And this storm will break, and in it this Republic will experience a transformation one way or another. The time is ripe.”45

Then the day will have come for which this movement was created. The hour for which we have fought all these years. The moment in which the National Socialist movement will launch its triumphal march for the salvation of Germany. Not for an election were we founded, but to leap into the breach in time of greatest need, when this people in fear and trembling sees the red monster advancing upon it…. Our movement alone holds the key to salvation—that is already perceived by millions. That has become almost a new article of faith.44

Despite the tensions on both sides, the confrontation with the federal government brought the two men together. When they disagreed, it was over the question of leadership and the timing of the attack. Kahr, who soon joined Lossow and Hans von Seisser, chief of the Bavarian state police, in a “triumvirate” of legal power holders, tended to be cautious in spite of his bold words. But Hitler was pressing for action. “The German people are asking only one question: ‘When do we strike?’ ” he raved, and went on to describe the coming action in almost apocalyptic terms:

Coming to an agreement with Kahr proved more difficult. Hitler could not forget the injury he had received from the state commissioner on September 26, whereas Kahr was aware that he had been appointed partly to bring this hothead “to blue-and-white [i.e., Bavarian loyalist] reason.” Indeed, throughout his dealings with Hitler he remained on the lookout for the proper moment to issue the talented troublemaker “orders to withdraw from politics.”

Hitler saw himself presented with great and unexpected opportunities. In an interview with the Corriere d’Italia he predicted that the winter would bring a decision. He went several times in rapid succession to see General von Lossow, with whom he now could take an easy tone; they had common interests and common enemies, he happily declared, while Lossow in his turn assured the rabble-rouser that he “agreed completely with Hitler on nine out of ten points.” Somewhat against his will, the commander of the Bavarian Reichswehr found himself caught up in a conspiracy. As an unpolitical soldier, he was unhappy in this role. Hitler, who soon had to propel the general the way he wanted him to go, could perceive the dilemma: “A military leader with such far-reaching powers who disobeys his commander-in-chief must be ready either to face the ultimate consequences or to remain a common mutineer and rebel,” he later declared.

These provocative gestures were accompanied by strong words. Kahr himself denounced the Weimar Constitution for being totally un-German and described the administration as a “colossus with feet of clay.” He represented himself as the embodiment of the nationalist cause in the decisive battle with the internationalist-Marxist-Judaic front. The situation played directly into Hitler’s hands, for now the power holders in Bavaria had aligned themselves on the side of the extremist they had tried to curb. When Seeckt demanded Lossow’s resignation, all the nationalist organizations placed themselves at Hitler’s disposal for the final reckoning with the government in Berlin.

In Bavaria, meanwhile, Hitler had after all managed to bring Kahr nearly over to his side. Seeckt had demanded that the Volkische Beobachter be banned for publishing an incendiary and libelous article. But neither Kahr nor Lossow made the slightest move against the newspaper. Nor did they obey an order to arrest Rossbach, Captain Heiss, and Naval Captain Ehrhardt. Lossow was thereupon stripped of his office; but in open defiance of the Constitution, State Commissioner von Kahr promptly named him regional commander of the Bavarian Reichswehr. Kahr went on to sharpen the challenge and bring the strife between Bavaria and the central government to a head. A warrant for the arrest of Captain Ehrhardt, the former Free Corps leader, had been issued by the Reichsgericht (federal court). Not only was he not arrested, but Kahr summoned him from his Salzburg hiding place and directed him to accelerate preparations for a march on Berlin. The date set was November 15.

On September 29 there was a rising of the “Black Reichswehr,” the illegal reserve of the regular army. Threatened with suppression since the end of the struggle for the Ruhr, the Black Reichswehr now tried to stage a coup which would trigger an action by the entire Right, including the legal Reichswehr. The operation was hasty and poorly co-ordinated, and Seeckt quickly put an end to the rebellion. With that threat out of the way, Seeckt took resolute steps to stamp out leftist unrest in Saxony, Thuringia, and Hamburg. Then he turned to the test of strength with Bavaria.

In this tense and murky situation, the future of the country depended on the Reichswehr. Its commander, General von Seeckt, was himself often mentioned in rightist circles as a possible dictator. With the composure of one who knows the ultimate power rests with him, he made a late entrance to the cabinet meeting. Asked by Ebert where the Reichswehr stood at this moment, he replied: “The Reichswehr, Mr. President, stands behind me.” For one brief moment the real power relationships were blindingly illuminated. Nevertheless, at this point he displayed loyalty to the political authorities. A nationwide state of emergency was declared, and executive power throughout the Reich was given to Seeckt. In the weeks to come he proved capable of even-handed dealing with the disruptive forces of both Right and Left.

In any case, events had long since caught up with Hitler’s intentions. For in the meantime the cabinet in Berlin, headed by President Ebert, a socialist, had met to discuss the situation. Kahr had been closely identified with the separatist and monarchist trends. He had emphasized the “Bavarian mission of saving the Fatherland,” which would involve the overthrow of the republic, the establishment of a conservative, authoritarian regime, and so much Bavarian autonomy that Bavaria would once more be ruled by a king. Thus it was understandable that the national government should feel considerable concern when Kahr was named state commissioner. With the country in desperate straits, with Communism raising its head in Saxony and Hamburg while separatism gained influence in the west, the harassed government might well see the events in Munich as the signal for total collapse.

But the Munich government acted before Hitler could. Some specifically Bavarian grievances and separatist tendencies had combined with rumors of an impending putsch and distrust of the “Marxist” national government to produce, for the Bavarian government, an intolerable situation. On September 26 Prime Minister von Knilling declared a state of emergency and appointed Gustav von Kahr as state commissioner with dictatorial powers. Von Kahr, an instrument of the Reichswehr, had briefly headed a right-wing government in Bavaria in 1920. He now declared that he welcomed the co-operation of the Kampfbund but warned Hitler against what he called “private initiatives.” The fourteen rallies could not be permitted. Hitler was beside himself with rage. As head of the Kampfbund, the most powerful paramilitary organization on the scene, Hitler had begun to think himself the equal and partner of the government. With one stroke Kahr had reduced him to a public nuisance. In one of those tantrums later to become so famous, ranting and raving until he almost blacked out, Hitler threatened revolution. That would have meant breaking his own ground rules, which called for moving in concert with the power of the state. Only in the course of an all-night session were Rohm, Pohner, and Scheubner-Richter able to dissuade him from a coup d’etat.

Hitler’s plan apparently was to make such a show of decisiveness as to overwhelm all skepticism. He immediately ordered his 15,000 SA men on emergency alert. To enhance the prestige of his own organization, all members of the NSDAP were to resign from whatever other nationalist groups they might belong to. He launched a program of hectic activity. As with all his moves, however, the real aim of all the plans, tactics, and commands seemed to be a veritable explosion of propaganda, a turbulent spectacle. He projected no fewer than fourteen simultaneous mass meetings for September 27, with himself making a personal appearance at all fourteen to whip emotions to fever pitch. Certainly the ultimate aims of the Kampfbund were plain enough: liberation “from bondage and shame,” a march on Berlin, establishment of a nationalist dictatorship, and eradication of the “accursed enemies within.” Hitler had flung down the challenge to the government three weeks earlier in his speech of September 5, when he said: “Either Berlin will march and end up in Munich, or Munich will march and end up in Berlin. A Bolshevist North Germany cannot exist side by side with a nationalist Bavaria.” But whether he was planning a putsch at that point or was merely carried away by his own rhetoric has never been clear. There is reason to believe that he intended to take his cue from the effect that he had on the crowds. With his characteristic overestimation of propaganda methods, he must have counted on the government’s being swayed by the passion of the masses. “Out of the endless battles of words,” he declared, “the new Germany will be born.” In any case, members of the Kampfbund received secret orders not to leave Munich and were issued the password to be used if a real coup were attempted.

The turning point came when the national government decided that the struggle at the Ruhr was draining the country’s energies to no avail. On September 24, six weeks after becoming Chancellor, Gustav Stresemann called off the passive resistance movement and resumed reparations payments to France. During all the preceding months Hitler had spoken out against the passive resistance, but his revolutionary aims now required him to brand the administration’s unpopular step a piece of cowardly, despicable treason and to exploit the situation to the full for the purpose of undermining the government. On the very next day he met with the leaders of the Kampfbund: Kriebel, Heiss, Weber, Goring, and Rohm. In a stormy two-and-a-half hour speech he unfolded his plans and visions, ending with the plea that he be given the leadership of the Deutscher Kampfbund. As Rohm later reported, Heiss was in tears as he, extended his hand to Hitler. Weber, too, was moved, while Rohm himself wept and trembled, as he says, from the depth of his emotion. Convinced that matters were moving toward a climax, he resigned from the Reichswehr the very next day and threw his lot in entirely with Hitler.

According to this report, the National Socialists formed one of the largest contingents among the 100,000 marchers. But at the center of the cheering stood General Ludendorff. Hitler, caught in the sway of the mass demonstration but also aware of the ground he had lost in the recent past, declared himself ready for a new alliance. He joined with the Reichsflagge group under Captain Heiss, and the Bund Oberland under Friedrich Weber, to form the Deutscher Kampfbund—a new version of the older league of nationalist parties. This time, however, there was no longer any question of Hitler’s assuming the principal role. What had damaged his status was not so much the defeat of May 1 as his withdrawal from Munich afterward. For as soon as he was no longer on the scene to cause a sensation, his name, his authority, his demagogic powers all faded away. The indefatigable Rohm had to campaign for three weeks before he was able to persuade the leaders of the Kampfbund to relinquish the leadership in political affairs to Hitler.

Nevertheless, Hitler’s loss of prestige was not easily rectified. That became apparent in early September, when the patriotic organizations celebrated one of their “German Days,” this one on the anniversary of the victory at Sedan, which had ended the Franco-Prussian War. A great parade was held in Nuremberg, complete with flags, wreaths, and retired generals. The attendance ran into the hundreds of thousands, all temporarily ecstatic with the feeling of having overcome national humiliation. The police report of the incident had a highly unbureaucratic, emotional ring: “Roaring cries of ‘Heil!’ swirled around the guests of honor and their entourage. Countless arms with waving handkerchiefs reached out for them; flowers and bouquets rained on them from all sides. It was like the jubilant outcry of hundreds of thousands of despairing, beaten, downtrodden human beings suddenly glimpsing a ray of hope, a way out of their bondage and distress. Many, men and women both, stood and wept….”

The implications were clear enough, and the state prosecutor quickly passed the petition on, with an anxious note appended, to Minister of Justice Gurtner. The latter was a strong nationalist who had not forgotten certain old pacts and promises made to the National Socialists. Had he not even referred to them as “flesh of our flesh”? The nation’s plight was worsening from day to day, with galloping inflation, general strikes, the battle of the Ruhr, hunger riots, and mounting agitation by the Left. In view of all this, there seemed good reason to show leniency toward a leader of national stature, even if said leader was part of the problem. Without informing the Minister of the Interior, who had several times inquired about the case, Gurtner let the state prosecutor know that he considered it advisable to have the case postponed “until a calmer period.” On August 1, 1923, the investigation was temporarily suspended, and on May 22 of the following year the charges were dropped.

Hitler bestirred himself enough to send a petition to the state prosecutor. He knew that he had friends within the power structure. It was to them that he appealed. “For weeks now I have been the victim of savage vilification in the press and the Landtag,” he wrote. “But because of the respect I owe my Fatherland I have not attempted to defend myself publicly. Therefore I can only be grateful to Providence for this chance to defend myself fully and freely in the courtroom.” He menacingly indicated, moreover, that he • was going to hand his petition over to the press.

Currents of this sort cannot have been lost on Hitler, brooding in the solitude of Berchtesgaden. This would help explain his extraordinary retreat, his refusal to try to re-establish contact with Lossow or to inject a new spirit into the leaderless party and the Kampfbund. Gottfried Feder, Oskar Korner, and a few other long-time followers attempted to rouse him, above all urging him to break with “Putzi” Hanfstaengl, who had introduced the virtuous Hitler to “lovely ladies” who went about “in silk underwear” calling for more and more “champagne parties.” But Hitler hardly heard what they were saying. He let himself sink into his old state of lethargy and disgust. Yet he took some interest in the court case growing out of the events of May 1 and now pending before the Munich Landgericht (superior court). If the judgment went against him, Hitler would have to serve the two-month sentence he had received for the Ballerstedt affair. What was worse, Minister of the Interior Schweyer would undoubtedly rule that Hitler had broken his parole and would have him expelled from Bavaria.

He had also to contend with the reaction of the public. “It is generally recognized that Hitler and his men have made fools of themselves,” one report put it. Even an “assassination plot” against “the great Adolf” (as the Munchener Post had ironically dubbed him), a plot uncovered by Hermann Esser at the beginning of July and described with great fanfare in the Volkische Beobachter, could do little to revive Hitler’s popularity—especially since similar revelations had been published in April and had subsequently been exposed as fabrications by the National Socialists. “Hitler no longer captures the imagination of the German people,” wrote a correspondent for the New York German-language newspaper Staatszeitung. Another shrewd observer noted early in May that Hitler’s star seemed “to be waning.”

It was the first painful reverse after years of steady progress, and Hitler disappeared from public view for several weeks. He took refuge with Dietrich Eckart in Berchtesgaden. Plagued by self-doubt, he only occasionally appeared to give a speech. Once or twice he went to Munich for a bit of distraction. Up to this point he had acted largely instinctively, by hit and miss and imitation. Now, in the light of that disastrous May 1, he conceived the outlines of a consistent strategy: the concept of a “fascist revolution” that takes place not in conflict but in concert with government power—what has been aptly described as “revolution by permission of His Excellency the President.”43 He put some of his thoughts down on paper. These ruminations were later incorporated into Mein Kampf.

This would seem to have been the first personal crisis in Hitler’s rise to power. True, he had a certain justification for blaming his defeat on the attitude of some of his allies, particularly the squeamish and stiff-necked nationalist organizations. But he must have recognized that the behavior of his partners had also exposed certain weaknesses and mistakes of his own. Above all, he had misread the situation. The Reichswehr, whose might had made him strong and whose co-operation he had counted on, had suddenly turned into an enemy.

In the meantime, the trade unions and parties of the Left were celebrating their May Day rites on the Theresienwiese. Their slogans were the time-honored revolutionary ones, but the general temper was harmonious and public-spirited. Since the police had cordoned off the side of the Oberwiesenfeld facing the city, the expected clashes did not take place. But Rohm himself was at this moment standing at attention before his commander, General von Lossow, who had learned of the trickery at the barracks and was greatly enraged. Shortly after noon, Captain Rohm, escorted by Reichswehr and police contingents, appeared at the Oberwiesenfeld. He transmitted Lossow’s orders: the stolen weapons were to be surrendered on the spot. Strasser and Kriebel urged an immediate attack, reasoning that a civil war situation would bring the Reichswehr over to their side. But Hitler gave in. He found a way to save face by arranging to have his men return the weapons to the barracks. But the defeat was unmistakable, and even the flamboyant language with which he addressed his followers that evening in the Krone Circus could not blot it out.

Before dawn on May 1, the patriotic leagues were gathering in Munich at the Oberwiesenfeld, at the Maximilianeum, and at several other key locations throughout the city to quell the socialist coup that was allegedly brewing. Hitler arrived at the Oberwiesenfeld a little later. The place had the look of a military encampment. Hitler, too, looked martial; he was wearing a helmet and his Iron Cross, First Class. His entourage included Goring, Streicher, Rudolf Hess, Gregor Strasser, and Gerhard Rossbach, who was in command of the Munich SA. While the storm troopers began drilling in preparation for orders to launch real attacks, the leaders conferred. Confusion reigned; there was considerable dissension, growing nervousness and dismay, because the expected signal from Rohm had failed to come.

At any rate, Hitler had the preparations intensified. Weapons, munitions, and vehicles were collected feverishly. Finally, the Reichswehr was tricked by a sudden coup. In direct defiance of Lossow’s orders, Hitler sent Rohm and a small group of SA men to the barracks. Explaining that the government feared leftist disorders on May 1, they helped themselves to carbines and machine guns. Such open preparations for a putsch sowed alarm among some of Hitler’s nationalist allies. There were open clashes within the Kampfbund, but in the meantime events had caught up with the actors. Obeying Hitler’s announcement of an emergency, party stalwarts from Nuremberg, Augsburg, and Freising had arrived in Munich. Many of them were armed. A group from Bad Tolz came with an old field cannon hitched to their truck. The units from Landshut, led by Gregor Strasser and Heinrich Himmler, brought along several light machine guns. All these groups were acting in anticipation of the revolutionary uprising they had been dreaming of for years and which Hitler had repeatedly promised them. They were expecting a “wiping out of the November disgrace,” as the grim slogan had it. When Police Commissioner Nortz issued a warning to Kriebel, the answer was: “I can no longer turn back; it is too late… whether or not blood flows.”

Hitler had once more worked himself into an almost hopeless position. His only choice seemed to be to back down on the whole issue. But, true to his character, he refused to concede defeat. Instead, he doubled his stake. He had already warned Lossow that the “Red rallies” would take place only if the demonstrators marched “over his dead body.” Some of this was histrionics, but there was always a measure of dead earnest in Hitler’s statements. He was ready to cut off his escape routes and face up to the alternatives of all or nothing.

At the end of April Hitler and the Kampfbund decided that the annual May 1 rallies by the leftist parties were to be taken as a provocation and should be stopped by any and all methods. They themselves would organize their own mass demonstrations for that day, and celebrate the fourth anniversary of the crushing of the Munich soviet republic. The vacillating Bavarian government under von Knilling would seem to have learned nothing from its experience in January. It half yielded to the Kampfbund’s demand. The Left would be allowed to hold a mass meeting on the Theresienwiese but forbidden all street processions. Hitler therefore staged one of his tried-and-true fits of rage and, repeating his ruse of January, tried to play off the military authorities against the civilian government. By April 30 the situation had become almost unbearably tense. Kriebel, Bauer, and the newly appointed leader of the SA, Hermann Goring, lodged a vigorous protest with the government and demanded that a state of emergency be declared in the face of leftist agitation. Meanwhile Hitler and Rohm once more went to General von Lossow and insisted not only that the Reichswehr intervene but also that, as prearranged, weapons belonging to the patriotic associations be distributed to them. (These weapons were now stored in the government armories.) To Hitler’s astonishment, the general curtly refused both requests. He knew his duty to the security of the state, he declared stiffly. Anyone stirring up disorder would be shot. Colonel Seisser, the head of the Bavarian Landespolizei (state police) took a similar line.

His attempt to impose a program on the Kampfbund had already met with failure because his partners’ slow-moving soldier mentality could not follow his wild flights of fancy. In the course of the spring he had been forced to look on as Kriebel, Rohm, and the Reichswehr pried the SA away from him. He had created the SA as a revolutionary army directly responsible to him, but now Kriebel and Rohm were trying to turn the SA into a secret reserve for the so-called Hundred Thousand Man Army (the Treaty of Versailles limited the official German army to 100,000 men). They were drilling the standards (as the three regiment-sized units were called) and staging night maneuvers or parades. Hitler appeared at these affairs only as an ordinary civilian, sometimes giving a speech, but virtually unable to assert leadership. He noted with annoyance that the storm troops were being stripped of their ideological cast and downgraded to mere military reserve units. A few months later, in order to regain authority, Hitler instructed his old fellow soldier, former Lieutenant Josef Berchtold, to organize a kind of staff guard to be named Stosstrupp (Shock Troop) Hitler. This was the origin of the SS.

The National Socialists had thus created a counterpoise to the existing coalition of nationalist groups known as the VW, Vereinigte Vaterlandische Verbande Bayerns (Union of Bavarian Patriotic Associations). Under the leadership of former Prime Minister von Kahr and the Gymnasium Professor Bauer, the VVV united the most disparate elements: Bavarian separatists, Pan-Germans, and various brands of racists. On the other hand, the black-white-red Kampfbund (League of Struggle) led by Kriebel represented a more militant, more radical, more “Fascist” group, which took its inspiration and its goals from Mussolini or Kemal Pasha Ataturk. However, Hitler was soon to learn how dubious it was to gain outside support at the price of what had been absolute personal control. The lesson came on May 1 when, impatient and drunk with his latest success, Hitler attempted another showdown with the government.

The National Socialists had emerged victorious from their showdown with the government at the beginning of January. They found themselves top dog among the radical rightist groups in Bavaria and celebrated by a wave of meetings, demonstrations, and marches even rowdier and more aggressive than those of the past. The air was thick with rumors of coups and uprisings. With impassioned slogans Hitler fed a general expectation of some great change impending. At the end of April he gave a speech urging the “workers of the head and the workers of the fist” to close ranks in order to create “the new man… of the coming Third Reich.” Anticipating the imminent test of strength, the NSDAP had struck up an alliance in early February with a number of militant nationalist organizations. The new partners included the Reichsflagge (Reich Banner), led by Captain Heiss; the Bund Oberland (Oberland League); the Vaterlandischer Verein Munchen (Munich Patriotic Club); and the Kampfverb and Niederbayern (Lower Bavarian League of Struggle). Joint authority was vested in a committee known as the Arbeitsgemeinschaft der vaterlandischen Kampfverbande (Provisional Committee of the Patriotic Leagues of Struggle), with Lieutenant Colonel Hermann Kriebel in charge of military co-ordination. The arrangements had been worked out by Ernst Rohm.

Hitler made similar speeches, similarly emotion-laden, against the grim background of mass suffering caused by the inflation. Again and again, he inveighed against the lies of capitalism, even while his funds were coming from big business. Max Amann, the party’s business manager, was interrogated by the Munich police shortly after the putsch attempt of November, 1923. He insisted, not without pride, that Hitler had given his backers “only the party platform” in return for their contributions. This may seem hard to credit; nevertheless, there is reason to think that the only agreements he made were on tactical lines. For the concept of corruption seems strangely alien to this man; it does not accord with his rigidity, his mounting self-confidence, and the force of his delusions.

The motives behind these contributions were highly diverse. It is true that without this support Hitler could not have launched his expensive spectacles after the summer of 1922. But it is also true that he made no binding commitments to any of his backers. The aggrieved leftists never believed in the anticapitalist stance of the National Socialists. It was all too inarticulate and irrational. And, in fact, Nazi anticapitalist ranting against usurers, speculators, and department stores never went beyond the perspective of superintendents and shopkeepers. Nevertheless, the Nazis’ sense of outrage was all the more convincing because of their lack of any impressive system. They objected to the morality rather than the material possessions of the propertied classes. This passage from one of the early party speechifiers indicates the psychological effectiveness of the irrational anticapitalist appeal to the desperate masses: “Be patient just a little longer. But then, when we sound the call for action, spare the savings banks, for they are where we working people have put our pennies. Storm the commercial banks! Take all the money you find there and throw it into the streets and set fire to the huge heaps of it! Then use the crossbars of the streetcar lines to string up the black and the white Jews!”

Hitler owed his connections with the influential and monied segments of Bavarian society to Dietrich Eckart and Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter. Another such sponsor was probably Ludendorff, who himself received considerable sums from industrialists and large landowners and doled this money out among the militant nationalist-racist organizations as he saw fit. While Ernst Rohm was mobilizing funds, weapons, and equipment for the Reichswehr, Dr. Emil Gansser, a friend of Dietrich Eckart’s, put Hitler in touch with a group of big businessmen and bankers belonging to the Nationalist Club (Nationalklub). In 1922 Hitler had his first chance to present his plans to them. Among the principal contributors to the party’s funds were the locomotive manufacturer Borsig, Fritz Thyssen of Consolidated Steel (Vereinigte Stahlwerke), Privy Councilor Kirdorf, and executives of the Daimler Company and the Bavarian Industrialists Association (Bayrischer Industriellenverband). Support from Czechoslovak, Scandinavian, and Swiss sources was also forthcoming for this dynamic party that was attracting so much attention. In the fall of 1923 Hitler went to Zurich and allegedly returned “with a steamer trunk stuffed with Swiss francs and American dollars.”41 The mysterious and ingenious Kurt W. Luedecke obtained considerable sums from as yet undetermined sources, and among other things set up his “own” SA company consisting of fifty men. Cash flowed in from persons in Hungary as well as from Russian and Baltic-German emigres. During the inflation some party functionaries were paid in foreign currencies. Among these were Julius Schreck, the SA staff sergeant who was later to be Hitler’s chauffeur, and the SA Chief of Staff Lieutenant Commander Hoffmann. Even a bordello on Berlin’s Tauen-tzienstrasse did its bit for the nationalist cause. At the urging of Scheubner-Richter, it had been set up by a former army officer; the profits went to swell the party till in Munich.42

Nevertheless, the party suffered from a chronic shortage of funds during the early years. Even as late as the middle of 1921 it could not afford to hire a treasurer. According to the story of an early member, the poster brigades could not even buy the necessary paste. In the fall of 1921 Hitler had to cancel plans for a major rally in the Krone Circus for lack of funds. The financial predicament began to improve in the summer of 1922, when the party’s feverish activity brought it more into the forefront. Henceforth the party could count on a wide circle of financial benefactors and supporters, not party adherents in the strict sense, but rather representatives of the wealthy middle class, which felt vulnerable to the threat of Communist revolution. These people were ready to support any anti-Communist group, from the Free Corps and nationalist leagues on the right to the crank causes that proliferated within protest journalism. It would probably be correct to say that they were less interested in giving Hitler a boost than in promoting the most vigorous antirevolutionary force they could find.

There is no doubt that the party’s basic income derived from membership dues, small donations, the sale of tickets for Hitler’s speeches, or collections made at rallies, which might often amount to several thousand marks. Some of the early party members, like Oskar Korner, owner of a small toy store, who was killed in front of the Feldherrnhalle on November 9, 1923, all but ruined themselves in the interest of the party. Shop owners offered special discounts to the party, while others made gifts of jewelry or works of art. Spinster ladies who attended evening rallies were sometimes so emotionally shaken by the personality of Hitler that they made the National Socialist Party the beneficiary under their wills. Prosperous well-wishers like the Bechsteins, the Bruckmanns, or Ernst Hanfstaengl sometimes came forth with sizable gifts. The party also found ways to coax more funds out of its membership than just the regular dues. It floated interestfree loan certificates that the members were supposed to buy and sell to others. According to police records, no fewer than 40,000 loan certificates, each for ten marks, were issued in the first half of 1921 alone.40

The National Socialists themselves lent encouragement to the most fantastic theories by practicing a psychotic form of secrecy concerning their financial resources. Throughout the Weimar years there was a series of libel cases springing from various charges; after 1933 the records of these cases were spirited away or destroyed. From the very beginning it was an unwritten law of the party that no records should be kept of contributions. Financial transactions were rarely noted in the journal of the party business office; when they were, there would usually be a note: “To be handled by Drexler personally.” In October, 1920, Hitler, presiding over a meeting in the Munchener Kindl-Keller, issued strict orders against anyone’s making notes on the details of a transaction he had just described.39

Few of Hitler’s contemporaries understood his decision not to participate in the struggle over the Ruhr. The decision lent plausibility to the rumor that French funds were behind the NSDAP’s conspicuous expansion of its organization. For it was obvious to everyone that the party was increasing its propaganda and outfitting its members with new uniforms and arms. But no concrete proof of such French backing has ever been found—and, in fact, it is still hard to specify which political or economic interests were trying to exert influence over the growing party. Nevertheless, the party’s lavish expenditures, especially after Hitler took over the leadership, were so conspicuously out of all proportion to its numbers that there was every reason to look around for financial backers. Suspicions of this sort are not merely traceable to the “devil theory” of the Left, which could explain its defeat by “counter-historical National Socialism” only by positing a grim conspiracy of monopoly capitalism.

What matter that in the present catastrophe industrial plants are destroyed? Blast furnaces can explode, coal mines be flooded, houses burn to the ground—if in their place there arises a resurrected people: strong, unshakable, committed to the utmost. For when the German people is resurrected, everything else will be resurrected as well. But if the buildings all remained standing and the people perished of its own inner rottenness, chimneys, industrial plants and seas of houses would be but the tombstones of this people. The Ruhr district should have become the German Moscow. We should have proved to the world that the German people of 1923 is not the German people of 1918…. The people of dishonor and shame would once again have become a race of heroes. Against the background of the burning Ruhr district, such a people would have organized a life-or-death resistance. If this had been its course, France would not have dared to take one more step…. Furnace after furnace, bridge after bridge blown up. Germany awakes! Not even the lash could have driven France’s army into such a universal conflagration. By God, things would be very different for us today!38

Hitler was certainly no less incensed against the French than the other forces and parties in Germany. What he objected to was not the resistance per se but the fact that it was only passive and therefore a halfway measure. There were also the other political factors already mentioned that determined his refusal to go along with the other nationalist parties. Underlying his stand was the conviction that no consistent and successful foreign policy could be pursued unless a united and revolutionary nation stood behind it. This view reversed the whole political tradition of the Germans, for it asserted the primacy of domestic rather than foreign policy. When the passive resistance began to crumble, Hitler made a passionate speech describing what a true resistance campaign would have been like. The drastic tone of his suggestions anticipates the kind of orders he was to give in March, 1945, for “Operation Scorched Earth”:

It has become standard to see Hitler’s behavior as totally unscrupulous and unprincipled. But here is an instance in which he stood steadfastly by his principles, even though this meant exposing himself to unpopularity and misunderstanding. He himself saw this stand as one of the crucial decisions of his career. His allies and backers—people of prestige and staunch conservatives—always looked upon him as one of their own, as nationalist and conservative as themselves. But in his very first political decision of any magnitude Hitler brushed away all the false alliances, from Kahr to Papen, and showed that when the chips were down he would act like a true revolutionary. Without hesitation he took a revolutionary posture rather than a nationalistic one. Indeed, in later years he never reacted any differently. As late as 1930 he asserted that if the Poles invaded Germany, he would give up East Prussia and Silesia temporarily rather than aid the existing regime by helping to defend German territory. To be sure, he also asserted that he would despise himself if “the moment a conflict broke out he were not first and foremost a German.” But in actual fact he differed from his adherents in that he remained cool and consistent and did not allow his own patriotic tirades to shape his strategy. He turned his scorn against the passive resistance movement which, he said, proposed to “kill the French by loafing.” He also ridiculed those who thought France could be overcome by sabotage: “What would France be today,” he shouted, “if there were no internationalists in Germany, but only National Socialists? What if we had no weapons but our fists? If sixty million people were as one in passionately loving their Fatherland—those fists would sprout guns.”

Hitler expressed his new self-confidence in a bold and provocative gesture: he withdrew the NSDAP from the front for national unity and warned his bewildered followers that anyone who took active part in the resistance against France would be expelled from the party. Some such expulsions were actually carried out. To members who objected he gave this explanation: “If they haven’t caught on that this idiocy about a common front is fatal for us, they’re beyond help.” Although he was aware of some of the questionable aspects of this stand, his particular perspective and his sense of tactics told him that he must not line up with the others. The Nazi party could not make common cause with members of the bourgeoisie, Marxists, and Jews; it could not afford to be submerged in the anonymity of the national resistance movement. Hitler feared that the struggle for the Ruhr would unite the people behind the government and strengthen the regime. But he could also hope that his obstructionist tactics would sow confusion and thus further his long-range ambitions for a takeover: “As long as a nation does not drive out the murderers within its own borders,” he wrote in the Volkische Beobachter, “success in its dealings with other countries remains impossible. While spoken and written protests are hurled against the French, the real enemy of the German people lurks within its gates.” With remarkable inflexibility, considering the popular mood, and even in the face of Ludendorff’s overwhelming authority, he went on insisting that Germany had first to come to grips with the enemy within. Early in March the army chief of staff, General von Seeckt, inquired whether Hitler would be willing to attach his forces to the Reichswehr if a policy of active resistance were adopted. Hitler replied curtly that first the government would have to be overthrown. Two weeks later he made the same point to a representative of German Chancellor Cuno: “Not down with France, but down with the traitors to the Fatherland, down with the November criminals; that must be our slogan!”

Episodes of this sort produced a sense of common purpose such as had not been felt in Germany since 1914. But beneath the cloak of national unity the divergent forces attempted to turn the situation to their own advantage. The outlawed paramilitary organizations seized the opportunity to come out into the open and supplement the program of passive resistance with direct action. The radical Left made a strong bid to regain the positions it had lost in Saxony and Central Germany, while the Right fortified its power base in Bavaria. These were the times in which armed proletarian companies faced units of the Ehrhardt Free Corps with leveled weapons on the borders of Bavaria. In many of the larger cities food demonstrations took on the character of riots. In the meantime the French and Belgians were exploiting the disarray in the west to encourage a separatist movement which, however, soon collapsed for want of a clear rationale. The republic, created only four years earlier under adverse circumstances and never more than precariously maintained, seemed on the point of breakdown.

For the moment, however, public interest centered primarily on the attempt at national self-assertion. The paper money, whose value was ultimately to be measured by mere weight, seemed only a fantastic underscoring of events in the Rhineland. On January 11 the government issued a call for passive resistance. German government employees were instructed not to obey orders from the occupation authorities. French troops advancing into the Ruhr encountered huge crowds of Germans grimly singing “Die Wacht am Rhein.” The French answered the challenge with a series of well-chosen humiliations. Occupation courts meted out Draconian punishments for acts of defiance. Many clashes heightened the anger on both sides. At the end of March French troops fired into a crowd of workers demonstrating on the grounds of the Krupp plant in Essen. Thirteen demonstrators were killed and over thirty wounded. Almost half a million persons joined in the funeral for the victims. A French military tribunal tried and convicted the head of the firm and eight of his principal subordinates and imposed prison sentences of fifteen to twenty years.

Hitler had found both the civil and military authorities all too accommodating. Their attitude may be traced in part to the troubles that had recently gripped the country. In the first half of January, France, still full of hatred and suspicion for her neighbor, had insisted on claiming its rights under the Treaty of Versailles and had occupied the Rhineland. Germany was at once plunged into full-scale economic crisis, which had been threatening the country since 1918. The unrest of the early postwar period, the heavy burden of reparations, the general flight of capital, and especially the lack of any reserves, had made it extremely difficult for the economy to recover from the war. To make matters worse, the behavior of the radical rightists and leftists had repeatedly undermined what little confidence other countries might have had in Germany’s stability. It was no coincidence that the mark took its first dramatic plunge in June, 1922, after Walther Rathenau, the German Foreign Minister, was assassinated. But now the French occupation set off that mad inflationary spiral that made life so grotesque and destroyed everyone’s surviving faith in the social order. People grew used to living in an “atmosphere of the impossible.” The inflation meant the collapse of an entire world, with all its assumptions, its norms, and its morality. The consequences were incalculable.

It was a telling triumph over governmental authority, and it prepared the ground for the conflicts of the following months. Many observers saw these events as proof that Hitler’s rhetorical gifts were matched by his political adroitness. Moreover, his nerves seemed tougher than those of his adversaries. For a long time people had merely smiled at his furious intensity. Now they began to be impressed, and the party’s ranks, so long made up of the resentful and the naive, began to be swelled by people with a keen instinct for the wave of the future. Between February and November, 1923, the National Socialist Party enrolled a good 35,000 new members, while the SA grew to nearly 15,000. The party now had assets of 173,000 gold marks.37 An intensive program of propaganda and activities covering all of Bavaria was developed. From February 8 on, the Volkische Beobachter began appearing as a daily. The name of Dietrich Eckart, who was overworked and ill, remained on the masthead for a few more months, but by the beginning of March the real editor of the newspaper was Alfred Rosenberg.

At this point the Reichswehr, which had stood by the party since Drexler’s time, entered the picture. Rohm and Ritter von Epp had finally succeeded in persuading the Bavarian Reichswehr commander, General von Lossow, to meet with Hitler. By now nervous and unsure of himself, Hitler was prepared to make considerable concessions. He promised Lossow that he would “report to his Excellency” on January 28, immediately after the party rally. Lossow, who had been rather put off by Hitler’s eccentric manner, finally agreed to inform the government that he would consider “the suppression of the nationalist organizations unfortunate for security reasons.” The ban was then in fact lifted. To save face, however, Nortz requested the leader of the NSDAP at a second meeting to reduce the number of meetings to six and to stage the dedication of the standards not on the Marsfeld, but inside the nearby Krone Circus. Hitler, realizing that he had won this match, vaguely indicated compliance. Then, under the slogan of Deutschland erwache! (“Germany, awake!”), he held all twelve mass meetings. The dedication of the standards, which he himself had designed, took place on the Marsfeld after all, in the presence of 5,000 storm troopers. There was a driving snowstorm. “Either the National Socialist German Workers’ Party is the coming movement in Germany,” Hitler thundered, “in which case not even the devil can stop it, or it is not, and deserves to be destroyed.” Battalions of exuberant SA men marched past walls and kiosks covered with proclamations of the state of emergency. With them marched several military bands, and the storm troopers roared out their songs defaming the “Jew Republic.” When they reached Schwanthalerstrasse, Hitler reviewed the units, most of whom now wore uniforms.

Hitler was in despair. It seemed to him that his whole political future was at stake. For one of the rules as he understood them was that he might challenge the government with impunity, since his demands were only a radical extension of the government’s own wishes.

The authorities did not know how to deal with this man who was at once somewhat suspect and gratifyingly nationalistic. They finally struck a compromise with their own ambivalence: they issued a ban against the outdoor ceremony of dedicating the standards and forbade half the mass meetings already announced by Hitler. Conversely, they also banned the rally that the Social Democrats had called for the preceding day. Yet Eduard Nortz, who had replaced the Nazi sympathizer Ernst Pohner as police commissioner, remained unmoved when Hitler pleaded that the ban would be worse than a heavy blow to the nationalist movement, that it would be a disaster for the entire fatherland. Nortz, gray-haired and cool, answered that even patriots had to bow to the government’s decrees. Hitler flew into a rage and began to shout that he would hold the SA march anyway, that he was not afraid of the police, that he himself would march at the head of the column and let himself be shot. But the commissioner did not give way. Instead, he hastily convened a session of the Council of Ministers, which proclaimed a state of emergency. That automatically banned all the activities planned for the party rally. The time had come to remind the leader of the National Socialists of the rules of the political game.

The way the Bavarian authorities reacted to Hitler’s defiant and challenging proclamations revealed their growing perplexity vis-a-vis the Nazi party. The party’s rise had been so rapid that the exact nature of it as a force on the political scene remained undefined. On the one hand, it did assume a nationalist stance and manifested laudable energy in its antagonism to the Left. Yet, at the same time, it had no respect for authorities and was constantly violating the public order that it claimed to desire above all else. In 1922 the authorities sentenced Hitler to three months’ imprisonment—partly because they were determined to show him that there were limits which they would not allow him to breach. He and his followers had disrupted a meeting of the Bayernbund (Bavarian League) and given its leader, the engineer Otto Ballerstedt, a severe beating. Hitler served only four weeks of the sentence. When he made his first public appearance after his release, he was “carried to the podium amidst applause which seemed as if it would never end.” The Volkische Beobachter called him “the most popular and most hated man in Munich.” The situation involved risks that even Hitler must have found difficult to calculate. The year 1923 was characterized by his repeated efforts to clarify his relationship to the power structure. He tested it from a number of angles, at times taking a wooing tone, at times a threatening one.

Hitler had planned a party rally in Munich for the end of January, 1923. He meant to turn it into an intimidating demonstration of his own power. Five thousand SA men had been summoned to Munich from all over Bavaria. They would parade before their Fuhrer on the Marsfeld, or Field of Mars, on the outskirts of town, forming the honor guard for the first solemn dedication of the standards. Concurrently, mass meetings were to be held in no fewer than twelve halls in the city. To increase the popular appeal, the party had hired bands, folk-dance ensembles, and the comedian Weiss Ferdl. The sheer size of the affair, combined with the rumors of a Nazi putsch that had been circulating for weeks, underlined Hitler’s mounting importance as a political figure.

Yet it may be that these immature features were essential for Hitler’s successes. From the summer of 1923 on, the nation reeled from one crisis and emergency to the next. Under such circumstances, fortune favored only the man who despised circumstances, who instead of engaging in politics challenged fate, and who promised not to improve conditions but to overturn them radically and thoroughly. “I guarantee you,” Hitler phrased it, “that the impossible always succeeds. What is unlikeliest is surest.”

In that lies the explanation for the peculiar rigidity which was present almost from the start. In fact Hitler’s world view had not changed since his days in Vienna, as he himself was wont to declare. For the elements remained the same; all that the masses’ grand cry of reveille did was to charge that world view with enormous tension. But the emotions themselves, the fears and obsessions, were fixed. Hitler’s taste in art also, and even his personal preferences, remained what they had been in the days of his boyhood and youth: Tristan and starchy foods, neoclassicism, anti-Semitism, Karl Spitzweg, and a weakness for cream cake. Though he later declared that while in Vienna he had been “in respect to thinking a babe-in-arms,” in a sense he had always remained so. If we compare the drawings and painstaking water colors of the twenty-year-old postcard painter with those of the First World War soldier or with those of the Chancellor twenty years later, their quality hardly differs. No personal experience, no process of development is reflected in these tight little sketches. As if petrified, Hitler remained what he had been.

Not unreasonably, his biographers have tended to look for a particular “breakthrough experience.” They have spoken of incubation periods, the disappearance of some block or other, and even demonic powers. But perhaps he was now no different from what he had been, except that he had found some key to himself and been able to reshuffle the unchanged existing elements of his personality into a new arrangement, so that the oddball was transformed into a magnetic demagogue, the “dreamer” into the man of action. He was the catalyst of the masses; without contributing anything new, he set in motion enormous accelerations and crises. But the masses in turn catalyzed him; they were his creation and he, simultaneously, was their creature. “I know,” he said to his public in phrases of almost Biblical ring, “that everything you are, you are through me, and everything I am, I am through you alone.”

Certainly the period of painful obscurity was over, and in hindsight Hitler had come an amazingly long way. Even the neutral onlooker must be astounded at the personal progress he had made in the past three years. He was quite a different person from the pallid and inconsequential drifter he had been at thirty. His life seemed to be made out of two wholly separate pieces. With extraordinary boldness and coldness, he had emerged from his condition as underling. All he needed now was to become a little more polished, to get used to his new part. Everything else suggested that he was on the point of entering a new and larger sphere of action to which he was entirely equal. At any rate Hitler had proved able to cope with whatever came his way, taking in at a glance people, motivations, forces, ideas, and bending everything to his own aim—the enlarging of his power.

But those were moods. Such modesty did not really suit his nature. He had no sense of proportion; some demon was constantly driving him to the edge of the possible and beyond. “Everything in him urged him on to radical and total solutions,” the friend of his youth had concluded. Now another observer tersely called him a fanatic, “with a streak of craziness in him. Now that he is being pampered, he is altogether out of control.”

Still and all, he had very nearly attained the dream of his youth. He was living unattached, without the bother of an occupation, subject only to his own whims; he was “master of his time” and, moreover, his drama, explosive effects, glitter and applause. It was an artist’s life, more or less. He drove fast cars, cut something of a figure at various salons, and was at home in the “great world” among aristocrats, captains of industry, notables, and scientists. There were moments when he thought of settling for bourgeois security within the present framework. He would not ask much, he commented at such times: “All I desire is for the movement to keep going and for me to make a living as chief of the Volkische Beobachter.”

He early developed a sense that all his actions were taking place under the eyes of the “goddess of history.” Though his real party membership number was 555, he invariably claimed to be member number 7. This not only raised his status as an early member but gave him the nimbus of a magic number. Along with this he began blotting out his private life. He made a principle of not inviting even the most intimate members of his entourage to his home. He tried as far as possible to keep them apart from one another. Meeting one of his early acquaintances in Munich at this time, he urgently begged him “never to give information to anyone, not even his closest party comrades, about his youth in Vienna and Munich.” He tried out poses, attitudes, posturings; at the start he often made rather a botch of them and showed the strain of trying to be what he was not. But even in the later years close study will separate out the strands, show the constant alternation between rehearsed self-control and attacks of literally senseless rage, between Caesaristic postures and lax stupefaction, between his artificial and his natural existence. In this early phase of the process of stylization he seemed unable to hold to his image consistently. He had only begun to sketch it, and the various elements were hardly congruous. An Italian Fascist at the time saw him as “a Julius Caesar with Tyrolean hat.”

Coburg had given him fresh confidence. “From now on I will go my way alone,” he declared. Only a short time before he had still thought of himself as a harbinger and dreamed that “one day someone will come along, with an iron cranium and possibly with filthy boots, but with a pure conscience and strong fist, who will put an end to the blabber of these armchair heroes and give the nation deeds.” Now, tentatively at first, he began to think of himself as the coming man and actually ended by comparing himself to Napoleon. His army superiors during the war would not promote him to a noncom on the ground that he would be incapable of arousing respect. Now, by his extraordinary and ultimately devastating capacity to evoke loyalty, he demonstrated his talent for leadership. For it was solely for his sake that his followers went to the lengths they did; it was only with eyes on him that they were ready to stake their lives, trample over their own compunctions, and from the very beginning to commit crimes. He liked to be called “Wolf” in his intimate circle; the name, he decided, was the primitive Germanic form of Adolf. It accorded, moreover, with his jungle image of the world and suggested the qualities of strength, aggressiveness, and solitariness. He also used “Wolf” as a pseudonym occasionally and later gave it to the sister who ran his household. And when it was decided to establish the Volkswagen plant, Robert Ley declared: “We shall name the town Wolfsburg, after you, my Fuhrer.”36

Such incidents as this, however, encouraged him to think that he could call the next move. All these bans, summonses, and warnings were evidence of how far he had come, starting from nothing. In his emotional states he envisioned a historic role for himself. For confirmation there were Mustafa Kemal Pasha’s seizure of power in Ankara and Mussolini’s recent march on Rome. All keyed up, he listened to an informant describe how the black shirts, thanks to their enthusiasm, resolution, and the benevolent passivity of the army, had marched tempestuously to victory, snatching one city after the other from the “Reds.” Later Hitler spoke of the enormous impetus this “turning point in history” had given him. Very much as in his boyhood, he let himself be carried away on the wings of imagination. At such times he would vividly see the swastika banner “fluttering over the Schloss in Berlin as over the peasant’s hut.” Or during some quiet coffee break he would casually remark, returning from some distant dream world, that in the next war “the first order of business would be to seize the grain-growing areas of Poland and the Ukraine.”

This was the first of those challenges to the political authorities that were to dominate the following years. Significantly, Cohurg became one of the most reliable NSDAP bases. The participants in the trip were honored by a special medal struck as a memorial to the occasion. The braggadocio of Hitler’s men during the following weeks repeatedly led to rumors of coups. Finally, Interior Minister Schweyer sent for Hitler and issued a grave warning. If there were any resort to force, Schweyer said, he would order the police to shoot. But Hitler assured him he would “never as long as I live make a putsch.” He gave the minister his word of honor.

His successes within Munich encouraged Hitler to undertake his first bold stroke outside the city. In mid-October, 1922, the patriotic societies of Coburg organized a demonstration, to which they invited Hitler. It was suggested that he come with “some companions.” Hitler interpreted this phrase in his customary brazen manner. Intending to take over and dominate the demonstration, he set out in a special train with some 800 men, a display of standards, and a sizable contingent of band musicians. On arrival he was asked not to march into the city in a solid formation. According to his own report, he “flatly refused” the request and ordered his men to march in formation “with bands playing.” Growing hostile crowds formed along both sides of the street. But since the expected mass riot did not begin, they had no sooner reached the meeting hall when Hitler ordered his units to march back the way they had come. Moreover, he added a theatrical touch that brought the tension to an intolerable height: the bands stopped playing and the men marched only to throbbing drumrolls. This time the predictable street battle erupted. It dragged on in a series of small skirmishes all through the day and into the night, and ultimately the National Socialists emerged as the victors.

Hitler found himself imperiled only once, when Bavarian Interior Minister Schweyer raised the question of having the troublesome alien agitator deported to Austria. A conference in 1922 among the leaders of all the government parties had agreed that the rowdy bands in the streets of Munich, the brawls, the constant molesting of the citizenry, were becoming intolerable. But Erhard Auer, the leader of the Social Democrats, opposed deportation on the grounds that it would be a violation of “democratic and libertarian principles.” So Hitler was allowed to go on denouncing the republic as a “sanctuary for foreign swindlers,” threatening the administration that when he came to power “may God have mercy on you!” and proclaiming that there could be “only one punishment: the rope” for the treasonous leaders of the Social Democratic Party. Whipped up by his demagogy, the city of Munich became an enclave of antirepublicanism, buzzing with rumors of coups, civil war, and restoration of the monarchy. When Reich President Friedrich Ebert visited Munich in the summer of 1922, he was met at the railroad station with boos, jeers, and the display of red bathing trunks. (The President had been so unwise as to let himself be photographed, along with Noske, his Defense Minister, in a bathing suit. In the authoritarian-minded German nation, the loss of dignity was catastrophic.) Chancellor Wirth’s advisors warned him to cancel a planned trip to Munich. At the same time, Hindenburg was being greeted with ovations, and transportation of the body of Ludwig III, the last Wittelsbach monarch, who had died in exile, brought the whole city out into the streets, awash in tears of mourning and nostalgia.

Within a year the NSDAP thus developed into “the strongest power factor in South German nationalism,” as one observer wrote. The North German party groups, too, showed such marked growth, inheriting membership from the disintegrating German Socialist Party. When, in June, 1922, the Foreign Minister, Walter Rathenau, was assassinated by nationalist conspirators, some German states, such as Prussia, Baden, and Thuringia, decided to ban Hitler’s party. In Bavaria, however, the experiences of the soviet period had not been forgotten; the NSDAP, as the most radical anti-Communist party, was not molested. In fact, many of Hitler’s followers held top positions in the Munich police force, including Police Commissioner Pohner and Oberamtmann (Chief Bailiff) Frick, his specialist in political affairs. These two men quashed any protests against the NSDAP, kept the party informed of planned actions against it, and if the police had after all to intervene, took care that such actions came to nothing. Frick later admitted that the police could easily have suppressed the party at this time, but that “we held our protecting hand over the NSDAP and Herr Hitler.” And Hitler himself remarked that without the assistance of Frick he would “never have been out of the clink.”35

For the party aimed at being more than an organization for specific political purposes. It never forgot, in its concern with the affairs of the day, that in addition to giving the members a deeply serious interpretation of the world it must also provide them with a touch of that banal contentment so conspicuously missing in the misery and isolation of everyday living. In its effort to be all at once homeland, center of existence, and source of knowledge the party was already manifesting its later claims to totality.

At first Hitler’s policy had been to enlarge the party at all costs. But after a while he took another line, establishing new local groups only when a capable leader in whom he personally had confidence could be found, one who could satisfy the craving for authority so obviously crying out for fulfillment.

In order to meet the needs of disoriented people, the NSDAP tried to create close links between the party and the personal lives of the members. In this respect it was once more drawing on the tested practices of socialist parties. But the rite of the weekly evening talkfests, at which attendance was obligatory, the joint outings, concerts, or solstice festivals, the singing, the cookouts, and saluting, in addition to the various forms of bland sociability that developed in party headquarters and storm troop barracks—all this went far beyond the model and appealed more directly to the human craving for solidarity. The movement’s greatest task, Hitler declared, was to provide “these seeking and erring masses” with the opportunity “at least somewhere once more to find a place where their hearts can rest.”

From the spring of 1922 on the membership figures began climbing by leaps and bounds. By summer the party had some fifty local groups, and at the beginning of 1923 the Munich business office had to be closed temporarily because it was unable to cope with the mass of applications. Part of this increase was due to an order requiring every “party comrade” to bring in three new members and one subscriber to the Volkische Beobachter every three months. But much of it was surely due to Hitler’s growing skill as an orator and organizer.

Of course I was ripe for this experience. I was a man of thirty-two, weary of disgust and disillusionment, a wanderer seeking a cause: a patriot without a channel for his patriotism, a yearner after the heroic without a hero. The intense will of the man, the passion of his sincerity seemed to flow from him into me. I experienced an exaltation that could be likened only to religious conversion.34

Presently my critical faculty was swept away…. I do not know how to describe the emotions that swept over me as I heard this man. His words were like a scourge. When he spoke of the disgrace of Germany, I felt ready to spring on any enemy. His appeal to German manhood was like a call to arms, the gospel he preached a sacred truth. He seemed another Luther. I forgot everything but the man; then, glancing round, I saw that his magnetism was holding these thousands as one.

The important figure in the background, the symbol of union throughout the volkisch camp, remained—in spite of Hitler’s oratorical success—General von Ludendorff. With a respectful eye partly cocked toward the general, Hitler was still regarding himself as something of a forerunner preparing the way for someone greater than himself. He, Hitler, playing the role that John the Baptist played for Christ—“a very small sort of St. John,” he called himself—would create a racially united people and a sword for that greater one. But the masses seemed to realize sooner than he himself that he was the one they were waiting for. They streamed to him “as to a Saviour,” a contemporary account notes. There are stories in plenty of “awakenings” and conversions—totalitarian movements are often characterized by such pseudoreligious events. For example, Ernst Hanfstaengl first heard Hitler at this time. He had many objections; nevertheless, he felt that “a new period of life” was beginning for him. The businessman Kurt Luedecke, who for a time was counted among the leading members of Hitler’s entourage and who later was imprisoned in the Oranienburg concentration camp, after his escape abroad described the spell cast on him and innumerable others by Hitler the orator:

According to his own testimony, it took him two years to learn to handle all the methods of propagandistic domination, so that he felt himself “master in this art.” It has been suggested that he was the first to apply the techniques of American advertising to political struggle. Perhaps the great Barnum was indeed one of his teachers, as Die Weltbuhne later asserted. But the tone of amusement with which the magazine announced this discovery revealed its own blindness. Many supercilious contemporaries from left to right made the same mistake: confusing Hitler’s techniques with his aims and concluding that the aims were laughable because the methods were. He himself never swerved in his determination to overthrow a world and put another in its place; to him there was no incongruity between the techniques of the circus barker and the universal conflagrations and apocalypses he had in mind.

He had no sense of the ridiculous and despised ridicule’s reputedly fatal effects. He had not yet adopted the imperious attitudes of later years; and since he felt that as an artist he was alienated from the masses, he often made deliberate efforts at popular behavior. At such times he would wave a beer mug at his audience or try to check the uproar he was kindling by a clumsy “Sh…, sh…” Apparently his large audiences were there more for the excitement than for political reasons; at any rate, in contrast to the tens of thousands who came to mass meetings, there were still only 6,000 registered members of the party at the beginning of 1922. But he was listened to. People sat motionless, eyes riveted upon him. After his first few words the thump of the beer mugs generally stopped. Often he spoke into a breathless silence, which from time to time was explosively shattered as if thousands of pebbles suddenly came rattling down on a drum, as one observer described it. Naively, with all the hunger for acclaim of the novice, Hitler enjoyed the stir he caused, enjoyed being the center of attention. “When you go through ten halls,” he admitted to his entourage, “and everywhere people shout their enthusiasm for you—it is an uplifting feeling, you know.” Quite often he would end his performance with an oath of loyalty that he would have the audience repeat after him, or with his eyes fixed upon the ceiling of the hall, his voice hoarse and breaking with emotion, he would cry, “Germany! Germany!”—repeating the word until the crowd fell in with it and the chanting moved on to one of the party’s battle or pogrom songs. Often they would pour out of the hall to march singing through the nocturnal streets. Hitler admitted that after each of his speeches he himself would be “soaking wet and would have lost four to six pounds.” At every meeting his uniform “dyed his underwear blue.”33

With his compulsion to magnify everything, he saw gigantic corruption at work in the most ordinary affairs, detected a comprehensive strategy of treason. Behind every Allied note, every speech in the French Chamber of Deputies, he saw the machinations of the enemy of mankind. Head thrown back, outstretched arm before him, index finger pointing at the ground and twitching up and down—in this characteristic pose Adolf Hitler, still no more than a local Bavarian curiosity, orated himself into a state of frenzy in which he pitted himself against the government, against conditions in Germany, and in fact against the condition of the entire world: “No, we forgive nothing; we demand revenge!”32

The narrow range of the emotions he played upon corresponded to the monotony of structure in his speeches. There is no saying how much of this was deliberate, how much due to personal fixation. When we read some of these addresses—although they have been considerably revised—we are struck by their repetitiveness. From the multitude of resentments that filled him he extracted always the same meanings, the same accusations, and vows of revenge. “There is only defiance and hate, hate and again hate!” he once cried out. The word was obsessive with him. He would, for instance, cry out for the enemy’s hatred; he longed to have the enemy’s hate fall upon him, he declared. Or: “To achieve freedom takes pride, will, defiance, hate and again hate!”

The frequency of religious metaphors and motifs in his rhetoric reflects childhood emotions: recollections of his experience as acolyte in Lambach monastery, when he was stirred to the depths by images of suffering and despair against a background of triumphant belief in salvation. He admired the Catholic Church for its genius in devising such combinations, and he learned what he could from it. Without the least scruple or any consciousness of blasphemy he took over “my Lord and Saviour” for his anti-Semitic tirades: “As a Christian and a man I read, in boundless love, through the passage which relates how the Lord at last rallied his strength and reached for the whip to drive the usurers, the brood of adders and otters, out of the temple! Profoundly moved, today, after two thousand years, I recognize the tremendous import of his fight to save the world from the Jewish poison—I see it most powerfully shown by the fact that because of it he had to bleed to death on the cross.”

The role in which he soon cast himself was that of the outsider; in times of public discontent such a role had great potential. Once, when the Munchener Post termed him “the wiliest agitator making mischief in Munich today,” Hitler replied with: “Yes, we want to work people up, we’re agitators all right!” In the beginning he may well have been pained by the plebeian, quarrelsome features of his public career. But once he realized that certain crudenesses made him more popular in the circus tent and more interesting in the salons, he identified with those qualities without apology. When he was criticized for the dubious company he kept, he replied that he would rather be a German tramp than a French count. “They say we’re a bunch of anti-Semitic rowdies. So we are, we want to stir up a storm! We don’t want people to sleep, but to know a thunderstorm is brewing. We won’t let our Germany be crucified. Call us brutes if you want to. But if we save Germany, we’ll have carried out the greatest deed in the world.”

In the past sober Anton Drexler would have been there and would sometimes hear such rhapsodic outbursts and to Hitler’s annoyance put in a final word to bring things into perspective. But now there was no longer anyone around to remonstrate when a wildly gesticulating Hitler vowed to tear the peace treaty to shreds if he took power, or let it be known that he would not shrink from another war with France, or conjured up the vision of a mighty German Reich stretching “from Konigsberg to Strassburg and from Hamburg to Vienna.” His ever-larger audiences proved that what people wanted to hear was precisely such wild challenges. “The thing is not to renounce or to accept, but to venture what is seemingly impossible.” The general view of Hitler as an unprincipled opportunist does not do justice either to his daring or his originality. His courage in voicing “forbidden” opinions was extraordinary. Precisely that gave him the aura of manliness, fierceness, and sovereign contempt, which befitted the image of the Great Leader.

The structure of his speeches scarcely varied. First came denunciations of the present period, intended to tune up the audience and establish initial contact with it. “Bitterness has become general; people are beginning to notice that what was promised in 1918 has not turned into anything of dignity and beauty.” Thus he opened a speech in September, 1922. There followed historical reviews, a spelling out of the party program, and attacks on Jews, November criminals, or lying politicians. The cheering of the audience or of an official claque would send him into a mounting state of excitement that would last until he reached those exultant appeals for unity with which he always ended. In between, he would tuck in whatever the heat of the moment, the applause, the vapors of beer, or the general atmosphere suggested. With each successive meeting he grasped more surely and translated more accurately the vibrations of that atmosphere: The fatherland’s humiliation, the sins of imperialism, the envy of neighbors, the “communalization of the German woman,” the smearing of Germany’s past, the shallow, commercialized, and debauched West from which had come the republic, the disgraceful dictated peace of Versailles, the Allied control commissions, nigger music, bobbed hair, and modern art, but neither work, security, nor bread. “Germany is starving on democracy!” he cried. For he could coin memorable phrases. In addition, his obscure metaphors, his great use of mythic allusion gave his rantings an air of profundity. Out of trifling local incidents he could construct dramas of universal import. Thus he could prophesy: “What is beginning today will be greater than the World War. It will be fought out on German soil for the entire world. There are only two possibilities: We will be the sacrificial lamb or victors!”

How many political meetings had I already attended in this hall. But neither during the war nor during the Revolution had I ever felt such a white-hot wave of mass excitement blast in my face the moment I entered. “Their own songs of struggle, their own flags, their own symbols, their own salute,” I noted. “Semimilitary monitors, a forest of glaring red banners with a black swastika on a white ground, the strangest mixture of soldierly and revolutionary, nationalist and socialist elements. In the audience too: mostly strata of the middle class on the skids—is this where it will find rebirth? For hours continual, booming march music; for hours short speeches by subordinates; when will he come? Has anything happened to hold him up? Impossible to describe the state of suspense, building up within this atmosphere. Suddenly movement at the entrance to the hall. Shouted commands. The speaker on the platform breaks off in the middle of a sentence. Everyone leaps to his feet shouting Heil! And right between the howling masses and the howling banners he comes with his retinue, he for whom all have been waiting. He strides rapidly to the platform, right hand raised rigidly. He passed quite close by me, and I saw that this was a different person from the man I had met now and then in private houses.31

From 1922 on he began holding series of eight, ten, or twelve rallies on a single evening, at each of which he would appear as the principal speaker. This procedure suited his quantity complex as well as his passion for repetition. An eyewitness of one such serial demonstration at the Munich Lowenbrau has given the following description of it:

Thus he early began to develop a special style for his public appearances. From start to finish he stressed the theatrical element. Blaring sound trucks and screaming posters would announce a “great public giant demonstration.” Elements of spectacle borrowed from circus and grand opera were cleverly combined with edifying ceremonial reminiscent of church ritual. Parades of banners, march music, welcoming slogans, communal singing, and repeated cries of “Heil” formed the framework for the Fuhrer’s speech. All these histrionic elements built up the suspense and made the speech seem a kind of annunciation. The party guidelines for meetings were constantly improved and handed down in courses for speakers and written directives until no detail was left to chance. Hitler himself would check the acoustics of all the important meeting halls in Munich, to determine whether the Hackerbrau, say, called for a louder voice than the Hofbrauhaus or the Kindl-Keller. He noted the atmosphere, the ventilation, and the tactical arrangement of the rooms. The official guidelines mentioned that a hall should always be too small and that at least a third of the audience should consist of the party’s own followers. To ward off the impression of being a petty bourgeois movement and to win the trust of the workers, Hitler occasionally waged a “struggle against the trousers crease” among his followers, and sent them to the demonstrations without ties and collars. Some party members were ordered to attend his opponents’ training courses and learn what the enemy was up to.30

The “mysteriousness” that Hitler cultivated was, however—like all his alleged instinctual reactions—amply supplemented by rational factors. Though he early discovered his mediumistic powers, he continued to improve his techniques. A series of photos show him posing in the stagey style of the period. Ludicrous though the pictures are, they nevertheless reveal how much of his demagogic magic he acquired by careful practice.

What the nation at the moment was experiencing for the first time—the succession of disenchantment, decline, and declassing, together with the search for scapegoats on whom to heap the blame—Hitler had long ago gone through. Ever since he had been turned down at the Academy he had known the anguish of a reality that ran counter to his longings and his expectations. Now he could translate his own complexes and discontents to a superindividual plane. Were it not for this congruence between the personal and the social-pathological situation, Hitler could never have wielded such hypnotic power over his fellow citizens. But he had long ago memorized all their reasons and pretexts; he knew the formulas, had long ago discovered the villain. No wonder his hearers were electrified by his words. What captivated them was not the logic of his arguments nor the pithiness of his slogans and images, but the sense of shared experiences, shared sufferings and hopes. The failed bourgeois Adolf Hitler could communicate with them on the level of a common distress. Their aggressions brought them together. To a great extent his special charisma, a mixture of obsessiveness, passionate banality, and vulgarity derived from his sharing. He proved the truth of Jacob Burckhardt’s saying that history sometimes loves to concentrate itself in a single human being, whom the world thereupon obeys; time and the man enter into a great, mysterious covenant.

The dimly sensed connection between the fantastic careers of some capitalists and the mass impoverishment sowed a feeling among the victims of having been mocked by society. That feeling turned into lasting bitterness. Just as lasting was the belief that the state had ceased to be an unselfish, just, and honest institution. That had been the traditional picture of the state; but now it was seen to have gone into fraudulent bankruptcy by means of the inflation, thus cheating its citizens. Among the little people with a firm faith in the ethics of orderliness, this realization was perhaps even more devastating than the loss of their modest savings. Under the succession of blows, the world in which they had lived austerely, contentedly, and soberly vanished irrevocably. The protracted crisis sent them in search of a figure in whom they could again believe and a will they could obey. The republic could not satisfy this need: that was in fact its problem. Hitler’s success as an agitator was due only partly to his oratorical skill. More important was his attunement to the moods of neurotically agitated philistines and his sense of what they wanted from him. He himself regarded this faculty as the true secret of the great orator: “He will always let himself be borne along by the great masses in such a way that instinctively the very words come to his lips that he needs to speak to the hearts of his audience.”29

The inflation gave Hitler endless material for slogans. Devaluation of the mark had not yet reached the grotesque extremes of the summer of 1923, but it had already led to the virtual expropriation of a large part of the middle class. As early as the beginning of 1920, the mark had fallen to a tenth of its prewar value; two years later it was worth only a hundredth of that value and was referred to as the “pfennig mark.” In this way the state, which since the war had accumulated debts of 150 billion marks and saw new tolls approaching in the still pending reparations negotiations, escaped its obligations. So did all other debtors. Borrowers, tradesmen, and industrialists, above all, the virtually tax-free firms producing for export and paying extremely low wages profited from the inflation. They had a stake in a continuing decline in the value of the currency, and at the very least did nothing to check it. Borrowing cheap money, which with the advancing devaluation they could pay back even more cheaply, they speculated brazenly against their own currency. Clever speculators made fortunes within a few months. Almost out of nothing they created vast economic empires. The sight of such expansion was all the more outrageous because these successes went hand in hand with the impoverishment and proletarianization of whole social groups, the holders of debt certificates, pensioners, and small savers.

On the whole, it was a mentality rather than a class which marked the convert to National Socialism in those early days: it was an ostensibly nonpolitical but actually proauthoritarian and leadership-hungry state of mind, and one which could be found in all classes and subgroups. Under the changed conditions of the republic people of this sort found themselves in a sad plight. Their anxiety complexes were reinforced because the new political form established no authority that could claim their attachment and future loyalty. These people had always owed part of their sense of personal value to identification with the political order. But this present state meant nothing to them. Their stern ideal of order and respect, which they had doggedly preserved through all the chaos of the times, seemed to them challenged by the very constitution of the republic, by democracy and freedom of the press, the clash of opinions and the horse trading among parties. The world had become incomprehensible to them. In their dismay they hit on the National Socialist Party, which was in fact the political incarnation of their own perplexities tricked out with an air of resolution. It was, of course, a paradox that they should have felt their craving for order, morality, and faith best answered by the spokesmen of the Hitler party, so many of whom came from obscure and irregular backgrounds. Yet Hitler understood them. One summary of an early Hitler speech runs: “He compared prewar Germany, in which order, cleanliness and rectitude prevailed, with the present-day Germany of the revolution.’’ The nation had a deeply rooted instinct for rules and discipline; it wanted the world orderly or it did not want the world at all. To this instinct the rising demagogue appealed, and he met with growing approval when he called the republic a negation of German history and the German character. This republic, he said, was the business, the career, the cause of a minority; the majority wanted “peace but no pigsty.”

The significant fact is that the party attracted people of every origin, every sociological coloration, and developed its dynamism as a movement unifying antagonistic groups, interests, and feelings. In August, 1921, the National Socialists of the German-language area held an international meeting in Linz, Austria, at which they described themselves as a “class party.” But this was done in Hitler’s absence. He had always regarded the NSDAP as strictly opposed to class conflict; his point was that racial conflict was to replace class antinomies. “Along with members of the middle class and the bourgeoisie, very many workers have also followed the National Socialist banner,” a police report of December, 1922, stated. “The old socialist parties view the NSDAP as a grave danger to their continued existence.” What provided a common denominator for the many contradictions and antagonisms within the party was its embittered defensiveness toward the proletariat and toward the bourgeoisie, toward capitalism as well as Marxism. “For a class-conscious worker there is no room in the NSDAP, any more than there is for a status-conscious bourgeois,” Hitler declared.

But the various membership lists of that early period in the party’s history reveal a rather different picture. Government officials or white-collar workers made up about 30 per cent of the membership. There was an almost equal percentage of skilled and unskilled workers, 16 per cent tradesmen, a good many of them proprietors of small and middle-sized independent businesses, who hoped the NSDAP would shield them from the pressure of the unions. The remainder consisted of soldiers, students, and professionals. The leadership consisted largely of representatives of urban bohemianism. A party directive of 1922 required every local group to reflect the sociological distribution of its region, and the local leadership was to contain no more than one third academics.

This factor accounts in large part for the curiously heterogeneous sociological basis of the NSDAP. It appeared to have no real class character. Certainly the petty bourgeois groups gave the party many of its characteristic features, and in spite of the name “Workers’ Party,” several points in Hitler’s original program formulated the anxieties and panic of the lower middle class, its fears of being overwhelmed economically by large concerns and department stores, and the little man’s resentment of easily acquired wealth, of profiteers and the owners of capital. The party’s strident propaganda was also pointedly aimed at the lower middle class. Alfred Rosenberg, for example, hailed this class as the only group that “still opposed the world-wide betrayal.” Hitler had not forgotten the lessons he had learned in Vienna from Karl Lueger. Lueger, as Hitler wrote, had mobilized the “middle class menaced with destruction, and thereby assured himself a following that was difficult to shake, whose spirit of sacrifice was as great as its fighting power.”28

Nevertheless, this indifference toward ideology made the SA into a hard conspiratorial core free from any factionalism and ready for any order or commitment whatsoever. Here was a source of strength that the traditional bourgeois parties lacked, and which gave a monolithic cast to the party as a whole. The party could thus take in a wide variety of elements actuated by many disparate resentments and complexes. The more disciplined and reliable the storm trooper core was, the more Hitler could broaden his appeals to virtually all groups in the population.

Except for a generalized nationalistic belligerence, the SA did not develop any distinctive ideology (contrary to what many participants have said in their reminiscences). When it paraded through the streets under waving banners, it was certainly not marching toward a new social order. It had no utopian ideas, merely an enormous restiveness; no goal but dynamic energy, which often ran out of control. Strictly speaking, most of those who joined its columns were not even political soldiers. Rather, their temper was that of mercenaries, and the high-sounding political phrases were only a cloak for their nihilism, their restlessness, and their craving for something to which they could subordinate themselves. Their ideology was action at all costs. In keeping with the spirit of male comradeship and homosexuality that permeated the SA, the average storm trooper gave his allegiance not to a program, but to an individual, “a leader personality.” Hitler, in fact, wanted it so. In a proclamation he had stipulated: “Let only those apply who wish to be obedient to the leaders and are prepared, if need be, to meet death.”

The generation of soldiers who had fought in the war and had formed the initial core of the SA was soon followed by younger groups. The combination of promised violence, elitist association of men, and conspiratorial ideology always exerted a strong allure. “There are two things that can unite men,” Hitler declared in a public speech at this time: “common ideals, common scoundrelism.”27 The SA offered both, inextricably entwined. In the course of 1922 the SA, organized in groups of 100 men, grew by such leaps and bounds that by autumn the eleventh group, consisting entirely of students, was set up under the leadership of Rudolf Hess. That same year a group from the former Rossbach Free Corps, under Lieutenant Edmund Heines, joined the SA as a separate unit. With all these special formations, the storm troop took on an increasingly military aspect. Rossbach himself set up a bicyclists’ section. There was an intelligence unit, a motorized squad, an artillery section, and a cavalry corps.

In fact, from that day on Hitler had the floor in Munich in a much broader sense. According to his own statement, the streets henceforth belonged to the NSDAP, and with the beginning of the following year the SA carried its successes deeper and deeper into the rest of Bavaria. On weekends it undertook propaganda drives through the countryside. It organized noisy marches, at first marked only by the armband, then in gray windbreakers, carrying knobby walking sticks, parading through villages and booming out the SA’s special songs. According to one of Hitler’s early followers, they deliberately made themselves look “as savage and martial as possible.” They pasted slogans on the walls of houses and factories, brawled with their opponents, tore down black, red, and gold flags, or organized commando strikes against black marketeers or capitalist profiteers. Their songs and slogans had a bloodthirsty ring. At a meeting in the Biirgerbrau they passed around a collection box marked: “Donate for the massacres of Jews.” As so-called peacemakers, they broke up meetings or concerts that displeased them. “We’re brawling our way to greatness,” was the SA’s whimsical slogan. And it became apparent that the unspeakably rowdy conduct of the storm troopers was no hindrance to the growth of the party—just as Hitler had thought. Violence did not undercut the attractiveness of the movement even among the solid, honest petty bourgeoisie. The breakdown of standards caused by war and revolution is not the only explanation for this phenomenon. Hitler’s party could also count on a certain characteristically Bavarian coarseness; it became the political embodiment of that coarseness. The meeting-hall battles with their flailing chair legs and whirling beer mugs, the “massacres,” the murderous songs, the large-scale brawls—it was all a Gaudi (great fun). Significantly, it was just at this period that the term “Nazi” came into being. Although actually an abbreviation of National Socialist, in Bavarian ears it sounded like the nickname for Ignaz; thus it had a homey, familiar quality and showed that the party had won a place for itself in the public mind.

About twenty-five minutes had passed; the hall looked almost as if a shell had struck it. Many of my supporters were being bandaged; others had to be driven away, but we had remained masters of the situation. Hermann Esser, who had assumed the chair this evening, declared: “The meeting goes on. The speaker has the floor.”26

The fracas had not yet begun when my storm troopers—for so they were called from this day on—attacked. Like wolves they flung themselves in packs of eight or ten again and again on their enemies, and little by little actually began to thrash them out of the hall. After only five minutes I saw hardly a one of them who was not covered with blood…. Then suddenly two shots were fired from the hall entrance toward the platform, and wild shooting started. Your heart almost rejoiced at such a revival of old war experiences….

Then I went into the hall and surveyed the situation with my own eyes. They were sitting in there, tight-packed, and tried to stab me with their very eyes. Innumerable faces were turned toward me with sullen hatred, while again others, with mocking grimaces, let out cries capable of no two interpretations. Today they would “make an end of us,” we should look out for our guts….

Hitler may have had this principle in mind when he instigated the so-called Battle in the Hofbrauhaus of November 4, 1921, in which the “myth of the SA” was created. Sizable Social Democratic heckler squads had turned up at an NSDAP demonstration. Hitler later said there were as many as 700 to 800 of the enemy. It happened that the party business office was moving on this day, so that only fifty of the SA men were present at the meeting. Hitler himself has described how he whipped up the nervous little unit by a passionate address. Today was the day of decision, he declared; they must not leave the hall unless they were carried out dead. He would personally strip cowards of their armbands and badges; the best defense was a good attack. In Hitler’s own description:

Hitler himself regarded these recruits, so like him in type, as ideal material for his militant advance guard. In thinking out the tactics of achieving power, he included in his reckoning the resentments, the energy, and the incipient violence of these men. It was one of his psychological adages that uniformed men showing intent of violence had an attractive as well as an intimidating effect. Terrorism could exert a special magnetism. “Cruelty impresses” was the way he once phrased this insight. “People need a good scare. They want to be afraid of something. They want someone to make them afraid, someone to whom they can submit with a shudder. Haven’t you noticed, after a brawl at a meeting, that the ones who get beaten up are the first to apply for membership in the party? What is this rot you talk about violence and how shocked you are about torture? The masses want that. They need something to dread.”25 With growing assurance, then, Hitler made brute force figure in the party’s image. It brought in members who would perhaps not be fetched by propaganda and the appeal of ceremony.

One motive for its creation was the disbanding of the paramilitary “citizen’s militias in June 1921 and, a month later, the dissolution of the Oberland Free Corps, just home from Upper Silesia. Many members of these organizations, who at one blow found themselves deprived of the comradeship and glamour of the soldier’s life and felt that life had lost its meaning, joined up with the adventure-hungry juveniles who had already become members of the NSDAP. Almost all of the SA members came from the numerically strong petty bourgeoisie that had long been prevented from rising socially and had attained to positions of some leadership only during the war, because of the heavy casualties in the officers’ corps. Robust and eager for action, they had expected glorious careers in the postwar period. The terms of the Versailles Treaty, quite aside from all national humiliations, had thrown them back socially. They had ended up teaching in grammar schools, standing behind store counters, at the grilled windows in government offices. Such lives seemed to them narrow, wretched, and utterly unworthy of them. The same impulse to evade normality that had led Hitler to politics now brought them to Hitler.

Nevertheless, the SA had a more far-reaching function. From the start it was conceived as an instrument of attack and conquest. According to its founding proclamation, it was to be the “battering-ram” of the movement. Its members were to be trained to obedience and to an unspecified “revolutionary will.” One of Hitler’s pet ideas was that the weakness of the bourgeois order vis-a-vis Marxism lay in its principled separation of mind and violence, ideology and terror. The bourgeois politician, he argued, was limited to exclusively intellectual weapons, while the soldier was strictly excluded from politics. The Marxists, on the other hand, “united mind and brutal violence harmoniously.” The SA was to imitate them. In the first issue of the SA’s official gazette he called the organization “not only an instrument for the protection of the movement, but also… primarily the training school for the coming struggle for freedom on the domestic front.” Similarly, the Volkische Beobachter hailed the SA’s “ready-for-action spirit.”

On August 3, 1921, immediately after Hitler’s taking full control of the party, the SA was founded. The initials originally meant Sports Division; only later did they come to stand for Sturmabteilung or storm troop. The party opposition had earlier objected to Hitler’s surrounding himself with a paid bodyguard of former Free Corps soldiers; they demanded that the group be dissolved “because they want to steal and pillage.” But the SA was not chiefly an organization of discharged soldiers seeking an outlet for their violent instincts. Nor was it principally an instrument of self-defense on the part of the Right, to be pitted against similar terrorist troops maintained by the enemy. It is true that the troops may originally have been intended for some such purpose. For militant fighting forces of the Left did exist—for example, the Social Democratic Erhard Auer Guard. There is a good deal of confirmation for the stories of deliberate riots launched against the NSDAP by the Left. “The Marxist world, which owes more to terrorism for its survival than any other contemporary phenomenon, also resorted to this method in its struggle against our movement,” Hitler once declared in explaining the reasons for creating the SA.

Thus we have the portrait of the dictator; keen of mind, clear and true, passionate and then again controlled, cold and bold, scrupulous in decision, fearless in rapid execution of his acts, ruthless toward himself and others, mercilessly hard and then again soft in his love for his people, tireless in work, with a steel fist in a velvet glove, capable ultimately of overcoming even himself.

Profound knowledge in all areas of political life and history, the capacity to draw the right lessons from this knowledge, belief in the purity of his own cause and in ultimate victory, and enormous power of will give him the power of thrilling oratory which evokes joyful enthusiasm from the masses. Where the salvation of the nation is in question, he does not disdain utilizing the weapons of the adversary, demagogy, slogans, processions, etc. He himself has nothing in common with the masses; he is all personality, like every great man.

That same evening, at the Krone Circus, Hermann Esser hailed Hitler as “our Leader”—unser Fuhrer. It was Esser, too, who henceforth held forth with cynical sentimentality in restaurants and taverns as the most zealous preacher of the Fuhrer myth. Simultaneously, Dietrich Eckart in the Volkische Beobachter began a well-orchestrated campaign to purvey the same myth. On August 4 he sketched a profile of Hitler as a “selfless, self-sacrificing, devoted and sincere” man, forever “purposeful and alert.” A few days later came another account, this written by Rudolf Hess, which further spiritualized the manly picture. It glorified Hitler’s “purest intent,” his strength, his oratory, his admirable fund of knowledge, and clear intellect. The fantastic growth of the Hitler cult is evidenced by another essay, written by Hess a year later, in connection with a contest on the subject: “What will be the nature of the man who will lead Germany back to the summit?” Hess’s piece took first prize and contained thoughts such as the following:

The dispute was finally smoothed over by the mediation of Dietrich Eckart. At a membership meeting held on July 29, 1921, the crisis was laid to rest. Once again Hitler could not refrain from vaunting his victory. Although Drexler had pounced on the chance afforded by Hitler’s resignation to purge Hermann Esser from the party, Hitler insisted that the membership meeting be chaired by Esser, his satellite. Greeted by “applause that would not cease,” Hitler gave so skilled a version of the dispute that almost everyone swung over to his side. Drexler was given the consolation prize of honorary chairmanship, and the bylaws were revised as Hitler wished. His own followers moved into the executive committee; he himself was granted the dictatorial powers he demanded. The NSDAP was in his hand.

The affair is a good illustration of Hitler’s skill at guiding and mastering crises. Its conclusion also shows his characteristic tendency to ruin a triumph by going a step too far. As soon as the party committee had submitted, he called an extraordinary membership meeting on his own initiative, in order to savor his victory to the full. At this point the good-natured Drexler would take no more. On July 25 he went to the Munich police and stated that the signers of the call for the meeting did not belong to the party and therefore had no right to convoke a membership meeting. He also pointed out that Hitler was aiming at revolution and violence, whereas he himself strove to carry out the party aims by legal, parliamentary procedures. The police, however, said they had no authority to intervene. Meanwhile, Hitler found himself under attack from other quarters. An anonymous leaflet appeared, accusing him of having brought “disunion and dissension into our ranks through power madness and personal ambition.” He was thus “doing the business of the Jews and their henchmen.” His aim was “to use the party as a springboard for dirty ends”; undoubtedly he was acting as the tool of obscure backers. There must be a reason why he was so anxious to keep his private life as well as his origins a mystery. “When asked by members what he lives on and what his former occupation was, he always became agitated and flew into a rage… so his conscience cannot be clear, especially since his excess in relations with women, to whom he has often referred to himself as ‘King of Munich,’ costs a great deal of money.” A poster that the police would not allow to be displayed repeated these accusations and ended with the battle cry: “The tyrant must be overthrown.”

The degree of prestige and power that Hitler had already attained is evident from the immediate reply of the party executive committee, which was dated the following day. Instead of risking a showdown, it pleaded guilty to Hitler’s charges with timid reminders of its former services, bowed completely, and was even ready to sacrifice the incumbent First Chairman, Anton Drexler, to Hitler’s wrath. The key passage in the document, in which for the first time the Byzantine tones of subsequent homage sounded, read: “The committee is prepared, in acknowledgment of your tremendous knowledge, your singular dedication and selfless service to the Movement, and your rare oratorical gift, to concede to you dictatorial powers, and will be most delighted if after your re-entry you will take over the position of First Chairman, which Drexler long ago and repeatedly offered to you. Drexler will then remain as your coadjutor in the executive committee and, if you approve, in the same position in the action committee. If you should consider it desirable to have him completely excluded from the Movement, the next annual meeting would have to be consulted on that matter.”

As soon as word came of Drexler’s independent action, Hitler returned to Munich. And when the party executive committee, which had gained some self-assurance in the interval, called upon him to justify his behavior, Hitler responded with a sweeping gesture. On July 11 he declared his resignation from the party. In a lengthy statement three days later he heaped violent reproaches upon the other members of the committee, then stated as an ultimatum his conditions for returning to the party. Among other things he demanded the immediate resignation of the executive committee, the “post of First Chairman with dictatorial powers” for himself, and “the party to be purged of the alien elements that have lately intruded into it.” He also insisted that neither the name nor the program of the party could be changed; the absolute precedence of the Munich branch of the party must be preserved; there could be no union with other parties, only the annexation of other parties. And with that stubbornness which presaged the later Hitler he stated: “Concessions on our part are totally out of the question.”23

In Berlin, meanwhile, Hitler spoke at the Nationalist Club and established ties with conservative and radical rightists. He met Ludendorff and Count Reventlow, whose French wife, the former Baroness d’Allemont, introduced him to the former Free Corps leader Walter Stennes—describing Hitler as the “coming Messiah.” The hectic madness of Berlin, which was then entering its famous, or notorious, twenties, only heightened Hitler’s dislike for the city. He despised its greed and its frivolity, comparing conditions there with those of declining Rome in the Late Empire. There, too, he said, “racially alien Christianity” had taken advantage of the city’s weakness, as Bolshevism today was battening on the moral decay of Germany. The speeches of those early years are full of attacks upon metropolitan vice, corruption, and excess, as he had observed them on the glittering pavements of Friedrichstrasse or the Kurfurstendamm. “They amuse themselves and dance to make us forget our misery,” he cried on one occasion. “It is no accident that new amusements are constantly being invented. They want to artificially enervate us.” As if he were once again seventeen years old and arriving in Vienna, he stood baffled and alienated by the phenomenon of the big city, lost in so much noise, turbulence, and miscegenation. He really felt at home only in provincial circumstances and was, despite all his sense of being an outsider, permanently fixated upon provincial moral rectitude. Urban night life could only be an invention of the racial archfoe, a systematic attempt “to turn upside down the most natural hygienic rules of a race. The Jew makes night into day; he stages the notorious night life and knows quite well that it will slowly but surely… destroy one man physically, another mentally, and place hatred in the heart of a third because he must look on while others revel.” The theaters, he continued, “those halls which a Richard Wagner once wanted darkened in order to call forth the ultimate degree of sanctitude and solemnity” and “liberate the individual from grief and misery”—those theaters had become “hotbeds of vice and shamelessness.” He saw the city populated by white slavers, and love, “which for millions of others means supreme happiness or the greatest unhappiness,” perverted to a commodity, “nothing more than a deal.” In the city everything w.as being undermined and debased; he deplored the mockery of family life, the decay of religion. “One who has lost both these in this age of basest treachery and fraud has only two remaining possibilities: either he despairs and hangs himself, or he becomes a scoundrel.”22

The summer crisis of 1921 started with negotiations between the NSDAP and rival volkisch parties, especially the German Socialist Party. These negotiations, aiming at closer co-operation, had been going on for months. But Hitler’s intransigence blocked all efforts at alliance. He demanded nothing less than the total submission of the other parties and would not even concede them the right of corporate entry into the National Socialist Party. He insisted instead that the other groups must dissolve and their members enter his party on an individual basis. Drexler could not understand Hitler’s obstinacy; therein lay the whole difference between the instinct for unconditional power and the conciliatory temperament of a club founder. Hitler must have counted on his enemies in the party leadership using his absence for an ill-considered step when, in the early part of the summer, he went to Berlin for six weeks. Hermann Esser and Dietrich Eckart remained behind as his accomplices and kept him continually informed. Urged on by certain members of the party who wanted to cut the “fanatical would-be big shot” down to size, well-meaning Drexler used this period of Hitler’s absence to resume negotiations on the union, or at least the collaboration, of all the socialist rightist parties.

Since that occasion Hitler had been waiting for the opportunity to make himself master of the party, which owed so much to him. The party leadership, to be sure, was not too pleased with its propaganda chief’s impetuosity, and an entry in the party log dated February 22, 1921, noted: “Request Herr Hitler to restrain his activity.” But when Gottfried Feder grumbled at Hitler’s increasing arrogance, Anton Drexler told him that “every revolutionary movement must have a dictatorial head and I consider our Hitler to be the one person most suitable for that post in our movement, though I myself would not be prepared for that reason to be pushed into the background.” Five months later that very thing was to happen. Both circumstances and his opponents played into Hitler’s hands, for throughout his career enemies would be Hitler’s most effective allies. With a mixture of coldbloodedness, cunning, and resolution, with that readiness to take great risks even for small goals, which he was to exhibit time and again in critical situations, he succeeded in gaining control of the NSDAP while strengthening his, claim to leadership of the entire nationalist-racist movement.

This growth took place against the backdrop of the Versailles Treaty, whose provisions came into force step by step, each new step striking the Germans as a fresh insult. Along with this came the wild inflation and growing economic distress. In January, 1921, an Allied reparations conference decided to exact a total of 216 billion gold marks from Germany, to be paid over a period of forty-two years. During that period Germany would also be required to turn over to the Allies 12 per cent of her exports. In Munich a crowd of 20,000 assembled on the Odeonsplatz for a protest demonstration, under the sponsorship of the patriotic associations, the Free Corps and the NSDAP. When the organizers refused to let Hitler speak, he promptly announced a mass demonstration of his own for the following night. To the cautious-minded Drexler and Feder this seemed almost insane. But Hitler sent beflagged trucks through the city carrying groups bellowing slogans, and had posters drawn up advertising a mass meeting at the Krone Circus on February 30. “Herr Adolf Hitler,” the announcement read, “will speak on ‘Future or Doom!’ ” These were the very terms in which he had cast the problem at the time he decided he must enter politics. When he entered the huge tent, it was jammed with 6,500 persons who cheered him wildly and after his speech broke into the national anthem.

Within a year after proclamation of the program the party could look back upon some impressive success. It had held more than forty meetings in Munich and almost as many again in the surrounding countryside. Local party groups had been founded in Starnberg, Rosenheim, Landshut, Pforzheim and Stuttgart. The membership had multiplied more than tenfold. What an impression this made on the nationalist-racist movement as a whole is evident from a letter written by a “Brother Dietrich” of the Munich Order of Teutons to a likeminded friend in Kiel in February, 1921. “Show me a place,” he wrote, “in which your party has held 45 mass meetings in the course of a year. The Munich Local Group now counts more than 2,500 members and some 45,000 followers. Can any of your local groups boast of nearly as many?” He added that he had corresponded with brothers of the order in Cologne, Wilhelmshaven, and Bremen, and “all took the view… that the Hitler party is the party of the future.”

Scheubner-Richter was another of the many Baltic Germans who, together with a group of radical rightist Russian emigrants, played a large part in the early history of the NSDAP. Later, Hitler jokingly remarked that the Volkische Beobachter in those years should have been subheaded “Baltic Edition.” Alfred Rosenberg had originally met Scheubner-Richter in Riga. At that time Rosenberg was an unpolitical student deeply concerned with Schopenhauer, Richard Wagner, architectural matters and the philosophical doctrines of India. It took the Russian Revolution to shape his ideology, a mixture of anti-Bolshevist and anti-Semitic elements in about equal proportions. The picture of the horrors of Judaism and Bolshevism that Hitler painted derived partly from Rosenberg, even down to its metaphors, and Rosenberg was always considered the party’s expert on Russia. Generally speaking, however, too much has been made of his being “chief ideologist of the NSDAP.” His principal contribution was the thesis that Communism and world Judaism were identical. He may also have led Hitler to abandon his initial demand for a return of the German colonies and to look instead to the expanses of Russia for Lebensraum. But then their ways parted. For Hitler remained a pragmatist, for whom ideology was only a tool. Rosenberg, on the other hand, was a monomaniac who held these doctrines with almost religious fervor and continued to build them into intellectual systems of majestic absurdity.

Goring shared certain larcenous tendencies with Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter, an adventurer with a checkered past and a knack for lucrative undercover political deals. Especially in the early years Hitler owed to Scheubner-Richter’s talent for raising funds much of the financial basis for his activities. According to a note in an official file, Scheubner-Richter succeeded in digging up “enormous sums of money.” He hovered in the background, surrounded by mystery; but at the same time he had vast social assurance, was a great talker, and maintained connections with many industrialists, with the House of Wittelsbach, with Grand Duke Kyrill, and with high prelates. His influence on Hitler was considerable; he was the only one of those killed at the Feldherrnhalle on November 9, 1923, whom Hitler held to be irreplaceable.

Cohorts such as these gave the party a narrow character, in spite of all its mass activities, and locked it within a shallow and philistine sphere. By contrast, Air Captain Hermann Goring, the last commander of the legendary Richthofen fighter squadron, gave a gentlemanly tone to Hitler’s entourage. A sturdy, jovial man with a booming voice, he was free of those twisted psychopathic traits that characterized the average member of Hitler’s following. Goring had joined the party because it promised to satisfy his need for action and comradeship, not, as he stressed, because of the “ideological junk.” He was traveled, widely connected, and, when he appeared with his attractive Swedish wife, he seemed to awaken the astonished party members to the fact that human beings also existed outside of Bavaria.

Hitler, on the other hand, went to considerable trouble to win over Streicher. He wanted, of course, to make use of Streicher’s popularity for his own ends. But he probably also felt a common bond with the man, for did they not share the same complexes and obsessions? Up to the last, Hitler remained loyal to Julius Streicher, despite the revulsion the man aroused. During the war he once remarked that Dietrich Eckart had called Streicher a fool, but that he himself could not share the objections to Streicher’s paper, Der Sturmer. Actually, he said, “Streicher idealized the Jews.”21

In a good many respects Esser resembled Julius Streicher, the Nuremberg schoolmaster, who was making a reputation as the spokesman for a scurrilous kind of pornographic anti-Semitism. Streicher seemed obsessed by wild fantasies of ritual murders, Jewish lust, world conspiracy, miscegenation, and lascivious black-haired devils panting after the innocent flesh of Aryan women. It is true that Streicher was more stupid and limited than Esser, but locally he could rival even Hitler, whom he had at first violently opposed.

The dominant figure in the entourage that formed so early around Hitler was young Hermann Esser. He had done some newspaper work and been a press secretary for the Reichswehr District Headquarters. Aside from Hitler, he was the only person in the party at that time with a talent for demagogy. He was “a noisemaker who is almost better at that business than Hitler… a demon speechmaker, though from a lower circle of hell.” He was intelligent, cunning, with a knack for vivid and popular phrases. As a yellow journalist he could invent endless stories about Jews and profiteers. The decent petty bourgeois members of the party were soon objecting to the “swineherd tone” of his publicity campaigns. But he clung to his simple-minded radicalism; while still a schoolboy in Kempten, he had demanded that the soldiers’ soviet there “string up” a number of citizens. Along with Dietrich Eckart, he was one of the earliest and most zealous authors of the Hitler myth. Hitler himself at times seemed worried about Esser; possibly Esser’s intellectual gangsterism rubbed him the wrong way. If the sources are accurate, he repeatedly declared that he knew Esser was “a scoundrel” and was keeping him only as long as he needed him.

Within the party, on the other hand, he continued to remain within a circle comprising middle-class philistines and semicriminal bullies who answered his need for aggression and physical violence. Among his rare close friends were Emil Maurice, a typical barroom and meeting-hall brawler, and Christian Weber, a hulking, paunchy former horse dealer who had worked as a bouncer in a notorious taproom and regularly carried a riding whip, as Hitler did. Ulrich Graf, a butcher’s apprentice, also belonged to his immediate following, which served as a kind of bodyguard. So also did Max Amann, Hitler’s former sergeant, a blunt, capable businessman, who became business manager for the party and the party’s publishing house. Noisy and sedulously attentive, these men surrounded Hitler all the time. Evenings after meetings the troop of them would drop in at the Osteria Bavaria or the Bratwurstglockl near the Frauenkirche, or talk for hours over coffee and cake at the Cafe Heck on Galeriestrasse, where a table was permanently reserved for Hitler in the dusky back of the room, from which he could watch what went on in the restaurant without being observed himself. He was already beginning to find solitude painful; he constantly needed people around him—audience, guards, servants, drivers, but also entertainers, art lovers and storytellers like the photographer Heinrich Hoffmann or Ernst Hanfstaengl. These were the people who gave to his “court” its special coloration compounded of “the bohemian world and the condottiere style.” He was not averse to having himself referred to as the “King of Munich.” It would be the small hours of the morning before he would return to his furnished room on Thierschstrasse.

Now that he was attracting attention, women began to take an interest in him. Most of them were aging ladies who sensed problems behind the inhibitions and complexes of the magnetic young orator, tensions that knowledgeable ministrations could release. Hitler himself later commented on the jealousies among those women who thronged so eagerly and maternally around him. He knew one, he remarked, “whose voice grew hoarse from agitation whenever I exchanged so much as a few words with another woman.” One of them, Carola Hoffmann, widow of a secondary-school teacher, who lived in the Munich suburb of Solln, made a sort of home for him and earned herself the title of “Hitler-Mutti”—Hitler’s Mom. Frau Bruckmann, wife of the publisher of Houston Stewart Chamberlain and a lady descended from an ancient noble line, also took him under her wing. So did the wife of Bechstein, the piano manufacturer. “I wished he were my son,” she said, and later, in order to be allowed to visit him in prison, she alleged that she was his adoptive mother. All of them taken together, their houses, their parties, widened the area around him and helped to make his name known.

How he struck others at this time can be seen in the following thumbnail sketch by the historian Karl Alexander von Muller, who met Hitler at a coffee hour at Erna Hanfstaengl’s, Ernst’s sister. Also present was Abbot Alban Schachleiter, who was curious to meet the rising politician. “My wife and I provided part of the decor. The four of us were already sitting at the polished mahogany table by the window when the bell rang. Through the open door I could see him in the narrow hallway politely and almost servilely greeting our hostess, laying aside riding whip, velour hat and trench coat, finally unbuckling his cartridge belt with revolver attached and likewise hanging it on the clothes hook. It all looked very odd, reminiscent of Karl May’s American Indian novels.[4] As yet we did not know how precisely each of these trivialities in clothing and behavior was even then calculated for effect, as were the strikingly close-cropped mustache, which was narrower than the unpleasantly wide-nostriled nose…. The look in his eyes already expressed a consciousness of public success; but something curiously awkward still clung to him, and one had the uneasy feeling that he sensed it and resented anyone’s noticing it. His face, too, was still thin and pale, with something like an expression of suffering. But the protruding watery-blue eyes sometimes stared with inflexible hardness, and above the base of his nose, between the curve of the thick eyebrows, a clotted bulge bespoke a fanatical will. This time, too, he spoke very little; most of the time he listened with marked attentiveness.”20

His insecurity, the painful sense of being an outsider in bourgeois society, remained with him for a long time. If we are to believe the available accounts, he was eternally bent upon making an impression. He came late; his bouquets of flowers were bigger than others, his bows lower. Intervals of saying nothing alternated abruptly with choleric outbursts. His voice was rough; he made even casual remarks with passion. Once, according to an eyewitness, he had sat silent and weary for about an hour when his hostess happened to drop a friendly remark about the Jews. Only then “did he begin to speak and 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.”19 His social awkwardness reflected his irreparably distorted relationship to bourgeois society. The reek of the home for men clung to his clothing for a long time. When Pfeffer von Salomon—later to become his chief storm troop leader—met him for the first time, Hitler was wearing an old tailcoat, tan shoes, and carrying a knapsack on his back. The Free Corps leader was so unpleasantly impressed that he did not wish to be introduced to this person. Ernst Hanfstaengl recalled that Hitler wore with his blue suit a purple shirt, brown vest and crimson tie; the holster of his revolver made a conspicuous bulge at his hip. Hitler was quite slow in learning to stylize his appearance and to do justice to his conception of himself as grand tribune of the people down to his weird uniform. Even then, the picture he presented betrayed deep insecurity. It combined elements from his long-ago dreams of being a Rienzi with touches of Al Capone and General Ludendorff; the result was something preposterous. But even this effect could be interpreted in a number of ways. Some observers thought Hitler was trying to exploit his insecurity and was using his very awkwardness as a means of self-dramatization. At any rate, he seemed concerned less with making his appearance attractive than with making it memorable.

The welcome Hitler received in the Munich society to which Dietrich Eckart introduced him was scarcely of a political nature. One of the first ladies to open her salon to him was an American by birth, Catherine Hanfstaengl, mother of a young man named Ernst (“Putzi”) Hanfstaengl, who had fallen under Hitler’s oratorical spell. She herself was by no means nationalistic. Liberals were intrigued by this phenomenon of a young popular orator with Neanderthal views and unpolished manners. His sometimes shocking public behavior made him the more interesting. He had the aura of a prestidigitator, the acrid odor of both the circus and of tragic embitterment, the sharp glitter of a “famous monster.” The common topic of conversation was frequently Richard Wagner; Hitler would rhapsodize at length about Wagner in staccato phrases. The descriptions we have all convey a mixture of eccentricity and clumsiness. With people of importance Hitler was inhibited, brooding, and to some extent servile. During a conversation with Ludendorff at this time he kept raising his backside slightly after each of the general’s sentences, “with a half bow uttering a most respectful, ‘Very well, your Excellency!’ or ‘Quite so, your Excellency!’ ”

Eckart had met Hitler early. In March, 1920, during the Kapp putsch, both were sent by their nationalist backers to survey the scene in Berlin. Well read and a shrewd psychologist who possessed extensive knowledge consonant with his prejudices, Eckart exerted great influence upon the awkward and provincial Hitler. With his bluff and uncomplicated manner, he was the first cultivated person whom Hitler was able to endure without an upsurge of his deep-seated complexes. Eckart recommended books to Hitler and lent him some, schooled his manners, corrected his language, and opened many doors to him. For a time they were an inseparable pair on the Munich social scene. As early as 1919 Eckart had prophesied the rise of a national savior, “a fellow who can stand the rattle of a machine gun. The rabble has to be scared shitless. I can’t use an officer; the people no longer have any respect for them. Best of all would be a worker who’s got his mouth in the right place…. He doesn’t need much intelligence; politics is the stupidest business in the world.” As far as he was concerned, someone who always had “a tough reply” to the Reds was far to be preferred to “a dozen learned professors who sit trembling on the wet pants seat of facts.” Last but not least: “He must be a bachelor! Then we’ll get the women.” Hitler seemed to him the embodiment of this model, and as early as August, 1921, in an article in the Volkische Beobachter he for the first time hailed him as the Leader. One of the early battle songs of the NSDAP, “Storm, Storm, Storm!” was written by Eckart, and the refrain of every stanza became a party slogan: “Germany, awake!” Hitler repaid Eckart by declaring that he had written “ps as beautiful as Goethe’s.” He publicly called the poet his “fatherly friend” and described himself as a disciple of Eckart. Along with Rosenberg, Eckart seems to have wielded the most lasting ideological influence upon Hitler during that early period. Evidently he also made Hitler aware of his own stature. The second volume of Mein Kampf ends with the poet’s name printed in italics.

The progress of the party was greatly furthered by the purchase of the Volkische Beobachter in December, 1920. Apparently Dietrich Eckart and Ernst Rohm raised the 60,000 reichsmarks that represented the down payment for the financially troubled racist-nationalist semiweekly.17 Among the donors were many members of respectable Munich society, to which Hitler now found an entry. For this, too, he was indebted to Dietrich Eckart, a man of many connections. A roughhewn and comical figure, with his thick round head, his partiality for good wine and crude talk, Eckart had missed the great success he hoped for as a poet and dramatist. (His best known work was the German version of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt). In compensation he had thrown himself into that bohemian group which indulged in politics. He had founded a political club called the German Citizens Society, but that, too, had come to nought. Another failure was the periodical Auf gut Deutsch (“Plain Speaking”), which, in corrosive language, and with displays of pseudoerudition propounded the familiar anti-Semitic theses. Along with Gottfried Feder, Eckart preached a revolution against “interest slavery” and for “true socialism.” Influenced by Lanz von Liebenfels, he called for a ban on racially mixed marriages and demanded protection for pure German blood. He referred to Soviet Russia as “the Christian-kosher-butchering dictatorship of the Jewish world savior Lenin” and said that what he wanted most was “to load all Jews into a railroad train and drive into the Red Sea with it.”18

The day of public acceptance had come: The Prime Minister finally mentioned Hitler, in terms of praise, in the Landtag. Pohner, the police commissioner of Munich, let Hitler do pretty much as he pleased. Roles in the forthcoming drama had been assigned. It became possible to discern the shape of that political constellation which has been called typical of Fascist conquests of power. Henceforth, Hitler was leagued with the conservative power of the Establishment, pledged to it as the advance guard in the fight against the common Marxist enemy. The conservatives thought they would make use of the energies and hypnotic arts of this unruly agitator and, at the proper moment, outmaneuver him by their own intellectual, economic, and political superiority. He, meanwhile, intended to march the battalions he had built up under the benevolent gaze of the ruling powers over the body of the enemy and against his partners in order to seize all the power. Hitler was playing that peculiar game, whose moves were marked by illusions, treacheries, and perjuries, with which he subsequently won almost all his victories and outwitted successively Kahr and Hugenberg, Papen and Chamberlain. On the other hand, his blunders, down to the ultimate failure in the war, were partly due to actions of impatience, petulance, or overconfidence.

These developments proved highly important to the rising National Socialist Party. The military, the paramilitary, and the civilian holders of power all looked upon it with favor, the more so as the party proved itself increasingly successful. After Hitler had been received by Prime Minister von Kahr, one of Hitler’s student followers, Rudolf Hess, addressed a letter to the head of state: “The central point is that H. is convinced that a recovery is possible only if it proves possible to lead the masses, particularly the workers, back to the nationalist cause…. I know Herr Hitler very well personally and am quite close to him. He has a rarely honorable, pure character, full of profound kindness, is religious, a good Catholic. His one goal is the welfare of his country. For this he is sacrificing himself in the most selfless fashion.”

Because of the shift in power relationships, Bavaria became the natural center for radical rightist plots—even more than it had previously been. The Allies had repeatedly demanded that the paramilitary bands be dissolved. The Kahr government in Bavaria resisted, for these bands were its strongest support. Gradually, all those irreconcilable enemies of the republic who could ill stand the climate in other parts of Germany poured into the Bavarian militias and private armies, which already numbered more than 300,000 men. Among them were followers of Kapp who had fled Berlin, determined remnants from the dissolved Free Corps of the eastern regions of the Reich, the “National Warlord” Ludendorff, vigilante killers, adventurers, nationalist revolutionaries of various ideological shades. But all were united in their desire to overthrow the hated “Jews’ Republic.” They were able to exploit the traditional Old Bavarian separatism; the Bavarians had a long history of intense dislike for Prussian, Protestant Berlin. They flattered their Bavarian hosts with the slogan Ordnungszelle Bayern (“Bavaria as the mainstay of public order”). With more and more open support from the state government, these paramilitary groups began setting up arms depots, converting castles and monasteries into secret military bases, and plotting assassinations and coups. The conspiratorial whisperings went on constantly; all the groups were engaged in treasonous projects and often worked at cross-purposes.

The Left retaliated with its classic weapon: a general strike. The radical leftists saw a chance to exploit the situation for their own revolutionary ends and asserted leadership over the strike, principally in central Germany and the Ruhr. Their call for arming the proletariat was greeted enthusiastically. Soon, in a well-co-ordinated way that spoke of careful planning, masses of workers were organized in regular military formations. Between the Rhein and the Ruhr alone a “Red Army” of more than 50,000 men was set up. Within a few days it took over almost the entire industrial area. The weak Reichswehr and police units that opposed its advance were crushed; in places veritable battles were fought. A wave of killing, looting, and arson passed over the country, briefly bringing to light how much class hatred was present, repressed by the half-measures of a semirevolution. Soon, however, the military launched a bloody counterattack. The summary arrests, the shootings, and other acts of vengeance again revealed deep-seated feuds and unresolved conflicts. The country, so often divided and torn by contradictions in the course of its history, more and more desperately craved order and reconciliation. Instead, it found itself sinking ever more helplessly into a morass of hatred, distrust, and anarchy.

The party found such gestures all the easier because now, in addition to the protection it enjoyed from the Munich District Army Command, it had become the “spoiled darling” of the Bavarian state government. In the middle of March, rightist circles in Berlin, headed by the hitherto nameless Dr. Kapp and supported by the Ehrhardt Brigade, had attempted a coup. The attempt had collapsed, partly because of its amateur nature, partly because it was instantly countered by a general strike. A simultaneous attempt of the same sort by the Reichswehr and the Free Corps bands in Bavaria met with more success. On the night of March 13 the bourgeois Social Democratic regime was overthrown by the military and paramilitary forces and replaced by a rightist government under the “strong man” Gustav von Kahr.

With growing self-assurance the party began touting itself as a supporter of “order” by breaking up meetings of the Left, shouting down speakers, administering “reminders” in the form of beatings, and once forcing a piece of sculpture to be removed from a public exhibition on the grounds that it offended public taste. At the beginning of January, 1921, Hitler assured his audience in the Kindl-Keller “that henceforth the National Socialist movement in Munich will ruthlessly prevent all meetings and lectures—if necessary, by force—which are designed to seditiously affect our already sick folk-comrades.”

The lecturer Hitler explained how things stood for us before the war and how they are now. On usurers and profiteers, that they all belong on the gallows. Further on the mercenary army. He said it probably wouldn’t harm the young fellows any if they had to enlist again, for that hadn’t harmed anybody, for nobody knows any more that the young ought to keep their mouths shut in the presence of elders, for everywhere the young lack discipline…. Then he went through all the points in the program, at which he received a lot of applause. The hall was very full. A man who called Herr Hitler an idiot was calmly kicked out.16

The meeting began at 7:30 and ended at 10:45 P.M. The lecturer delivered an address on Judaism. The lecturer pointed out that everywhere one looks there are Jews. All Germany is ruled by Jews. It is a shame that German labor, brain workers and manual laborers both, let themselves be so hounded by the Jews. Naturally because the Jew has the money. The Jew sits in the government and schemes and smuggles. When he has his pockets full again he again hounds the workers back and forth so that again and again he comes out on top and we poor Germans put up with it all. He went on to talk about Russia also…. And who arranged all that? Only the Jew. Therefore Germans be united and fight against the JEWS, For they’ll eat our last crust from under our noses…. The speaker’s concluding words: Let us wage the struggle until the last Jew is removed from the German Reich and even though it comes to a coup and even more to another revolution…. The lecturer received great applause. He also denounced the press… since at the last meeting one of those dirty journalists wrote everything down.

His own energy seemed inexhaustible. None of his rivals was remotely a match for him. His principle was: a mass meeting every week. And he was not only the organizer of these but the speaker. Of forty-eight meetings held between November, 1919, and November, 1920, he was the speaker at thirty-one. The increasingly rapid tempo of his appearances reflects the growing intensity of his affair with the masses. “Herr Hitler… flew into a fury and screamed so that not much could be understood at the back,” one report records. A poster of May, 1920, announcing his appearance termed him a “brilliant speaker” and promised the visitor “a highly stimulating evening.” Reports from this time on speak of rising attendance figures. Often he talked to 3,000 persons or more. Repeatedly, the recording secretaries noted that when he stepped on the platform in his blue uniform he was “stormily cheered.” The very clumsiness of the summaries reveals the almost hypnotic power the speaker seemed to have over his audience.

Another asset of the NSDAP was its egalitarian character. Nationalist parties of the past had appropriated true patriotic principles for the upper classes, as if only men of property and education had a fatherland. The NSDAP was at once nationalistic and plebeian; rude and ready to brawl, it brought together the idea of nationalism and the gutter. Hitherto, the bourgeoisie had looked upon the masses as a danger against which they had always to be on their guard. The NSDAP seemed to be offering itself as a vanguard of the masses on the side of the bourgeoisie. “We need force to win our battle,” Hitler declared again and again. “Let the others… stretch out in their easy chairs; we are ready to climb on the beer table.” One might not want to follow him oneself; yet here was a fellow who clearly knew how to tame the masses and harness their energies for the right cause.

These two aspects, one ceremonial, the other terroristic, had marked the party from its wretched early beginnings and proved to be an inspired approach on Hitler’s part. The references to brute force by no means repelled; rather, they added a note of strong earnestness to the party program and seemed to fit the historic hour better than the false amiability of traditional party procedures.

Later he would do the same with the “standards,” which he took over from Italian Fascism and conferred upon the storm troops. He introduced “Heil” as a greeting, made a point of military correctness in ranks and uniforms, and in general stressed all formalities: the setting of scenes, the decorative details, the increasingly solemn ceremonials of dedicating flags, reviews, and parades, all the way up to the mass spectacles of the party rallies, where he directed great blocs of human beings against mighty stone backdrops and reveled in the exercise of his demitalents as actor and architect. He spent many hours hunting through old art magazines and the heraldic department of the Munich State Library to find a model for the eagle to be used on the official rubber stamp of the party. His first circular letter as chairman of the NSDAP, dated September 17, 1921, was largely concerned with party symbolism, which he prescribed in loving detail. He instructed the heads of the local groups “to energetically promote the wearing of the party badge. The members are to be continually reminded to go about everywhere and at all times with the party emblem. Jews who take offense at it are to be dealt with at once.”

The commando element that Rohm’s men had brought into the party was colorfully garnished by the liberal use of symbols and emblems. In Mein Kampf Hitler pretended that the swastika flag was his invention. In fact, one of the party members, the dentist Friedrich Krohn, had designed it for the founding meeting of the Starnberg Ortsgruppe (local party group) in May of 1920. As early as the previous year, in a memorandum, he had recommended using the swastika as “the symbol of national socialist parties.” Once again, Hitler’s own contribution consisted, not of the original idea, but of his instant perception of the symbol’s psychological magic. He therefore raised it to the status of a party emblem and made it obligatory.

Rohm was a man who from childhood on had had “only one thought and one wish, to become a soldier.” Toward the end of the war he had served on the General Staff and was an outstanding organizer, but by temperament he belonged in the front lines, though he scarcely looked it. This stocky little fellow with his rather florid, marred face—he had been wounded many times during the war—was a wild daredevil. He divided the human race into soldiers and civilians, friends and foes; he was frank, unsubtle, rough and tough, a straightforward old campaigner with no conscience to speak of. One of his comrades from those days of illegal activity once remarked that Rohm “livened things up” wherever he appeared. But perhaps the converse was just as often true. Certainly no ideological sophistries complicated his old-fashioned Bavarian bluntness. Ceaselessly active, he had a single goal: to magnify the power of the military within the government. With that in mind, he had organized the General Staff department for propaganda and secret partnership with political groups—the department on whose behalf liaison man Adolf Hitler had first attended a meeting of the German Workers’ Party. Impressed, as was almost everyone else, by the oratorical talent of the young agitator, Rohm provided Hitler with his first valuable contacts to politicians and military men. He himself entered the party early, receiving the membership number 623.

Ernst Rohm did more for the NSDAP than anyone else. He held the rank of captain as a political adviser on the staff of Colonel Epp and was the real brain of the disguised military regime in Bavaria. Rohm provided the young National Socialist Party with followers, arms, and funds. His efforts were supported in large measure by the officers of the Allied Supervisory Commission, who favored such illegal activities for various reasons. Partly, they had an interest in maintaining conditions approaching civil war in Germany; partly, they wished to strengthen the military power against the obstreperous Left. Chivalric feelings also played their part: they wanted to oblige their former foes, fellow soldiers who had fought honorably against them.

With the aid of these military converts accustomed to strict subordination, discipline, and devotion, Hitler gradually succeeded in providing the party with a firm inner structure. Many of the new men were sent to him by the Munich District Command of the Reichswehr. Later, Hitler would repeatedly assert that he had stood alone, nameless and poor, relying on no one but himself, against a world of enemies. That was far from the truth. From the beginning he received protection from the Reichswehr and the paramilitary organizations. They were what made his rise possible.

Gradually, these soldiers began changing the sociological face of the party. The contemplative groups of beer-drinking workers and small tradesmen were infiltrated by tough types of regular army men accustomed to violence. The earliest membership list of the party registers all of twenty-two professional soldiers among 193 names. Directly affected by the terms of the Versailles Treaty, with its check on the size of the army, they had abruptly found themselves confronting the dreary perils of civilian life. Here was a new party that offered a haven from perplexity and the terrors of being declassed. Within its framework they could satisfy their craving for new forms of comradeship and continue to express the contempt for life as well as death that they had absorbed on the battlefield.

This intention shaped the style and methods of all he did. The garish red of the party’s banners was chosen not only for its psychological effect but also because it provocatively usurped the traditional color of the Left. The posters also would often be a blatant red. They would have a slogan for headlines and offer a pithy editorial in gigantic format. To further the impression of bigness and forcefulness the NSDAP repeatedly organized street processions. Its leaflet distributors and poster squads went about tirelessly. In acknowledged imitation of leftist propaganda techniques, Hitler had trucks loaded with men ride through the streets. But instead of the fist-swinging, Moscow-oriented proletarians who had spread terror and hatred in bourgeois residential districts, these trucks were manned by disciplined former soldiers who now, after armistice and demobilization, were fighting on in a different fashion under the battle standard of the National Socialist Party. These self-controlled radicals lent the demonstrations an intimidating, paramilitary tone. Soon Hitler was holding these demonstrations in the form of a series of meetings that passed like a wave over Munich, and then over other cities.

At the beginning he went at things according to a sensible plan. His first task was a personal one, to break out of anonymity, to emerge from the welter of small-time nationalist-racist parties with an unmistakable image. When he recounted party history in his later speeches he would always allude to his unimportant beginnings—evidence of the pain of those days when he had known the pangs of repressed ambition and unrecognized greatness. With a total lack of scruple, which was the real novelty of his public life and which once and for all proclaimed his refusal to abide by any rules or conventions, he now set about making a name for himself—by unceasing activity, by brawls, scandals, and riots, even by terrorism if that would bring him to the forefront. “Whether they represent us as clowns or criminals, the main thing is that they mention us, that they concern themselves with us again and again.”15

He not only applied everything he took over consistently; he also went much further than his model. In his nature there was an infantile fondness for the grand, surpassing gesture, a craving to impress. He dreamed of superlatives and was bent on having the most radical ideology, just as later on he was bent on having the biggest building or the heaviest tank. He picked up his tactics and his aims, as he later observed, “from all the bushes alongside the road of life.” He himself contributed the harshness and consistency with which he applied everything, the characteristic boldness about taking the last step.

I have learned a great deal from Marxism. I admit that without hesitation. Not from that boring social theory and materialist conception of history, not at all from that absurd nonsense…. But I’ve learned from their methods. Only I seriously went about doing what these little tradesmen and secretary minds timidly started. The whole of National Socialism is implicit in that. Just examine it closely…. These new methods of political struggle do go back to the Marxists in their essentials. I needed only to take over these methods and develop them, and in essentials I had what we needed. I needed only to pursue consistently what the Social Democrats interrupted ten times over, because they wanted to carry out their revolution within the framework of a democracy. National Socialism is what Marxism could have been had it freed itself from the absurd, artificial link with a democratic system.14

Tactically, he learned most from the experiences of the revolutionary period. The Bolshevik take-over and the soviet rule in Bavaria had shown how a handful of determined men could seize power. From Lenin one could learn how to heighten a revolutionary impulse, from German socialists like Friedrich Ebert and Philipp Scheidemann how such an impulse could be wasted. Hitler later declared:

But Hitler learned his most lasting lessons from Marxism. The energy he devoted to the development of a National Socialist ideology, in spite of his essential indifference to such matters, testifies to the effects of the Marxist model upon him. One of the starting points for his political activity was the insight that the traditional bourgeois type of party could no longer match the force of the leftist mass organizations. Only a similarly organized but even more resolute ideological party would be able to combat Marxism.13

His “talent for combination” seized upon the most disparate elements and fitted them together into compact formulas. He learned more from his opponents than from his models or comrades; he always admitted this frankly. He had learned a great deal from the opposite camp; only fools or weaklings feared that in adopting ideas from others they would lose their own. And so he put together Richard Wagner and Lenin, Gobineau, Nietzsche and Le Bon, Ludendorff, Lord Northcliffe, Schopenhauer and Karl Lueger, and formed a composite. The system was arbitrary, queer, full of half-educated rashness, but it had a certain coherence. Mussolini and Italian Fascism also fitted into it, and their importance was to grow. Hitler even took lessons from the so-called Wise Men of Zion; though by now it had been conclusively proved that the “Protocols” were forgeries,12 that did not lessen the power of their Machiavellian theses.

In those arduous and intoxicated days of his entrance into politics, in the spring of 1920, Hitler was not much more than a local Munich agitator. Night after night he made his way through boisterous smoke-filled taverns to win frequently hostile or scoffing audiences over to his doctrines. His reputation increased steadily. The temper of the city was susceptible to his theatrical style and favored his success as much as the more tangible historical factors.

His self-confidence grew, based on his talent for oratory, his coldness, and his readiness to take risks. He had nothing to lose. Ideas as such mattered little to him. In general he was less interested in a concept than in its potential uses, in whether, as he once remarked, it could yield a “powerful slogan.” His total lack of comprehension for thinking without politically malleable substance came out in his outbursts of “detestation” and “profoundest disgust” for the “antiquated folkish theoreticians,” the “bigmouths,” and “idea thieves.” Similarly, he took the floor for his earliest rhetorical displays only when he had something to strike back at polemically. For him it was not evidence that made an idea persuasive but handiness, not truth but the idea’s aptness as a weapon. “Every idea, even the best,” he noted, “becomes a danger if it parades as a purpose in itself, being in reality only a means to one.” Elsewhere he emphasized that in the political struggle force always needs the support of an idea—significantly, he did not put it the other way round. He regarded National Socialism, too, as chiefly a means to his own ambitious ends. It was merely a romantic, attractively vague cue with which he stepped on the stage. The idea of reconciliation implicit in the phrase seemed more modern, closer to the needs of the age, then the slogans of class struggle. The conservative writer Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, who in the early years of the century had promulgated the idea of nationalistic socialism, now declared that it was “certainly a part of the German future.” Its potentiality was above all apparent to the cool politicians who had axes to grind. There were many such men, all competing in the same game. But before long Hitler knew that he himself would be that part of the German future.

On April 1, 1920, Hitler finally left the army, for he at last had an alternative. He was determined to devote himself henceforth entirely to political work, to seize the leadership of the NSDAP, and to build the party according to his own ideas. He rented a room at 41 Thierschstrasse, near the Isar River. Although he spent most of his days in the cellar headquarters of the party he avoided being listed as a party employee. What he lived on was something of a mystery, and enemies within the party soon raised this question. His landlady thought the somber young man monosyllabic and seemingly very busy, a “real bohemian.”

A week after the meeting in the Hofbrauhaus the DAP also changed its name. Borrowing from the related German and Austrian groups, it called itself National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei—NSDAP) and simultaneously adopted the battle symbol of its Austrian counterparts, the swastika. Dr. Walter Riehl, chairman of the Austrian national socialists, had shortly before set up an “international secretariat” that was to serve as a liaison office for all national socialist parties. There already existed active contacts with various other such groups espousing racial-socialist programs, above all the German Socialist Party of Alfred Brunner, a Dusseldorf engineer. This party tried to be extremely leftish and boasted, “Our demands are more radical than those of the Bolshevists.” It had units in many of the larger cities. The one in Nuremberg was headed by a schoolteacher named Julius Streicher.

Despite all its opportunistic features this program was not so empty as has sometimes been represented. At any rate, there was a good deal more to it than clever demogogery. It included, at least in the germ, all the essential features of what was to be National Socialist doctrine: the living-space thesis (Point 3), anti-Semitism (Points 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 24), the harmless-sounding and widely acceptable platitudes (Points 10, 18, 24) that could ultimately be made the basis for a totalitarian state—as, for example, the maxim that the common good takes precedence over the good of the individual.11 Much was made of the determination to eliminate the abuses of capitalism, to overcome the false class-struggle confrontations of Marxism, and to bring about the reconciliation of all groups in a powerfully integrated racial community. It would seem that all this possessed a special allure in a country suffering so profoundly from national and social irritations. The idea or formula of “nationalistic socialism,” linking as it did the two paramount concepts of the nineteenth century, could be found at the root of many political programs and drafts for social systems of the time. It turned up in Anton Drexler’s simple autobiographical account of his “political awakening” and in the Berlin lectures of Eduard Stadtler, who as early as 1918 had founded an Anti-Bolshevist League, with the support of industry. It was the subject of one of those enlightenment courses run by the Munich District Command of the Reichswehr and even entered the thinking of Oswald Spengler, whose essay Prussianism and Socialism treated most persuasively of the same theme. Even within Social Democracy the idea had its followers. The disappointment over the failure of the Second International at the outbreak of the war had led a number of independent minds to turn toward a combination of nationalistic and social revolutionary schemes. National Socialism, Its Growth and Its Aims was the title of a bulky theoretical work published in 1919 by one of the founders of the German-Socialist Workers’ Party, a railroad engineer named Rudolf Jung. That work hailed nationalist socialism as the epoch-making political concept that would succeed in checking Marxist socialism. To emphasize their separation from internationalist movements, Jung and his Austrian followers changed the party’s name in May, 1918, to German National Socialist Workers’ Party.

The program Hitler offered that evening had been drafted by Anton Drexler, probably with some assistance from Gottfried Feder, and then submitted to the executive committee for revision. Hitler’s exact part in the framing can no longer be determined, but the sloganlike compactness of several articles shows his editorial influence. The program consisted of twenty-five points and combined in rather arbitrary fashion elements of the older racist ideology with immediate grievances and the national need to deny reality. The consistent factor throughout was strong emotional appeal. Negatives predominated; the program was anticapitalist, anti-Marxist, antiparliamentarian, anti-Semitic, and most decidedly against the way the war had ended. The positive aims, on the other hand—such as the various demands for the protection of the middle class—were mostly vague and tended to add fuel to the anxieties and desires of the little man. For example, all income not earned by work was to be confiscated (Point 11), as well as all war profits (Point 12), and a profit-sharing plan for large industries was to be introduced (Point 14). Another point called for large department stores to be turned over to the communities and rented out “at cheap prices” to small tradesmen (Point 16). Land reform was also demanded, and a ban on speculation in land (Point 17).

Nevertheless, in a higher sense the author of Mein Kampf was right. For with that mass meeting there began the evolution of Drexler’s beer-drinking racist club into Adolf Hitler’s mass party. To be sure, he himself had once again had to play a subordinate role. Nevertheless, there had been almost 2,000 persons present, filling the great hall of the Hofbrauhaus. The crowd had been exposed to Hitler’s political doctrines, and many had accepted them. Henceforth, more and more, it was his will, his style, his direction that propelled the party and decided its success or failure. Party legend later compared the meeting of February 24, 1920, to Martin Luther’s nailing his theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg. In both cases tradition has had to paint its own historically quite dubious picture, because true history tends to scant man’s craving for drama and sentimental recollection. But there was some justification for hailing the meeting as the true birthday of the movement, even though no such momentous act had been planned.

Apparently such turbulence was commonplace, for even the nationalist-racist press took scarcely any notice of the meeting. Only recent finds of source material have made it possible to reconstruct the course of the meeting. Hitler’s own myth-making account turned it into a dramatic occasion beginning with a brawl and ending with wild acclaim and mass conversion: “Unanimously and again unanimously” each point of the program was accepted, “and when the last thesis had found its way to the heart of the masses, there stood before me a hall full of people united by a new conviction, a new faith, a new will.” Typically, Hitler reverted to his memory of operatic performances and proclaimed that “a fire was kindled from whose flame one day the sword must come which would regain freedom for the Germanic Siegfried.” He could already hear striding forth “the goddess of inexorable vengeance for the perjured deed of November 9, 1919.” Meanwhile, the nationalist Munchener Beobachter merely noted that after Dr. Dingfelder’s speech Hitler had “set forth some pointed political ideas” and then announced the program of the DAP.

Then Hitler spoke. To take advantage of this unique opportunity of publicizing the ideas of the German Workers’ Party to a large audience, he had insisted that a program be worked up. He began by inveighing against the Versailles Treaty and the cowardice of the government, then against the general craving for amusement, the Jews, and the “leeches,” namely profiteers and usurers. Then, interrupted frequently by applause or catcalls, he read the program aloud. At the end “some heckler shouted something. This was followed by great commotion. Everyone standing on chairs and tables. Tremendous tumult. Shouts of ‘Get out!’ ” The meeting ended in a general uproar. Some members of the radical Left subsequently tramped, loudly cheering the International and the Soviet Republic, from the Hofbrauhaus to the Rathaustor. “Otherwise no disturbance,” the police report stated.

The bright red poster announcing the meeting did not even mention Hitler’s name. The principal speaker of the evening was a true-blue nationalist spokesman, Dr. Johannes Dingfelder, a physician, who wrote in racist publications under the pseudonym of Germanus Agricola. He had developed an economic theory whose twistings bizarrely reflected the shortages of the postwar period. Nature would be going on a production strike, he pessimistically predicted; her yields would diminish, vermin would consume the remainder. Consequently, humanity was on the verge of doom. There was only one way out, a return to racial and national principles. That evening he conjured up this hope again, “quite objectively and often imbued with a profound religious spirit.” Thus the report of the Munich Political Intelligence Service.10

His growing reputation as a speaker solidified his position inside the party. By the beginning of the next year he had succeeded in making the refractory chairman, Harrer, resign. Soon afterward, the executive committee, though skeptical and worried about making itself ridiculous, followed the biddings of its ambitious propaganda chief and appealed to the masses. The party issued a call for its first mass meeting, to be held in the Festsaal of the Hofbrauhaus on February 24,1920.

Even before the end of 1919 the German Workers’ Party, at Hitler’s insistence, set up its headquarters in a dark, vaultlike cellar room in the Sternecker beer hall. The rent was fifty marks; in co-signing the lease Hitler again gave his occupation as “painter.” A table and a few borrowed chairs were placed in. the room, a telephone installed, and a safe obtained for the membership cards and the party treasury. Soon an old typewriter was added, and a rubber stamp to go with it: when Harrer noticed these beginnings of a veritable bureaucracy, he called Hitler a “megalomaniac.” At the same time Hitler had the executive committee expanded to, first, ten, later, twelve and more members. He brought in a number of followers personally devoted to him; quite often these were fellow soldiers whom he had won over in the barracks. Soon he was able to replace the party’s humble handwritten notes by printed invitations. At the same time the party began advertising in the Munchener Beobachter. Recruiting pamphlets and leaflets were left in the taverns where the party met. And Hitler in his propaganda tactics now began displaying that entirely unfounded selfassurance, all the more challenging because backed by no reality at all, which would frequently produce his successes in the future. He ventured something totally unusual—he began charging admission to the public meetings of this tiny, unknown party.

Soon after his entrance into the DAP Hitler set about transforming the timid, static group of club members into a noisy publicity-conscious party of struggle. He met opposition chiefly from Karl Harrer, who was wedded to the secret-society notions inherited from the Thule Society and would have liked to continue running the DAP as a little discussion circle. From the start Hitler thought in terms of a mass party. Partly, he could not think otherwise, because he had never been able to accept reduced circumstances, but partly also because he understood why the old conservative parties had failed. Harrer’s views were a survival, on an absurd scale, of that tendency to exclusiveness which had been the weakness of the bourgeois parties of notables during the Wilhelmine era. By now such an attitude had alienated the masses of the petty bourgeosie, and the working class as well, from the conservative position.

That moment signified—if any specific moment did—the breakthrough to himself, the “hammer-stroke of fate” that shattered the “shell of everyday life.” His sense of release is palpable in the ecstatic tone of his memories of that evening. To be sure, he had tested his oratorical powers repeatedly in the past several weeks, and had become acquainted with his own ability to persuade and convert. But this was the first time he experienced the subjective force of his oratory, the triumphant self-abandonment to the point of sweating and reeling with exhaustion. And as everything with him turned to excess—his fears, his self-confidence, or even his rapture at hearing Tristan for the hundredth time—he henceforth fell into a veritable oratorical fury. Aside from or alongside of all political passions, from now on it was this newly awakened craving for vindication on the part of the “poor devil,” as he calls himself in his recollections of the period,9 that drove him again and again to the speaker’s platform.

The other members had been at home in their small-time situation and were perfectly content to remain there. They were stunned when Hitler began pushing the “dull club” into the public view. October 16, 1919, proved a decisive day both for the German Workers’ Party and the new man on its executive committee. At the first public meeting, with 111 persons present, Hitler took the floor as the second speaker of the evening. For thirty minutes, in an ever more furious stream of verbiage, he poured out the hatreds that ever since his days in the home for men had been stored up within him or discharged only in fruitless monologues. As if bursting through the silence and human barriers of many years, the sentences, the delusions, the accusations came tumbling out. And at the end “the people in the small room were electrified.” He had found “what before I had simply felt within me, without in any way knowing it.” Jubilantly, he made the overwhelming discovery: “I could speak!”8

The results were meager at first. Every unfamiliar face that turned up at meetings was eagerly noted. Hitler’s success was due in considerable part to his being the only one in the organization with unlimited time at his disposal. His prestige rapidly increased in the seven-man party committee, which met once a week at a corner table in the Cafe Gasteig—later the object of worshipful veneration. The fact was that he had more ideas, was more adept and more energetic than the others in the executive committee.

The desire to evade the oppressive demands of duty and order in the respectable world, to put off the feared discharge into civilian life dictated all his actions as a returned soldier and gradually led him into the wings of the Bavarian political stage. He looked upon politics as the vocation of one who was without a vocation and wanted to remain so. Now at last he had a field of action that demanded no qualifications other than those he possessed: passion, imagination, organizational talent, and demagogic gifts. In the barracks he wrote and typed away indefatigably at invitations to meetings, which he then delivered personally. He asked for lists of names and addresses and spoke with the persons mentioned. He sought out connections, support, new members.

On the one hand, this is an example of Hitler’s trick of throwing a bit of dramatic lighting on turning points in his own career that only later became apparent as such. If the moment lacked any outward drama, he could at least portray the decision as the product of solitary, painful struggle. On the other hand, all available sources show him consistently, up to the very end, displaying a singular indecisiveness, a deep-seated fear of fixing on any one course. His later associates describe him as going through a wearing process of vacillation and changes of mind on many questions until he was so exhausted that he finally left things to chance and a toss of a coin. His cult of fate and Providence was a device to rationalize his indecisiveness. It might be said that all his personal and even some of his political decisions were nothing more than evasions, ways to escape alternatives he felt to be threatening. In any case, throughout his life, from his leaving school, his moves to Vienna and Munich, and his volunteering for the army, up to his step into politics, it is not hard to detect the escape motivation. The same is true for much of his behavior during the following years, right down to the hapless postponements of the very end.

For two days Hitler pondered, and as always when he reminisced about decisive situations in his life, he spoke of the strain of the decision and emphasized the “hard,” “difficult,” or “bitter” mental effort it cost him. It ended with his entering the German Workers’ Party as board member number 7, responsible for recruitment and propaganda. “After two days of agonized pondering and reflection, 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.”7

A few days later he received in the mail an unsolicited membership card bearing the number 555. Partly amused, partly annoyed, partly not knowing quite how to react, he decided to accept the invitation to attend a committee meeting. At the Altes Rosenbad tavern in the Herrenstrasse, “a very rundown place,” he found at a table in the back room “in the dim light of a broken-down gas lamp” several young people. While the tavernkeeper and his wife and one or two guests sat gloomily around in the other room, the group read the minutes “like the presiding committee of a Skat club.” They counted the club treasury (cash on hand: seven marks and fifty pfennigs). They approved the reports and drafted letters to similar associations in North Germany. All in all, “this was club life of the worst manner and sort.”

Nevertheless, Hitler waited for the discussion period, and when one of the visitors urged the separation of Bavaria from the Reich and her union with Austria, he rose in indignation: “I could not help demanding the floor.” He attacked the speaker so passionately that Drexler whispered to the locomotive engineer Lotter, who was sitting beside him: “Man, he has a big mouth; we could use him.” When Hitler, immediately after talking, turned to leave this “dull club,” Drexler hurried after him and asked him to come back soon. He pressed upon Hitler a pamphlet he had written titled My Political Awakening. Hitler has described how, lying in his bunk at the barracks early the following morning and watching the mice go after some crusts of bread he had thrown down for them, he began to read the pamphlet. In Drexler’s accounts of his life he recognized elements in his own experience: exclusion from jobs by union terrorism; earning a wretched living by semiartistic work (in Drexler’s case playing the zither in a night club); and, finally, the great illumination accompanied by feelings of intense anxiety—recognition of the role of the Jewish race as corrupters of the world. These parallels aroused Hitler’s interest, even though the person involved was a worker, as Hitler constantly reiterates.6

At the meeting of September 12, 1919, Gottfried Feder addressed the group on the subject: “How and by what means can capitalism be eliminated?” Among the forty-odd persons in the audience was Adolf Hitler, who was there on Captain Mayr’s instructions. While Feder was expatiating on his familiar theses, the guest noted that here was one more of those newly founded groups “like so many others” stifling “in their absurd philistinism.” Accordingly, “when Feder finally stopped talking, I was happy. I had seen enough.”

However philistine and intellectually confused the character of the party as a whole must appear, the first sentence of the “directives” contains an idea that embodied historical experience and a widespread need among the people. It shows that clumsy, crotchety Anton Drexler had grasped the spirit of the age. For the DAP defined itself as a classless “socialist organization led only by German leaders.” Drexler’s “inspired idea” was to reconcile nationalism and socialism. He was neither the only man, nor even the first, to attempt this, and his concern about children and cookpots was a simplistic notion that certainly could not compete with the impressive Marxist systems of historical interpretation. But the moment in which Drexler seized on the idea—in the midst of the emotional crisis of a defeated, insulted country challenged by revolution—and the fact that he happened to meet Adolf Hitler, placed both the idea and the backroom political party which espoused it squarely on the stage of world history.

Actually, the new party, which hereafter met once a week in the Sternecker beer hall, was very small potatoes. Drexler did occasionally manage to procure a few prominent racists or nationalists as speakers—such as Gottfried Feder or the writer Dietrich Eckart. But the tone of the „ group remained at a dreary, beer-drinking level. Significantly, it did not address itself to the public at all. It was less a political party in the proper sense than a combination, typical for the Munich of those years, of secret society and locals gathering at the pub for their evening pint. A dull and embittered craving for exchange of opinions had brought them together. The lists of participants mention between ten and forty persons. Germany’s shame, the trauma of the lost war, anti-Semitic grumblings, complaints concerning the downfall of order, justice, and morals—these were the themes of the meetings. The “directives” Drexler had read at the initial meeting reveal heartfelt if awkwardly worded resentments toward the rich, the proletarians and Jews, the price gougers and the rabble-rousers. The program called for annual profits being limited to 10,000 marks, for parity representation of the different states in the German Foreign Office, and the right of “skilled workers with a legal residence… to be counted in the middle class.” For happiness lay not “in talk and empty phrases in meetings, demonstrations and elections, but in good work, a full cookpot and a fair chance for the children.”

At the behest of the Thule Society, Karl Harrer, a sports journalist, together with a machinist named Anton Drexler, had, in October 1918, founded a “Political Workers Circle.” The group described itself as “an association of select persons for the purpose of discussing and studying political affairs.” In fact, it was intended as a bridge between the masses and the nationalistic Right. For a while the membership was limited to a very few of Drexler’s fellow workers. He himself was a quiet, square-set, rather strange man, employed at the Munich workshops of the Federal Railways. As early as March, 1918, this sober, bespectacled machinist had on his own initiative organized a “Free Workers Committee for a Good Peace,” whose program called for fighting usury and rallying the working class behind the war. He had turned against Marxist socialism for its failure to resolve the “national question” either in practice or theory. This, at any rate, was the theme of an article he published titled, “The Failure of the Proletarian International and the Shipwreck of the Idea of Fraternization.” The enthusiasm with which the socialists on both sides had supported the war in August, 1914, had certainly exposed this flaw. A similar perception had led to the founding, in 1904, of the German Workers’ Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei—DAP) by German-Bohemian workers in Trautenau. Now Anton Drexler revived that name and founded a party of his own. Its charter members were workmen from his own shop, and its first meeting took place on January 5, 1919, in the Fiirstenfelder Hof. A few days later, on the initiative of the Thule Society, another meeting was held in the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten, and a national organization for the party was created. Karl Harrer appointed himself “National Chairman.” It was an ambitious title.

Sebottendorf’s new Thule Society began its life by launching into violent anti-Semitic propaganda denouncing the Jews as the “mortal foe of the German people.” This was in January, 1918, while the war was still in progress. Later the Society could claim that the bloody and chaotic events of the soviet period were proof of its thesis. Its extravagant slogans contributed greatly to creating that atmosphere of obscene hatred in which racist radicalism could flourish. As early as October, 1918, groups within the Thule Society had forged plans for a rightist uprising. It instigated various assassination attempts against Kurt Eisner, and on April 13, 1918, attempted a putsch against the soviet regime. The Society also maintained connections with the Russian emigre circles that had made Munich their headquarters. A young Baltic student of architecture named Alfred Rosenberg, who had been profoundly affected by the trauma of the Russian Revolution, acted as liaison man. Almost all the actors who were to dominate the Bavarian scene in the following years belonged to the Society, including people who were to be prominent within Hitler’s party. In various connections we encounter the names of Dietrich Eckart, Gottfried Feder, Hans Frank, Rudolf Hess, and Karl Harrer.

A key center of conspiratorial and propagandistic activities, as well as a meeting ground for right extremists, was the Thule Society. Its headquarters was the luxury hotel Vier Jahreszeiten, and it had connections throughout Bavarian society. At times it counted some 1,500 influential members, and it, too, used the swastika as its symbol. Moreover, it controlled its own newspaper, the Munchener Beobachter. Its head was a political adventurer with a rather unsavory past and the sonorous name of Baron Rudolf von Sebottendorf, which he had acquired through adoption by an Austrian nobleman stranded in the Orient. Early in his life Sebottendorf had come under the influence of radical ideologues such as Theodor Fritsch and Lanz von Liebenfels, whose racist mania had also affected young Hitler. His Thule Society, founded in Munich at the beginning of 1918, was a successor to the racist anti-Semitic leagues of the prewar period and followed many of their traditions. Its name, in fact, went back to the Teutonic Thule Sect established in Leipzig in 1912, whose members had to be of “Aryan blood.” That group, rather like a lodge in its procedures, required candidates for admission to answer questions on the hirsuteness of various parts of their body. Candidates also had to present a footprint as evidence of their racial purity.

Four days after receiving this statement, on September 12, 1919, Captain Mayr ordered Hitler to visit one of the small parties among the bewildering array of radical associations and cliques that formed and fell apart with great rapidity, only to coalesce in new groupings. Here was a vast, unused reservoir of response for one seeking a following. The often weird doctrines of these groups showed the blind readiness of the petit bourgeois masses to seize on anything that let them vent their hatreds and promised some way out of social crisis.

And from this the following results: Anti-Semitism on purely emotional grounds will find its ultimate expression in the form of pogroms. The anti-Semitism of reason, however, must lead to the planned judicial opposition to and elimination of the privileges of the Jews…. Its ultimate goal, however, must absolutely be the removal of the Jews altogether. Only a government of national power and never a government of national impotence will be capable of both.5

And the facts are: First, Jewry is unequivocally a race and not a religious community. By thousands of years of inbreeding, frequently undertaken in the narrowest circles, the Jew in general has preserved his race and its peculiarity more keenly than many of the peoples among whom he lives. And thus results the fact that among us a non-German, alien race lives, not willing and also not able to sacrifice its racial peculiarities, to deny its own way of feeling, thinking and striving, and which nevertheless possesses all the political rights we do ourselves. If the Jew’s feelings move in purely material realms, even more so does his thinking and striving…. Everything that prompts man to strive for higher things, whether religion, socialism, democracy, all that is to him only a means to the end of satisfying his craving for money and dominance. The consequences of his activity become the racial tuberculosis of nations.

His aptitude for stringing together bits of ideas from things he had read and half digested and for presenting the result as his own without the slightest intellectual embarrassment, proved its value. One of his talks in Lechfeld repeated “in a very fine, clear and rousing” manner things which he had only recently learned from the class with Gottfried Feder on the relationships between capitalism and Jewry. His intellectual appropriations were as violent as they were lasting. From this period dates Hitler’s first written statement on a specific political question that has come down to us. The subject, significantly, was “the danger Jewry constitutes to our people today.” A former “liaison man” of Munich District Headquarters, Adolf Gemlich, had asked Captain Mayr for a position paper on the subject, and Mayr passed the latter on to his subordinate for reply—addressing him as “My Dear Herr Hitler,” an unusual salutation from a captain to a corporal. Hitler went into the subject at length, beginning with a condemnation of that emotional anti-Semitism which could be based only on chance personal impressions. The kind of anti-Semitism that aspired to become a political movement, he wrote, presupposed “knowledge of facts.”

In the barracks of Camp Lechfeld Hitler developed his gift for oratory and practical psychology. Here he learned to apply his ideological obsessions to current events so that the principles seemed to be irrefutably confirmed and the incidents of the day swelled to a portentous vastness. Some of the opportunistic features that later became incorporated into National Socialist ideology can be traced to this stage of Hitler’s career. As a beginner he was somewhat insecure and had to try out his various obsessions, discovering those that would strike a public response. He soon found what was most effective. “This theme kindled particular interest among the participants; that could be read in their faces,” a camp report on one of Hitler’s talks states. Hitler shared the powerful sense of disillusionment among the returning soldiers, who after years of war saw themselves cheated of everything that had lent greatness and importance to their young lives. They were now seeking explanations for so much wasted heroism, so many squandered victories, so much betrayed confidence. And Hitler offered them a concrete image of the mysterious enemy. His speaking style, we learn from other reports, was marked by “a popular manner,” an “easily comprehensible presentation,” and a passionate “fanaticism.” At the heart of these early speeches were attacks on the group whom he later, in a phrase that was to become a byword, called “the November criminals.” There were bitter denunciations of the “shame of Versailles” and corrupt “internationalism.” Linking it all up was the thesis that a “Jewish-Marxist world conspiracy” was operating in the background.

Here we already have a picture of the two faces of Hitler: powerfully convincing when carried away by his own rhetoric, bumbling and insignificant in personal confrontation. According to his own story, he had his first, never-to-be-forgotten oratorical triumph when “one of the participants felt obliged to break a lance for the Jews.” Muller had already called Captain Mayr’s attention to the natural orator he had discovered among his students. Now Hitler found himself detailed to a Munich regiment as the “liaison man” of District Command. Shortly afterward, his name appeared on a list of appointees for an “enlightenment squad” attached to the Lechfeld camp for returning soldiers. The squad was there to exert influence on the men, indoctrinating them with nationalistic, anti-Marxist ideas. In addition, the assignment was meant as a “practical course in speaking and agitation” for the squad members.4

In the strict sense, however, the real importance of the lecture course lay in the effect Hitler made with his vehemence and his particular cast of mind. Up to now his audience had consisted only of ignorant chance listeners. One of the teachers, the historian Karl Alexander von Muller, has described how at the end of the lecture, while the hall was emptying, he found his way blocked by a group that “stood fascinated around a man in their midst who was addressing them without pause and with growing passion in a strangely guttural voice. I had the strange feeling that the man was feeding on the excitement which he himself had whipped up. I saw a pale, thin face beneath a drooping, unsoldierly strand of hair, with close-cropped mustache and strikingly large, light blue eyes coldly glistening with fanaticism.” Called up to the platform after the next lecture, the man came up “obediently, with awkward movements, in a kind of defiant embarrassment, so it seemed to me.” But “the dialogue remained unfruitful.”

In his consistent effort to deny or underplay any influences upon his thinking, Hitler would later imply that this course was important for him not so much for the information it provided as for the contacts he made. “For me the value of the whole affair was that I now obtained an opportunity of meeting a few like-minded comrades with whom I could thoroughly discuss the situation of the moment.” But he admits that in the field of economic theory he learned something new. He attended the lectures of Gottfried Feder, a rightist engineer, and “for the first time in my life I heard a principled discussion of international stock exchange and loan capital.”3

Among the various activities organized by the propaganda department of the Group Command under bustling Captain Mayr was that course in “civic thinking” which Hitler had been sent to after he had done so well as an informant for the military tribunal. The classes were held at the university and were conducted by reliable nationalists. The object was to indoctrinate a select group of participants with certain historical, economic, and political theories.

These military groups appealed to the imagination of the public; they embodied something of the glory and security of previous times that were now only nostalgic memories. Bavarian Group Command IV was only expressing prevailing opinion when it issued a directive in June, 1919, referring to the Reichswehr as the “cornerstone” of any “meaningful reestablishment of all domestic affairs.” The parties of the Left made the naive mistake of thinking that the soldiers who had borne the brunt of the suffering shared their own hatred for war. The Right, however, began working on the soldiers’ injured pride and disappointed expectations. They launched a vigorous campaign to this effect.

In addition to the support of the administration and the government bureaucracy, these associations also enjoyed the favor of much of the population. In a society with a military tradition, cross-grained individuals acquire enormous credibility on moral and national issues as soon as they appear in uniform and march in step. Given the chaotic background, the military association appeared to be an exemplary counterpoise, representing a concept of life and order dear to everyone’s heart. Sternly erect, faultlessly in step, the units of Epp’s Free Corps had paraded down Ludwigstrasse, along with units of the Ehrhardt Brigade. The latter had brought back from its battles in the Baltic regions an emblem loudly proclaimed in the unit’s marching song: “With swastika on steel helmet.”

The private military bands that appeared everywhere soon transformed the country into a bivouac of brutish soldiery who wore the nimbus of political militancy and patriotism. Secure in the possession of machine guns, hand grenades, and cannon kept in an extensive network of secret arms depots, they profited by the impotence of the political institutions and claimed for themselves a considerable share of power—although the size of the share differed in the various regions. In Bavaria, in reaction to the traumatic experiences of the soviet period, they were able to pursue their ends almost unhindered. During the rule of the soviets, the Social Democratic government had called for “organizing the counterrevolution by all possible means.” With such official encouragement, the paramilitary movements sprang up alongside the Reichswehr, intertwined with it in various obscure ways. Colonel (later General) von Epp organized the free corps called the Einwohnerwehr (militia). There were also the Bund Oberland (Oberland League), the officers’ association Eiserne Faust (Iron Fist), the Escherich Organization, the Deutschvolkische Schutz-und Trutzbund (Defense and Defiance League of the German Race), the Verband Altreichsflagge (Flag of the Old Reich Association), the Bayreuth, Wurzburg, and Wolf Free Corps, and a variety of other organizations. Taken together, they represented an ambitious politico-military autonomous power averse to any return to normality.

The army officers of middle rank, action-hungry captains and majors, led the way in infusing new spirit into the bourgeoisie. They had enjoyed the war like a wine and were still intoxicated. Although they had often faced superior forces, they did not feel themselves defeated. Called to the aid of the government, they had tamed rebels and refractory soldiers’ councils and crushed the Bavarian soviets. On the unsecured eastern border of Germany they had stood guard against the Poles and Czechs. Then, as they saw it, the Versailles Treaty cutting the army down to 100,000 men had cheated them of their future, reduced their social status, and disgraced their nation. A combination of self-assurance and haplessness sent them into politics. Many of them clung to the glorious freedom of the soldier’s life or hated to give up the profession of arms and the company of males. With their knowledge of organization and the planned application of violence, they now set about combatting the revolution—which had long since been destroyed by the nation’s fears and craving for order.

For certain bourgeois groups the experiences of the early postwar months brought a new sense of confidence. For the short-lived revolution revealed the impotence and want of ideas of the German Left, which obviously had more revolutionary enthusiasm than revolutionary courage. The Left as represented by the Social Democrats had proved a force for order; but the leftists who attempted to introduce soviet rule in Bavaria proved to be visionaries who knew nothing about power and nothing about the people. During those months the bourgeoisie, or at any rate the calmer portion of it, for the first time realized that its fears were unjustified, that it could well hold its own beside the supposedly invincible but really naive German working class.

It was an experience that could not be forgotten. The arbitrary confiscations, the practice of seizing hostages, the curbs on the bourgeoisie, revolutionary whim, and increasing hunger accorded all too well with recent horror stories of the October Revolution in Russia and made so deep an imprint on the popular mind that the bloody atrocities committed by the units of the Reichswehr and Free Corps, which advanced on Munich at the beginning of May, faded into oblivion by contrast. The rightists murdered fifty released Russian prisoners of war near Puchheim, slaughtered a medical column of the soviet army near Starnberg, arrested twenty-one innocent members of a Catholic club in their Munich clubroom, took them to the jail on Karolinenplatz and shot them all down, likewise lined up and shot twelve innocent workmen from Perlach. In addition, there were the leaders of the soviet experiment who were beaten to death or shot: Kurt Eglhofer, Gustav Landauer, Eugen Levine. About these victims little was ever said. On the other hand, eight hostages—members of the conspiratorial radical rightist Thule Society—had been held in the cellar of the Luitpold Gymnasium. A minor functionary, reacting to the crimes of the rightist troops, had them liquidated. For years their memory was repeatedly invoked as an example of the horrors of the Red regime. Wherever the Reichswehr and Free Corps troops appeared, a contemporary diary notes, “the people wave cloths, applaud; everyone looks out the windows; the enthusiasm could not be greater…. Everyone is cheering.”2 Bavaria, the land of revolution, now became the land of counterrevolution.

For a month executive power was wielded by a Central Council (i.e., soviet) under Ernst Niekisch. Then a parliamentary government was formed. But at the beginning of April news came from Hungary that Bela Kun had seized power and proclaimed the dictatorship of the proletariat. Here was evidence that revolution could succeed outside Russia. Once more the uneasy stability of Bavaria was shaken. A minority of radical leftist enthusiasts, without a mass basis and against the clear will, traditions, and feelings of the public, cried, “Germany is next!” and proclaimed a soviet republic. The poets Ernst Toller and Erich Muhsam, in a decree all too revealing of their romanticism, unworldliness, and weakness as leaders, announced the transformation of the world “into a meadow full of flowers in which each man can pick his share.” Work, subordination, and legalistic thinking were to be abolished. The newspapers were to print ps by Holderlin or Schiller on the front page alongside the latest revolutionary decrees. The government retreated to Bamberg; Ernst Niekisch and most of the ministers resigned; and the leaderless state was left to the muddled gospel of the poets, who soon found themselves supplanted by a group of hard-boiled professional revolutionaries. Chaos and terrorizing of the citizenry followed.

It was a senseless, superfluous, and disastrous crime. Only a few hours later, during a memorial service for the victim, a radical leftist butcher and waiter named Alois Lindner forced his way into the Landtag and, firing wildly, shot down three persons, including a government minister. The horrified assemblage scattered in panic. But public opinion now took a great swing to the left. Coming so soon after the assassinations of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, the murder of Eisner appeared to be the act of reactionary conspirators bent on regaining their lost power. A state of emergency was imposed on Bavaria, and a general strike proclaimed. When part of the student body hailed Arco-Valley as a hero, the university was closed. Large numbers of hostages were taken, a rigorous censorship introduced, banks and public buildings occupied by Red Army men. Armored cars drove through the streets, swarming with soldiers who blared through bullhorns “Revenge for Eisner!”

Though he took issue with the extremist leaders of the Spartacists and other such agents of world revolution as Lewien, Eugen Levine, and Axelrod, though he repudiated the anarchistic ravings of the writer Erich Muhsam, and made at least verbal concessions to the separatist sentiments so widespread in Bavaria, none of these moves to the middle could improve his situation. At a socialist conference in Berne he was so impolitic that he spoke of German guilt for the outbreak of the war, and at once found himself the target of an organized campaign. There were loud cries for his elimination and dark threats to the effect that time was running out for him. A staggering electoral defeat shortly afterward forced him to resign. On February 21, as he was on his way to the Landtag to declare his resignation, he was shot in the back and killed by a twenty-two-year-old count, Anton von Arco-Valley.

But whatever chances Eisner may have had were nullified by the weakness and inconsistency of the American President and by the hatred of the rightists. Their vilification of the “foreign, racially alien vagabond” and “Schwabing Bolshevist” has lived on to this day.1 In fact neither he nor a single one of the other new leaders was Bavarian by birth; they were conspicuous types of the antibourgeois and often Jewish intellectual. And in racially conscious Bavaria that sealed the fate of the revolutionary government. Moreover, the barrage of naive spectacle with which Eisner treated the populace, the incessant demonstrations, public concerts, parades of flags, and inspiring speeches about the “realm of light, beauty and reason” did little to consolidate his position. The way he carried out his office evoked as much ridicule as bitterness. Eisner certainly did not win the affection he had hoped for from his “government by kindness.” His utopian promises expressed in broad philosophical terms, which seemed so good on paper, proved hollow at the first puff of reality.

No other city in Germany had been so shaken by the events and emotions of the revolution and the first postwar weeks as excitable Munich. On November 7, 1918—two days before anything happened in Berlin—the zeal of a few leftists had toppled the thousand-year-old Wittelsbach dynasty. To their own surprise the insurgents found themselves in power. Under the leadership of Kurt Eisner, a bearded bohemian and theater critic of the Munchener Post, they had tried—in all too complete faith in Woodrow Wilson’s statements—“to prepare Germany for the League of Nations” by a revolutionary change of conditions and “to obtain a peace which will save the country from the worst.”

He was waiting for his cue. The question was whether the party could preserve, over the long pull, its dynamism, its hopes, its conception of its aims, and its image of the chosen leader—the whole system of fictions and credulities on which it was founded. In an analysis of the May, 1928, elections Otto Strasser had complained that “National Socialism’s tidings of redemption” had not caught the ear of the masses and that the party had failed to make any inroads into the proletarian circles. In fact, the party’s following consisted chiefly of lower-grade white-collar workers, artisans, some farm groups, and young people inclined to romantic protest—the advance guard of those classes of the German population who were especially susceptible to the rousing music of “an ordinary military band.”

But Hitler understood things much more keenly. In a speech given during this brief happy period in the history of the republic, he remarked on the psychology of the Germans: “We have a third value: our fighting spirit. It is there, only buried under a pile of foreign theories and doctrines. A great and powerful party goes to a lot of trouble to prove the opposite, until suddenly an ordinary military band comes along and plays. Then the straggler comes to, out of his dreamy state; all at once he begins to feel himself a comrade of the marching men, and joins their columns. That’s the way it is today. Our people only have to be shown this better course—and you’ll see, we’ll start marching.”39

Yet such remarks seemed mere rhetorical taunts. The NSDAP remained a splinter party given to outre gestures. But Hitler himself, sure of his ground, his cadres ready for action, waited coolly for a new radicalization of the masses. Once conditions had brought that about, he would be able to make the breakthrough and transform his following into a mass party. In spite of all his organization bustle, he had so far not managed to emerge from the shadow of the republic, which by now was functioning competently, if without any special brilliance. It sometimes seemed as if the nation were at last ready to make its peace with the republic, to accept the gray dullness of Weimar and be reconciled to the ordinariness of history. The Reichstag election had, it is true, revealed a degree of disintegration going on in the bourgeois center, as manifested by the rise of many splinter parties. The Nazi party, moreover, could now count 150,000 members. But at the beginning of 1929 the Bonn sociologist Joseph A. Shumpeter spoke of the “impressive stability in our social conditions” and concluded: “In no sense, in no area, in no direction, are eruptions, upheavals or disasters probable.”

On May 20, 1928, a new Reichstag was elected. The NSDAP placed ninth, with 2.6 per cent of the votes, winning twelve seats. Among its deputies were Gregor Strasser, Gottfried Feder, Goebbels, Frick, and Hermann Goring, who in the interval had returned home from Sweden bringing with him a wealthy wife and extensive connections. Hitler himself, being “stateless,” had not been a candidate. But with his remarkable capacity for turning his embarrassments and disabilities to advantage, he used this circumstance to reinforce his pose of the unique leader who refused to make any concessions to the despised parliamentary system and stood far above the scramble, the deals and greeds of daily life. If he had decided to let the party participate in the elections—a decision taken only after long vacillation—it had been partly out of the desire to get a share in the privileges of Reichstag deputies. Sure enough, a week after the elections Goebbels wrote an article that cast quite another light on the party’s pretense to legalism: “I am not a member of the Reichstag. I am an HOI. A Holder of Immunity. An HORP. A Holder of a Railroad Pass. What do we care about the Reichstag? We have been elected against the Reichstag, and we will exercise our mandate in the interests of our employer…. An HOI is allowed to call a dungheap a dungheap and does not have to use such euphemisms as ‘government.’ ” Goebbels concluded this amazing confession with: “This startles you, does it? But don’t think we’re finished yet…. You’ll have lots more fun with us before it’s over. Just wait till the comedy begins.”

Hitler felt his chance would come as leader of an inconspicuous but rigorously organized party. Personally, he saw no reason for discouragement, for in establishing his hold over the party he had made important progress. Henceforth, the party sometimes referred to itself officially as the “Hitler movement.” Without significant support from influential patrons and powerful institutions, the movement was now proving that if it could not win, it could at least survive on its own resources.

Shortly afterward, a meeting was convoked that had not been organized in the form by then becoming customary: a briefing session in which Hitler simply issued commands. During the discussion Hitler sat silent, with a markedly bored or sardonic expression, gradually creating such a sense of paralysis and futility that the meeting wound to an end in general resignation. One of the participants later conjectured that Hitler had permitted the meeting to be held only in order to show how his indifference could ruin it.

Faced with these rumblings within the party, Hitler canceled the planned party rally for 1928 and instead convoked a meeting of the leaders in Munich. He forbade all preparatory local meetings, and when he opened the session on August 31 he delivered a highly charged speech in praise of obedience and discipline. Only totally committed elites could constitute a “historic minority,” he declared, and thus shape history. To remain operative, the NSDAP must have at most 100,000 members: “That is a number to work with!” All the rest must be followers, rallying around and serving the purposes of the party only in specific cases. Scornfully, he dismissed a motion to elect a “senate” to aid him. He did not think much of advisers, he said. The motion had been offered by Gauleiter Artur Dinter of Thuringia; he had Dinter removed from his post and soon afterward expelled from the party. There had, it is true, been some background to this seemingly arbitrary action. Hitler had previously had a correspondence with Gauleiter Dinter in which he announced that as a politician he “claimed infallibility” and “had the blind faith that he would some day belong among those who make history.”

Hitler’s personal conduct also met with criticism, particularly his arrogance toward tried-and-true party comrades. One old party man objected to “the much-discussed wall around Herr Hitler.” There were murmurings about Hitler’s negligent conduct of party business and his jealousy complex in regard to his niece. In the early summer of 1928, when his chauffeur Emil Maurice surprised him in Geli Raubal’s room, Hitler raised his riding whip in such threatening fury that Maurice saved himself only by leaping out the window. With “unconditional devotion” the chairman of the Investigation and Mediation Committee, Walter Buch finally felt compelled to express his view “that you, Herr Hitler, are gradually falling into a degree of misanthropy that causes me worry.”38

That Hitler could speak again did not remove the difficulties of the party. Yet Hitler himself, it now appeared, had gained rather than lost by the ban. For he had been tided over the period of general amused indifference, when meeting halls would have remained empty and his name and message would have only become a bore. He soon realized this and behaved accordingly, In 1927 he spoke in public fifty-six times; two years later he had reduced his public appearances to twenty-nine. There are indications that at this period he began to see the advantages of living in semidivine remoteness. The moment he returned to the masses, he was competing with the overpowering force of unfavorable circumstances. Failures began to pile up, and with this came criticism from within the party. It was directed equally against his style of leadership and against the stringently maintained policy of legality. Even Goebbels, so embarrassingly subservient to Hitler and one of the prophets of the Fuhrer cult, assailed the strictly legal course in his 1927 pamphlet, Der Nazi-Sozi. Answering the question of what the party should do if its efforts to obtain a majority failed, Goebbels broke out with: “What then? Then we’ll clench our teeth and get ready. Then we’ll march against this government; then we’ll dare the last great coup for Germany; then revolutionaries of the word will become revolutionaries of the deed. Then we’ll make a revolution!”

Hitler steps swiftly to the front of the stage. He speaks without a manuscript, at first in a slow, emphatic way; later the words come tumbling forth, and in passages spoken with exaggerated emotion his voice becomes thin and high and ceases to be intelligible. He gesticulates with arms and hands, jumps agitatedly about, and is bent on fascinating the thousands in the audience, who listen with close attention. When applause interrupts him, he raises his hands theatrically. This protest, which occurs frequently in the later course of the speech, strikes a histrionic note, and indeed is deliberately overplayed. The oratorical performance in itself… did not strike this observer as anything remarkable.37

Amid roars of welcome from the spectators, the brownshirts now march into the hall in rank and file, led by two rows of drummers and then the flag. The men salute in the manner of the Fascists, with outstretched arms. The audience cheers them. On the stage Hitler has similarly stretched out his arm in salute. The music surges up. Flags move past, glittering standards with swastikas inside the wreath and with eagles, modeled on the ancient Roman military standards. Perhaps about two hundred men file past. They fill the arena and stand at attention while the flag-bearers and standard-bearers people the stage….

It is now half past eight. From the entrance come roars of Heil. Brownshirts march in, the band plays, the crowd cheers noisily. Hitler appears in a brown raincoat, walks swiftly, accompanied by his retinue, the whole length of the circus and up to the stage. The people gesticulate in happy excitement, wave, continually shout Heil, stand on the benches, stamp their feet thunderously. Then comes a trumpet blast, as in the theater. Sudden silence.

Meanwhile the ranks are filling. “We have to make it like the old days!” people are saying. The arena fills…. Most of the spectators belong to the lower economic groups, workers, small artisans, small tradesmen. Many youths in windbreakers and knee socks. Few, hardly any, representatives of the radical working class are to be seen. The people are well dressed; some men are even in evening dress. The crowd in the circus, which is nearly entirely filled, is estimated at seven thousand persons.

The people on the benches are excited and filled with anticipation. They talk about Hitler, about his former oratorical triumphs at the Krone Circus. The women, who are present in great numbers, still seem to be enthusiastic about him…. There is a craving for sensation in the hot, insipid air. The band plays rousing marches while fresh crowds keep pouring in. The Volkische Beobachter is hawked about. At the ticket office each visitor is given a copy of the Program of the National Socialist Workers’ Party, and at the entrance a slip is pressed into everyone’s hand warning against reacting to provocations and emphasizing the need to maintain order. Small flags are sold: “Welcoming flags, 10 pfennig apiece.” They are either black-white-red or entirely red, and show the swastika. The women are the best customers.

The circus is considerably more than half filled by ten minutes past seven. From the stage hangs the red swastika flag. The stage is reserved for prominent party members and the speaker. The seats in the boxes also seem to be reserved for special party members, since they are assigned by brownshirts. A band has assembled on the platform. No other decorations were to be seen.

In the spring of 1927 the governments of Saxony and Bavaria, no longer nervous about the Nazi party, decided to lift the ban on speeches by the party leader. Hitler readily gave the requested assurances that he would not pursue any unlawful goals or use any unlawful means. But speak he would, and glaring red posters announced that at eight o’clock in the evening of March 9 Adolf Hitler would once again, for the first time since the ban, address the people of Munich at the Krone Circus. The police report on the meeting reveals how deep an impression the event made on the informant himself:

To the outside world, such pronouncements added to the aura of dementia surrounding the man. As at the beginning of his career, the reputation of being a queer duck preceded him. It was hard for people to take him seriously; one theory was that his odd traits sprang from the colorful idiosyncrasies of Bavarian politics. The style he cultivated often aroused ridicule. Thus, for example, he made an object of veneration of the flag that had been carried on the march to the Feldherrnhalle; it was called the “Blood Banner” and whenever other standards were consecrated, they were touched with the tip of this Blood Banner. Presumably mystical forces flowed on contact. Party members to whose radically pure pedigree he wanted to pay tribute might find themselves addressed, in letters, as Euer Deutschgeboren, a form of address roughly equivalent to “Your German-born Worship.” But other activities suggested that the Nazi party was pursuing its goals with seriousness and determination. At the end of 1926 the party set up a speakers’ school to give its followers the techniques and information needed for effective public speaking. By the end of 1932 this school had, according to its records, trained some 6,000 speakers.

The preceding amateur performance of a skit titled Redemption had prepared the way for his appearance by dramatizing the present “misery and bondage.” As the Volkische Beobachter described the action: “The rising star of Christmas Eve pointed to the Redeemer; the parting curtain now showed the new redeemer who will save the German people from shame and misery—our Leader Adolf Hitler.”

By means of a succession of strained-sounding appeals, he kept the party together in spite of the divergent forces tugging it every which way. He turned a deaf ear to those dissatisfied with the legal course he had chosen. The consolidation of the republic did not mislead him into the shortsighted conclusions many of his followers came to. His instinct for the frangible allowed him to nurse his plans patiently. In characteristic fashion he used the very obstacles the party was encountering, the very hopelessness of its predicament, to bolster his belief in ultimate success: “In this very fact is to be found the absolute, or rather, the mathematically calculable reason for the future victory of our movement,” he told his followers. “As long as we are a radical movement, as long as public opinion proscribes us, as long as momentary circumstances in the country are against us—just so long will we continue to gather around us the most valuable human material, even in times when, as people say, rational arguments are against us.” At a Christmas party given by a Munich section of the NSDAP he raised morale by comparing the woes of the party with the situation of the early Christians. National Socialism, he went on-—sustaining the parallel because he had been carried away by his own bold image and the Christmas mood of the gathering—would “translate the ideals of Christ into deeds.” He, Hitler, would complete “the work which Christ had begun but could not finish.”

In order to increase his income, Hitler joined with the photographer Heinrich Hoffmann—to whom he had granted virtually exclusive rights to pictures of him—to found a picture magazine, the Illustrierte Beobachter, to which he henceforth contributed an article in every issue. In the summer of 1928, in the very middle of this period of waiting, planning, and keeping still, he began writing another book, setting forth the ideas of foreign policy he had been developing. This, however, remained unpublished during his lifetime.

In September, 1926, he declared himself incapable of paying his taxes and spoke repeatedly of his sizable bank debts. Years later, he occasionally recalled this period in which he was constantly strapped for money and said that at times he had lived on nothing but apples. His Munich home on Thierschstrasse, sublet from the widow Reichert, was in fact unostentatious: a small, scantily furnished room whose floor was covered with worn linoleum.

Hitler’s tax declarations, found after the war, indicate that these expenditures considerably exceeded his reported income—and that the Treasury was not unaware of this fact. In a letter to the tax collectors reminiscent, in its whimpering slyness, of his appeal to the authorities of Linz after he had been tracked down as a draft dodger, he maintained that he was without funds and insisted on the modesty of his life style: “Nowhere do I possess property or other capital assets that I can call my own. I restrict of necessity my personal wants so far that I am a complete abstainer from alcohol and tobacco, take my meals in most modest restaurants, and aside from my minimal apartment rent make no expenditures that are not chargeable to my expenses as a political writer…. Also the automobile is for me but a means to an end. It alone makes it possible for me to accomplish my daily work.”36

At any rate, his publishing income allowed him to buy the property on Obersalzberg. Frau Bechstein helped him with the furnishing; the Wagners in Bayreuth donated linens and china and later sent a set of the Master’s collected works, together with a page from the original score of Lohengrin. At about the same time Hitler spent 20,000 marks to acquire a six-seater, supercharged open Mercedes that satisfied both his taste for technology and his love of display.

It was obvious that the times were countering the efforts of the Nazis. Hitler himself lived largely in retirement at Obersalzberg, often virtually invisible for weeks. But his withdrawal was proof that he felt himself unassailable within the party. Now and then, at shrewdly calculated intervals, he brought his authority to bear, issuing a reprimand or a threat. Occasionally he went on trips to cultivate contacts or to find contributors. On December 10, 1926, the second volume of Mein Kampf came out; but it, too, failed to bring him the smashing success he had expected. In 1925 almost 10,000 copies of the first volume had been sold, and in the following year nearly 7,000. But in 1927 the sale of the entire two-volume work dropped to 5,607, and in 1928 the figure was only 3,015.35

The government, meanwhile, had successfully continued the stabilization efforts of 1923–24. A new reparations agreement, the Treaty of Locarno, the acceptance of Germany into the League of Nations, the Kellogg Pact, and finally some degree of reconciliation between Germany and France (based initially on the personal factor of the two Foreign Ministers’—Stresemann and Briand—respect for one another, but supported by a growing public mood)—all these factors indicated that the trend of the times was toward relaxation of tensions, a trend to which the strained radicalism of the Nazis was directly opposed. Large American loans had meant an increase in Germany’s indebtedness, but at the same time had made possible large investments for the rationalization and modernization of the economy. German production indices between 1923 and 1928 showed rises greater than those of all other European countries in virtually every sector of the economy. What is more, in spite of the losses in territory, production surpassed the prewar achievements of the country. In 1928 national income was some 12 per cent higher than in 1913; improvement in social conditions had been considerable; and unemployment had been reduced to approximately 400,000.

The grand demonstration in the Luitpoldhain, on the outskirts of Nuremberg, featured an “address by the Fuhrer.” In conclusion, twelve standards were solemnly dedicated. Then, in the market place, Hitler sat in his open car, arm stiffly outstretched, reviewing the marching contingents. The Nazi press spoke of a parade of 30,000; the Volkische Beobachter magnified that figure to 100,000; but more sober estimates did not go beyond 15,000 marchers. Some women and girls, who had appeared in fanciful brown costumes, were not allowed to participate in the march past Hitler.

The central office, however, complained that some thirty local party groups (there were about 200) had failed to order posters for the August, 1927, party rally, and generally deplored the difficulties it encountered in organizing mass meetings. This contributed to Hitler’s decision to hold the 1927 annual party rally for the first time against the backdrop of the ancient imperial city of Nuremberg, where, as in Bamberg, Julius Streicher provided a further attraction. By now Hitler’s staging had improved immensely; his touch could be felt in all the proceedings that dramatized with such eclat the movement’s coherence and belligerency. After it, one of his followers called him a “wizard in leadership of the masses.” With benefit of hindsight we can in fact see in this rally first elements of what later developed into a pompous ritual. The storm troopers and the party units from all the regions of Germany arrived in special trains, with their flags, pennants, and bands. Included, too, were many delegations from foreign countries, and the Hitler Youth, founded the previous year, also marched for the first time. The uniforming of the party, which in Weimar had still been hit and miss, had by now become standardized. Gerhard Rossbach had obtained a supply of brown shirts from old militia stocks and had introduced them into the SA. Hitler thought them exceedingly ugly, but even he now wore one.

Yet this shadow government and swollen party bureaucracy were a form of impatient snatching at the future, efforts to anticipate reality. Endless meetings were held. In 1925 alone, according to a count of Hitler’s, the party could boast of almost 2,400 demonstrations. But the public showed only sluggish interest. All the noise, the brawls, the battle for headlines yielded only meager results. During those years of the Weimar Republic’s gradual consolidation, when in Goebbels’s phrase the Nazi party could not claim even its opponents’ hatred, Hitler himself sometimes seemed to doubt ultimate success. At such times he would escape from reality into one of his grand, breathtaking prospects and transfer his faith to the distant future: “Perhaps another twenty or a hundred years may pass before our idea is victorious. Those who believe in the idea today may die—what does any one person amount to in the evolution of the race, of humanity?” In different moods he saw himself leading the great war of the future. Sitting before a plate of pastries in the Cafe Heck he said to Captain Stennes in a loud voice: “And then, Stennes, after we have won the victory, we’ll build a Victory Boulevard, from Doberitz to the Brandenburg Gate, sixty meters wide, lined on the right and the left by trophies and war booty.”34

By such means Hitler’s personality increasingly dominated and determined the structures of the party. In fact, the bureaucracy itself mirrored aspects of his personal history. The bureaucratic passion that expressed itself in the proliferation of departments, the craze for titles, and the meaningless departmental functions hearkened back to the complicated officialdom of Imperial Austria, to which Hitler’s father, albeit humbly, belonged. The prevalence of arbitrary subjectivity pointed to Hitler’s past in the lawless and freebooting veterans’ associations. The megalomaniac tendencies of his youth came to the surface again in the fantastically exaggerated scale of the bureaucracy. So did his craving for inflated display; he invented high-sounding labels for offices that scarcely existed except in his imagination.

In principle, there were no restrictions whatsoever upon the absolute power of the Fuhrer. Early in 1928 Albert Krebs, gauleiter of Hamburg, having had differences with others in the district, submitted his resignation. Hitler initially refused to accept the resignation. In a magnificently circumstantial report he made the point that the confidence of the membership could neither grant nor rescind positions of power within the party. These depended solely on the confidence of the Fuhrer. He alone praised merit, reproved failure, mediated, thanked, or forgave. Only after this elaborate exposition did Hitler accept the resignation of Krebs.

In spite of its mania for bureaucracy, the National Socialist government was highly personal. At crucial moments, administrative rulings and bureaucratic channels had little bearing; subjective factors decided the issue. Positions within the party hierarchy were defined less by actual rank than by the signs of favor the holders enjoyed. Similarly, all standards were subject to arbitrary change, at the mercy of whim. High above all else stood the “will of the Fuhrer”—the basic fact of the constitution, supreme and unassailable. He impulsively followed his inspirations. He installed and dismissed the party’s lesser leaders and employees, determined candidatures and electoral lists, regulated the income of underlings and even supervised their private lives.

Later, in a secret statement made in 1940, Goebbels boasted that when Nazism came to power in 1933, “it had only to transfer its organization, its intellectual and spiritual principles, to the State,” for it had already been “a state within the State,” which had “prepared everything and considered everything.” That was a gross exaggeration. Nevertheless, it is true that the Nazi party was better prepared for its claim to power than any other totalitarian party. The Reichsleiters and the gauleiters put on the airs of cabinet ministers long before 1933. On public occasions the SA usurped the functions of the police without asking anyone’s leave. Quite often, Hitler, as leader of the “opposition government” contrived to be represented by a personal observer at international conferences. The same polemical principle underlay the wide display of the party symbols. The swastika was represented as the insignia of the true, honorable Germany. The Horst Wessel song became the anthem of the shadow government, while brown shirts, medals, and badges, as well as the party’s memorial days, promoted a sense of togetherness in those irreconcilably opposed to the existing government.

From 1926 on, moreover, a host of auxiliary party organizations were set up: National Socialist Leagues of doctors, lawyers, students, teachers, and civil servants. Even gardening and poultry raising had their place in the network of bureaus and subdivisions. In 1927 the creation of a women’s SA was briefly considered but then rejected. The following year, however, the Red Swastika, which later became the Nazi women’s organization, was formed to receive the growing hordes of sharply politicized women and assign them a place—largely limited to practical works of mercy—in the men’s party, which at this time was still heavily homosexual.

To this period belong the first efforts toward formation of a shadow government. Soon Gregor Strasser, who had been appointed Reich organization leader, took charge of this operation and pushed it vigorously. In Mein Kampf Hitler had already called for a movement geared for the coming overturn, because it would “already contain the future government within itself” and, moreover, would “be able to place the perfected body of its own government at the disposal” of the state. In these terms, the party posts also served as alternatives to the “Weimar mis-State,” challenging the republic’s authority and legitimacy in the name of the allegedly unrepresented people. The departments of the shadow government were set up to correspond with the state bureaucracy; thus the Nazi party had departments for foreign policy, justice, and defense. Other departments dealt with the favorite themes of Nazi policy: public health and race, propaganda, resettlement, and agrarian policy. They rehearsed their role in a new government with proposals and draft legislation marked to a large extent by bold amateurishness.

Along with the party organization there now grew up a full-fledged bureaucracy, divided into numerous departments. The Nazi party was rapidly sloughing off its small-town club aspect—which it had retained even during its stormy early phase as a putschist party. Though Hitler’s personal life and working habits were anything but organized, he was childishly proud of the triple registration system for party members and reported with fervor on the acquisition of modern office equipment, filing cabinets, and the like. In place of the primitive master-sergeant bureaucracy of the early years, an extensive network of new bureaus and subdivisions was established; in one year, 1926, the space in the Munich central party office was expanded three times. Before long, this apparatus surpassed even the fabulous bureaucracy of the Social Democratic Party. Its size was altogether disproportionate to the small number of the NSDAP’s membership, which increased quite slowly. For Hitler himself seemed to want to build up the party in the form of a small, tough kernel of specialists in propaganda and violence. He repeatedly stressed that an organization of 10 million people was necessarily peaceable and could not be set in motion of its own accord; only fanatical minorities would be able, to move it. Of the 55,000 members the party had had in 1923, it had won back only half by the end of 1925. A year later the membership amounted to somewhat more than 108,000. But the seemingly swollen bureaucracy would be useful for the future mass party in which Hitler continued to believe with absolute confidence. What is more, the great number of party offices provided him with varied possibilities for patronage and for dividing the power of others, thus extending and securing his own.

Along with these efforts at expansion, Hitler began upon a gradual but consistent strengthening of the internal party organization. He aimed at a coherent, centralized command structure under a single charismatic leader. The hierarchic chain of authority, the strict tone with which all orders and instructions came down from the top, and the growing practice of wearing uniforms underlined the paramilitary character of a party whose leadership had been molded by the war. That leadership, as Goebbels once phrased it, had to be ready to obey “the slightest pressure with all its limbs at the decisive moment.” The restrictions and governmental controls to which the party was subject merely furthered these aims—as in general the awareness of the outside world’s hostility tautened the apparatus and furthered Hitler’s drive for total leadership. It was easy now for Munich headquarters to impose its will on even the lowest branches of the party. In the first editions of Mein Kampf Hitler had made some slight concessions to democratic elements; in subsequent editions he revised these passages, laying stress, instead, on “Germanic democracy” and the “principle of unconditional authority of the Fuhrer.” In the party, similarly, he now warned local groups against holding “too many membership meetings,” which would only constitute “a source of disputes.”

Cold-blooded, a master of sophistry and emotional manipulation, Goebbels started a new era in demagoguery, whose potentialities under modern conditions he perceived and exploited with unique success. To gain attention for the little-known Berlin party organization, he set up a ferocious band of toughs, who were continually instigating meeting-hall battles, brawls, and shootouts. These—in the words of a police report on a bloody battle with Communists at the Lichterfelde-Ost railroad station in March, 1927—put “anything seen previously into the shade.”33 By these tactics Goebbels was undoubtedly risking a ban on the Nazi party in Berlin—which came soon enough. But his followers were acquiring a sense of martyrdom and solidarity. At any rate, the Berlin organization emerged from unimportance and in the course of time was able to make considerable breaches in the massive walls of so-called Red Berlin.

With Goebbels as gauleiter of Berlin, things went from bad to worse for the already shattered power of the Left in northern Germany. The unsuspecting Strasser had supported the appointment of his supposed ally against the opposition of such Munich party dignitaries as Hess and Rosenberg. But Goebbels seemed to have had a keener grasp of Hitler’s secret intentions. At any rate, he was soon openly warring with his recent cronies. He staged brawls and started a rival newspaper, Der Angriff [“The Attack”], directed against the Strasser brothers. He even spread rumors that they were of Jewish descent and had been bought by finance capital. Gregor Strasser, remembering how he had been taken in by Goebbels, later branded himself “a dopey super-idiot.”

However, Hitler knew how to make Goebbels his man. He gave him special powers that were not only designed to strengthen the new gauleiter’s position but to create areas of friction with Strasser. For example, Hitler explicitly withdrew Goebbels from subordination to Strasser, while on the other hand subordinating the SA to Goebbels, although everywhere else the SA was jealously defending its independence from the Gauleiters. In order to placate Strasser, or at any rate to soften his resistance, Hitler promoted him to the post of Reich propaganda leader of the party. But in order to make the conflict between Goebbels and Strasser inevitable and permanent, he made Goebbels autonomous in the field of propaganda also. Goebbels’s erstwhile friends and party comrades thereupon charged him with shameful treachery—but in the short or long run all these leftist Nazi factionalists committed exactly the same treachery—unless, like the Strasser brothers, they chose expulsion, exile, or death.

At this juncture Hitler decided to clean up the untenable state of affairs in Berlin. His move was a masterly one, for he made use of the crisis to shake the local party organization free of the influence of Gregor Strasser. He also stole away Strasser’s most capable adherent, for he appointed Joseph Goebbels new gauleiter of the capital. As early as July that ambitious rebel, under the impact of a magnanimous invitation to Munich and Berchtesgaden, had developed strong doubts about his radical leftist convictions. In his diary he now described Hitler, whom he had reviled so often, as “a genius… the naturally creative instrument of a divine destiny.” He confided: “I stand before him deeply moved. This is how he is: like a child, lovable, good, merciful. Like a cat, cunning, prudent and agile; like a lion, roaringly great and gigantic. A hell of a fellow; a man… He pampers me like a child. My kindly friend and master!”32 Yet raptures such as these are still accompanied by compunctions. Opportunist though Goebbels was, he was uneasy about his defection from Strasser, for he went on to say of the latter: “I suppose in the end he cannot follow along with his mind. With his heart, always. Sometimes I love him dearly.”

The style of the Berlin SA was particularly mutinous. Its auxiliary organizations went their own way, frequently marked by criminal tendencies and gangster behavior. The Berlin gauleiter, Dr. Schlange, could do nothing to control the storm troopers. In fact, there were instances of fist fights between the Berlin leaders of the Political Organization and the SA. But the hullabaloo was somewhat out of proportion to the size of the Berlin branch of the Nazi party. Its membership was below 1,000 and only began to attract some attention after the Strasser brothers had started building up their newspaper in the city early in the summer of 1926. “The situation within the party this month has not been a good one,” a report noted in October, 1926. “Things have reached such a pass in our district [gau] that complete shattering of the Berlin organization may be imminent. The tragedy of the gau is that it has never had a real leader.”

But the attempt to transform the SA into an unarmed host of propagandists and to give to it the glamour but not the arrogance of the military remained on the whole a failure. Despite all his efforts, Hitler never really succeeded in shaping it into an obedient instrument for his political aims. The reason was only in part the rough cut-and-thrust temperament, the raw mercenary spirit of these perpetual soldiers. Another explanation lay in the traditions of a country that assigned special moral prerogatives to the military as opposed to the civilian, political authorities. Pfeffer’s re-educational slogans could never change the fact that the SA considered itself the “Fighting Movement” in contrast to the Political Organization (PO). It viewed the PO as merely the talking branch of the party, and contemptuously spoke the initials as “P-Nought.” In line with this attitude, the SA regarded itself as “the crown of our organization.” With a scathing glance at the “parliamentary” parties, the spokesmen for the SA declared: “One thing they can’t copy from us is our SA man.” On the other hand, those parliamentary parties escaped the permanent difficulties in which the NSDAP was embroiled because of its party army. The trouble was that the World War I officers and soldiers, with their heavy baggage of complexes, could not be expected to execute the delicate balancing acts required of the other servile members of the master race. Only the next generation was able to do that. Soon Hitler began quarreling with Pfeffer, who proved to be as unmanageable as Rohm. In fact, more so, for he did not have Rohm’s streak of sentimentality. He was not impressed by Hitler, that “flabby Austrian,” as he termed him. Pfeffer was, after all, the son of a Prussian privy councilor.

In a succession of orders and basic instructions Pfeffer further delineated the special character of the SA. He evidenced a remarkable feeling for the mass psychological effectiveness of strict, drillmasterly arrangements. His orders for meetings and ceremonies reveal the point of view of a theatrical director as much as that of a leader; he regulated every platform appearance, every marching movement, every salute with raised arms or shout of Beil. His dictates often sounded like lessons in the techniques of mass psychology. Thus he would state: “The only form in which the SA displays itself to the public must be en masse. This is one of the most powerful forms of propaganda. The sight of a large body of disciplined men, inwardly and outwardly alike, whose militancy can be plainly seen or sensed, makes the most profound impression upon every German and speaks to his heart in a more convincing and persuasive language than writing and oratory and logic ever can. Calm composure and matter-of-factness emphasizes the impression of strength—the strength of marching columns.”

As a last element of restlessness and rebellious energy there remained the SA, in whose ranks the radical slogans of the Strasser clique had struck lasting reverberations. Hitler therefore let a year elapse after Rohm’s resignation before he appointed a supreme leader for the new SA: onetime Captain Franz Pfeffer von Salomon, who had been involved in various Free Corps and vigilante activities and had most recently been gauleiter of Westphalia. Together with Pfeffer, Hitler fried to settle the traditional problem of the SA’s role and to shape it into an organization that would be neither a military auxiliary nor a secret society nor a brutish bodyguard for local party leaders. Rather, it was to become a specialized instrument for propaganda and mass intimidation, under firm control from party headquarters. Hitler wanted the SA to be the translation of the National Socialist idea into fanatical, unadulterated fighting power. To underline the SA’s complete and final incorporation into the Nazi party, he arranged a ceremony at the National Theater in Weimar. The new SA units were put through mystical rituals culminating in the “oath of loyalty” and the presentation of standards Hitler had himself designed. “The training of the SA,” he decreed in a letter to Pfeffer, “must be guided by party needs rather than by military points of view.” The military associations of the past had been powerful but had had no underlying doctrines, he went on to say, and therefore had failed. The secret organizations and terrorist units, on the other hand, had not realized that the enemy operated anonymously in men’s brains and souls, so that there was little good in assassinating individual spokesmen. Consequently, the struggle must “b.e lifted out of the atmosphere of minor acts of revenge and conspiracy, raised to the grandeur of an ideological war of annihilation against Marxism, its structures and its henchmen…. The work must be conducted not in secret conventicles, but in huge mass processions. The way can be cleared for the Movement not by dagger and poison or pistol, but by conquering the streets.”

After the meeting in the National Theater, Hitler, dressed in a leather belted tunic and puttees, reviewed a parade by 5,000 of his followers and for the first time saluted them with outstretched arm in the fashion of the Italian Fascists. Goebbels, watching the uniformed columns of storm troopers, jubilantly saw the dawning of the Third Reich and the awakening of Germany. But other contemporary observers found the party rally a dull affair lacking in all spontaneity—the more so since Nazism had not yet developed the brilliant theatrical effects of later years that served to cover up its ideological poverty and ideational dreariness. Among the honored guests, it was true, was Theodor Duesterberg, leader of the Stahlhelm (the conservative veterans’ organization), and another was the Kaiser’s son, Prince August Wilhelm, soon afterward to join the SA. Also present, though in the background, was Gregor Strasser, who was heard muttering gloomily that National Socialism was dead.

In early July, six weeks later, Hitler celebrated his victory at a party rally in Weimar, where the new trend was clearly manifest. All critical—or, as Hitler contemptuously phrased it, “ingenious”—notions, all “half-baked and vague ideas” were repressed. The practice that later became standard for party rallies was applied here for the first time: only those motions were admitted which “have received the signature of the First Chairman.” Instead of a wrangling party involved in differences over programs, the public image was to be that of “perfectly welded and consolidated leadership.” In his “Fundamental Directives” Hitler ruled that the chairmen of the various special sessions were “to feel themselves leaders and not executive organs of the results of voting.” In general, there was no voting, and Hitler wanted “endless discussions smothered.” For they led people to think that political questions “can be solved by people sitting on their bottoms at a club meeting.” Finally, strict bounds were set for speaking time in plenary sessions “so that the whole program cannot be wrecked by a single individual.”

In order to bolster this system even further, an investigation and mediation committee (USCHLA) was created, a kind of party tribunal whose sole importance lay in its right to expel individuals or even entire local groups from the NSDAP. Its first chairman, former Lieutenant General Heinemann, misunderstood the purpose of the committee. He thought it was meant to be an instrument for fighting corruption and immorality within the party. Hitler thereupon replaced him by the more docile Major Walter Buch, and as associate magistrates appointed his obedient Ulrich Graf and a young lawyer named Hans Frank.

A general membership meeting held in Munich on May 22, 1926, established new bylaws for the NSDAP that were undisguisedly tailored to Hitler’s personal needs. The National Socialist German Workers’ Club in Munich was to be the cornerstone of the party; its directors also constituted the directorate of the party throughout Germany. The first chairman would still be elected—that was required by the laws regulating associations—but the electoral college for the entire party was to consist of the few thousand members of the Munich Ortsgruppe (“local group”). Thus the rest of the party was completely disenfranchised. Moreover, the Munich group alone had the right to demand an accounting of the first chairman—and the procedure for doing so was extremely complicated. In practice, therefore, Hitler’s total control over the party was assured. There would be no majority decisions binding on him. Hereafter, in fact, even the gauleiters would not be elected by local party meetings, and the same was true of the chairmen of committees. Thus factions could not form, not even powerless ones.

Contrary to his usual inclination to exult over any triumphs, Hitler followed up his victory at Bamberg with conciliatory personal gestures. When Gregor Strasser was injured in an auto accident, Hitler appeared at his bedside “with a gigantic bouquet of flowers” and was, according to a letter of the patient himself, “very nice.” He used the same approach with Goebbels, who had the worst reputation at Munich party headquarters as spokeman for the Strasser clique. Goebbels found himself suddenly being wooed. He was asked to be the principal speaker at a meeting in the Munich Biirgerbrau, and at the end of his speech Hitler embraced him with tears in his eyes. “He is embarrassingly good to us,” Goebbels noted, deeply moved. At the same time, however, Hitler began to create the party machinery that would safeguard his newly acquired authority.

It was this ruthlessly instrumental character of the party in the hands of a seemingly unchallenged leader that soon distinguished the National Socialist Party from all other political parties and militant movements. Its discipline surpassed that of the Communists, in whose obedient cadres elements of deviation, skepticism, and intellectual resistance were continually cropping up. There were no such problems within the NSDAP; the abject way in which the anti-Hitler opposition had caved in seemed to inspire a passion for conformity. Many of Strasser’s followers now made it their ambition to convert the “movement into a handy, flawlessly functioning tool in the Fuhrer’s hand.” Henceforth Hitler literally cracked his whip over even the highest-ranking members of the party leadership, insisting on his supremacy. The man to be hailed as “prototype of a good National Socialist,” he declared, is one who “would let himself be killed for his Fuhrer at any time.” According to the bylaws the general membership meetings had to elect Hitler first chairman of the party; but from now on the motion to this effect would be treated as a humorous formality. As Goring later declared, alongside of Hitler’s overwhelming authority “none of us counts more than the stones on which we are standing.”31

The Bamberg meeting and the concomitant humiliation of Gregor Strasser marked the beginning of the end for leftist National Socialism. In spite of the clamorous publicity stirred up at the time, especially by Otto Strasser, the Nazi Left henceforth could only be a troublesome deviation, no longer an effective political alternative. From the time of the meeting, the NSDAP was increasingly molded into a regimented leader-directed party. Thereafter, and until the end, there were no longer any battles over principles, no longer any ideological disputes; what remained was only the struggle for office and favoritism. “Our movement has tremendous powers of assimilation,” Hitler stated shortly afterward. Along with this, National Socialism no longer tried to rival the system of the democratic republic by presenting its own plan for a social order. Rather than an idea, it opposed to the republic a committed, disciplined, militant association whose members basked obtusely in the Fuhrer’s charisma. Theirs was the “primitive force of one-sidedness” that “arouses such horror precisely in people of the better class,” that “male fist which,” as Hitler put it in one of his weirder mixed metaphors, “knows that a toxin can only be smashed by an antitoxin…. The harder head must decide, the greatest resolution and the greater idealism.” Elsewhere he assured the party members: “Such a struggle is not waged with ‘intellectual’ weapons, but with fanaticism.”

Clarification would mean only division, Hitler declared. Faith was all. Once he had insisted on the identity of Fuhrer and idea, the principle of the infallible, immutable Fuhrer was equally established. One of his adherents put it in a nutshell: “Our program can be expressed in two words: ‘Adolf Hitler.’ ”

It would seem that Hitler’s vigorous intervention was directed not so much against the leftist program as against the leftist mentality of the Strasser following. Goebbels had even imagined, shortly before the Bamberg meeting, that “Hitler could be coaxed over to our terrain.” But, in fact, what incensed Hitler most was the kind of Nazi the Strasser brothers were fostering: a National Socialist perpetually engaged in discussions, involved in problems, prone to doubt and needing to square things intellectually. To Hitler’s mind, this was a deadly peril to the movement, bringing back the sort of sectarian dissension that had ruined the nationalist movement in the past. For Hitler equated all argument over ideas with sectarianism. Much as he favored and sometimes promoted personal conflicts among his followers, he hated theoretical differences of opinion. These, he thought, merely consumed energies and diminished the force of the movement. One of the secrets of Christianity’s success, he was always saying, was the unalterability of its dogmas. Hitler’s “Catholic” streak seldom emerges so clearly as in his respect for rigid, immutable formulas. All that really matters is a political creed, he would say; “that is what the whole world revolves around.” And he would add that “no matter how idiotic” a program was, “people will believe in it because of the firmness with which it is advocated.” In fact, a few weeks later Hitler took occasion to declare the old party program, in spite of its obvious weaknesses, “unalterable.” The very outmoded, archaic features of the program transformed it from an object of discussion to one of veneration. Moreover, its purpose was not to answer questions or define aims but to attract attention.

In fact, February 14, 1926, was a Sunday, and almost all the principal spokesmen of the Strasser coterie were present: Hinrich Lohse of Schleswig-Holstein, Theodor Vahlen of Pomerania, Rust of Hanover, Klant of Hamburg. None of them, however, stood up to defend the idea of leftist National Socialism. In embarrassment they looked to Joseph Goebbels, the one man in their ranks with a natural gift for oratory; and like him, they felt stunned. Goebbels was cowed by Hitler’s magnetic powers, by his brilliantly staged arrival complete with a column of cars, by the organizational ability and display of wealth of the Munich group. Gregor Strasser also succumbed, for the moment at least, to Hitler’s talent for seduction. Thus Hitler had just finished fulminating against the “company of traitors” when he suddenly and demonstratively went over to Strasser and put his arm around his shoulders. Although the gesture did not convert Strasser himself, it made an impression upon the leaders at the meeting and forced them to take a conciliatory attitude. The working committee of North and West German gauleiters was in practice dissolved, its draft program not even put up for discussion, and the party took its stand against expropriation of the princely houses. Three weeks later, on March 5, Gregor Strasser sent out a hectographed circular letter to his fellow party leaders asking them to return the draft program “for very particular reasons” and because he had “promised Herr Hitler” that he would “see to the rounding up of every last copy of the draft.”

Even so, Strasser would not recant. He persisted in calling anti-Bolshevism totally misguided, a prime example of the way the capitalist system sowed confusion among its enemies and tricked the nationalist forces into serving its exploitative interests. Nevertheless, Strasser’s defeat was complete. His brother Otto Strasser, to gloss over the humiliation, later pointed out that Hitler had cunningly convoked the meeting for a weekday, thus ensuring the absence of the unpaid North German gauleiters, who had jobs in addition to their party functions. Only Gregor Strasser and Goebbels had been in Bamberg, Otto Strasser alleged.

Hitler saw how he could turn this situation to his own advantage. He called a meeting of the leaders of the entire party to be held in Bamberg on February 14, 1926. Bamberg was one of the bailiwicks of Julius Streicher, a fanatical Hitler devotee, and Hitler had recently honored the local party group by participating in their Christmas celebrations. Hitler saw to it that the North German district leaders with their mainly modest organizations would be impressed and possibly also somewhat demoralized by the display of banners, giant posters, and the announcement of massive demonstrations. By giving very short notice and by manipulating the list of participants, he took care that his own following would have a distinct majority. Hitler himself opened the discussion, which went on for the whole day, in a speech lasting nearly five hours. He called the proponents of expropriation deceitful because they spared the property of the Jewish lords of banking and the stock exchange. To be sure, the former rulers should not receive anything they had no right to; nevertheless, what did belong to them should not be taken from them: the National Socialist Party stood for private property and justice. As his South German followers applauded these sentiments, and were joined gradually and hesitantly by a few of the North Germans, he began to tear into the program of the Strasser group, point by point, opposing to it the party program of 1920: this was “the Founding Charter of our religion, our philosophy. To deviate from it would imply a betrayal of those who died for their faith in our ideas.” A diary entry by Goebbels reflects the feelings of dismay on the part of the North German rebels: “I feel stunned. What is Hitler? A reactionary? Incredibly clumsy and insecure. Russian question: completely beside the point. Italy and England our natural allies: Horrible! Our task is smashing Bolshevism. Bolshevism is a Jewish plot! We must inherit Russia! 180 million people!!! Pay off the princes!… Horrible! Program suffices. Content with it. Feder nods. Ley nods. Streicher nods. Esser nods. It hurts my soul when I see you in this company! Brief discussion. Strasser speaks. Falteringly, tremblingly, clumsily, good, honest Strasser. Oh God, how ill-equipped we are for coping with those swine down there…. I cannot say a word! I feel dumbfounded.”30

The question of the expropriated property of the princely houses served him as his lever. For the referendum proposed by the socialist parties had aroused a storm throughout the nation, and driven a wedge through fronts and political factions. Working class and middle class alike, the small savers and small property holders, even the most trusty of party members, realized with spontaneous indignation that any reimbursement for the princely families would come out of their own pockets. Yet they could not bear the thought of striking up an alliance with the Marxists against the former rulers of the country and by sanctioning the expropriation partially sanctioning the outrage of the revolution. Caught in this intellectual and emotional dilemma, the people spent themselves in furious argument. In Hanover, too, the matter was passionately debated.

Hitler’s position would seem to be on the verge of crumbling. He had come back from Landsberg with a certain messianic aura. This had given a degree of sanction to his strange behavior, to his insults, rifts and splitting maneuvers. But after a year that aura had worn off, and it was clear that the party could not survive any more such purges. To regain his lost ground, Hitler would have to smash the opposition while capturing its members for himself. He would have to make the North Germans renounce their socialistic tendencies and abjure their catastrophe policy. He would have to unseat Gregor Strasser, while swinging him around to his own side again, and somehow reconcile him to the plebeian Munich coterie of Streichers, Essers, and Amanns. Hitler’s tactical agility, his artistry in handling people, his hypnotic talent, were seldom better revealed than in the way he went about this.

Only Hitler himself seemed unmoved by the continuing chain of failures. The certitude that had come to him as he formulated his philosophy in Mein Kampf, together with his obstinacy, enabled him to withstand all the crises without a hint of discouragement or resignation. It seemed as if he were once again, and with a measure of satisfaction, letting events take their course toward the highest dramatic pitch. As if untouched by all the bothersome events around him, he busied himself drawing, on postcards or in a sketchbook, baroque public buildings, arches of triumph, ornate domed halls—in short, a backdrop that expressed his unrelinquished plans for world domination and his extravagant millennial expectations.29

In retrospect it would seem as if Hitler’s imperious and impatient nature wrecked the party just when it was making such great strides. He was striking out at all his former associates, including Anton Drexler, with whom he was waging a libel suit. In the course of the proceedings, one of Hitler’s former followers appeared as witness against him. Calling out in court to Hitler that the National Socialist Party would in the long run fail if it used his methods, the man struck a prophetic chord, “You will come to a very sad end.”

Strasser’s “catastrophe politics” abruptly changed the situation. Rather justifiably Hitler saw this as a direct challenge to himself, since, as with Rohm’s activities, it threatened his parole and hence his entire political future. Immediately, he went on the offensive and could barely wait for the chance to strike out against the rebels and restore his authority.

From his mountain hideout he had followed with apparent apathy the program discussions in the North German wing of the party. His silence did not stem entirely from his characteristic reluctance to take steps. It also sprang from the politician’s indifference to theory, his contempt for ideas in themselves. Moreover, he might have been secretly hoping to repeat the game he had played so successfully while in Landsberg, when he encouraged rivals, promoted antagonisms, and actually increased his own authority by slackening the reins.

Hitler’s restraint was partly due to his personal affairs. For in the interval he had rented a country house belonging to a Hamburg businessman on the Obersalzberg, near Berchtesgaden. The situation of the house was extraordinarily beautiful, although the place was otherwise quite modest, consisting of a large living room and a veranda on the ground floor, and three attic rooms. In talking to visitors, Hitler made a point of saying that the house did not belong to him, “so that there could be no question of any corrupt practices, in line with the bad example of other ‘party bigwigs.’” He had asked his widowed half-sister, Angela Raubal, to be his housekeeper. She was accompanied by her seventeen-year-old daughter Geli. The affection Hitler felt for this pretty, superficial niece soon developed into a passionate relationship hopelessly burdened by his intolerance, his romantic ideal of womanhood, and avuncular scruples, so that it was finally to end in an act of desperation. Hitler rarely left his rural retreat; when he did, it would be to attend the Munich opera with his niece or to visit friends in the city. These were still the Hanfstaengls, the Bruckmanns, the Essers. He scarcely bothered about the party; even in South Germany criticisms of his indifferent leadership were voiced; but Hitler paid these little attention. The summer of 1925 saw the publication of the first volume of Mein Kampf, and although the book was not a success—it sold fewer than 10,000 copies the first year—Hitler promptly set about dictating the second volume. His need to justify himself was as much a motive force as his urge to communicate.

Hitler had so far remained silent about the group’s activities, although it was setting up a power center that threatened to become a secondary governing committee within the party and although in North Germany the name of Gregor Strasser meant “almost more” than his own. “Nobody has faith in Munich any more,” Goebbels noted jubilantly in his diary. “Elberfeld is going to become the mecca of German socialism.” But Hitler haughtily ignored the plans to kick him upstairs by making him honorary chairman and then unite the disorganized nationalist camp in one great movement. A few scornful pages in Mein Kampf were the only notice Hitler ever took of such projects.

But the most naked challenge to Hitler on the part of the Hanover circle came when Gregor Strasser called upon the party to abandon its timorous pledge of legality and follow a “politics of catastrophe,” prepared for the worst contingencies. He declared his resolve to seize power by frontal attack and sanctioned any means that damaged the government and shattered public order: putsch, bombs, strikes, street battles, or brawls. As Goebbels was to express it shortly after: “We will attain everything if we set hunger, despair and sacrifice marching for our aims.” The party was “to light the beacon in our people so that nationalist and socialist despair flame in a single great fire.”

At the moment, the German public was passionately discussing the question of whether the royal and ducal houses should be expropriated or whether their property, confiscated in 1918, should be returned. Hitler found himself impelled by his tactical reasoning to side with the German princes, and in general with the propertied classes. The Strasser group decided, as did the parties of the Left, for expropriation of the former rulers without compensation. They also undertook, without authorization from Munich, to publish a newspaper entitled Der Nationale Sozialist (“The Nationalist Socialist”) and, with funds Gregor Strasser obtained by mortgaging his drugstore in Landshut, to set up a publishing house called the Kampfverlag. This soon developed into a sizable concern; with its six weekly newspapers it for a while outdid the Eher Verlag, run by Munich headquarters. Moreover, in the judgment of Konrad Heiden, its publications were far superior to those of the Munich firm “in intellectual variety and honesty.”

The challenge to Hitler’s authority was to increase. In December, without knowledge of headquarters, Strasser distributed his draft program among the party members. It was meant to replace the twenty-five points so arbitrarily thrown together long ago, and to overturn the image of the party’s representing only petty bourgeois interests. Although Hitler was reported to be “furious” over this show of autonomy, no one paid attention to Feder’s objections. In fact, the Strasser group refused to allow Feder to vote on any motions. Only one of the twenty-five who took part in the discussion, the gauleiter of Cologne, Robert Ley, “a moron and possibly an intriguer,” came out openly for Hitler.

All this was outlined by Gregor Strasser at a meeting in Hanover on November 22, 1926. Here the rebellious mood of the North and West German party organizations, their antipathy to headquarters and the “pope in Munich”—as Gauleiter Rust put it, to general applause—emerged in public to a startling degree. At another such meeting in the same city at the end of January, this time held in Gauleiter Rust’s apartment, Goebbels demanded that the group bluntly show the door to Gottfried Feder, whom Hitler had recently sent as an observer. Nor was this all. If the sources are to be believed, Goebbels followed this up with a motion “that the petty bourgeois Adolf Hitler be expelled from the National Socialist Party.”28

The Strasser people also held quite different ideas on foreign policy from the Munich leadership. Strasser and his associates had responded to the socialist appeal of the times, but “not as to the call of the proletarian class but of proletarian nations,” in the forefront of which stood humiliated, betrayed, and plundered Germany. They saw the world as divided into oppressing and oppressed peoples and supported those very revisionist demands that Hitler in Mein Kampf had branded “political nonsense.” Where Hitler saw Soviet Russia as a target for conquest, and Rosenberg described her as a “Jewish colony of hangmen,” Goebbels spoke with deep respect of the Russian utopian impulse, while Strasser even called for an alliance with Moscow “against the militarism of France, against the imperialism of England, against the capitalism of Wall Street.” Even more socialistic was the group’s economic program: large landholdings were to be abolished, and all peasants were to be organized into agricultural cooperatives; small businesses were to be grouped in guilds; corporations with more than twenty employees were to be partially socialized. Where enterprises continued in private hands, the personnel were to be entitled to a share of 10 per cent of the profits, the national government to 30 per cent, the county to 6 and the local community to 5 per cent. The group also advocated simplification of legislation, creation of a school system open to all classes, and payment of wages partly in goods. This last was a romantic expression of the popular distrust of money resulting from the inflation.

The program of the Strasser group was set forth in a fortnightly review, Nationalsozialistische Briefe (“National Socialist Letters”). Unpretentious in format, the magazine was edited by Goebbels and was chiefly concerned with escaping the narrowness of a nostalgic, backward-looking middle-class ideology and turning the movement’s face toward the present. Almost everything that “was held sacred in Munich was at some time or other thrown into question or frankly run down” in the magazine. There was constant stress on the difference in social conditions in Bavaria and the north. The magazine’s pronouncedly anticapitalist thrust was a response to the urban, proletarian social structure of North Germany. As a letter from a Berlin reader put it, the National Socialist Party should not consist “of radicalized bourgeois” and “be afraid of the words worker and socialist.” Thus the magazine announced: “We are socialists; we are enemies, mortal enemies, of the present-day capitalist economic system with its exploitation of the economically weak, with its injustice in wages…. We are resolved to annihilate this system despite everything.” Looking for formulas which could unite the nationalistic socialists and Communists, Goebbels found a whole catalogue of identical attitudes and convictions. He by no means rejected the theory of class struggle. He contended that the collapse of Russia would “bury forever our dreams of a National Socialist Germany.” Moreover, he questioned Hitler’s theory of the Jews as the universal enemy, remarking: “It is by no means settled that the capitalist and the Bolshevik Jew are one and the same” and going so far as to say that the Jewish question in general was “more complicated than one imagines.”

The special temper of the North German Nazis manifested itself in a committee organized in Hagen on September 10, 1925. Goebbels immediately took command of it, along with Gregor Strasser. And although the participants kept saying that they were not opposed to Munich headquarters, they nevertheless spoke of themselves as a “west bloc,” and of a “counterattack” against “the calcified big-shots in Munich.” They also criticized the party leadership for its meager interest in questions of program. Gregor Strasser deplored the “atrociously low level” of the Volkische Beobachter, Significantly, however, none of the reproaches were directed at Hitler in person or at his conduct of his office. In fact, what the critics wanted was to strengthen rather than to diminish his position. They were objecting to the “slovenly, lousy way they run things at headquarters,” and once again to the brashness of Esser and Streicher. Totally misconstruing the situation, this circle hoped to free Hitler from the clutches of the “corrupt Munich clique,” the “Esser dictatorship,” and win him over to their own cause. Here, in these early years, and not for the first time, we find that notion so widespread later on: that the “Fuhrer” was frail and human, surrounded by bad advisers who prevented him from carrying out his honest intentions.

The business manager of this North Rhineland gau, with headquarters in Elberfeld, was a young academic who had made a stab at being a journalist, writer, and crier at the stock exchange, before he found a post as secretary to a nationalist-racist politician, made contact with the National Socialists, and met Gregor Strasser. His name was Paul Joseph Goebbels, and what had brought him to Strasser’s side was chiefly his intellectual radicalism, which he expounded in various literary works and diary notes, wherein he often marveled at his own personality. “I am the most radical. Of the new type. Man as revolutionary.” His style ranged from such incisiveness to rhapsody, which, however, at the time was found quite acceptable. His radicalism was a compound of nationalistic and social-revolutionary ideologies; it seemed a thinner, shriller version of the doctrine of his mentor. For, in contrast to the cold Hitler, who moved in a curiously abstract world of feeling, the more emotional Gregor Strasser had been affected by the misery of the postwar era. His heart went out to the common people. Sooner or later, he believed, the proletariat would embrace National Socialism. For a time Gregor Strasser found in Joseph Goebbels and in his brother Otto Strasser the advocates for an ideological course that no one ever followed. Gregor Strasser’s “program” won merely temporary importance as the fleeting expression of a socialist alternative to Hitler’s “Fascist” South German National Socialism.

The continuing setbacks inevitably sapped Hitler’s position within the party. In Thuringia, Saxony, and Wurttemberg he had to fight for his challenged leadership; in North Germany Gregor Strasser went on building up the party. Strasser was forever on the move. He spent most of his nights on trains or in waiting rooms; by day he visited followers, founded branches, saw functionaries, conferred, or appeared at meetings. During 1925 and 1926 he appeared as principal speaker at nearly one hundred meetings, while Hitler was condemned to silence. This fact, less than any ambitions on Strasser’s part to rival Hitler, for a while made it seem as though the party’s center of gravity were shifting to the north. Thanks to Strasser’s loyalty, Hitler’s position as leader was on the whole acknowledged. But the sober Protestant North Germans’ suspicions of the flamboyant petty bourgeois bohemian with his alleged “pro-Rome” course came repeatedly to the fore, and many people would join the party only if they were assured considerable independence of Munich headquarters. For; quite a while Hitler had to waive his requirement that leaders of local groups in the north be appointed by party headquarters. Until the late autumn of 1925, moreover, the North Rhineland gau had membership cards of its own and would not use the membership booklets provided by Munich headquarters.

A few days after the election, Dr. Pohner, the only trustworthy and important associate Hitler had left, was killed in an accident. Hitler truly seemed to have reached the end of his political career. In Munich the party had no more than 700 members left. Anton Drexler seceded and despondently founded a party more congenial to his quieter tendencies. But Hitler’s bullies made a point of tracking down their erstwhile comrades and beating them up. In this way they smashed the rival enterprise. Other kindred groups suffered a similar fate. Quite often Hitler himself, leather whip in hand, stormed the meetings. Since he was not allowed to speak, he showed himself to the crowds from the platform, merely smiling and waving. Before the second round in the elections for the presidency, he called upon his followers to vote for Field Marshal von Hindenburg, who had meanwhile been nominated. Some writers have seen this choice as a farsighted political speculation. But he really had no ground for such speculation, as things stood; moreover, the few votes he controlled could not change anything. It was important, however, that he was ostentatiously aligning himself with the parties of order and that he was moving closer to the man of legend, the secret “ersatz kaiser” who had or some day would have a key to virtually all the powerful institutions in the country.

During this same period an event occurred that showed Hitler how bleak his prospects had become and how wise he had been to separate his political fortunes from those of Ludendorff, though his reasons for the break had been largely personal. At the end of February, 1925, Friedrich Ebert, the Social Democratic President of Germany, died. The nationalist-racist groups put up Ludendorff, while the candidate of the bourgeois rightist parties was a competent but totally unknown person named Dr. Jarres. Despite his fame, the general suffered an annihilating defeat, receiving little more than 1 per cent of the national vote. Hitler noted the result with a measure of grim satisfaction.

Nevertheless, for some time Hitler said neither yes nor no to Rohm’s urging. But at last he decided to take a stand. During a conversation in mid-April Rohm once more demanded strict separation between the National Socialist Party and the SA. Moreover, he wanted to lead his units as a nonpolitical private army that would be above all partisan strife and the issues of the day. A heated quarrel ensued. Hitler was particularly incensed, because Rohm’s idea would once again degrade him to the “drummer” of the movement. What is more, it would return him to the subordinate role forced on him in the summer of 1923, that of adjunct to aims set by others. Full of hurt feelings, he charged Rohm with betraying their friendship. Rohm thereupon cut the conversation short. The following day he formally resigned in writing his leadership of the SA. Hitler did not answer. At the end of April, after Rohm had also resigned the leadership of the Frontbann, he wrote Hitler once again, closing his letter on the significant note: “I take this opportunity, in memory of the great and the trying times we have been through together, to thank you warmly for your comradeship and to ask you not to deprive me of your personal friendship.” But that, too, was not answered. The following day, when he sent a note on his resignation to the nationalist newspapers, the Volkische Beobachter printed it without comment.

During the first half of April the quarrel erupted into the open. Rohm had a strong sentimental attachment to Hitler; he was forthright, easygoing, and as doggedly faithful to his friends as he was to his views. Presumably Hitler had not forgotten all he had owed to Rohm since the beginnings of his political career. But he also realized that times had changed. This once-influential person who in the past could be counted on to round up money, machine guns or members at the drop of a hat, had by now turned into a stubborn, difficult friend awkward to fit into the more solid establishment Hitler was trying to create.

Fundamentally, this was a renewal of the old dispute over the SA’s function and command status. In contrast to the slower-minded Rohm, Hitler had in the interval acquired new insights and resentments. He had not forgiven Lossow and the officers of his staff for their betrayal on November 8 and 9. But at the same time he had learned from the events of that night that the majority of army officers were morally fettered by their oath and their respect for legality.

Even while he was still in Landsberg, Hitler had looked askance at Rohm’s activities, since everything Rohm was doing was a threat to his parole, his power within the nationalist movement, and his new tactics. One of the lessons of November had been to have done, once and for all, with the swaggering ways and conspiratorial games of the military leagues. What the NSDAP needed, Hitler had decided, was a party force organized on paramilitary lines and totally subordinate to the political leadership, hence to himself personally. Rohm, on the other hand, was still clinging to the idea of an underground auxiliary army that would enable the Reichswehr to evade the provisions of the Versailles Treaty. He even thought of making the SA completely independent of the party and turning it into a subordinate unit of his Frontbann.

But this addition to the ranks was balanced out by a major loss. While Strasser applied his vast energy to building up a party organization in North Germany, within a short time establishing seven new gaus between Schleswig-Holstein, Pomerania, and Lower Saxony, Hitler showed how bent he was on imposing his own authority, no matter what the cost. For now he broke with Ernst Rohm. After Rohm’s brush with the Munich People’s Court (he was pronounced guilty but given no sentence), the former army captain had promptly begun to unite his old comrades of the Free Corps and Kampfbund days in a new association, the Frontbann (“the Front-liners”). These “liners,” who knew only soldiering and were totally unable to adjust to the increasingly normal conditions, almost to a man were recruited into the new movement.

Strasser had not taken part in the meeting aimed at refounding the party. In March, 1925, to compensate Strasser for his resignation from the National Socialist Freedom Movement, Hitler offered him the largely independent post of leader of the Nazi party in the entire North German area. Strasser accepted with the proud proviso that he was joining Hitler not as a follower but as a fellow warrior. He still had his moral scruples and his doubts, but felt that the essential cause, the idea promising the birth of the future, must stand above all else. “That is why I have offered Herr Hitler my co-operation.”

Among the few successes Hitler could tote up during this period of paralysis was the winning over of Gregor Strasser. Until the failure of the November putsch Strasser, a pharmacist from Landshut and the gauleiter of Lower Bavaria, whom “experience at the front” had brought to politics, could hardly have been considered prominent. But he had profited by the absence of Hitler to push forward and had won a considerable following for Nazism in North Germany and the Ruhr. The National Socialist Freedom Movement was his personal vehicle. This hulking but sensitive man who brawled in taverns and read Homer in Greek was of impressive appearance. He was an excellent speaker and had an important ally in his brother Otto, a skillful journalist. It was hard for him to work with the cold, slippery, neurasthenic Hitler; for a man like Gregor Strasser there was something repellent about Hitler’s personality. Nor could he stomach Hitler’s entourage. Ail that the two men had in common was allegiance to an as yet shifting, ill-defined concept of “National Socialism.” Nevertheless, Strasser admired Hitler’s magnetism and his grip over his followers.

Undoubtedly, anyone observing his immediate entourage would have had to concede that he was right. After the deliberate clashes and schisms of the preceding months, it was in the nature of things that most of the followers who remained with him were the mediocrities. His retinue had shrunk again to that cohort of cattle dealers, chauffeurs, bouncers, and onetime professional soldiers with whom he had formed, ever since the murky beginnings of the party, a curiously sentimental and almost human relationship. The unsavory reputation of most of these satellites bothered him no more than did their rowdy manners. His keeping such company above all showed how far he had come from the bourgeois aesthete he had once been. In answer to occasional reprimands, he would say, with a trace of embarrassment, that he too could make a wrong choice; it was human nature to be “not infallible.” And yet, right on into his years as Chancellor such types remained his preferred associates; they were always on hand in these long, empty evenings when Hitler, watching movies or engaging in trivial chitchat in the rooms that had once been Bismarck’s, unbuttoned his jacket and slumped in the big armchair with his legs stretched out before him. These men without background, without families or professions, all of them with some crack in their characters or their careers, aroused familiar associations in the former inmate of the home for men. Admiration and sincere devotion were all they could offer him, and these they gave without reserve. They listened raptly when he sat with them in the Italian restaurant Osteria Bavaria or the Cafe Neumaier and embarked on one of his tirades. Perhaps their uncritical devotion served him as a substitute for that mass enthusiasm he needed like a drug and which for the time being he had to do without.

He had also acquired that arrogant tenacity which would serve him well through all misfortunes, enabling him to keep going throughout the period of stagnation and persist until the march to victory began at the outset of the thirties. In the summer of 1925, when his hopes were at their nadir, a meeting of party leaders discussed a motion to appoint a deputy for him; he would not hear of it, on the infuriating ground that the movement would stand or fall with him alone.

Nevertheless, Hitler seemed totally unperturbed. A year and a half before, in the summer of 1923, a setback would have thrown him off balance, would have thrust him back into the lethargy and weaknesses of his youth. Now he remained unaffected. He did not even seem to mind the personal consequences of the ban on public speaking: the loss of his chief source of income. He depended instead on fees for the editorials he was now writing for the party press. In addition, he frequently addressed groups of from forty to sixty guests at the home of his friends, the Bruckmanns, where the small audience and the absence of intoxicants produced a new atmosphere that called for another style of propaganda. Contemporary observers all report the changes Hitler seems to have undergone during his imprisonment, the sterner, more rigorous expression that gave a new stamp to his countenance. “The thin, pale, sickly, often seemingly empty face was more forcefully composed; the strong bony structure from brow to chin emerged more distinctly; what formerly might have given the effect of sentimentality had yielded to an unmistakable note of hardness.”

The business was far slower and more toilsome than Hitler had imagined, and was accompanied by repeated setbacks, obstacles, and conflicts. As luck would have it, he himself was to blame for the first severe setback. The Bavarian government had taken note of his remark that one could speak of one enemy and mean another and had interpreted it—just as it was meant—as proof of his inveterate hostility to the Constitution. It also resented his remark that either the enemy would pass over his dead body or he over the enemy’s. “It is my wish,” he had continued, “that the swastika flag shall be my shroud if next time the struggle lays me low.” This sort of talk cast such question on his pledge to be law-abiding that the authorities in Bavaria, and soon afterward in most of the other German states, simply forbade him to make public speeches. In conjunction with his parole, with the ever-present threat of deportation, and with the changes in the general situation, this ban seemed to put an end to all his prospects. It came as a surprise and a terrible reversal, for it seemed to scotch his idea of working with the government.

As soon as Hitler had asserted his control over the party, he set about accomplishing his second goal: organizing the Nazi party into a pliable and vigorous instrument for his tactical aims. While still in Landsberg he had, in a cynical mood, commented to one of his followers: “When I resume active work, it will be necessary 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 results will be guaranteed by their own Constitution! Any lawful process is slow.”27

At the end, face flushed with excitement, he called upon the members of the audience to bury their enmities, forget the past, and put an end to the conflicts within the movement. He did not ask for obedience, did not offer any bargains; he simply demanded submission or withdrawal from the movement. The ecstatic cheering at the end confirmed his resolve to shape the NSDAP into a tightly organized party under his sole command. In the midst of this display of enthusiasm Max Amann stepped forward and called out to the crowd: “The quarreling must stop. Everyone for Hitler!” Suddenly all the old foes thronged to the platform: Streicher, Esser, Feder, Frick, the Thuringian gauleiter Dinter, the Bavarian faction leader Buttmann. In a spectacular scene, before thousands of people shouting and waving and climbing on tables and chairs, they ostentatiously shook hands with one another. Streicher stammered something about a “godsend,” and Buttmann—who only recently had taken sharp issue with Hitler at a meeting of the Landtag faction—testified that all the doubts he had felt when he arrived “melted away inside me when the Fuhrer spoke.” What the dominant figure of Ludendorff had been unable to accomplish, what Graefe, Strasser, Rosenberg, and Rohm individually or in conjunction with one another had failed to do, Hitler accomplished with a few strokes. The experience strengthened his self-confidence as well as his authority. Buttmann’s phrase had been used occasionally before, though it had been applied also to Ludendorff and other competitors for leadership. From this day on, however, Hitler was the only one indisputably known as “the Fuhrer.”

If anyone comes and wants to set me conditions, I tell him: My friend, wait awhile until you hear the conditions I am setting you. I’m not wooing the masses, you know. After a year has passed, you be the judges, my party comrades. If I have not acted rightly, then I shall return my office to your hands. But until then this is the rule: I and I alone shall lead the movement, and no one sets me conditions as long as I personally bear the responsibility. And I on the other hand bear all the responsibility for everything that happens in the movement.26

Many of those present had been battling with each other. But when Hitler entered the hall, he was greeted with that wildly excessive homage that was later to become so common. People climbed on the tables, cheered, waved beer mugs, or joyfully embraced one another. Max Amann chaired the meeting, since Anton Drexler had refused to participate unless Esser and Streicher were expelled from the party. Gregor Strasser, Rohm, and Rosenberg were also among the missing. Hitler addressed all of them, the faltering, the skeptical or the obstinate partisans, in an extremely effective two-hour speech. He began with generalities, hailed the achievements of the Aryan as a creator of culture, discussed foreign policy, held forth on the theme that the peace treaty could be broken, the reparations agreement disavowed, but even so Germany would ultimately die of Jewish blood poisoning. Prey to his old obsession, he impressed his listeners with the fact that on Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse every Jew had a blonde German girl on his arm. Nevertheless Marxism could “be overthrown as soon as it is confronted by a doctrine of superior truthfulness but the same brutality in execution.” He went on to criticize Ludendorff for making enemies everywhere and not realizing that it is possible to speak of one enemy and mean another. Finally he came to the heart of his argument:

Strategically, his appearance next day had been carefully thought out. In order to give greater force to his appeal, Hitler had not spoken in public for two months. This had raised to an extraordinary degree the expectations of his adherents and the nervousness of his rivals. He had received no visitors, even rebuffed foreign delegations, and had let it be known that he was throwing all political letters “into the wastebasket unread.” Although the meeting was not to begin until eight o’clock, the first of the audience—admission one mark—arrived by early afternoon. At six o’clock the police had to close the hall; some 4,000 followers had crowded into it.

On February 26, 1925, the first issue of the Volkische Beobachter since the putsch appeared. It announced that next day at the Burgerbraukeller, the site of the unsuccessful coup, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party would be founded anew. In his editorial “A New Beginning” and in an article, “Fundamental Directives” for the organization of the party, Hitler upheld his claim to leadership. He refused to make any concessions. With a side glance at the allegations against Esser and Streicher, he declared that the leadership of the party had nothing to do with the morality of its followers, any more than it did with doctrinaire squabbles. Its business was to practice politics. Those who were sniping at him he called “political children.” This strong line proved to be just what was wanted; declarations of loyalty poured in from all over the country.

Meanwhile, he was preparing for the break with Ludendorff. The general had become something of a burden, especially in South Germany, where he had involved himself in endless bickerings. He feuded with the Catholic Church; he provoked an unnecessary tiff with the Bavarian crown prince over questions of honor; he quarreled with the officers’ corps. Ludendorff was growing more and more unreasonable, under the influence of his second wife, Dr. Mathilde von Kemnitz. He was increasingly preoccupied with the pseudoreligious obscurities of a sectarian ideology, a melange of psychotic fears, Germanic religion and anticivilizational pessimism. Such tendencies reminded Hitler of the teachings of Lanz von Liebenfels and the Thule Society that had dominated his early years. He had long since freed himself from such things, and in Mein Kampf had expressed biting scorn for the kind of volkisch romanticism that nevertheless lingered on in his imagination. His attitude toward Ludendorff was also colored by jealousy. He was all too aware of the disabilities suffered by a former private first class vis-a-vis a general—especially in so military-minded a country. Finally, Hitler took it as a personal affront that Ludendorff by a military order had detached his personal adjutant, Ulrich Graf, from him. In his first conversation with the general after his release Hitler made a big issue of this. At the same time, as if driven by a demon of quarrelsomeness, he took up arms against the leaders of the North German National Socialist Freedom Movement. These men, Albrecht von Graefe and Count Ernst von Reventlow, had publicly declared that Hitler must not be allowed to regain his former position of power, that he was a talented agitator but not a politician. Hitler now answered Graefe in a letter that not only threw down the gauntlet but was in itself a token of his new selfassurance. In the past, Hitler said, he had been the “drummer” and would be again, but only for Germany and never again for Graefe and his ilk, “so help me God!”

Nor was this battle the last. Impatiently, he started fresh quarrels and blasted more pieces away from the margins of the shrinking movement. He made much of the differences between himself and the flock of other racist, nationalist, and radical rightist groups, and refused to collaborate with any of them. By now he had alienated all but four of the deputies in the Reichstag. Even those showed resistance and wanted him to break with such ambiguous and unsavory followers as Hermann Esser and Julius Streicher. The wrangles went on for months. But since Hitler realized far more clearly than his opponents that what was at stake was not the purity of the party, but control of it, he did not yield an inch.

His idea seems to have been to make so bold a claim to leadership that those who were not willing to submit to him would be driven out of his camp. He had spoken ironically of the “inflationary gains” of the party in 1923, seeing its too rapid growth as the reason for its lack of fiber during the crisis. He was now separating the chaff from the wheat. The leaders of the other nationalist groups were soon complaining bitterly that Hitler would not co-operate with them. They kept referring to the blood that all had shed together at the Feldherrnhalle. But mystical sentimentalities of this sort had little effect on Hitler. Instead, he remembered how dependent he had been in 1923, how he had had to defer to all these fellow nationalists. He had learned a lesson from that: every partnership was a form of imprisonment. So now he would pretend to be pliable as far as the government and the power holders were concerned. But within the movement he imperiously enforced his will. He was quite willing to accept the consequences: that of the twenty-four conservative deputies, only six stood the test. The remainder went over to other parties.

A few days later, Hitler turned up at a meeting of the nationalist faction in the Landtag, the Bavarian state legislature. And, as if the nationalist movement were not in bad enough shape, he opened a new breach in its ranks. Sporting the leather whip that was by now one of his regular props, he entered the Landtag building, where the deputies, in a solemn mood, had gathered to welcome him. But after only the briefest of preliminaries, he began assailing them for their lack of leadership and ideas. He was particularly angry at their having refused participation in the government, which Prime Minister Held had offered. Totally dismayed, the group protested that there were principles an honorable man could not abandon; one could not first come out against a rival party for betraying the German people and then go ahead and form a government in collaboration with it. As the wrangle went on, one of the faction members suggested that Hitler’s one reason for wanting the coalition had been to buy his release from prison on parole. Hitler answered witheringly that his release was a thousand times more important to the movement than all the principles of two dozen nationalist deputies.

Nevertheless, at the suasion of his personal friend, Dr. Gurtner, who was one of Hitler’s patrons, Held finally agreed to lift the ban on the National Socialist Party and its newspaper. For, as he summed up his impression of the talk with Hitler, “the beast has been tamed.”

Held listened to this tommyrot with a reserved air. He was glad to hear, he said, that Hitler was at last inclined to respect government authority, but it was a matter of indifference whether he did or did not respect it. As Prime Minister, he, Held, would maintain this authority against anyone. He would not stand for conditions such as had prevailed in Bavaria before November 9.

His personal fate as well as the future of the movement depended on the success of this maneuver. His ambition was unchanged: to seize power. For this he must build up an autocratic, military party; but he must also regain the lost trust of powerful groups and institutions. That is, he had to appear simultaneously as revolutionary and as defender of existing conditions, radical and moderate at once. He must both threaten the system and play the part of its preserver; he must violate the law and establish credibility as its defender. It is not certain whether Hitler ever consciously spelled out this paradoxical strategy; but almost everything he did in practice aimed at the tactical realization of these paradoxes. In his talk with Held he assured the Prime Minister of his loyalty. In the future, he promised, he would work only by legal means; the putsch of November 9 had been a mistake. He had since recognized, he continued, that the authority of the state must be respected; he himself, as a bourgeois patriot, was ready to contribute to the best of his ability to that end. Above all, he was at the disposal of the government in the struggle against the seditious forces of Marxism. But, of course, if he were to be effective, he needed his party and the Volkische Beobachter. Asked how he intended to reconcile this order with the anti-Catholic bias of the nationalist-racist groups, Hitler replied that this hostility to the Catholics sprang from an idiosyncrasy of Ludendorff’s, that he himself took a skeptical attitude toward the general and would have nothing to do with it; he had always been against denominational bickerings; but, after all, the true-blue nationalist forces had to stick together.

Only a few days after his release, Hitler, on Pohner’s advice, asked Held, the new Bavarian Prime Minister, for an interview. Held, chairman of the Bavarian People’s Party, was strictly Catholic and resolutely federalistic; Hitler and his associates had been violently hostile to him. To play down the significance of the meeting, Hitler pretended that his sole purpose was to ask for the release of those of his comrades still imprisoned in Landsberg. Critics within the volkisch camp accused him of making his “peace with Rome.” In reality he was trying to make peace with the government. Unlike Ludendorff, he remarked, he could not afford to inform his opponents beforehand that he wanted to kill them.

Nevertheless, upon his release he found himself confronting soaring hopes and the most contradictory expectations and demands from his disunited followers. His political future would be dependent upon whether he succeeded in freeing himself from all the splinter groups and, within the densely inhabited sphere of the Right, giving his party an unmistakable profile—which, however, had also to be vague enough to hold the divergent aspirations together. Many rightists were expecting him to join Ludendorff in organizing a racist-nationalist unity movement. But he realized that only a towering leader, a supreme personality standing alone upon a kind of supernatural pinnacle, could serve as the cohesive force his concept required. At the moment, therefore, he was not interested in concluding hasty alliances but in marking out dividing lines and in establishing his personal claim to absolutism. His behavior during the following weeks was determined by these considerations.

With curious dispassion, Hitler had watched the squabbles among Rosenberg, Streicher, Esser, Pohner, Rohm, Amann, Strasser, and Ludendorff, and, as one of his followers commented, “did not even lift his little finger.” While still in prison, he had tried as far as possible to keep any decision from being taken, any power center formed or claim to leadership established. For similar reasons he opposed nationalist participation in the parliamentary elections, although such participation was in keeping with the new strategy of seeking the legal conquest of power. The point was that every party member who acquired parliamentary immunity and a legislator’s salary thereby gained some independence of his authority. He was not at all pleased to learn that the National Socialist Freedom Party had won 32 of 472 seats in the Reichstag elections of May, 1924. Shortly afterward, in an open letter, Hitler resigned the leadership of the NSDAP, withdrew the appointments he had made to various offices, and refused to receive politically motivated visits. With a touch of smugness Rudolf Hess, writing from Landsberg, commented on the “stupidity” of the party followers. As for Hitler’s gamble, it proved to be a clever one. When he came out of prison, he found nothing but the ruins of the party; but on the other hand he no longer had any serious rival. He appeared on the scene as the longed-for rescuer of a nationalist-racist movement that had been, with some assistance from him, sinking into the swamp. On this basis, Hitler was able to assert an authority that soon could no longer be challenged. He later frankly admitted: “Otherwise it would not have been possible. At that time [after his release from prison] I was able to say to everyone in the party: Now we are going to fight the way I want to and no differently.”

Hitler, however, was not discouraged by the situation. Rather, he saw it as rich in promise. Rosenberg later admitted that he had been greatly surprised at being appointed interim leader of the movement and suspected that Hitler had chosen him for some secret reason of his own. Perhaps Hitler was quite ready to let the movement fall apart, if that would reinforce his own claim to leadership. Nor was this reprehensible, in view of the sort of claim Hitler was by now making. For the summons he had received from fate could not be delegated. In religion, too, there is no such person as the vice-savior.

Like many others among the brand-new class of unemployed professional politicians, Hitler himself seemed to have reached the end of a ten-year phase of irregular living and to be faced once again with the law and order, the “domestic tranquillity,” that had horrified him as an adolescent. Viewed in sober terms his situation was hopeless. Though he had covered himself with glory during his trial, he had since been reduced to the sorry role of the failed and half-forgotten politician. The National Socialist Party and all its organizations had been banned, as had the Volkische Beobachter. The Reichswehr and most of the private patrons of the movement had withdrawn their support; after all the excitement and playing at civil war, they had turned back to the routine of everyday life. In retrospect, many people dismissed the year 1923 with an irritated shrug. It had been a crazy time, a bad time. Dietrich Eckart and Scheubner-Richter were dead, Goring living in exile, Kriebel on the way to exile. Most of Hitler’s closer followers were either in jail or had quarreled with one another and dispersed. Immediately before his arrest, Hitler had managed to send a scribbled note to Alfred Rosenberg: “Dear Rosenberg, from now on you will lead the movement.” Adopting the pseudonym Rolf Eidhalt (Ralph Oath-keeper), an anagram of Adolf Hitler, Rosenberg tried to hold the remnants of Hitler’s former following together under the guise of a Grossdeutsche Volksgemeinschaft (GVG) (Greater German People’s Community). The SA was continued under the guise of various sports clubs, glee clubs, and marksmen’s clubs. But Rosenberg had no talent as a leader; the movement soon broke up into feuding cliques. In Bamberg Streicher founded a Volkischer Block Bayern (Bavarian Racial-Nationalist Bloc), which claimed a measure of independence. Finally, Esser, Streicher, and a Dr. Artur Dinter from Thuringia, author of some wild racist maunderings in the form of novels, seized the leadership of the GVG, while Ludendorff, together with von Graefe and Gregor Strasser (soon joined by Ernst Rohm) organized the National Socialist Freedom Party as a kind of united front for the nationalist and racist groups. Thus various would-be leaders tried to make use of Hitler’s absence as a means of rising in the nationalist movement or even dislodging Hitler from the star position he had won during the trial and forcing him back into the role of “drummer.”

It was in fact a depressingly changed scene to which Hitler returned from Landsberg. The turn of events could be traced to the stabilization of the currency. On the one hand, people could again feel that society had a reliable foundation. On the other hand, the end of the inflation worked hardship on the professional promoters of turmoil—for the Free Corps and the paramilitary associations had depended for support on foreign currency, trivial sums of which could go a long way under inflationary conditions. Gradually, the government acquired solidity and authority. By the end of February, 1924, it rescinded the state of emergency proclaimed on the night of November 9. In the course of the same year Foreign Minister Stresemann’s policy of reconciliation began to show results. These were not so much a matter of specifics as an improvement in the psychological climate within Germany. Gradually, the anachronistic hatreds and resentments of wartime began to dissolve. The Dawes Plan offered a prospect of solving the reparations problem. The French gave signs of willingness to evacuate the Ruhr. Security treaties were being discussed and even the question of Germany’s entry into the League of Nations. With the influx of American capital, the economy began to recover. Unemployment, which had created such scenes of misery on street corners and at bread lines and welfare offices, was tangibly receding. These changes for the better were reflected in the election results. In May, 1924, the radical forces still had one more success, but by the December elections of the same year they had been markedly thrown back. In Bavaria alone the racist-nationalist groups lost nearly 70 per cent of their following. Although this shift was not instantly reflected in a strengthening of the democratic centrist parties, it did appear as though Germany, after years of crisis, depressions, and threats of upheaval, was beginning to return to normality.

A few friends and followers, who had been informed beforehand, appeared with a car outside the prison gate. They were a disappointingly tiny group. The movement had fallen apart, its members scattered or at odds. Hermann Esser and Julius Streicher were waiting at Hitler’s Munich apartment. There was no grand scene, no triumph. Hitler, who had put on weight, seemed restive and tense. That Very evening he went to see Ernst Hanfstaengl and at once asked him: “Play the Liebestod for me.” Even while in Landsberg, such sorrowful moods had taken hold of him. Die Weltbuhne carried an ironic obituary reporting the early demise of Adolf Hitler and adding that the Germanic gods had no doubt loved him too well.

Once more, circumstances were working in his favor. In the Reichstag elections held on December 7, the volkisch movement was able to garner only 3 per cent of the votes. It had previously had thirty-three deputies in the Reichstag; of these, only fourteen returned after the election. The results seemed to indicate that the radical Right had passed its peak. Apparently the Bavarian supreme court saw it that way, too, for it supported the lower court’s decision to grant Hitler parole, despite the protest of the state prosecutor. On December 20, while the inmates in Landsberg were already preparing to celebrate Christmas there, a telegram from Munich ordered the immediate release of Hitler and Kriebel.

Such model behavior and political change of heart were the conditions for parole, the court having held out some prospect for this after Hitler had served a mere six months of his five-year-sentence. We may well wonder how the Nazi leader who had already violated one parole, had escaped another prosecution by the intercession of a government minister, had for years instigated riots and meeting-hall rows, who had deposed the national government, arrested cabinet ministers and been responsible for killings, could possibly be granted so early a release. And in fact a complaint from the office of the state prosecutor had for the time being delayed the court’s action. But the state authority was inclined to pardon the lawbreaker for sharing its own bent. Consequently, it put very little pressure behind the obligatory deportation of Hitler. In a letter to the Ministry of the Interior dated September 22, 1924, the Munich police commissioner’s office had referred to this deportation as “essential,” and Prime Minister Held, the new Bavarian governmental chief, had even sent out feelers to discover whether the Austrians would be willing to take Hitler if he were deported. But nothing further had been done. Hitler himself was extremely worried; he tried in every conceivable way to prove his docility. He was angry when Gregor Strasser arose in the Landtag to denounce the continued imprisonment of Hitler as a disgrace for Bavaria and splutter that the country was being ruled by a “gang of swine, a mean, disgusting gang of swine.” He was also displeased by Rohm’s underground activity.

Toward the closing days of 1924, after approximately a year, the imprisonment that Hitler ironically called his “university at state expense” approached its end. At the request of the state prosecutor, prison warden Leybold on September 15, 1924, drew up a report that made the granting of parole a virtual certainty. “Hitler has shown himself a man of order,” the report states, “of discipline not only in respect to himself, but also in respect to his fellow inmates. He is easily content, modest and desirous to please. Makes no demands, is quiet and sensible, serious and quite without aggressiveness, and tries painstakingly to abide by prison rules. He is a man without personal vanity, is satisfied with the institution’s food, does not smoke and drink, and though comradely, is able to exert a certain authority over his fellow inmates…. Hitler will attempt to revitalize the nationalist movement according to his own principles, but no longer, as in the past by violent methods which if necessary (!) may be directed against the government; instead, he will work in league with the concerned governmental bureaus.”

Along with the goal, Hitler recognized and accepted the risk. It is astonishing to see how directly, in 1933, he began to put his program into effect. The alternative for him was never anything but world power or doom in the most literal sense. “Every being strives for expansion,” he told the professors and students of Erlangen in a 1930 speech, “and every nation strives for world dominion.” That proposition derived, he thought, straight from the aristocratic principle of Nature, which everywhere desired the victory of the stronger and the annihilation or unconditional subjugation of the weak. From this point of view he was entirely consistent at the end, when he saw the whole game lost and doom impending, and remarked to Albert Speer, who found the sentiment profoundly shocking: “If the war is lost, the people will be lost also. It is not necessary to worry about what the German people will need for elemental survival. On the contrary, it is best for us to destroy even these things. For the nation has proved to be the weaker, and the future belongs solely to the stronger eastern nation.”25 Germany had lost far more than a war; he was entirely without hope. For the last time he bowed to the law of Nature, “this cruel queen of all wisdom,” which had imperiously ruled his life and thought.

Out of theories of this sort Hitler had formed, by the mid-twenties, the essentials of the foreign policy he later put into practice: the early attempts at alliance with England and the Rome-Berlin Axis, the campaign against France and the vast war of annihilation in the East to conquer and take possession of the world’s “heartland.” Moral considerations played no part in these plans. “An alliance whose aim does not embrace a plan for war is senseless and worthless,” he declared in Mein Kampf. “State boundaries are made by man and changed by man.” They seem unalterable “only to the thoughtless idiot”; the conqueror’s might adequately demonstrates his right; “he who has, has.” Such were his maxims. And however extravagant the program he patched together out of his nightmares, his theories of history, his distorted view of biology and his situation analyses, in its hyperactive radicality it held greater promise of success than the temperate revisionist demands for the return of West Prussia or South Tyrol. Unlike his nationalist partners, Hitler had realized that Germany had no chances within the existing world political system. His profound emotional bias against normality served him well when he set out to challenge the normal ideas of foreign policy from the very roots. The game could be won only by refusing to play it. By turning in another direction, against the Soviet Union, which was felt as a threat by other respectable nations, he made these nations his confederates and rendered Germany “potentially so strong… that the conquest of an empire was in a very precise sense easier than the isolated recovery of Bromberg or Konigshutte.”24 He had a better chance to seize Moscow than Strassburg or Bozen.

Here Fate itself seems desirous of giving us a sign. By handing Russia to Bolshevism, it robbed the Russian nation of that intelligentsia which previously brought about and guaranteed its existence as a state. For the organization of a Russian state was not the result of the political abilities of the Slavs in Russia, but only a wonderful example of the state-forming efficacy of the German element in an inferior race…. For centuries Russia drew nourishment from this Germanic nucleus of its upper leading strata. Today it can be regarded as almost totally exterminated and extinguished. It has been replaced by the Jew. Impossible as it is for the Russian by himself to shake off the yoke of the Jew by his own resources, it is equally impossible for the Jew to maintain the mighty empire forever. He himself is no element of organization, but a ferment of decomposition. The giant empire in the east is ripe for collapse. And the end of Jewish rule in Russia will also be the end of Russia as a state. We have been chosen by fate as witnesses of a catastrophe which will be the mightiest confirmation of the soundness of the folkish theory.23

Mackinder had already drawn attention to the basic strength of what he called “the heartland”: Eastern Europe and European Russia, protected by huge land masses, were destined to be the “citadel of world rule.” The founder of geopolitics had decreed: “Whoever rules the heartland rules the world.” As we have seen, such pseudoscientific formulas had a special appeal to Hitler’s mind. But with all due credit to outside influences, Hitler’s version of these ideas was distinctively his own. Seldom had his “combinative talent” operated so brilliantly, for he drew the outlines of a foreign policy that not only guided Germany’s relations with the various great powers of Europe but satisfied her craving for revenge upon France, her desire for expansion and conquest, and his own miscellaneous ideological fixations, including his sense that a new age was dawning. To give this scheme the final fillip, it was made to fit into a pattern of “racial” history.

How he arrived at this concept, as logical as it was monstrous, really does not matter. Some of it was original, some of it an extension of current theories. The notion of living space seems to have been a borrowing from Rudolf Hess. Thanks to his adulation of “the man,” as he called Hitler, Hess had gradually won himself an important place among the group at the Landsberg prison. In particular, he replaced Emil Maurice in the position of Hitler’s secretary. Hess also brought Hitler into personal contact with his teacher, Karl Haushofer, who had taken the highly suggestive subject of political geography, the “geopolitics” expounded by Sir Halford Mackinder, and shaped it into a philosophy of imperialistic expansion.

And so we National Socialists consciously draw a line beneath the foreign policy tendency of our pre-War period. We take up where we broke off six hundred years ago. We stop the endless German movement to the south and west, and turn our gaze toward the land in the east. At long last we break off the colonial and commercial policy of the pre-War period and shift to the soil policy of the future.22

In presenting this program, Hitler certainly had not abandoned the idea of a war against France. That remained one of the primary points of his foreign policy right down to the last monologues in the bunker. But it now assumed another character. Just as Italy was to be placated by Germany’s renouncing the South Tyrol and England was to be wooed into an alliance by Germany’s dropping all colonial demands, war with France became simply another step that would allow Germany a free hand in the East. By the time he was writing the second volume of Mein Kampf in the course of 1925, Hitler forcefully assailed the revisionist approach; it aimed, he argued, at the restoration of wholly illogical, accidental, far too constricted borders, which, moreover, made no sense in terms of military geography. Worse still, such demands would stir up all of Germany’s former Wartime foes and lead them to revive their crumbling alliance. “The demand for restoration of the frontiers of 1914 is a political absurdity of such proportions and consequences as to make it seem a crime,” Hitler declared in italics. National Socialism, on the contrary, aimed at securing land and soil for the German people. “This action is the only one which, before God and our German posterity, would make any sacrifice of blood seem justified.” Such broad gains would “some day acquit the responsible statesmen of blood-guilt and sacrifice of the people.”21

The core of his thesis was that Germany, in her militarily, politically, and geographically threatened middle position, could survive “only by ruthlessly placing power politics in the foreground.” In an earlier discussion of Germany’s foreign policy in the age of Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler had held that Germany should either have renounced sea trade and colonies in order to join England against Russia or, alternatively, if she sought sea power and world trade, she should have joined Russia against England. In the early twenties Hitler favored the second course. He viewed England as one of the “principal” opponents of the Reich, and on this basis developed a marked pro-Russian bias. Under the influence of the emigre circle around Scheubner-Richter and Rosenberg, he looked toward an alliance with a “nationalistic” Russia, one “restored to health” and freed from the “Jewish-Bolshevik yoke.” Teamed with this new Russia, Germany would confront the West. Neither the concept of Lebensraum nor the inferiority of the Slavic race—which later was to be the basis for his expansionist Eastern policy—seems to have entered his head at this time. It was not until the beginning of 1923, probably in view of the stabilization of the Soviet regime, that he began to think of taking the opposite course and forming a pact with England against Russia. The sources seem to suggest that Hitler weighed this idea for more than a year, considered its ramifications, its consequences, and its chances of being realized. The fruit of this thinking appears in the famous fourth chapter of Mein Kampf, where he speaks of a war for living space fought against Russia.

In line with prevailing sentiment, Hitler had begun as a revisionist, demanding annulment of the Versailles Treaty, restoration of the borders of 1914, by force if necessary, and the joining of all Germans in one mighty great power. To this school of thought the main enemy was France, and Germany’s best hopes lay in exploiting the difficulties France was in increasing measure having with Italy and England. But Hitler did not keep to this view. True to his bent for thinking in larger terms, he was soon contemplating the Continent as a whole, and replacing border politics with area politics.

Underlying such pronunciamentos was, once again, the concept of a great turning point in the history of the world. A new age was beginning; history was once more setting the mighty wheel in motion and apportioning lots anew. An end was coming to the era of sea powers who conquered distant lands with their navies, heaped up riches, established bases, and dominated the world. In the pretechnical age the sea had been the road to expansion. But under modern conditions that had totally changed. Colonial greatness was anachronistic and slated for destruction. Present-day technical capacities, the possibility of pushing roads and railways into vast, still unopened areas and linking these by a network of strongpoints, meant that the old order was being reversed. The empire of the future, Hitler held, would be a land power, a compact, integrally organized military giant. The age was already moving in that direction. Undoubtedly Hitler’s way of conducting foreign policy in later years—as a succession of surprise blows—sprang from his inward restlessness. But he was also waging a desperate battle against time, against what he regarded as the course of history. He was forever seized by fear that Germany might for the second time arrive too late at the distribution of the world’s goods. When he considered the powers who might compete with Germany for future mastery, his thoughts repeatedly returned to Russia. Racial, political, geographic, and historical indications coincided: everything pointed to the East.20

He early saw four ways to meet the future threat of overpopulation. Three of these—restriction of births, internal colonization, overseas colonialism—he rejected as timid dreams or “unworthy tasks.” With explicit reference to the United States, he then argued that the only acceptable course was a continental war of conquest. “What is refused to amicable methods must be taken by force,” he wrote in Landsberg and made no secret of what he had in mind: “If land was desired in Europe, it could be obtained by and large only at the expense of Russia, and this meant that the new Reich must again set itself on the march along the road of the Teutonic Knights of old.”19

The living space that he continually called for was not intended merely to provide food for a surplus population, to insure against “starvation and misery,” and to receive a peasantry threatened by industry and trade. Rather, these territorial demands were a prelude to a program for world conquest. Every ambitious nation needed a certain amount of territory, enough to make it independent of alliances and the political alignments of a given period. Historical greatness was intimately connected with geographic extension. To this idea Hitler clung to the very last. Brooding in the bunker shortly before the end, he complained that fate had forced him into premature conquests because a nation without great space could not even set itself great goals.

The concept of revolution that he had dimly in mind also had a strongly elitist, biological cast. He thought of revolution as aiming nol only at new forms of rule and new institutions but also at a new type of man. In many of his speeches and proclamations he hailed the emergence of that new type as the dawn of a “vertitable golden age.” One of his oft-repeated statements was: “Anyone who understands National Socialism only as a political movement knows virtually nothing about it. It is even more than religion; it is the will to a new creation of man.” Thus one of the most pressing tasks of the new state would be to bring to a halt “further bastardization,” to “lift marriage from the level of continual miscegenation,” and enable it once more “to beget images of the Lord and not abortions midway between man and ape.” The pure Aryan type could be recovered by breeding back in a series of “regression crossings.” By such biological and pedagogical procedures, the German people could once more be restored to its pristine purity. In a secret speech to the 1938 officer class he spoke of a development continuing for a hundred years, at the end of which a majority would possess those select characteristics that would enable it to conquer and rule the world.

These theories particularly shaped his thoughts on foreign policy, which he expounded in Mein Kampf and was to pursue right to the end. But no one realized that the seemingly fantastic goals he set forth in his book were meant as a concrete political program. It all revolved around the premise that the plight of Germany was caused by racial factors and that its salvation would come only when it had restored its racial integrity. He argued: “If the German people in its historical development had possessed that herd unity which other peoples have enjoyed, the German Reich today would doubtless be mistress of the globe.” He took the traditional nationalistic phrase Volk ohne Raum (“people without space”) and turned it around into Raum ohne Volk. The pressing domestic mission of the National Socialist Party was, he considered, “to establish a nation in the empty space between the Meuse and the Memel.” For “what we see there today are Marxist human herds, but no longer a German nation.”

It was this ideology, well developed though never spelled out as a coherent system, that gave his career what he himself was fond of calling its “somnambulistic sureness.” Things might look fairly sanguine at the moment, but he would not allow this to alter his picture of the state of the world and his sense of being engaged in a life-and-death struggle. This interpretation and this feeling were what gave his politics such savage consistency. His indecisiveness, which almost all his associates report, always involved tactical alternatives; he was never in doubt on questions of principle. And in spite of his bent for postponements and temporizings, he pushed dauntlessly toward the great final confrontation. In trying to explain away many of the inhumanities of the regime, common folk would naively say, “If only the Fuhrer knew!” But there they showed how utterly they misunderstood their ruler. In fact, he knew far more than anyone suspected, in a way far more than actually happened. As one of his close followers commented, Hitler himself was “the most radical Nazi of all.”

And now it became obvious to what extent his anti-Semitism went beyond the traditional European brand; his fantasies about the Jews have a manic dynamism far surpassing all his visions of national grandeur. “If our people and our state become the victim of these bloodthirsty and avaricious Jewish tyrants of nations, the whole earth will sink into the snares of this octopus; if Germany frees herself from this embrace, this greatest of dangers to man may be regarded as broken for the whole world.” And with that operation out of the way, he already saw dawning the Millennial Kingdom, the Thousand-Year Reich, which he was impatiently hailing when he had taken only a small step toward it. Then order would once again arise out of chaos, unity would be achieved, masters and slaves would hold their proper places, and the wisely led “nucleus peoples of the world” would respect one another and live in peace, since the root of the world’s ills would at last have been eliminated.

For that was the other key correction he made in Gobineau. He not only personalized the process of racial and cultural death in the figure of the Jew as the prime mover of all decline; he also restored utopianism to history by transforming Gobineau’s “melancholic and fatalistic pessimism into aggressive optimism.” In contrast to the French aristocrat, he held that racial decadence was not inevitable. Of course, the Jewish world conspiracy would see Aryan hegemony in Germany as the crucial enemy. In no other country was biological contamination or the interplay of capitalistic and Bolshevistic machinations carried out so systematically with such dire results. But for this very reason Hitler could appeal to the redeeming will: Germany was the world’s battlefield on which the future of the globe would be decided.

Though he pretended that these more relentless views had come to him during his imprisonment in Landsberg, in fact this aggravation of his hate complex had already taken place. As early as May, 1923, during a speech in the Krone Circus, Hitler had cried out: “The Jews are undoubtedly a race, but not human. They cannot be human in the sense of being an image of God, the Eternal. The Jews are the image of the devil. Jewry means the racial tuberculosis of the nations.” But when he began organizing his many scraps of ideas and feelings into something resembling a coherent system, they took on a different cast. Henceforth, when he denied that the Jews were human, it was not just the ranting of the demagogue but deadly earnest and fanatical belief. He borrowed his rhetoric from the language of parasitology: the laws of nature themselves demanded that measures be taken against the “parasites,” the “eternal leeches” and “vampires upon other peoples.” Such measures would have their own irrevocable morality. Once he had cast the problem in such terms, annihilation and mass murder came to seem the extreme triumph of this morality. To the last Hitler insisted that his services to mankind lay in his recognition of the “true role” of the Jews and his courage in pushing that recognition to its consequences. It wasn’t as if he had merely sought the glory of a conqueror like Napoleon, who after all had been “only a human being, not a worldshaking event.”17 At the end of February, 1942, shortly after the Wannsee conference at which the “final solution” was ordained, he declared to his table companions: “The discovery of the Jewish virus is one of the greatest revolutions which has been undertaken in the world. The struggle we are waging is of the same kind as, in the past century, that of Pasteur and Koch. How many diseases can be traced back to the Jewish virus! We shall regain our health only when we exterminate the Jews.” With the directness and determination of one who had thought more deeply and seen more clearly than all others, he had recognized his true mission, his “cyclopean task.”18

To be sure, Hitler never lost sight of the propaganda value of his anti-Semitism. He was highly aware of that aspect of things. If the Jew did not exist, he remarked, “we would have had to invent him. A visible enemy, not just an invisible one, is what is needed.” But at the same time the Jew was the focus of his emotions, a pathological mania; the form the Jew took in Hitler’s own mind did not differ greatly from the diabolical propaganda image he had created. The Jew was the grotesque projection of everything Hitler hated and craved. Certainly the thesis that the Jews were striving for world domination made good propaganda; but over and beyond such Machiavellian considerations he really believed this thesis, saw it as the key to all sorts of phenomena. He clung more and more to this “redeeming formula,” convinced that through it he understood the nature of the great crisis of the age that he alone could cure. Toward the end of July, 1924, a Nazi from Czechoslovakia, who had come to Landsberg for an interview with the Fuhrer, asked Hitler whether his attitude toward. Judaism had changed since his imprisonment. He replied: “Yes, yes, it’s quite right that I have changed my mind about the way to fight Judaism. I have realized that hitherto I have been much too mild. In the course of working out my book I have come to realize that in the future the most stringent methods of struggle must be employed if we are to fight through successfully. I am convinced that this is a vital question not only for our people, but for all peoples. For the Jews are the pestilence of the world.”16

He was an infernal, crazily grimacing phantom, “a growth spreading across the whole earth,” the “lord of the antiworld,” a complex product of obsessions and clever psychology. In keeping with his theory of focusing upon a single opponent, Hitler made the figure of the Jew the incarnation of all imaginable vices and dreads, the cause and its opposite, the thesis and the antithesis, literally “to blame for everything,” for the tyranny of the stock market and for Bolshevism, for humanitarian ideology and for 30 million victims tortured to death in the Soviet Union “in veritable slaughterhouses.” In a conversation with Dietrich Eckart, published after Eckart’s death but while Hitler was still in Landsberg prison, Hitler expounded the identity of Judaism, Christianity, and Bolshevism by references to Isaiah 19:2–3 and Exodus 12:38.15 He showed that the Jews had been expelled from Egypt because they had tried to produce a revolutionary mood by inciting the rabble with humanitarian phrases (“just as they do here”). From this it followed that Moses was the first leader of Bolshevism. And just as Paul virtually invented Christianity in order to undermine the Roman Empire, so Lenin employed the doctrine of Marxism to bring about the end of the present system. Thus, Hitler argued, the Old Testament already provided the pattern of the Jewish assault upon the superior, creative race, a pattern repeated again and again down the ages.

It is not difficult to discern the mark of Arthur de Gobineau upon this system. In his doctrine of the inequality of races Gobineau had first formulated the anxiety connected with the modern age’s racial conglomerations. The downfall of all cultures could be traced to promiscuous racial mixing, he had argued. This French aristocrat’s race complex, his aversion for the “corrupt blood of the rabble” clearly sprang from the resentments of an abdicating ruling class. Nevertheless, his doctrine was taken up by certain literary sects of the period and spawned a whole literature along similar lines. Significantly, Hitler simplified Gobineau’s elaborate doctrine until it became demagogically usable and offered a set of plausible explanations for all the discontents, anxieties, and crises of the contemporary scene. Versailles and the excesses of the Bavarian soviet republic, the evils of the capitalistic system, and the outrages of modern art, night life and syphilis—all became aspects of that age-old struggle whereby the lower races attempted to destroy the noble Aryan. And hidden behind it all, instigator, mastermind and power-greedy archfoe, a bugbear of mythological dimensions, stood the Eternal Jew.

This was the very peril mankind was once again confronting. Unlike the times of demise of the great empires of antiquity, what was now threatening was not just the extinction of a culture but the end of all higher humanness. The decay of the Aryan nuclear substance had gone further than ever before. “Germanic blood on this earth is gradually approaching exhaustion,” Hitler warned. He saw the forces of darkness pressing in from all sides, as if aware of impending victory. “I tremble for Europe!” he exclaimed in one speech and conjured up a vision of the old continent “sinking into a sea of blood and grief.” Once again, “cowardly know-it-alls and critics of Nature” were undermining Nature’s elemental laws. These scoundrels were agents of an “all-embracing general offensive” that appeared under numerous guises: Communism, pacifism, the League of Nations, all international movements and institutions in general. Similarly, the Judaeo-Christian morality of pity and its verbose cosmopolitan variants tried to persuade man that he could overcome Nature, raise himself up to be master of his instincts, and achieve eternal peace. But the truth was that no one could “rebel against a firmament.” The indubitable will of Nature determined the existence of nations, their clashes in war, the division of mankind into masters and slaves, the brutal preservation of the species.

Behind this stood the doctrine of creative racial nuclei: since primeval times small Aryan elites have prevailed over the dull, slumbering masses of historyless inferior peoples, using them to further those abilities that are the mark of the Aryan genius. Aryans are the Promethean bearers of light. They alone are capable of establishing states and founding cultures, “forever kindling anew that fire of knowledge which illumined the night of silent mysteries and thus called man to climb the path to mastery over the other beings of this earth.” Only when the Aryan nucleus began mingling with the subject people did decline and downfall follow. For “human culture and civilization on this continent are inseparably bound up with the presence of the Aryan. If he dies out or declines, the dark veils of an age without culture will again descend on this globe.”14

War and destruction were essential to restore the shaky balance of the world: that was the morality and the metaphysics of his policies. Pursuing his favorite game of letting the epochs of history unreel before his eyes in broad vague outline, mulling over the reasons for the decline of peoples and cultures, he always discovered the cause of their downfall in their failure to obey their instincts. The crumbling of mighty systems of power could be traced to a flouting of Nature, especially to miscegenation. For although all creatures adhere strictly to the instinct for racial purity, and the “titmouse seeks the titmouse, the finch the finch, the stork the stork, the field mouse the field mouse,” man is prone to act contrary to the laws of nature and to commit biological adultery. Impotence and the death of nations from old age were simply the revenge taken by Nature for the denial of her primal order: “Blood mixture and the resultant drop in the racial level is the sole cause of the dying out of old cultures; for men do not perish as a result of lost wars, but by the loss of that force of resistance which is contained only in pure blood. All who are not of good race in this world are chaff.”13

Hitler’s complete blindness to the rights of others and others’ claim to happiness, his utter amorality, are nowhere revealed so clearly as in this “unconditional reverence for the… divine laws of existence.” There is surely an element of late-bourgeois ideology here, which tried to compensate for the decadence and feebleness of the age by glorifying mindlessness and equating brutality and primitiveness with the natural and primeval state of things. It would also seem that such a creed provided Hitler with a lofty justification for his personal coldness and lack of feeling. He could better deal with his aggressive impulses by converting struggle, murder, and “blood sacrifice” into acts of obedience to a divine command. “By defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord,” he wrote in Mein Kampf, and almost twenty years later, in the midst of war and extermination, he asserted with considerable complacency: “I have always had a clear conscience.”

One might suspect a trace of irony in such statements, but that is belied by the earnest tone of conviction with which Hitler cites the eating habits of apes as confirmation of his own vegetarianism; the apes showed the way. And, he continued, a glance at nature reveals that the bicycle, for instance, is correctly conceived, whereas the airship is “totally insane.” Man has no choice but to look to the laws of nature and follow them; there can be “no better system” than the merciless principles of selection prevailing among wild animals. Nature is not immoral: “Who is at fault when the cat eats the mouse?” he asks scornfully. Man’s so-called humanity is only “a tool of his weakness and thus in actuality the most cruel destroyer of his existence.” Struggle, conquest, destruction are immutable. “One being drinks the blood of another. By dying, the one furnishes food for the other. We should not blather about humanity.”

This “iron law of nature” represented the beginning and end of all his lucubrations. From it he drew such lessons as that “all imaginable means” were permissible in the struggle for survival of nations: “persuasion, cunning, cleverness, persistence, kindness, wiliness, and brutality,” or that there was basically no contradiction between war and politics, rather that “the ultimate goal of politics” was war. The idea of such an iron law pervades Hitler’s concepts of justice and morality, which he tried to pattern on what happened in nature. It also underlies his belief in the Fuhrer principle as well as his concern with nationalistic and openly bellicose racial selection. He boasted of his intention of marching over Europe in great “blood-based fishing expeditions” to help blond, pale-skinned human material “spread its blood” and thereby win dominance. Within this philosophy of total struggle, obedience ranked far higher than intelligence, readiness for action far higher than insight, while fanatical blindness became the highest virtue. “Woe unto him who lacks faith!” Hitler sometimes cried. Even marriage was seen as a union for purposes of selfperpetuation, while the home was defined as a “fortress from which the battle of life is waged.” Using rough analogies between the animal world and human society, Hitler pronounced the superiority of the ruthless over delicately structured organisms, of strength over mind. The apes, he claimed, trampled every outsider to death as an enemy of the community, “and what was right for apes must be even more applicable to men….”12

Nature… puts living creatures on this globe and watches the free play of forces. She then confers the master’s right on her favorite child, the strongest in courage and industry…. Only the born weakling can view this as cruel, but he after all is only a weak and limited man; for if this law did not prevail, any conceivable higher development of organic living beings would be unthinkable…. In the end, only the urge for self-preservation can conquer. Beneath it so-called humanity, the expression of a mixture of stupidity, cowardice, and know-it-all conceit, will melt like snow in the March sun. Mankind has grown great in eternal struggle, and only in eternal peace does it perish.

These terms could readily be combined with the principle of the struggle for life and of the survival of the fittest, resulting in a sort of eschatological Darwinism. “The earth,” Hitler was fond of saying, “is like a chalice passed from hand to hand, which explains the efforts to always get it into the hand of the strongest. For tens of thousands of years…” He discerned a sort of fundamental law of the universe in the perpetual and deadly conflict of all against all:

The concept of a cosmic struggle runs all through Mein Kampf. However absurd or fantastical this may appear in retrospect, we cannot deny the metaphysical earnestness of Hitler’s thinking. “We may perish, perhaps. But we shall take a world with us. Muspilli, universal conflagration,” he once said in one of his apocalyptic moods. There are many passages in Mein Kampf that soar into universal dimensions. “The Jewish doctrine of Marxism,” he asserts, “…as a foundation of the universe… would bring about the end of any order intellectually conceivable to man.” The very illogic of such a thesis, which raises an ideology to the level of a principle of order in the universe, demonstrates Hitler’s urge to think in cosmic terms. It was necessary for “the stars,” “the planets,” “the world ether,” and the “light years” to take part in his personal struggle, for which “creation,” the “planet Earth,” and the “Kingdom of Heaven” served as backdrop.

Hitler himself had soaked up this basic mood of angst, and with his disposition to drive things to extremes, to see periods in terms of eons, he felt that the fate of mankind was at stake. “This world is at an end!” He was obsessed by the notion of a world-wide disease, by viruses, termites, and the tumors of humanity. He later turned to Horbiger’s world ice theory, which held that fire and ice had always struggled for supremacy in the universe, and his imagination was caught by the idea that the history of the planet and the evolution of man could be traced back to massive cosmic cataclysms. With deep fascination he anticipated the fall of nations and civilizations, and this cataclysmic view of history came to be coupled with his belief in messianic figures and his sense of his own great destiny. Students of the period have marveled at the determination with which he pursued his program for destroying the Jews right up to the last possible moment during the war, without regard for military necessities. This determination cannot be explained as mere obstinacy. Rather, Hitler was convinced that he was in the midst of a titanic struggle whose importance outweighed any events of the moment. He felt himself to be that “other force” which hurls evil “back to Lucifer” in order to save the universe.11

In fact he was formulating a last-ditch ideology for a bourgeoisie long on the defensive; he took its beliefs, diluted and coarsened them, and overlaid them with an aggressive and purposeful theory of action. His philosophy was a compound of all the nightmares and intellectual fads of the bourgeois age: the fear of revolution from the Left, a threat that had haunted Europe since 1789 and had actually been realized recently in Russia and, briefly, in Germany. Then there was the German Austrian’s psychosis about being overrun by foreigners; this emerged as an obsession with racial and biological questions. Then came the fear of the volkisch group, expressed in any number of ways, that awkward, dreamy Germany would be the loser in the contest of nations; this emerged as nationalist feeling. And finally there was the historical angst of the bourgeoisie who felt their period of greatness coming to an end and whose sense of security was eroding. “Nothing is anchored any longer,” Hitler declaimed. “Nothing is rooted within us any longer. Everything is superficial, flies away from us. The thinking of our people is becoming restless and hasty. All of life is being torn asunder….”10

Of special significance was Hitler’s way of perceiving everything from the angle of power. In contrast to the spokesmen of the volkisch movement, whose failure was in no small part due to their love for ideological subtleties, Hitler regarded ideas in themselves as “mere theory” and only took up those that lent themselves to useful practical application. When he spoke of “thinking in party terms,” he was describing his own habit of casting all ideas, trends, and beliefs into a form that fitted the needs of power, and was political in the true sense.

Hitler’s world view did not contain any new vistas or a new concept of social well-being. Rather, it was a synthesis of all that Hitler’s “spongelike memory” had soaked up in his early years of voracious reading. The material appears, however, in startling permutations and relationships. Hitler’s originality manifested itself precisely in his ability to force heterogeneous elements together and to impose solidity and structure on the patchwork creed. His mind, one might say, hardly produced thoughts, but it did produce energy. It concentrated and shaped the variegated ideas, pressing them into a glacial mass that from the very beginning clearly portended conquest, enslavement, mass murder. Hugh Trevor-Roper has described the cold insanity of this world in a telling image: “imposing indeed in its granite harshness and yet infinitely squalid with miscellaneous cumber—like some huge barbarian monolith, the expression of giant strength and savage genius, surrounded by a festering heap of refuse—old tins and dead vermin, ashes and eggshells and ordure,—the intellectual detritus of centuries.”9

Inadequate and clumsy Mein Kampf may have been. But it set forth, although in fragmentary and unorganized form, all the elements of National Socialist ideology. Here Hitler spelled out his aims, although his contemporaries failed to recognize them. As one begins to arrange the scattered sections and grasp their inner logic, one comes upon “a scheme of thought so consistent as to take one’s breath away.” In the following years Hitler did tinker somewhat with the text, rounding it off and making it more systematic, but on the whole the book evolved no further after his imprisonment at Landsberg. The phenomenon of early ossification, which stamps so much of this man’s life, is nowhere so evident as in the field of ideology, where ideas espoused in youth persist, dov/n to their very phraseology, throughout the rise to power and the years of dictatorship, and even when the end is in sight retain their crippling hold. Nationalism, anti-Bolshevism, and anti-Semitism, linked by a Darwinistic theory of struggle, formed the pillars of his world view and shaped his utterances from the very first to the very last.

Rauschning was right in recognizing that as a movement National Socialism always manifested a great willingness to adapt and that Hitler himself was remarkably indifferent to programmatic and ideological issues. He admitted that he adhered to his twenty-five points, even when they were obsolete, only for tactical reasons. Any change, he had observed, breeds confusion in the popular mind, and it really did not matter what one’s program was supposed to be. Of Alfred Rosenberg’s magnum opus The Myth of the Twentieth Century, widely considered one of the basic works of National Socialism, he openly stated that he had “read only a small part of it since it is… written in a style too hard to understand.” But even if National Socialism did not develop a true party line and was content to accept certain gestures and formulas as sufficient proof of orthodoxy, it was not entirely ruled by cynical considerations of success and power. National Socialism combined the practice of total control with the doctrine thereof; the two elements were continually intertwined, and even as Hitler and his cohorts confessed on occasion to the simplest and most unscrupulous power mania, they always revealed themselves the prisoners of their own prejudices and baleful utopias. Hitler’s astonishing career can be seen as the triumph of his tactical genius. Time and again he owed his salvation to some inspired tactical move. Yet his success in a deeper sense emanated from the entire complex of national anxieties, hopes, and visions that Hitler shared, even as he manipulated it. Nor can we overlook the compelling force he managed to impart to his thoughts on certain basic questions of history and politics, power and human existence.

The book’s peculiarly neurotic aura, its queerness, its fragmentary and disorganized quality, help account for the disdain so long accorded to the doctrines of National Socialists. “No one took it seriously, could take it seriously, or even understand this style at all,” wrote Hermann Rauschning.[7] He asserted, on the basis of his intimate background knowledge: “Hitler’s real goals… are not to be found in Mein Kampf.”8 With a good deal of persuasive brilliance Rauschning formulated a theory that widely influenced later historians, the theory that National Socialism was a “Revolution of Nihilism.” Rauschning maintained that Hitler and the movements he led had no ideas, no systematic ideology; the Nazis merely exploited existing moods and trends that would help to swell their membership rolls. A joke current in the 1930’s made a similar point: National Socialist ideology was referred to as “the World as Will without Idea.”[8] Rauschning felt that all the tenets of Nazism, nationalism, anticapitalism, the cult of ritual, foreign-policy goals, even racial theory and anti-Semitism were the sport of Hitler’s completely unprincipled opportunism. Hitler the opportunist, Rauschning argues, respected nothing, feared nothing, believed in nothing, and broke the most solemn oaths with never a qualm. To Rauschning, the perfidy of National Socialism was literally boundless. All its ideology was merely sound and fury to mesmerize the masses. Central to it was a will to power that craved for nothing but power itself and regarded every success merely as a step to new and ever bolder adventures—without meaning, without goals, without the possibility of satisfaction. “This movement is totally without ideals and lacks even the semblance of a program. Its commitment is entirely to action; its crack troops are instinctively geared for mindless action; the leaders choose action on a cold, calculating and cunning basis. For National Socialists there was and is no aim which they would not take up or drop at a moment’s notice, their only criterion being the strengthening of the movement.”

The final Jewish goal is denationalization, is sowing confusion by the bastardization of other nations, lowering the racial level of the highest, and dominating this racial stew by exterminating the folkish intelligentsias and replacing them by members of his own race…. Just as he himself [the Jew] systematically ruins women and girls, he does not shrink back from pulling down the blood barriers for others, even on a large scale. It was and is Jews who bring the Negroes into the Rhineland, always with the same secret thought and clear aim of ruining the hated white race by the necessarily resulting bastardization of other nations, lowering the racial level of the highest, and himself rising to be its master…. If physical beauty were today not forced entirely into the background by our foppish fashions, the seduction of hundreds of thousands of girls by bow-legged, repulsive Jewish bastards would not be possible…. Systematically these black parasites of the nation defile our inexperienced young blond girls and thereby destroy something which can no longer be replaced in this world…. The folkish ideology must at last succeed in bringing about that nobler age in which men will no longer see it as their concern to breed superior dogs, horses and cats, but in the raising of man himself….7

The book’s convoluted style militated against it; the almost 10 million copies ultimately distributed suffered the same fate as all works bought out of duty or to show political orthodoxy. It remained unread. Another discouraging element may have been the grim, compulsive quality of Hitler’s mind. As a speaker, amidst the fanfare of carefully prepared appearances, Hitler was apparently able to cover this up. But a curiously nasty, obscene odor emanates from the pages of Mein Kampf. It is strongest in the incredible and revealing chapter on syphilis, but it also rises out of the grubby jargon, the stale images, and the poor-mouth attitudes that represent his stylistic stance. The mixed-up young man, who throughout the war and the frenzied activity of the following years never managed to find more than motherly woman friends, and who, according to someone close to him, “was terrified of even chatting with a woman,” projects his own starvations and repressions onto the world. Stamped on his concepts of history, politics, nature, or human life, are the anxieties and lusts of the former inmate of the home for men. He is haunted by the images of puberty: copulation, sodomy, perversion, rape, contamination of the blood.

Probably realizing that the book betrayed him, Hitler later tried to disassociate himself from it, describing it as a stylistically unfortunate collection of editorials for the Volkische Beobachter and dismissing it as “fantasies behind bars.” “This much I know, that if I had suspected in 1924 that I was to become Reichskanzler, I would not have written the book.” But at the same time he implied that his reservations were purely tactical or stylistic in nature: “As to the substance, there is nothing I would want to change.”

Yet, along with all the pretentious and disordered thoughts, the book contains some deep insights, born directly of Hitler’s profound irrationality, as well as many sharp formulations and striking images. Hitler’s stiffness and doggedness make a strange contrast with his longing for the flowing period, as does his search for stylization with his lack of selfcontrol. His attempts at logic are at variance with his dull repetitiousness, and the one element in the book that nothing counteracts is the monotonous, manic egocentricity. This corresponds only too well with the lack of human feeling and human beings in its many pages. The book may be tedious and hard to read. Yet it does convey a remarkably faithful portrait of its author, who in his constant fear of being unmasked actually unmasks himself.

Several of Hitler’s followers put in long hard hours editing the book, but they could not weed out the stylistic slips and infelicities that were part and parcel of Hitler’s verbose, pseudoeducated manner. Thus we find the text studded with such phrases as “the rats that politically poison our nation” gnawing the meager education “from the heart and memory of the broad masses,” or “the flag of the Reich” springing “from the womb of war.” Rudolf Olden has pointed out the numerous absurdities of Hitler’s overwrought style. The following, for instance, is a typical Hitlerian metaphor. He is speaking of privation: “He who has not himself been gripped in the clutches of this strangulating viper will never come to know its poisoned fangs.” Olden comments: “That one sentence contains more mistakes than one could correct in an entire essay. A viper has no clutches, and a snake which can coil itself around a human being has no poison fangs. Moreover, if a person is strangled by a snake, he never comes to know its fangs.”6

I again immersed myself in the theoretical literature of this new world, attempting to achieve clarity concerning its possible effects, and then compared it with the actual phenomena and events it brings about in political, cultural and economic life…. Gradually I obtained a positively granite foundation for my own convictions, so that since that time I have never been forced to undertake a shift in my own inner view on this question.[6]5

Behind the front of bold words lurks the anxiety of the half-educated author that his readers may question his intellectual competence. He tries to make his language imposing by stringing together long series of nouns, many of them formed from adjectives or verbs, so that they sound empty and artificial. Taken as a whole, it is a language that lacks all natural ease; it can scarcely move or breathe:

The book constantly reinforces the insinuation that Hitler is in fact this prodigy. The image of the dying hero can be construed as an attempt to give a cast of tragic nobility to the recent defeats. Hitler went at the job with an application that was rare for him. Here was his chance to prove that despite his lack of schooling, despite his failure to be admitted to the Academy, despite his humiliating past in the home for men, he had reached the lofty heights of bourgeois culture. It may have seemed that he was doing nothing, but all through the years he had thought long and hard and could offer not only an interpretation of the present but also an outline for the future. Such were the pretensions that went into the making of Mein Kampf.

The rarer [is] success. If, however, once in centuries success does come to a man, perhaps in his latter days a faint beam of his coming glory may shine upon him. To be sure, these great men are only the Marathon runners of history; the laurel wreath of the present touches only the brow of the dying hero.4

For if the art of the politician is really the art of the possible, the theoretician is one of those of whom it can be said that they are pleasing to the gods only if they demand and want the impossible…. In long periods of humanity, it may happen once that the politician is wedded to the theoretician. The more profound this fusion, however, the greater are the obstacles opposing the work of the politician. He no longer works for necessities which will be understood by any shopkeeper, but for aims which only the fewest comprehend. Therefore, his life is torn by love and hate….

Konrad Heiden, Hitler’s biographer, believed that Hitler had made a pact with the authorities not to divulge too much about the recent conspiracy. That may or may not be so. But in any case, it seems certain that Hitler’s ambition aimed higher than the kind of recital that Amann envisaged. Hitler saw his chance to give a deeper rationale to his recently developed claim to leadership and to show himself as that compound of politician and theoretician that he had invoked as the only possible savior for the country. Here, in an inconspicuous spot midway in the first part, is a passage that reveals his true aims:

At the beginning of July Hitler plunged into the writing of Mein Kampf in the same immoderate spirit he had shown in his reading. He finished the first part in three and a half months. He later commented that he had had “to write in order to get everything off my chest.” “The typewriter rattled late into the night, and he could be heard in his little room dictating to his friend Hess. On Saturday evenings he usually read… the finished passages to his fellow prisoners, who sat around him like disciples.” The book was originally conceived as an account and evaluation of “four and one half years of struggle.” But it more and more developed into a mixture of autobiography, ideological tract, and theory of tactics; it also helped complete the Fuhrer legend. In Hitler’s mythologizing self-portrait, the unhappy and vacant years before his entrance into politics are boldly filled out with elements of want, asceticism, and solitude to represent a phase of inner growth and preparation, a sojourn, so to speak, in the desert. Max Amann, the book’s publisher, had apparently expected a memoir of quite another sort, full of political revelations. He was at first terribly disappointed by the stiff, long-winded, and boring manuscript.

In all that various witnesses have said about Hitler’s reading, the one detail that rings true is the description of his intensity, his hunger for material. Kubizek reports that back in Linz the young Hitler had cards at three separate libraries and never appeared before his mind’s eye other than surrounded by books. Indeed, Hitler’s vocabulary reflects extensive reading. Yet his speeches and writings, right up to the table talk, as well as the memoirs of his entourage, show him to have been remarkably indifferent to intellectual and literary questions; in the good 200 monologues that make up his table talk, the names of two or three German classics turn up casually; Mein Kampf refers to Goethe and to Schopenhauer only once, and that in a somewhat tasteless anti-Semitic connection. In actual fact, knowledge meant nothing to Hitler; he was not acquainted with the pleasure or the struggle that go with its acquisition; to him it was merely useful, and the “art of correct reading” of which he spoke was nothing more than the hunt for formulations to borrow and authorities to cite in support of his own preconceptions: “correctly coordinated within the somehow existing picture.”3

We know about Hitler’s reading matter only through what others have reported, for he himself very seldom spoke of books or favorite writers; like so many self-educated people, he was afraid of being considered derivative in his ideas. The only writer he mentioned fairly often and in various connections was Schopenhauer, whose works he claimed to have taken to the front with him, and from whom he could quote longish passages. He also referred to Nietzsche, Schiller, and Lessing. In an autobiographical sketch written in 1921 he maintains that in his youth he “thoroughly studied economic theory, as well as the entire anti-Semitic literature available at the time,” and he comments: “From my twenty-second year on, I threw myself with special eagerness upon writings on military and political matters, and I never ceased my probing preoccupation with general world history.” Yet he does not name a specific work in these fields. It was part of his character always to try to create the impression that he had mastered whole areas of knowledge. Similarly, he goes on to speak of his deep study of art history, cultural history, the history of architecture, and “political problems.” Yet it seems all too probable that up to the time of his imprisonment Hitler had acquired his knowledge of those areas only from second- or third-hand digests. Hans Frank mentions Hitler’s reading Nietzsche, Chamberlain, Ranke, Treitschke, Marx, and Bismarck, as well as war memoirs of German and Allied statesmen—all this during the period in Landsberg. Yet he went on extracting the elements of his world view from pseudoscientific secondary works: tracts on race theory, anti-Semitic pamphlets, treatises on the Teutons, on racial mysticism and eugenics, as well as popular treatments of Darwinism and the philosophy of history.

But principally he used his time for taking stock. He attempted to give some rational form to his jumble of emotions and to combine all the scattered pieces of earlier readings and half-baked ideas with his most recent literary gleanings into an organized ideological system. “This period gave me a chance to obtain clarity on certain concepts which I had previously understood only instinctively.”2

Hitler often took walks in the fortress garden. He was still having his old trouble arriving at a consistent style, for he combined his airs of a Caesar with Lederhosen, a Bavarian peasant jacket, and often a hat. When he spoke at the so-called comradeship evenings, we are told, “all the officials of the fortress gathered silently in the stairwell outside and listened.” As if wound up by his defeat, he continued to elaborate his legends and visions and to work out practical plans for the state, whose dictator he still expected to be. Supposedly the idea for the building of the autobahns and the creation of the Volkswagen dated from this period. Although visiting hours were officially restricted to six hours weekly, Hitler received visitors for up to six hours a day—adherents, petitioners, and friendly politicians, all of whom made the pilgrimage to Landsberg. The visitors included many women, for which reason the prison had been jokingly referred to as the “first Brown House.”1 On Hitler’s thirty-fifth birthday, with the trial not far behind him, the flowers and packages for the famous prisoner filled several rooms.

Thus his imprisonment in no way hampered the process of self-stylization. In a subsequent trial some forty more participants in the putsch were convicted and sent to Landsberg. They included members of the “Hitler shock troop,” Berchtold, Haug, Maurice, Amann, Hess, Heines, Schreck, and the student Walter Hewel. Hitler now had what amounted to an entourage. The prison authorities were highly accommodating to the special requirements of their prisoner. When he took his meals in the large common room, at a special table with his followers, he was allowed to sit at the head of the table under a swastika banner. Fellow prisoners were assigned the task of cleaning and tidying his room. He himself was not required to participate in the work program or the prison athletics. It was taken for granted that his followers, on arrival at the prison, were to “report to the Fuhrer without delay.” Every morning at ten o’clock, moreover, they came in for the daily “conference with the Chief.” Hitler devoted much of his time to his extensive correspondence. One adulatory letter he received came from a recent Ph.D. in philology named Joseph Goebbels, who commented on Hitler’s closing address at the trial: “What you stated there is the catechism of a new political creed coming to birth in the midst of a collapsing, secularized world…. To you a god has given the tongue with which to express our sufferings.[5] You formulated our agony in words that promise salvation.” He also received a letter from Houston Stewart Chamberlain.

The laurel wreath Hitler hung on his wall in the Landsberg fortress-prison was more than a token that his spirit was unbroken. The forced isolation from political activity was of benefit to him politically and personally. For one thing, it permitted him to escape the aftermath of the disaster of November 9. He could follow the wrangles of his embittered and scattered adherents from the sidelines, while remaining the untarnished martyr of the nationalist cause. It also gave him time for introspection after years of almost mindless unrest and excitement. He recovered his faith in himself and in his mission. And, as his turbulent emotions died down, he felt himself strengthened in his role as leader of the volkisch right wing. He had at first claimed this role hesitantly, but in the course of the trial he became more confident, and finally he boldly came forth as the divinely appointed one and only Fuhrer. Filled with this consciousness, Hitler managed to impress this image of himself upon his fellow prisoners. From this time on, the sense of mission never left him. It froze his features in that mask which no smile, no altruistic gesture, no moment of spontaneity ever softened. Even before the November putsch Dietrich Eckart had complained of Hitler’s delusions of grandeur, his “messiah complex.” Now Hitler hardened more and more into the monument that corresponded to his notions of what a great man and a Fuhrer would be like.

But the rejection of reality in the name of radically idealized concepts cannot be suppressed, linked as it is to the spontaneity of the imagination and the risk-taking of thinking. That this involves hazards in the political sphere is undeniable. In the final analysis, however, the German mind owes a good deal of its glory to this tendency, and, despite what many think, not all its issues necessarily lead to Auschwitz.

Scarcely one of the ideas under whose aegis the country began this adventure belonged to it alone. But the inhuman earnestness with which it embarked on its flight from reality was authentically German. The tendencies and biases described above, reinforced by the exacerbated tension between a revolutionary idea formulated a century ago and the immobility of social conditions, gave this emergence extraordinary force, the fury of a belated reaction. The German thunder had reached its goal at last.

No one seemed to grasp who Hitler really was. The expected sanctions from abroad were never imposed. Instead, foreign governments, with that same combination of blindness, weakness, and hopes of “taming” the wild man that afflicted Germany prepared for the agreements and pacts of the coming years. There were only a few isolated expressions of forebodings, even these mingled with an odd fascination. A German observer in Paris noted among Frenchmen “a feeling as if a volcano has opened up in their immediate vicinity, the eruption of which may devastate their fields and cities any day. Consequently they are watching its slightest stirrings with astonishment and dread. A natural phenomenon which they confront almost helplessly. Today Germany is again the great international star that appears in every newspaper, in every cinema, fascinating the masses with a mixture of fear, incomprehension, and reluctant admiration, to which a goodly dash of delighted malice has been added. Germany is the great, tragic, uncanny, dangerous adventurer.”15

It is certainly true that he did not take the Germans by surprise, as the tyrant Pisistratus did the Athenians while they were at table. Like the rest of the world, the Germans could have been warned, since Hitler always set forth his intentions. He had scarcely any intellectual reserve. But the traditional divorce of conceptual from social reality had long ago persuaded Germany that words were cheap, and none seemed less expensive than his. That is the only way to explain the great misjudgment of him, which was also a misjudgment of the times. Rudolf Breitscheid, chairman of the Social Democratic Party faction in the Reichstag, clapped his hands with pleasure when he heard the news of Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor. Now at last the man would ruin himself, he said. Breitscheid ultimately died in the Buchenwald concentration camp. Other parliamentarians added up the votes to prove that Hitler would never be able to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary to alter the Constitution. Julius Leber, another leading Social Democrat, remarked sardonically that he was waiting like everybody else in the hope of at last “finding out the intellectual foundations of this movement.”14

On the other hand, what distinguished him from all his ilk was his capacity for political action. He was the exception, the intellectual with a practical understanding of power. More radical postulates than his can easily be found in the texts of his forerunners. Both Germans and other Europeans came out with even stronger anathemas against the present, showed an even stronger aestheticizing contempt for reality. The Futurist Filippo Marinetti, for example, proclaimed redemption from “infamous reality,” and in a 1920 manifesto demanded “all power to the artists.” But these and similar pronouncements were merely the bombast of intellectuals who were all too conscious of their impotence. What made Hitler the exception once again was his readiness to take his intellectual fictions literally.

Hitler’s private style also exemplified the lack of grip upon reality characteristic of socially alienated intellectuals. Many of his contemporaries noted his tendency to take off, in conversation, into “higher regions,” from which he had constantly to be “pulled down to the solid ground of facts,” as one of them wrote. Significantly, Hitler gave himself to his fantasies particularly when he was at home at Obersalzberg, or in the Eagle’s Nest, which he had built on the Kehlstein above the Berghof, at an altitude of more than 6,000 feet. Here, in thinner air, against the backdrop of the mountains, he thought over his projects; here, he repeatedly said, he had come to all major decisions. But the fantasies of a vast empire extending to the Urals, the wild geopolitical schemes for partitioning the world, the visions of mass slaughter of whole peoples and races, the superman dreams and phantasmagorias of blood purity and Holy Grail, and finally the elaborate diagrams of runways, military installations, and fortified villages conceived on a continental scale—all this in substance can hardly be called “German.” What was German about it was only the intellectual consistency with which he constructed these mental systems. What was German also was the merciless rigor, the shrinking from no logical conclusion. Certainly Hitler’s harshness stemmed from a monstrous character structure, while his radicality always had something of the brutality of the gutter. But over and beyond that, this radicality may be attributed to the apolitical attitude, the hostility toward reality, which belongs to the intellectual tradition of the country.

In keeping with the theory of the unpolitical “aesthetic state,” Hitler regarded his artistic and political ideas as a unity and was fond of repeating that his regime had at last reconciled art and politics. He considered himself a ruler in the mold of Pericles and was wont to draw parallels; Albert Speer recalls that he regarded the Autobahnen as his Parthenon.13 He declared quite seriously that neither Heinrich Himmler nor Rudolf Hess could succeed him because they were “totally unartistic,” whereas Speer rose so high and was for a while actually the intended successor to the Fuhrer chiefly because he ranked in Hitler’s mind as an “artistic person,” an “artist,” a “genius.” Characteristically, at the beginning of the war, Hitler exempted the artists from military service, but not the scientists and technicians. Even when being shown new weapons, he seldom overlooked the aesthetic form. He was capable, for example, of praising the “elegance” of the barrel on an artillery piece. There was absolutely nothing that mattered outside of art, he would say; even as a general, only an artistic person could be successful. After the victory over France he preferred to enter Paris not as a conqueror but as a sort of museum visitor. His early yearnings for retirement, which later on he expressed with increasing urgency, also sprang from this basic attitude. “I became a politician against my will,” he remarked repeatedly. “For me politics is only a means to an end. There are people who think that I would find it hard someday to be no longer active as I am now. Not at all! It will be the best day of my life when I drop out of political life and leave all the worries, the troubles and the vexation behind me…. Wars come and go. What remains are the values of culture alone.” Hans Frank regarded such sentiments as expressing the tendency of the age: “To be able to banish everything that is connected with governments, war, politics, etc., and to subordinate these to the high ideal of cultural activity.” In this context it is significant that the top Nazi leadership consisted of a disproportionately large number of inchoate, frustrated, or failed semiartists. Aside from Hitler, Dietrich Eckart is a case in point. Goebbels had tried his hand as a novelist. Rosenberg had started out as an architect, von Schirach and Hans Frank as poets. Funk dabbled in music. Speer, too, in his determinedly individualistic and nonpolitical stance, may be counted among them. The same is true for that type of intellectual whose aestheticizing pronunciamentos, at once vague and unqualified, accompanied and furthered the rise of National Socialism.

Walter Benjamin called Fascism the “aestheticizing of politics.” The German conception of politics had always been infected with aesthetics, and Nazism gave a central place to this quality. One of the reasons for the Weimar Republic’s failure was that its representatives did not understand the German psychology and thought of politics solely as politics. It remained for Hitler to endow public affairs with the necessary eclat. This he did by his endless obfuscations, his theatrical scenarios, the storms of ecstasy and idolization. Those vaults created by massed searchlight beams were the fitting symbol for it all: walls of magic and light erected against the dark menace of the outside world. And if the Germans did not share Hitler’s hunger for space, his anti-Semitism, his vulgar and brutal qualities, they applauded him and followed him because he had once more restored passion to politics, and overlaid it with a note of dire significance.

Once he had given up his dream of being an artist, he came to regard himself as the savior the nation awaited. He considered politics principally as a means to achieve greatness, allowing him to compensate for his inadequate artistic talent by entering upon another grandiloquent role. For all his bathos about art, “the humanities” left him indifferent. The documents that reveal him at his most spontaneous, his early speeches and the table talk at the Fuhrer’s headquarters, are convincing evidence of this. Probably few tributes gratified him so much as the remark of Houston Stewart Chamberlain in a letter of October, 1923, hailing him as “the opposite of a politician.” Chamberlain had added: “The ideal of politics would be to have none; but this non-politics would have to be frankly acknowledged and imposed upon the world.” In this sense Hitler actually had no politics; what he had, rather, was a large, portentous idea of destiny and the world. And with manic persistence he made it the goal of his life to attain that ideal.

The German, at odds with himself, with deep divisions in his mind, likewise in his will and therefore impotent in action, becomes powerless to direct his own life. He dreams of justice in the stars and loses his footing on earth…. In the end, then, only the inward road remained open for German men. As a nation of singers, poets and thinkers they dreamed of a world in which the others lived, and only when misery and wretchedness dealt them inhuman blows did there perhaps grow up out of art the longing for a new rising, for a new Reich, and therefore for new life.12

The phenomenon of Hitler must be seen against this ideological milieu. Sometimes he actually seems the artificial product of these attitudes and complexes: he illustrates so neatly the combination of mythological and rational thinking, the extreme radicality of the socially alienated intellectual. His speeches contain the stock in trade of antipolitical bias as he pours out his hatred for parties, for the compromises of the “system,” for the republic’s lack of “grandeur.” To him politics was a concept closely related to fate, incapable of producing anything of its own accord, needing to be liberated by the strong man, by art, or by a higher power called “Providence.” In one of the key speeches he made during the course of the seizure of power—the speech of March 21, that famous “day” of Potsdam—he dealt with the very question of the relationship between political impotence, surrogate reveries and redemption by art as follows:

What political thought there was was also marked by nonpolitical images. Ideologies were constructed out of “the war experience” and out of such notions as “young nations,” “total mobilization” or “barbaric Caesarism.” The vast flood of nationalistic and utopian schemes and catchword philosophies of the so-called Conservative Revolution aimed at dressing up the world in the costume of irrationalism. These ideologies pitted their radical slogans against the toilsome compromises of political reality. They passed judgment on everyday life in the name of grandiose myths. It is true that they exerted little direct influence. But by presenting confusing romantic alternatives they contributed to the process of intellectually starving out the republic. This was all the easier because reality had become so hateful that “disgust with politics” could be aroused far more effectively than ever before. While the advocates of Weimar often seemed like apologists for a corrupt system, the attackers of the Right seemed imaginative, overflowing with projects, as they constructed out of mythology, sentimentality, and concentrated bitterness an anti-image to the republic. Among their most contemptuous slurs aimed at the “system” was that it had nothing to offer to the nation but “domestic bliss,” consumption, and petty bourgeois epicureanism. Adventure, tragedy, doom—such words fascinated the age. Among Germany’s intellectuals, Carl von Ossietzky found many “altruistic lovers of every catastrophe, gourmets of world-political misfortunes.” Meanwhile, a French observer at the beginning of the thirties wondered whether Germany’s “present crisis is not too passionately and violently felt.”11 In fact, it was this tendency toward melodrama that gave the crisis its hopeless, desperate cast. This in turn made the craving to escape from reality a mass phenomenon and the idea of a heroic leap into the unknown the most familiar of all thoughts.

This attitude was also evident in the way the Germans responded when war and the postwar era confronted them squarely with politics. They reacted to the “dirty” revolution with passionate disdain and made a scramble for the traditional escape route that led into aesthetic or mythological realms. In their inability to make any sense of political facts, they spawned all the conspiracy theories that thickened the air during the Weimar years: the myth of the stab in the back, for example, or the theory of the dual menace by a Red (Communist) and a golden (capitalist) International. Anti-Semitism and the widespread anxiety complexes about Freemasons and Jesuits also sprang from the same source. In short, the Germans’ abhorrence of politics drove them into an imaginary world full of the romantic concepts of treason, loneliness, and deceived greatness.

This feeling also was driven to an extreme. “A political person is repulsive,” Richard Wagner wrote to Franz Liszt. One of his admirers has remarked: “If Wagner was in any way an expression of his nation, if there was anything in which he was German, humanistically German and bourgeois German in the highest and purest sense of those words, he was so in his hatred for politics.”10 The antipolitical bias tended to be dressed up as defense of morality against power, of humanity against socialistic trends, of the intellect against public life. From these pairs of opposites, constantly elaborated by new profundities and polemical ponderings, the favorite themes of bourgeois self-examination developed. The supremely brilliant expression of the general attitude, in the form of a complex confession and profession of faith, was Thomas Mann’s Betrachtungen eines Unpolitischen (“Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man”), published in 1918. It was intended as a brief on the part of culture-proud Germany against the “enlightened,” Western “terrorism of politics.”

Contempt for reality corresponded to an increasingly overt belittling of politics. Politics was reality in the bluntest, most obtrusive sense: the “rule of the inferior,” as the title of a celebrated book of the twenties put it.9 Aside from a thin minority that was forever being forced into isolation, the public in Germany did not know what to make of politics. The German world was oriented toward private concepts, aims, virtues. No social goals could match the rewards of the private world: family happiness, the emotions aroused by nature, the quiet passions of the study. Joys such as these made a whole world of intelligible satisfactions, and no one was going to abandon them, exchanging the mystery of the forest for the “din of the market place” and the freedom of dreams for constitutional rights.

The social type in whom these tendencies became concentrated has enjoyed the highest prestige to this day. We recognize him, for his professorial face conforms to those old portraits of withdrawn, thoughtful men, whose features are imprinted with high-minded austerity and adherence to principle, though there could be some strange strains within their depths. They thought in sweeping terms, toppled or erected systems; they gazed toward remote horizons. At the same time, they were surrounded by an atmosphere of intimacy and cozy domesticity and led what would seem happy private lives. Books and dreams, as Paul de Lagarde has remarked, were their element. Their imaginations made up for their distance from reality. They had a good opinion of themselves, feeling themselves ennobled by their intellectual occupation, and were on the whole content with civilization and their own contribution to it.

The process of alienation from reality was intensified by the many dis-illusionments the bourgeois mind experienced in the course of its efforts to achieve political emancipation during the nineteenth century. The traces of this process can be seen on almost every plane: in the unreal character of political thought; in the mythologizing of history by Winckelmann and Wagner; and in the German adulation of culture. The superior man was supposed to live in the phantom realm of art and the sublime. The realm of politics was situated off to one side, and finer spirits would not venture there.

The epigram about the German revolution that did not take place contains only half the truth. For the nation whose past is devoid of beheaded kings or victorious popular risings has contributed more than any other to the revolutionary mobilization of the world. It supplied the most provocative insights, the most trenchant revolutionary slogans, for the so-called Age of Revolutions. It heaved up rocky masses of ideas, out of which future ages built their houses. In intellectual radicalism Germany has had no match; and this, too, is part of a heritage that has conferred greatness and a characteristic bravura upon the better minds in Germany. But this again had little to do with the ability to assume pragmatic attitudes in which thought and life became reconciled and reason turned rational. The German mind had small concern with that; it was asocial in the literal sense of the word and thus basically oriented neither to the right nor the left but, rather, chiefly to the celebrated antithesis to life: uncompromising, always taking the “I can do no other” position, revealing a nearly apocalyptic “tendency toward the intellectual abyss.”

The tendency of the Enlightenment throughout Europe was to challenge existing authorities. But the spokesmen of the Enlightenment in Germany refrained from criticizing the government of princes; some even lauded it—so ingrained were the terrors of the past. The German mind accords unusual respect to the categories of order, discipline, and self-restraint. Idolization of the state as court of last resort and bulwark against evil, and even faith in a leader, have their origin in such historical experiences. Hitler was able to play on such attitudes and use them to further his plans for dominion. Thus he created the cult of obedience to the Fuhrer or staged those militarylike demonstrations whose precise geometry offered protection against the chaos so feared by all and sundry.

According to a paradoxical epigram, the most significant event in modern German history was “the revolution that did not take place.”8 Often this incapacity for revolution has been seen as the expression of a particularly submissive character. For a long time the type of good-natured, dreamy, unwarlike German served as a kind of laughingstock for more self-assured neighbors. But in reality the profound suspicion of revolution was only the reaction of a nation whose historical experiences were largely dominated by the sense of being menaced. Due to her central position geographically Germany early developed defensive and encirclement complexes. These seemed to be all too justified by the horrible, never to be forgotten experiences of the Thirty Years’ War, when the country was transformed into an underpopulated wasteland. The most momentous legacy of that war was the traumatic feeling of helplessness and a deep-seated dread of all chaotic conditions. This feeling was perpetuated and used to good advantage by Germany’s rulers for generations. Keeping the peace was regarded as a citizen’s foremost duty; but peace and order in turn became the citizen’s foremost demand upon his government. The role of the authorities was to keep out fear and misery; the Protestant view of governmental authority accorded well with this.

The moral imperative was supplemented and crowned by the idea of a special mission: the sense of taking part in an apocalyptic confrontation, of obeying a “higher law,” of being the agent of an ideal. Images and slogans alike were made to seem like metaphysical commandments, and a special consecration was conferred upon relentlessness. That is how Hitler meant it when he denounced those who cast doubt on his mission as “enemies of the people.” This fanaticism, this fixation upon his own deeper insight and his own loftier missionary aims, reflected the traditional German false relationship to politics, and beyond that the nation’s peculiarly distorted relationship to reality in general. The real world in which ideas take form and are experienced by people, in which thoughts can be translated into despairs, anxieties, hatreds, and terrors, simply did not exist. All that existed was the program, and the process of putting it across, as Hitler occasionally remarked, involved either positive or negative activity. The lack of humanitarian imagination (which comes to the fore whenever Nazi criminals are brought to trial, from the Nuremberg Trials on) was nothing but the expression of this loss of a sense of reality. That was the characteristically German element in National Socialism, and there is reason to believe that various connecting lines run far back into German history.

Those to whom Nazism chiefly appealed were people with a strong but directionless craving for morality. In the SS, National Socialism trained this type and organized it into an elite corps. The “inner values” that were perpetually being preached within this secular monastic order—the theme of many an evening meeting complete with romantic torchlight—included, according to the prescript of Heinrich Himmler, the following virtues: loyalty, honesty, obedience, hardness, decency, poverty, and bravery. But all these virtues were detached from any comprehensive frame of reference and directed entirely toward the purposes of the regime. Under the command of such imperatives a type of person was trained who demanded “cold, in fact, stony attitudes” of himself, as one of them wrote, and had “ceased to have human feelings.”7 Out of his harshness toward himself he derived the justification for harshness toward others. The ability to walk over dead bodies was literally demanded of him; and before that could be developed, his own self had to be deadened. It is this impassive, mechanical quality that strikes the observer as far more extreme than sheer brutality. For the killer who acts out of an overpowering social, intellectual, or human resentment exerts a claim, however small, upon our sympathy.

Among the things that set Nazism apart from the Fascist movements of other countries is the fact that Hitler always found obedient instruments to carry out his eccentric radicalism. No stirrings of pity mitigated the concentrated and punctilious harshness of the regime. Its barbarous features have often been ascribed to the deliberate application of cruelty by murderers and sadists, and such criminal elements continue to loom large in the popular mind. To this day types of this sort appear in literary works, whip in hand, as the personifications of Nazism. But the regime had quite another picture of itself. No question about its making use of such people, especially in the initial phase; but it quickly realized that lasting rule cannot be founded upon the unleashing of criminal instincts. The radicality that constituted the true nature of National Socialism does not really spring from the license it offered to instinctual gratification. The problem was not one of criminal impulses but of a perverted moral energy.

This fundamental rigor, which came out on the intellectual as well as the administrative plane, was Hitler’s personal contribution to the nature of National Socialism. In his way of sharply opposing an idea to reality, of elevating what ought to be above what is, he was truly German. The failed local politician, subletting a room on Thierschstrasse, sketched triumphal arches and domed halls that were to assure his posthumous fame. Ignoring mockery, the Chancellor did not reckon in generations, but in millennia; he wanted to undo not merely the Treaty of Versailles and Germany’s impotence but nothing less than the consequences of the great migrations. Whereas Mussolini’s ambition aimed at restoring a lost historical grandeur, whereas Maurras called for a return to the ancien regime and the “gloire de la Deesse France,” whereas all the other Fascisms could do no better than invoke a past golden age, Hitler set himself a goal more grandiose than anything the world had ever seen: an empire stretching from the Atlantic to the Urals and from Narvik to Suez. His pure master race seeking its rightful place would fight for and win this empire. Would other countries oppose him? He would crush them. Were peoples located contrary to his plans? He would resettle them. Did the races fail to correspond to his image? He would select, breed, eliminate until the reality fitted his conception. He was always thinking the unthinkable; in his statements an element of bitter refusal to submit to reality invariably emerged. His personality was not without manic characteristics. “I confront everything with a tremendous, ice-cold lack of bias,” he declared. He seemed authentically himself only when he spoke and acted with the utmost radicality. To that extent, National Socialism cannot be conceived apart from Hitler.

During the same era many Fascist or Fascist-oriented movements came to power—in Italy, Turkey, Poland, Austria, and Spain, for example. What was peculiarly German about National Socialism emerges most clearly by comparison with the systems in these other countries: it was the most radical, the most absolute manifestation of Fascism.

Without doubt there were unmistakably German features in National Socialism; but they are of a different and more complex kind than those set forth by Vermeil or Shirer. No genealogy of evil, no single explanation, can do justice to the nature of the phenomenon. Nor should we see its seeds only in the obviously dark and ominous elements in the German past. Many naive attitudes, or at any rate attitudes that for generations caused no trouble, and even some virtues and commendable values, made the success of Nazism possible. One of the lessons the era has to teach us is that a totalitarian power system need not be built up. upon a nation’s deviant or even criminal tendencies. A nation cannot decide, like a Richard III, to become a villain. Historical, psychological, and even social conditions comparable to those in Germany existed in many countries, and frequently only a fine line separated other nations from Fascist rule. The Germans were not the only people to arrive late at the sense of nationhood, or to be behindhand at developing democratic institutions. As for the unbridgeable gulfs between liberal and socialist forces, between the bourgeoisie and the working class, these, too, were not peculiarly German. We may also question whether revanchist yearnings, bellicose ideologies, or dreams of great power status were more pronounced in Germany than in some of her European neighbors. And even anti-Semitism, decisively though it governed Hitler’s thinking, was surely not a specifically German phenomenon. In fact, it was rather weaker among the Germans than in most other peoples. Racial emotions did not, at any rate, win the masses over to National Socialism or kindle their enthusiasm. Hitler himself was cognizant of this, as his efforts to play down his anti-Semitism during the final phase of his struggle for power plainly showed.6

The usurpation of the Roman Empire, the Hanseatic League, the Reformation, German mysticism, the rise of Prussia, romanticism—all these were more or less disguised manifestations of this missionary urge. And the sense of mission began to take a more overt turn with Bismarck’s blood-and-iron policies and the German Empire’s determination to achieve the status of a global power. Seen from this angle, nothing in German history was “innocent.” Even in its most idyllic moments, the specters of obedience, militarism, and expansionism were palpably present. The German yearning for the infinite could be seen as an endeavor to exert in the realm of the mind a dominion that Germany still had not the power to achieve in reality. Ultimately everything terminated in Hitler; he was by no means a “German catastrophe,” as the title of a well-known book5 asserted, but a product of German consistency.

At various stages of their history the Germans have believed with a desperate certainty, which sprang either from inner dissension and weakness or, on the contrary, from the notion of their insurpassable and invincible strength, that they had a divine mission to fulfill and that Germany has been chosen by Providence.4

The first attempts at tracing the success of Nazism to a special mentality rooted in German history thus began early in the thirties. The German was pictured as perplexing, full of antitheses, making a principle of his aloofness from civilization and civil conduct. He seemed to take a truculent pride in being the representative of a culturally advanced nation that could so offensively scandalize the world. Reckless pedigrees were constructed extending through Bismarck and Frederick the Great all the way back to Luther or into the Middle Ages, sometimes even as far back as the Teutonic leader Arminius who at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest A.D. 9 defended German living space from Roman penetration. Such “ancestry” was supposed to prove a tradition of latent Hitlerism long before Hitler. This theory was best expressed in a number of books by the French specialist in Germanic studies, Edmond Vermeil. For a time, subsequently, it dominated British and American efforts at interpretation; William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which has to a large degree formed the world’s picture of Germany, made use of it. Vermeil wrote:

Understandably enough, the euphoria of those weeks gave many observers the impression that Germany had rediscovered her true self. Although the Constitution and the rules of the political game as played in the republic remained valid for the time being, they nevertheless seemed curiously obsolete, cast off like an alien shell. And for decades this image—of a nation that seemed to have found itself in exuberantly turning away from the European tradition of rationality and humane progress—determined the interpretation of events.

These concomitants of enthusiasm are what have given Hitler’s seizure of power its distressing note. For they undermine all the arguments for its having been a historical accident, the product of intrigues or dark conspiracies. Any attempt to explain the events of those years has always had to face the question of how Nazism could so rapidly and effortlessly have conquered the majority, not just attained power, in an ancient and experienced civilized nation. And how could it have thrown that majority into a peculiarly hysterical state compounded of enthusiasm, credulity, and devotion? How could the political, social, and moral checks and balances, which a country belonging to the “nobility of nations”2 after all possesses, have so glaringly failed? Before Hitler came to power, an observer described what he considered the inevitable course of events: “Dictatorship, abolition of the parliament, crushing of all intellectual liberties, inflation, terror, civil war; for the opposition could not simply be made to disappear. A general strike would be called. The unions would provide a core for the bitterest kind of resistance; they would be joined by the Reichsbanner and by all those concerned about the future. And if Hitler won over even the Army and met the opposition with cannon—he would find millions of resolute antagonists.”3 But there were no millions of resolute antagonists and consequently no need for a bloody coup. On the other hand, Hitler did not come like a thief in the night. With his histrionic verbosity he revealed, more perhaps than any other politician, what he had been aiming for through all the byways and tactical maneuvers: dictatorship, anti-Semitism, conquest of living space.

After January 30 a mass desertion to the Nazi camp began. Once again the axiom was proved that in revolutionary times principles are cheap, and perfidy, calculation, and fear reign supreme. This was true, but not the whole truth. For the massive political turncoatism bespoke not only lack of character and servility. Quite often it represented the spontaneous desire to give up old prejudices, ideologies, and social restrictions and to join with others in making a fresh start. “We were not all opportunists,” wrote the poet Gottfried Benn in retrospect, speaking as one of that vast host of people who were carried along by the force of the spreading revolutionary mood.1 Powerful traditional parties and associations cracked under the propagandist^ onslaught; and even before they were forcibly dissolved and banned they left a leaderless following to its own devices. The past—republic, divisiveness, impotence—was over and done with. A rapidly shrinking minority did not succumb to the frenzy. But such holdouts were driven into isolation; they saw themselves excluded from those celebrations of the new sense of community, from those who could reveal in mass oaths in cathedrals of light, in addresses by the Fuhrer, in mountaintop bonfires and choral singing by hundreds of thousands of voices. Even the first signs of the reign of terror could not mute the rejoicing. The public mind interpreted the terror as an expression of a ruthlessly operating energy for which it had looked all too long in vain.

The dramatic ceremonial with which Hitler took over the chancellorship, the accompaniment of torchlight parades and mass demonstrations, bore no relationship to the constitutional importance of the event. For, strictly speaking, January 30, 1933, brought nothing more than a change of administrations. Nevertheless, the public sensed that the appointment of Hitler as Chancellor could not be compared with the cabinet reshufflings of former years. Despite all the vaunted intentions of the German Nationalist coalition partners “to keep the frustrated Austrian painter on the leash,” the Nazis from the start made ready to seize full power and to apply it in revolutionary ways. All the efforts of Papen and his fellows to play a part in the oratory, the celebrating, or the directing of affairs only gave the impression of breathless running to keep up. Numerical superiority in the cabinet, influence with the President, or in the economy, the army, and the bureaucracy could not conceal the fact that this was their rival’s hour.

Thought precedes action like lightning thunder. Admittedly the German thunder is also German and not very nimble; it rolls up rather slowly. But it will come, and once you hear it peal, as nothing has ever pealed before in the history of the world, know this: the German thunder has reached its goal.

The day had been an overwhelming one, full of satisfactions and vindications. But this was not yet his goal; it was only a stage along the way to it. Though we have no actual text of his protracted monologue of that night, it is clear that his mind was now dwelling on the revolution he had repeatedly proclaimed as imminent. Like every real revolutionary, he believed that with his coming a new day in history had begun.

That night, after the cheering was over, after the music and the thunder of marching feet had faded, Hitler stayed up until early morning in the small room adjacent to the Chancellor’s reception room. Deeply moved, he lost himself in one of his endless rambling monologues. He recalled the morning’s swearing-in ceremony, happily went over his triumphs, commented on the consternation of his “Red” adversaries, and reverted to one of his favorite topics: the art of propaganda. He had not looked forward to any election campaign as much as he did to this one, he declared. Some people thought there would be war, he then remarked. His chancellorship, he continued, was inaugurating the final struggle of the white man, the Aryan, for mastery of the earth. The non-Aryans, the colored races, the Mongols, were already striving to seize the mastery for themselves under Bolshevism, but this day marked the beginning of “the greatest Germanic racial revolution in world history.” His eschatological visions intersected with architectural projects: the first thing he would do, he said, would be to rebuild the chancellery; it was a “mere cigar box.”60 It was close to dawn before he left the building through a small door in the rear wall and went across to his hotel.

Given all these favoring forces and circumstances, we may be tempted to ask what Hitler’s particular feat was during those weeks. The fact is that his real abilities scarcely show up very convincingly during the period just before January 30, 1933. His principal feat was a passive one: he was able to wait in spite of his impatience, was able to control his refractory following, keep his composure during a fiasco, and even at the last moment, in the President’s anteroom, play his cards with the icy poise of a great gambler who accepts all risks. A retrospective look at the years since the plebiscite on the Young Plan makes it plain to what extent he had outgrown the riot-and-propaganda phase of his career and had become a politician. At the same time, the experience of those weeks once again confirmed his gambler’s instinct. What was most amazing about his life, he declared during this period, was that he was always being saved when he himself had already given up.59

In the apologias of participants, the argument still arises that Hitler’s summoning to the chancellorship had become inescapable once the NSDAP rose to the rank of strongest party in Germany. But this argument overlooks a vital fact: throughout all the years of the republic up to a few months before January 30, 1933, the Social Democratic Party held the same preponderance, yet did not take part in most of the cabinets. Also ignored is the fact that Hitler had always been the declared foe of the very Constitution in whose spirit such views are propounded. The Communists might have won far more votes than the Nazis, yet would have encountered massive resistance. The truth was that Hitler’s conservative backers thought he could be trusted to carry out their intentions—in a more vulgar manner than they liked, granted, but effectively. They realized too late that he was just as radically (though differently) opposed to them and the world they wanted to preserve as was the Communist leader Thalmann. The nameless Bavarian plain-clothes man who attended a demonstration of the NSDAP in the summer of 1921 and reported to his office that Hitler was “nothing but… the leader of a second Red Army” had grasped the essence of the man more keenly than the conservative notables of 1933.58

This is by no means to assert that Hitler would have prevailed over more resolute opponents. Seldom in modern political history has a change of such enormous impact been more strongly determined by personal factors, by the caprices, prejudices, and emotions of a tiny minority. And seldom have the institutions of a state been so invisible at the moment of decision. Hitler in power is scarcely conceivable without the camarilla around the President. And however short a step separated him from power after the summer of 1932, that step was still beyond his own strength. His adversaries were the ones to make it possible: they had shorn the parties and the Reichstag of political power; they set up the series of election campaigns; they created the precedent of undermining the Constitution. Whenever one of them decided to resist the Nazis, another inevitably stood up to frustrate him. On the whole, the forces of the other side were up to the last greater than Hitler’s own. But since they turned against one another, they balanced one another out. It was not hard to see that Nazism was the enemy of all: the bourgeois, the Communists and Marxists, the Jews, the republicans. But these groups wert all so blind and weak that very few came to the natural conclusion: they must unite against their common foe.

Undoubtedly Hitler’s way could have been blocked up to the very last moment. These opportunities were lost by chance, frivolity, and bad luck. Nevertheless, history was not diverted from its rightful course. A host of powerful trends, partly historical, partly political in nature, pointed toward what happened on January 30. The real miracle would have been a decision to resist Nazism. From the time Bruning was dismissed, all that stood between the republic and Hitler were the whims of a senescent President, Schleicher’s faculty for conniving, and the blinded simple-mindedness of Franz von Papen. Thus the background machinations, the schemings of various interest groups, and the high-level intrigues are relatively unimportant. All these influenced the circumstances in which the republic went aground but did not bring about the shipwreck itself.

The notion of a miracle, invented by Goebbels, has lived on to the present day. It colors all those analyses that postulate a demonic theory of Hitler, that try to view his success as the result of background intrigues by nameless powers, or make much of Papen and his machinations. The central thought, in all these theories, is that the seizure of power was a historical accident.

The so-called Seizure of Power by the Nazis was soon being hailed as “miracle” and a “fairytale.” The regime’s propaganda specialists deliberately chose phrases from the realm of magic to give the event the aura of a supernatural consecration. They could count on striking an echoing chord, because the event itself undeniably had something peculiarly displaced, something scarcely credible about it. On the political plane Hitler had made the unexpected step from a crisis that had nearly destroyed the party into the President’s office; and on the individual plane he had taken the leap from dreary beginnings, from lethargy and a tramp’s existence, to power. In truth: “Elements of fairy tales are recognizable in it, though badly botched.”57

That evening the Nazis celebrated with a tremendous torchlight parade. All restrictions within the government quarter were lifted; spectators crowded the sidewalks, excited and noisy. “Tonight Berlin is in a really festive mood.”56 And among the spectators, keeping order and intervening in self-important delight, was the huge corps of police deputies. From seven in the evening until after midnight, 25,000 uniformed Hitler followers, together with Stahlhelm units, marched through the Brandenburg Gate and past the chancellery. In one of the illuminated windows the nervous, prancing figure of Hitler could be seen. From time to time the upper part of his body, with raised arm, abruptly leaned forward over the railing. Beside him were Goring, Goebbels, and Hess. A few windows farther along the facade Hindenburg looked out reflectively at the marching formations, abstractedly pounding his cane in time to the music of the bands. Despite the protests of those in charge, Goebbels had insisted that the Reich radio stations broadcast an account of the demonstration. Only the Munich station stuck to its refusal, as Hitler irritably noted. It was past midnight before the last columns had marched through the government quarter. And as Goebbels dismissed the waiting crowd with a shout of Heil for Hindenburg and Hitler, “this night of the great miracle ended… in an insensate tumult of enthusiasm.”

The Wilhelmstrasse had meanwhile filled with a silent crowd, assembled there by Goebbels. “Torn between doubt, hope, happiness and discouragement,” Hitler’s entourage waited in the Hotel Kaiserhof, across the square. Through binoculars Ernst Rohm nervously watched the entrance to the chancellery. Goring emerged first and called out the news to the people waiting. Immediately afterward, Hitler’s car came out of the driveway. Standing, Hitler received the plaudits of the crowd. When he joined his followers in the Kaiserhof a few minutes later, he had tears in his eyes, according to one of those present. Sometime before he had publicly vowed that once he possessed power he would never let it be taken from him. On the very afternoon of this January 30 he took a first step to guarantee this matter. Calling an immediate cabinet meeting, he had the cabinet formally decide—against the now impotent objections of Hugenberg—on the dissolution of the Reichstag and new elections. It was Papen himself who cleverly overcame Hindenburg’s last scruples by describing Hugenberg’s obstructionism as “a matter of party tactics,” which the President abhorred.

Hitler himself undoubtedly saw through this strategy from the start. His demand for new elections was intended as a direct counterstroke. By winning an unprecedented electoral triumph he wanted to break out of the box Papen had nailed together and with the sanction of the vote behind him throw off the role of puppet Chancellor. He certainly did not mean to let cheap words of honor stand in his way. Thus the “Cabinet of National Concentration” was already a system of crisscrossing mental reservations even before Hindenburg sent it out into the world with the words: “And now, gentlemen, forward with God!”

Papen seems actually to have thought that he had put across a political master stroke. He had avenged himself upon Schleicher while at the same time using Schleicher’s concept of taming the wicked Nazis. He had satisfied his own ambition, which had swollen to absurd proportions during his brief, unexpected chancellorship, by entering the government once more. And he had made Hitler take a position of responsibility without turning control of the government over to him completely. For the leader of the NSDAP was not even the Chancellor of a presidential cabinet; he would have to maintain a parliamentary majority. Moreover, he did not enjoy Hindenburg’s confidence; it was Franz von Papen who continued to have a special relationship with the old President. In the negotiations Papen had insisted—this was one of the results he was proudest of—that he must participate in all conversations between Hitler and the President. Finally, Papen was also Vice-Chancellor and Prime Minister of Prussia. In the cabinet the Nazis held only the Ministry of the Interior, which did not control the federal police, and a Ministry without Portfolio which was intended to satisfy Goring’s vanity but not to have any powers. To be sure, Goring was also Prussian Minister of the Interior, and in Prussia this ministry did control the police. But Papen was confident that he would block any independent action on Goring’s part. Finally, within the cabinet foreign policy, finance, economics, labor, and agriculture were in the hands of experienced conservatives, and command of the army still remained the prerogative of the President. Papen saw it as a brilliantly conceived, splendid combination, which, moreover, placed that troublesome Herr Hitler at the service of employers and big landowners and of Papen’s own plans for an authoritarian new state. His own unfortunate fling at the chancellorship seemed to have taught Papen that a modern industrial nation shaken by crisis could not be openly governed by the dismissed representatives of an outmoded epoch. By harnessing the slightly unsavory manipulator of the masses to his own wagon, Papen seemed to be solving the ancient problem of conservatism: that it did not enjoy the support of the people. In this sense, using the vocabulary of a political impresario, Papen complacently replied to all warnings: “No danger at all. We’ve hired him for our act.”

Now his would-be tamers had drawn Hugenberg into a window niche and were pleading with him to co-operate. Hugenberg held out. In the adjoining room, meanwhile, the President sent for State Secretary Meissner and wanted to know the meaning of the delay. “Watch in hand,” Meissner returned to the disputants: “Gentlemen, the President set the swearing-in for eleven o’clock. It is eleven-fifteen. You cannot make the President wait any longer.” And what could not be accomplished by the arm twisting of Hugenberg’s conservative friends, by Hitler’s cajolery and by Papen’s pleas, was done easily—for the last time, at the hour of the republic’s last agony—by the allusion to the legendary figure of the Field Marshal-President. Hugenberg was in the habit of referring to himself, with candid pride, as “a stubborn mule”; as recently as August, 1932, he had told Hindenburg that he had found Hitler “somewhat remiss at keeping agreements.” Now, however, knowing full well what was at stake, he yielded to the exigencies of Hindenburg’s appointments calendar. A few minutes later the cabinet had been sworn in.

The cheerful notion of boxing Hitler in and taming him thus came to grief at the first test. In purely arithmetic terms, it is true, the conservatives had managed to retain the advantage. There were three National Socialist as against eight conservative ministers, and virtually all the key positions in the government were in the hands of a group of men united on certain basic social and ideological principles. The trouble was that such men as Papen, Neurath, Seldte or Schwerin-Krosigk were not the right persons to box anyone in. For that they would have needed a sense of values and the energy to defend it. Instead they considered themselves summoned merely to preserve traditional privileges. Hitler’s readiness to accept such a numerically unfavorable arrangement testifies to his self-assurance and his deadly contempt for his conservative adversaries.

Once again his stubbornness seemed to be imperiling the whole agreement. At fifteen minutes before ten o’clock Papen led the members of the projected government through the snow-covered ministerial gardens to the presidential palace and into Meissner’s office. There he formally greeted Hitler as the new Chancellor. Even as he expressed his thanks, Hitler declared that “now the German people must confirm the completed formation of the cabinet.” Hugenberg resolutely spoke up against this. A vehement argument broke out. Hitler finally went up to his antagonist and gave him his “solemn word of honor” that the new elections would change nothing in regard to the persons composing the cabinet. He would, he said, “never part with any of those present here.” Anxiously, Papen followed this up: “Herr Geheimrat, would you want to undermine the agreement reached with such difficulty? Surely you cannot doubt the solemn word of honor of a German!”

The author of this rumor has never been traced, but the person who profited by it is obvious. None other than Papen used the phantom of a threatening military dictatorship to push forward his plans. General von Blomberg had been summoned from Geneva, and on the morning of January 30 Papen was sworn in as Minister of Defense, before any other members of the cabinet. Evidently this was to prevent any last-minute desperate intervention by Schleicher, who on his own had been making contact with Hitler. Hugenberg, who had obstinately rejected Hitler’s demand for new elections, felt blackmailed by the new threat of a military take-over. To avert any possibility that the mysterious reports of an imminent putsch might be clarified, Papen summoned Hugenberg at seven o’clock in the morning on January 30 to beg him—“in greatest excitement”—to change his mind. “Unless a new government has been formed by eleven o’clock this morning,” he exclaimed, “the army will march!” But Hugenberg would not be stampeded. More keenly than Papen, he saw through Hitler’s scheme. The Nazis wanted to improve on the election results of November 6. With the power and unlimited funds of the state at their disposal, they could unquestonably do so. No new elections, Hugenberg said.

On the afternoon of January 29 a rumor arose that Schleicher, together with General Hammerstein, had put the Potsdam garrison on alert and was planning to seize the President, proclaim a state of emergency, and with the aid of the army take power. Days later, Oskar von Hindenburg’s wife was still exercised over the matter: the plan had called for the President’s being removed to Neudeck “in a sealed cattle car.” Hitler, who was in Goebbels’s apartment on Reichskanzlerplatz when he heard the rumor, reacted with an audacious gesture: he instantly placed the Berlin SA on alert and, in a flamboyant anticipation of the power he expected to receive, ordered six nonexistent police battalions to prepare to occupy the Wilhelmstrasse.

Once more everything teetered. On hearing of Hitler’s further demands, Hindenburg had a fresh siege of foreboding. He calmed down only after he had received Hitler’s assurance—in highly equivocal words—“that these would be the last elections.” Finally the President let things take their course. With the exception of the post of Reich Commissioner for Prussia—which was reserved for Papen himself—all of Hitler’s demands were met. The decision had been taken.

That afternoon Papen was able to win Hugenberg by promising his party two seats in the cabinet. He then got in touch with Hitler. In the elaborate preliminary talks they had already agreed that Hitler’s people should have the Ministry of the Interior and a Ministry for Civil Air Transport, to be newly created especially for Goring. Now Hitler insisted on the posts of Reich Commissioner for Prussia and Prussian Minister of the Interior. These would assure him control of the Prussian police. In addition, he demanded new elections.

Schleicher had scarcely left when Papen, in conjunction with Oskar von Hindenburg and Meissner, began urging the President to appoint Hitler Chancellor. Still vacillating, Hindenburg made a last effort to evade responsibility for this decision. Contrary to custom, he did not personally request Hitler to form a new government, but appointed Papen his homo regius with the assignment “to clarify the political situation by negotiations with the parties and to determine the available possibilities.”

On the morning of January 28 Schleicher made one last attempt to regain control. He let the public know, through the press, that he would ask Hindenburg for powers to dissolve the Reichstag or offer his resignation. Toward noon he went to the presidential palace. At this time he himself clearly knew nothing about the imminence of Hitler’s chancellorship—a measure of his loss of grip. On the contrary, he seems to have counted to the last on Hindenburg’s support. He had assumed office with the President pledged to give him the power of dissolution of the Reichstag at any time. But the President tersely turned down his request. Stung to the quick, Schleicher is reported to have said angrily: “I concede your right, Mr. President, to be dissatisfied with the way I have conducted my office, although you assured me of the contrary four weeks ago in writing. I concede your right to depose me. But I do not concede you the right to make alliances with someone else behind the back of the Chancellor you yourself summoned to office. That is a breach of faith.” Hindenburg thought for a moment, then answered. He stood with one foot in the grave, he said, and did not know whether or not he might regret his decision in heaven. Schleicher is supposed to have shot back: “After this breach of confidence, Your Excellency, I would not be too sure that you will go to heaven.”55

The party leaders, whom Hindenburg once more consulted, also turned against General Schleicher. But they were not in favor of another try with Papen. Rather, they indicated, the time had come at last to summon Hitler to power, with all appropriate guarantees; let him be exposed to that chastening by responsibility, which they had all undergone. The republic had truly reached the end of its rope.

The factors that made him change his mind in the course of the following day are almost too complicated to list. Among them were the schemings of the camarilla, the blackmail of the NSDAP, the pressure of his friends from among the large landowner and nationalist groups. The effect of all this counsel was that the name of Schleicher ceased to represent an alternative either to Hindenburg or anyone else. Another significant factor was Papen’s promise to the President that the new government would be made up exclusively of members of the Right. For the thing Hindenburg was most set against was what was summed up in his exhausted mind as “rule of the union functionaries.” The prospect of a rightist government had been one of the decisive elements in his dismissal of Bruning; now the same promise was being dangled before him if he would get rid of Schleicher.

Hindenburg himself, tired, confused, and capable of grasping the situation only for brief spells, was at this time evidently still thinking of a Papen cabinet with Hitler as Vice-Chancellor. On the morning of January 26 General von Hammerstein, army commander in chief, called on him to express his concern about the way things were going. Hindenburg was “quick to suppress any attempt to influence him politically, but then said, apparently to reassure me, that he ‘had no intention at all of making the Austrian lance corporal Defense Minister or Chancellor.’ ” But next day Papen called on the President and reported that a Papen cabinet was impossible at the moment. Now Hindenburg stood alone in his resolve not to have Hitler form a government.

Meanwhile, the tireless Papen was pushing matters forward. His thought was to make the planned cabinet more acceptable to Hindenburg by securing participation of the German Nationalists and of the Stahlhelm leaders, who were close to the President’s heart. While Duesterberg vigorously disagreed that there was anything like the so-called compelling necessity for a Hitler cabinet, Seldte and Hugenberg fell in with Papen’s plans. Having learned nothing from the experiences of recent years, Hugenberg declared with self-assurance “that nothing much would be able to happen”; Hindenburg would be remaining President and commander in chief of the armed forces, Papen would be Vice-Chancellor, he himself would be taking charge of the entire economy, and Seldte of the Ministry of Labor. “We’ll be boxing Hitler in.”

As might be expected, the camarilla saw to it that the public was immediately informed of Schleicher’s wish to dissolve the Reichstag and rule by decree. There was a general outcry. The Nazis made a great fuss over “Primo de Schleicheros’ ” would-be coup d’etat. The Communists, too, were understandably indignant. And the Chancellor lost the remnant of the prestige he had enjoyed among the democratic Center parties. This unanimous reaction made its impression on Hindenburg and may have made him look with greater favor on plans for a Hitler cabinet. On January 27, moreover, Goring called on Meissner at the presidential palace and asked him to inform the “revered Field Marshal” that Hitler, unlike Schleicher, had no intention of burdening the President’s conscience by violating the law but would practice strict and loyal adherence to the Constitution.

At this moment Schleicher seems for the first time to have realized what was brewing. On January 23 he called on Hindenburg and admitted that his plan for splitting the Nazi party and providing a parliamentary basis for the cabinet had failed. He then asked the President for powers to dissolve the Reichstag, declare a state of emergency, and issue a general ban on the National Socialist and Communist parties. Hindenburg, however, reminded him of their disagreement of December 2. At that time Papen had proposed a similar solution, but Schleicher had scotched it. The situation had changed, the Chancellor replied. But this reasoning had no effect on the old man; after talking the matter over with Meissner, he denied Schleicher’s request.

As soon as everyone was present, Hitler asked the President’s son to step into another room with him. Suddenly, Oskar von Hindenburg, who had insisted on being accompanied by Meissner, found himself forced into a man-to-man encounter with Hitler. To this day no one knows what was said during their two-hour private talk. Hitler must have attempted to swing the President’s son over to his side by a combination of blackmail and bribery. Among the threats there might well be the charge, repeatedly raised by the Nazis, that Hindenburg had participated in a coup d’etat against Prussia. Hitler may also have hinted that the Nazis would publicize the tax evasion by the Hindenburgs when Estate Neudeck was transferred to them.54 In addition, Hitler’s magnetic personality must have made an impression upon the President’s opportunistic son. In any case, Oskar, who had come to the conference prejudiced against Hitler, remarked to Meissner on his way home that there was no alternative, that Hitler would have to become Chancellor—especially now that Papen had agreed to accept the Vice-Chancellorship.

On January 18 Hitler met with Franz von Papen in the Berlin apartment of Joachim von Ribbentrop, a liquor salesman who had recently joined Hitler’s movement. At this meeting Hitler demanded the chancellorship for himself. Papen replied that his influence with the President was not great enough for him to put across such a demand. That refusal nearly blocked the negotiations, and only the sudden inspiration of involving Hindenburg’s son started them moving again. The meeting took place a few days later, with extraordinary precautions to insure secrecy. Hitler and his team entered von Ribbentrop’s apartment under cover of darkness, from the garden side. Meanwhile, Oskar von Hindenburg and State Secretary Meissner first appeared ostentatiously at the opera. Shortly after the intermission they slipped out of their box. Papen, for his part, was brought to the meeting in Ribbentrop’s car.

As a result of his massive commitment, on January 15 Hitler won his first success since the July elections. Even so, the party, with 39.5 per cent of the vote, lagged behind the share of the vote it had won in July. Moreover, the democratic parties, in particular the Social Democratic Party, in toto achieved greater gains than Hitler’s party. But compared with the results of the November election, the results in Lippe were good. Instead of reading this success in terms of the excessive effort behind it, the public was persuaded that the Hitler movement had regained its irresistible impetus. Even the heads of the government took this view. And Hitler’s own self-confidence mounted.

Hitler himself, in order to improve his bargaining position and shore up the party’s claims to power, concentrated all his forces on the Landtag elections that were to take place on January 15 in the miniature state of Lippe. He conducted one of his most lavish election campaigns. Assembling the best known party speakers in the castle of Baron von Oeynhausen, he sent them out night after night, saturating the little state with the Nazi message. On the first day, Goebbels noted, “I have spoken three times, partly in tiny peasant villages.” Hitler himself addressed eighteen demonstrations within a few days. With that sure psychological insight which his critics failed to understand or regarded with disdain he saw that this election offered him an unparalleled opportunity. From the start he hammered away at the theme that this was to be the decisive test in the struggle for power, and he managed to impose this view of the election on the country at large. Thus the German public awaited this marginal event, the decision of some 100,000 voters, as if it were a kind of trial by ordeal that would decide “the political future of a nation of 68 millions.”

Far sooner than could have been expected, the devious Chancellor found himself facing an impasse. His approach was a promising one, but he was discovering that he was not the man for it. His employment program alienated the employers, his settlement program the agrarians, his origins the Social Democrats, his offer to Strasser the Nazis. His constitutional reform proved as unfeasible as the systems it replaced. For the time being Schleicher was able to remain in office only because his opponents had not yet put together a new cabinet. This question now became the subject of feverish activity conducted in a twilight zone.

At any rate, the Social Democrats failed to realize that Schleicher was the last remaining alternative to a Hitler who was waiting impatiently outside the gates to power. In the years since the collapse of the Great Coalition the Social Democratic Party had advanced scarcely a single initiative. Now it roused itself just once more—but only in order to spoil the last slim chance of survival that the republic had.

At first Schleicher seemed about to give way. But a few hours later he learned of some machinations by the Agrarian League that made him decide to stand his ground and abruptly break off the discussions. Two days later he refused to give the reactionary Hugenberg the Ministry of Economy and explicitly reaffirmed his “socialistic” platform. Now the Right was up in arms against him. The Social Democrats had from the first withheld their support for this “general in the flesh” and had even forbidden Theodor Leipart, the union leader, to negotiate with Schleicher. In their estimate of Hitler the Social Democrats had fallen back on old platitudes. In their complacency they counted on the mechanical operations of progress. (Their opposites in the conservative camp had similar notions of a “historically sanctioned” special mentality.) Hitler, the Social Democrats had decided, represented at most a brief detour, a dramatic incident before the final triumph of a libertarian system. Certainly Schleicher had compromised his credibility by his innumerable intrigues directed against the very institutions of the state. But this was hardly reason enough to distrust him more than Hitler.

Soon afterward, the nascent Papen-Hitler front received significant reinforcement. While Schleicher was still trying, though with failing hopes, to win over Strasser and the unions, a delegation from the Reich Agrarian League called at the presidential palace on January 11 to protest against the administration’s laggardness in aiding farming estates, and particularly its lack of protective tariffs. Behind these complaints was anxiety about the resumption of the government’s settlement program in the eastern lands—the program started by Bruning. They were also nervous about a parliamentary investigation of the Osthilfe—the scandalous subsidies to debt-ridden landowners in the lands east of the Elbe. Many of Hindenburg’s peers had enriched themselves on these Osthilfe funds, thereby taking their revenge on the hated republic. Members of the cabinet were called in at once for consultation, and in their presence Hindenburg vigorously took the part of the delegation. Schleicher was unwilling to make binding promises on a moment’s notice. The owner of Estate Neudeck, thereupon, according to an eyewitness, pounded his fist on the table and delivered an ultimatum: “I request you, Chancellor von Schleicher—and as an old soldier you know such a request is merely the polite form of a command—to hold a cabinet meeting this very night, at which legislation to meet these problems is to be drawn up and presented to me for signature tomorrow morning.”

Now Papen was called up on the carpet. Untruthfully, he told the President that Hitler had at last softened and abandoned his demand for exclusive power to govern. Far from reproving Papen for having acted on his own, Hindenburg remarked that he had “thought right away that this account [Schleicher’s] could not be correct.” He actually ordered Papen to remain in touch with Hitler—personally and in strict confidence. Finally, he instructed his aide, State Secretary Meissner, not to mention Papen’s assignment to Schleicher. Thus the President himself was taking part in the plot against his own Chancellor.

To the extent to which the Cologne meeting restored the Nazis’ selfconfidence and hope of victory, it inflicted a probably decisive blow upon Schleicher and his government. Conscious of the rising danger, the Chancellor immediately informed the press and went to Hindenburg to remonstrate against Papen’s actions. But when he begged the President to henceforth receive Papen only in his—Schleicher’s—presence, he received an evasive answer, which for the first time showed him what he was up against. Hindenburg was again ready to sacrifice the propriety of his office and the very institutions of the state to his fondness for his “young friend” Papen, who had such charming manners and told anecdotes so expertly.

With good reason that meeting has been called “the hour of birth of the Third Reich,”53 for from it a direct chain of cause and effect leads to January 30, 1933, and the realization of the coalition that was first sketched in Cologne. At the same time, the conversation threw some light upon the economic interests that supported Hitler’s ambitions. Whether anything was said about the Nazi party’s catastrophic financial predicament and whether measures to pay the party’s debts were discussed has never been definitely clarified. But undoubtedly the conversation itself restored the party’s credit, brought it, in fact, back into the game of politics. As late as January 2 a party tax adviser had stated to a Berlin tax collection office that the party could pay its taxes only by giving up its independence; now Goebbels noted that the financial situation had “improved very suddenly” and that the party as a whole was once again “sitting pretty.” Thyssen spoke of a “number of sizable contributions” that “flowed from sources in heavy industry into the treasuries of the NSDAP.” Though Hitler vehemently denied that he had made concessions to business—such talk was all “inventions and lies,” he said—he did not deny these links with industry.

The conversation was held under conditions of extreme secrecy. Hitler began with a bitter monologue revolving chiefly around the humiliation of August 13 of the previous year. It was some time before Papen managed to propitiate him by placing the full blame on Schleicher for the President’s refusal to appoint Hitler Chancellor. Then Papen proposed a coalition between the German Nationalists and the National Socialists, to be headed jointly by Hitler and himself. Thereupon, Hitler again launched into “a long speech”—so von Schroder testified in Nuremberg—“in which he declared that if he were appointed Chancellor he could not relinquish his demand to stand alone at the head of the government.” Nevertheless, Papen’s people could enter his government as ministers if they were prepared to collaborate with policies that would change many things. Among the changes he hinted at were the removal of the Social Democrats, Communists, and Jews from leading positions in Germany and the restoration of order in public life. Papen and Hitler came to an agreement in principle. In the course of the conversation Hitler received the extremely valuable information that Schleicher had not been granted an Enabling Decree to dissolve the Reichstag and so the Nazi party need not fear new elections for the present.

As president of the Cologne Herrenklub, Schroder had extensive connections throughout heavy industry in the Rhineland. He had actively supported Hitler on various occasions, had sketched plans for Nazi economic policies, and in November, 1932, had signed the petition drawn up by Hjalmar Schacht blatantly backing Hitler’s claims to power. At the time, Papen had issued a sharp statement declaring this proposal impermissible. Now, on the contrary, he gladly took up the invitation, conveyed by Schroder, to a meeting with Hitler on January 4, 1933.

Only two weeks after the general took office as Chancellor, Papen had informed Kurt von Schroder, the Cologne banker, that he would like to meet the leader of the National Socialist Party. As it happened, this overture coincided with the rout of Gregor Strasser. This last development could be taken as a sign to actual or potential patrons in industry that the revolutionary, anticapitalistic tendencies within the party had been, if not overcome, at any rate seriously weakened. Moreover, the Reichstag elections of November had again shown significant gains for the Communists. In view of this, employers who had had reservations toward Hitler might be inclined to see things differently. The NSDAP’s propaganda hammered away at this idea with the slogan: If the party breaks up tomorrow, the day after tomorrow Germany will have 10 million more Communists.

At that moment, to everyone’s surprise, there came a sudden turnabout. For although Schleicher’s reign as Chancellor had begun auspiciously, he soon found that he was pleasing nobody. He had introduced himself upon taking office as a “social-minded general.” But his concessions to labor did not manage to win over the Social Democrats, while antagonizing the employers. The small farmers were embittered by the favor shown to labor, and the large landowners opposed the projected land settlement program with that caste solidarity that had already proved Bruning’s undoing. Schleicher was going at things too abruptly, and the general himself, with his well-known bent for intrigue, did not inspire trust. He may very well have been sincere about his proposals for a planned economy, or his wooing of the unions, or his efforts to reinvigorate the parliamentary system. But whatever he undertook was met with suspicion and resistance. The optimism he nevertheless expressed was based on the thought that his various opponents were in no position to join forces against him. Granted, his stratagem with Gregor Strasser had failed for the present; but the affair had done heavy damage to the demoralized and debt-ridden Nazi party. The result was that Hitler, once considered the key figure in any coalition against the administration, was now hardly a viable partner.

The expulsion of Strasser by no means meant that the difficulties of the National Socialist Party were over. In the following weeks, Goebbels’s diary continued to be full of gloom, and noted “a great deal of griping and dissension.” The top leadership of the party, particularly Hitler, Goebbels, Goring, and Ley, made trips to the various party districts every weekend, trying to restore the morale and confidence of their followers. And as he had done during the major election campaigns, Hitler spoke as much as four times a day in widely scattered cities. The financial pressure, too, continued to be calamitous. In the Berlin gau salaries of party officials had to be cut, and the Nazi members of the Prussian Landtag could not afford the usual Christmas tips to the staff of the legislature. On December 23 Goebbels noted affectedly: “The most terrible loneliness descends like mournful inconsolability upon me.” At the year’s end the Frankfurter Zeitung somewhat prematurely celebrated the “disenchantment of the NSDAP,” while Harold Laski, one of the leading intellectuals of the English Left, considered that the day the National Socialists represented a real menace was past. Barring accidents, it appeared not improbable that Hitler would end his career as an old man in a Bavarian village, spending his evenings in the Biergarten telling his cronies how he once almost overthrew the German Reich.51 As if in response to that prediction, Goebbels wrote sullenly: “The year 1932 has been one interminable streak of bad luck. Now we must smash it to pieces…. All prospects and hopes have completely vanished.”

Hitler once more had mastered one of the great crises of his career and showed his talent for converting breakdown and dissolution into a new source of strength. To be sure, Strasser had made it easy for him, had forced neither a fight nor a compromise, and had conveniently made himself a scapegoat for the failures of the preceding months. But that, too, was one of the concomitants of Hitler’s rise; his opponents seemingly never knew how to fight and in the face of his obstinate determination tended to shrug and give up. Bruning capitulated almost as soon as he sensed that Hindenburg was turning away from him. Now it was the turn of Strasser and his followers; later Hugenberg and others would take the same course. All of them threw in the towel and walked out when Hitler flew into one of his rages. Unlike Hitler, they lacked the passion for power. For them a crisis was tantamount to a defeat, whereas for him it was the opportunity for struggle and a springboard for fresh certainties. “Let us not fool ourselves,” he once said, acutely analyzing the character of his bourgeois opposition. “They no longer even want to put up resistance against us. Every word from them cries out their need to make a pact with us. They are none of them men who crave power and feel pleasure in the possession of power. They talk only about duty and responsibility, and would be delighted if they could tend their flowers quietly, go fishing, and for the rest spend their time in devout contemplation.”50 The December crisis of 1932 confirmed Hitler’s view of his opponents; and deep into the war years he would remember the crisis whenever things looked darkest. Defeats and collapses were only the preludes to victory, Hitler would assure himself, for had he not more than once had to “pass through between two entirely different abysses and confront the alternatives of to be or not to be”?

Hitler then called the functionaries and deputies of the NSDAP to a meeting in Hermann Goring’s office at the palace of the President of the Reichstag. Political histrionics were in order. Hitler declared that he had always been loyal to Strasser, but that Strasser had repeatedly broken faith and had brought the party, now so close to victory, to the brink of ruin. The story goes that Hitler dropped his head to the table, sobbing and playing out his despair. Goebbels at any rate thought the address had “so intense a personal note that one’s heart is altogether healed…. Old party comrades who have fought and worked for years unswervingly for the Movement have tears in their eyes from rage, grief and shame. The evening is an enormous success for the unity of the Movement.” Hitler insisted on the old Strasser adherents making an act of public submission. “All shake hands with him and promise… to continue the struggle and not to deviate from the great cause, whatever may happen, even at the cost of their lives. Strasser is now completely isolated. A dead man.”

But the much-sought and much-feared Strasser, who for one historic moment seemed to hold the fate of the movement in his hands, spent the afternoon drinking beer with a friend and getting the whole thing off his chest in a torrent of words. He then took the train to Munich, where he picked up his family and continued on to Italy for a vacation. The followers he left behind were bewildered. They could not believe that he would totally abandon the field in this way. But Gregor Strasser had remained loyal too long to strike out on his own. The very next day, as soon as Strasser’s departure became known, Hitler set about smashing his apparatus. Instantaneously, with feverish sureness, he drew up a flock of decrees and appeals. Following the pattern he had used in the SA crisis, he himself took over Strasser’s post as national organization leader and appointed Robert Ley, who had already proved his blind loyalty years earlier in Hanover, as his chief of staff. He installed Rudolf Hess, who had been his private secretary, as chief of a political central secretariat, which was clearly meant to serve as a counterweight to the power hunger of other leaders. In addition, subdivisions that had formerly handled agriculture and education were converted into independent departments and assigned to Darre and Goebbels.

The letter threw the party into a panic—all the more so since it contained no indications of what Strasser planned to do next. Strasser’s following, such men as Erich Koch, Kube, Kaufmann, Count Reventlow, Feder, Frick, and Stohr, were obviously waiting for some sign from him. Hitler, too, seemed to have become nervous and prepared to smooth over the quarrel in a public discussion. The uneasiness increased when nobody could locate Strasser. “The Fuhrer spends the evening at our house,” Goebbels noted. “Nobody is in a lively mood. We are all greatly depressed, mostly because of the danger of the whole party’s falling apart and all our work having been in vain. We are facing the decisive test.” Later, back in his hotel room, Hitler abruptly broke his silence to say: “If the party ever falls apart, it won’t take me more than three minutes to shoot myself.”

On December 5, after the costly election in Thuringia, the party leadership held a meeting in the Hotel Kaiserhof. There was a violent dispute, in the course of which Strasser, evidently already abandoned by Frick and vanquished by Hitler’s oratory, found himself forced into isolation. Two days later he confronted Hitler once more in the same place. This time he was accused of underhandedness and treachery. Possibly the temper of the meeting had already convinced Strasser of the hopelessness of his efforts. At any rate, in the midst of general furor, he picked up his things and silently left the room, bidding no one good-bye. In his hotel room he wrote Hitler a long letter reviewing their relations over many years. He deplored the influence of Goebbels and Goring upon the party, criticized Hitler’s lack of principle, and finally prophesied that he was heading toward “acts of violence and a German rubble heap.” He concluded by tendering his resignation from all the posts he held in the party.

It can no longer be determined how large a following Strasser commanded and how ready it was to obey him against the Fuhrer. One version has it that Hitler gave way and was on the point of permitting Strasser to enter the cabinet, since such a solution would preserve his own charismatic claim to all or nothing and would at the same time bring the party to power. According to this version, Goring and Goebbels pressed Hitler to return to his unyielding course. According to other informants, he kept to that course throughout. It is likewise uncertain whether Schleicher, in negotiations on the formation of his “cabinet of anticapitalist nostalgia,” offered Strasser the posts of Vice-Chancellor and Minister of Labor in return for a promise from Strasser to split the party. Nor is there real proof that Strasser had any thought of outmaneuvering Hitler. He may simply have acted with the self-assurance of the second man in the party, feeling entitled to take up negotiations on his own—perhaps just like Goring, who, according to still another version, proposed himself to Schleicher as Minister of Air Transport. Out of the welter of secret agreements, implied pledges, and presumptuous claims, scarcely a single reliable document has survived. What is thoroughly documented is the confusion of intrigues, the cabals, accusations, and embittered rivalries. This was the other face of the party based entirely on the Fuhrer idea and the principle of loyalty. In the absence of any firm ideology or objective principles, every issue was decided on purely personal grounds. The leadership remained to the last a retinue of mutually feuding satellites around Hitler, with each against each at some time or other.

With the skepticism about the party’s future Hitler’s whole concept came into question. He had repeatedly rejected offers of partial power but had not managed to win total power. The investiture of Schleicher represented one more miscarriage of his policy. To be sure, his stand had its own impressive consistency. But we might ask, as one commentator did at the time, whether Hitler’s unyieldingness had not by now become stupidity. At any rate, a sizable band of his followers, headed by Strasser, Frick, and Feder, felt that the opportunity to come to “power” had been allowed to slip by. True, the Depression to which the party owed so much was far from over; the total number of the unemployed, including the “invisible” jobless, had been set at 8.75 million in October, 1932, and the country was heading into a new winter of misery with all its predictable demoralizing and radicalizing effects. But the experts claimed to see signs of a turning point. And in foreign policy also the long-delayed process of equalization was once more on its way. Hitler’s all-or-nothing slogan, as the Strasser group recognized, was fundamentally revolutionary in nature and therefore stood in contradiction to the tactics of legality. They were now afraid that Schleicher might once more dissolve the Reichstag and call an election. The party was neither financially nor psychologically able to cope with another campaign.

Basically, the moment was favorable for Schleicher’s plans. For the crisis Hitler was facing had just reached its height, and the pressures upon him were greater than any he had previously known. The rank and file were seething with impatience and disappointed hopes. Moreover, the party seemed about to be crushed by its burden of debt. Creditors were growing restless—the printers of the party newspapers, the makers of uniforms, the suppliers of equipment, the landlords of business offices, and the innumerable holders of promissory notes. With flippant logic Hitler later admitted that at the time he had borrowed to the hilt because victory would make repayment easy and defeat would make it superfluous. On all the street corners storm troopers hung about, extending collection boxes to passers-by “like discharged soldiers whom the warlord has given, instead of a pension, a permit for begging.” “For the wicked Nazis!” they could cry ironically. Konrad Heiden has reported that many desperate SA subleaders were running to opposition parties and newspapers to betray alleged secrets for hard cash. There were other signs of decay. The motley crowd of opportunists that had gathered around the rising movement was gradually beginning to disperse. In the Landtag elections in Thuringia, formerly one of Hitler’s bastions, the NSDAP received its most stunning setback. Goebbels’s diary entry for December 6 notes: “The situation in the Reich is catastrophic. Since July 31 we have suffered almost 40 per cent losses in Thuringia.” Goebbels later admitted publicly that at that time he had sometimes wondered whether the movement would not perish after all. In the offices controlled by Gregor Strasser statements of resignation from the party piled up.

Papen had been as quick to win the President’s heart as he had been “to throw away the last chances for a sensible solution to the political crisis.” But while he felt worsted, there was some comfort in the thought that his enemy could no longer operate discreetly in the wings but would have to expose himself to the public, while Papen could now assume the well-nigh omnipotent role Schleicher had enjoyed as confidant of the President. Papen might be leaving, but it was not yet a real good-bye. No less significant than his “spiritual harmony” with Hindenburg was the fact that even out of office Papen continued to occupy his official apartment—with the self-assurance of a person who regarded the state as his own property. Only a garden path separated this apartment from Hindenburg’s dwelling. It was like a joint household—which also included State Secretary Meissner and Oskar von Hindenburg. All four together looked spitefully on while the general played his cards, obstructed him when they could, and ultimately had the satisfaction of seeing Schleicher fail—at a high price.

Two large tears rolled down his cheeks as this tall, strong man extended his hands to me in parting. Our collaboration was at an end. The degree of spiritual harmony between us… may perhaps be seen from the inscription the Field Marshal wrote under the photograph of himself which he gave me a few hours later as a farewell gift: Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden!49

In a voice that sounded almost tormented… he turned to me: “My dear Papen, you will think me a scoundrel for changing my mind now. But I am now too old to accept the responsibility for a civil war. All we can do is to let Herr von Schleicher try his luck.”

Schleicher’s arguments made a strong impression on the cabinet. An indignant Papen went crying to the President that he had been betrayed, and even demanded that Schleicher be replaced by a new and more cooperative army minister. But at this point Hindenburg himself beat a retreat. Papen has described the emotional scene that followed:

Schleicher, however, refused to accept defeat. When Papen, later in the evening, asked whether the Reichswehr would be ready to back his actions, Schleicher flatly refused to give any such assurances. To Papen that night, and at a cabinet meeting next day, he spoke of a study made by his ministry, based on a three-day war game. It concluded that the army was incapable of handling a joint uprising by the Nazis and the Communists. Such an emergency could no longer be ruled out, since the two parties had already joined forces during the Berlin transportation strike. In the event of a simultaneous general strike along with Polish attacks on the eastern border, the Reichswehr would be totally helpless. In addition, Schleicher expressed his doubts about employing the nonpartisan instrument of the army to put across a “restoration” such as Papen had in mind—the wild idea of a Chancellor supported by a vanishing minority.

But Hindenburg, scarcely troubling to examine the plan, waved this away. Schleicher persisted, pointing out that his plan would spare the President the unpleasantness of violating his oath of office. But by now the doddering old man could not bear to part with his favorite Chancellor, regardless of constitutional questions.

On the evening of December 1, Schleicher was summoned to the presidential palace along with Papen. Where did he stand? Hindenburg asked Papen. Papen outlined his plan for a constitutional reform involving a virtual coup d’etat. Since the matter had been discussed openly for months, the request for the President’s consent was only a formality, but Schleicher broke in before Papen was finished. He called Papen’s plan both superfluous and dangerous, pointed out the danger of a civil war, and presented his own suggestion: prying the Strasser wing loose from the NSDAP and uniting all constructive forces from the Stahlhelm and the unions to the Social Democrats in a multipartisan cabinet under his own leadership.

Although Papen had counted on the negotiations coming to naught and himself returning to the Chancellor’s office, things turned out differently. For in the meantime Schleicher had got in touch with the Nazi party through Gregor Strasser and was exploring the possibilities of having the Nazis enter a cabinet under his own leadership. This was basically a maneuver and one typical of Schleicher: he reasoned that a generous offer of a share in the administration would produce an explosive conflict among the members of the Hitler party. The blasting powder lay ready to hand. Gregor Strasser had, in the face of recent setbacks, argued repeatedly that the party should adopt more conciliatory tactics. Goring and especially Goebbels had denounced all “halfway solutions” and insisted on demanding undivided power.

This was another and painful rebuff. “Once again the revolution is facing closed doors,” Goebbels angrily noted. Nevertheless, this time Hitler succeeded in hiding the defeat by adroit propaganda. In a detailed letter he analyzed with considerable acumen the inherent contradictions of Hindenburg’s offer, sketching for the first time the solution finally arrived at on January 30. What attracted particular attention at the presidential palace was his suggestion of a new approach to the process of forming a government. All that was needed was legislation which would free Hindenburg from involvement in the daily business of politics and thus relieve him of onorous responsibilities. This was a proposal whose importance to the further course of events can scarcely be overestimated. Certainly it did a great deal to persuade the President to assent to the claims of the man to whom, a short while back, he had at most been willing to concede the postal ministry.

The President thanks you, my dear Herr Hitler, for your willingness to assume the leadership of a presidential cabinet. But he believes he could not justify it to the German people if he were to give his presidential powers to the leader of a party which has always stressed its exclusiveness, and which has taken a predominantly negative attitude toward him personally as well as toward the political and economic measures he has considered necessary. In these circumstances the President must fear that a presidential cabinet led by you would inevitably develop into a party dictatorship, with all the consequences of a drastic intensification of the antagonisms within the German nation that that would involve. The President, in view of his oath and his conscience, could not take the responsibility for this.48

With some mental reservations, therefore, Schleicher advised Papen to resign and let Hindenburg in person negotiate with the party leaders for a “Cabinet of National Concentration.” On November 17 Papen followed this recommendation, secretly hoping that the talks would fail and he would once more be summoned to the chancellorship. Two days later Hitler, cheered by a hastily assembled crowd, drove the few yards from the Hotel Kaiserhof to the presidential palace. But two talks with Hindenburg proved fruitless. Hitler obstinately demanded a presidential cabinet with special powers, whereas Hindenburg, directed by Papen in the background, would not hear of this. If the country were still to be governed by special decree, he saw no reason to dismiss Papen. Hitler, the President said, could become Chancellor only if he could put together a parliamentary majority, something the Nazi party leader was clearly in no position to do. Hindenburg’s state secretary, Meissner, summed up the matter in a letter dated November 24:

While Papen was still drawing up blueprints for the sort of state “which will not be pushed around as the plaything of political and social forces, but will stand unshakably above them,” he suddenly met with unexpected resistance on the part of Schleicher. The general had originally chosen Papen to serve as a willing and handy instrument for taming the Hitler party within the framework of a broad nationalist coalition. Instead, Papen had become involved in a futile personal dispute with Hitler. As he consolidated his position with Hindenburg, he had also shown less of that docility that would have made him useful to the publicity-shy general. “Well, what do you think of that?” Schleicher would occasionally remark sarcastically to a visitor. “Little Franz has discovered himself.” Unlike Papen, Schleicher took a serious view of the problems of a Depression-shaken industrial state. There was more to the question than the proposition that the government must be strong. He therefore had little patience with the Chancellor’s plans. Schleicher had no intention of letting the army be used to help put over this scheme. For it would mean virtual civil war, with the troops pitted against Nazis and Communists, who together were almost 18 million strong at the polls and had millions of militant followers at their disposal. But there was another factor in Schleicher’s change of front, and probably this was the decisive one. He had meanwhile discovered, or thought he had discovered, how at last to carry out his plan of taming and gradually wearing down the National Socialist Party. All that was needed was a different constellation.

The government, then, had only two alternatives, neither of which was very popular: either to dissolve the Reichstag once more and thus obtain a political breathing spell, as risky as it was expensive, or else to take the open step against the Constitution that had long been contemplated. This would involve using presidential and military powers to ban the Nazi party, the Communist Party, and possibly other parties. Then the rights of the legislature would be drastically pruned, a new electoral law promulgated, and Hindenburg established as a kind of superauthority in the midst of representatives of the old ruling class whom he would appoint to the seats of power. The argument in Papen’s circles went that the parliamentary-democratic “rule of the minorities” had obviously failed. The new state they were planning would ensure the “rule of the best” and thus undercut such wild ideas about dictatorship as the Nazis were advocating. Papen hinted at some of these matters in a speech delivered on October 12. Many of the details remained nebulous and indeed were never worked out. But the concept as a whole had progressed far beyond the stage of mere theory. In his reactionary bluntness Hindenburg’s neighbor and confidant, old Oldenburg-Januschau, averred that he and his friends would shortly “brand the German people with a constitution that would make their senses reel.”47

Papen, in particular, was gratified by the outcome of the elections. Conscious of a great personal success, he turned to Hitler with the proposal that they put aside old quarrels and have another try at a union of all nationalistic forces. The Chancellor’s self-assured tone made Hitler only too aware of his own weakness; the Fuhrer’s response was to stay away from Berlin and remain inaccessible for days on end. On the eve of the elections he had issued a call to the party disdaining all thought of a reconciliation with the government and calling for “adamant continuation of the struggle until this partly overt, partly camouflaged opponent is brought to his knees” and a stop put to the reactionary policies that were driving the country into the arms of Bolshevism. Papen had to dispatch a second official letter to him before, after a deliberate delay of several days, he sent a rejection which he cloaked once again in a series of unfulfillable demands. The Chancellor received similar cold answers from the other nationalist parties.

Fate decided, for the first time since 1930, emphatically against the National Socialists’ claims to power. They lost 2 million votes and thirty-four Reichstag seats. The Social Democratic Party also lost a few seats, while the German Nationalists emerged from the election with eleven additional seats and the Communists with an increase of fourteen. On the whole it seemed as if the steady decline of the bourgeois Center parties, which had been going on for years, had at last come to a halt. It was significant that the NSDAP’s losses were evenly distributed throughout the country, and hence could not be considered regional setbacks. They’reflected a weariness with Nazi propaganda. Even in predominantly agricultural regions, such as Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, or Pomerania, which in the preceding elections had contributed the strongest and most reliable support for the NSDAP and thus gave the party quite another cast from the urban petty bourgeois party it had been originally, the Nazis suffered considerable losses.46 And although party leaders promised they would “sweat and fight until this disgrace is wiped out,” the wave continued to ebb in the local elections of the following week. The party’s march to victory seemed broken at last, and even though it could still be called a large party, it was no longer a myth. The question was precisely whether it could continue to exist as an ordinary party, or whether its survival depended on its being a myth.

A few days before the election, as the campaign was approaching its end—it had been conducted at obvious excess pressure and with failing strength—the party had an opportunity to demonstrate the seriousness of its leftist slogans. At the beginning of November a strike broke out in Berlin among the transportation workers. It had been instigated by the Communists over the vote of the unions, and contrary to all expectations the Nazis actually supported the strikers. Together, the SA and the Red Front paralyzed public transportation for five days. They tore up streetcar tracks, formed picket lines, beat up scabs, and forcibly stopped the sketchily organized auxiliary transport. This unity of action has always been cited as evidence for the fatal community of leftist and rightist radicalism. But in fact the Nazis at this moment had scarcely any other choice, even though it meant alienating many of their bourgeois voters and finding that their financial contributions dried up almost completely. “The entire press is denouncing us,” Goebbels noted. “It calls our action Bolshevism; and yet we really could not do anything else. If we had withdrawn our support for this strike, which involves the most basic rights of the streetcar workers, our firm position among the working people would have been shaken. This way, with the election coming, we can once again show the public that our antireactionary course comes from the heart and is genuine. A great opportunity.” And a few days later, on November 5: “Last onslaught. Desperate drive of the party against defeat. At the last minute we manage to scare up another 10,000 marks which we blow on propaganda Saturday afternoon. We have done whatever could be done. Now fate must decide.”

The election campaign, too, was conducted chiefly against the “clique of the nobles,” the “bourgeois young bravos,” and the “corrupt Junker regime.” The party propaganda office issued a host of slogans to be spread by word of mouth and whose intent was to whip up “an outright mood of panic against Papen and his Cabinet.” Once again Gregor Strasser and his shrunken following had a period of great although deceptive hopes. “Against reaction!” was the official election slogan given out by Hitler. Nazi speakers passionately denounced the business-oriented economic policies of the administration. Nazi rowdies now took to breaking up nationalist meetings and organizing attacks on Stahlhelm leaders. To be sure, the NSDAP’s socialism remained without a program, as it had always been; it was formulated only in the figurative language of a prescientific mentality. Thus Nazi socialism was “the principle of achievement of the Prussian officer, of the incorruptible German civil servant, the walls, the town hall, the cathedral, the hospital of a Free City of the German Reich—all that.” It was also the “changeover from working class to labor” (“von der Arbeiterschaft zum Arbeitertum”). The very ambiguities of such language made it popular. “An honest living for honest work”—that had a more persuasive ring than any economic theory learned in the evening schools run by workmen’s circles. “If the distribution apparatus of today’s world economic system does not know how to properly distribute nature’s lavish productivity, this system is false and must be changed.” That corresponded to a basic popular feeling, and people did not think to ask what this change would consist of. Significantly, it was not the Communists but Gregor Strasser who was able to sum up the broad general dissatisfaction of the period in a phrase that instantly became part of the language. In one of his speeches he spoke of a mood that was passing through the public and was in itself a sign of a great turning point in history—this mood he described as “anticapitalist nostalgia.”

Only the exaltation of struggle, the promise of power, the theater of public appearances, homages and collective deliriums kept him going. Three days later he appeared at a Munich meeting of Nazi leaders “in great form,” as Goebbels noted, and gave “a fabulous outline of the development and status of our struggle in the very long view. He is indeed the Great Man, above us all. He pulls the party to its feet again out of every despairing mood.” The difficulties the party was facing were in fact growing ever more hopeless. The shortage of money tended to paralyze all activity. With their attacks on Papen and his “Cabinet of Reaction,” the Nazis inevitably forfeited the sympathy of the wealthy members of the Nationalist opposition, whose contributions now flowed more sparsely than ever before. “Raising money is extraordinarily difficult. The gentlemen of ‘property and culture’ all stand with the government.”

Hitler alone seemed once again confident and free of moods, as always after he had made a decision. During the first half of October he set out on his fourth airplane campaign, and with his compulsion to magnify everything constantly, increased the number of his speeches and the miles flown. To Kurt Luedecke, who had accompanied him in the dramatic Mercedes motorcade, surrounded by heavily armed “men from Mars,” to the Reich Youth Day functions in Potsdam, he sketched ideas that were a curious mixture of hopes and reality—in which he appeared as Chancellor. Two days later, after an impressive propaganda show with 70,000 members of the Hitler Youth parading by for hours, Luedecke bade good-bye to Hitler at the railroad station. He found him sitting in the corner of his compartment exhausted, capable only of weary and feeble gestures.

Hitler had additional worries. After the expensive campaigns of the past year the movement’s funds were exhausted. Moreover, it seemed for the present to have reached the limits of its strength. “Our opponents,” Goebbels wrote in diary notes that grew increasingly gloomy, “are counting on our losing our nerve in this struggle and being worn out.” A month later he noted friction among the party’s followers, disputes over money and seats in the Reichstag, and observed that “the organization has of course become very nervous as a result of the many election campaigns. It is overworked like a company that has lain too long in the trenches.” He tried to look at the bright side: “Our chances are improving from day to day. Although the prospects are still fairly rotten, they at any rate cannot be compared with our hopeless prospects of a few weeks ago.”

Unless all indications are wrong, Hitler originally wanted to avoid this turn of events, for it obviously ran counter to his interests. “Everyone is dumbfounded,” Goebbels noted. “Nobody thought it possible that we would have the courage to bring about this decision. We alone are rejoicing.” But this euphoric mood was soon over, giving way to a degree of depression the Nazi leaders had not known for years. Hitler himself was only too keenly aware that the impulse voters to whom the party owed its recent increments could not be depended on. He distinctly sensed that the debacle of August 13, the falling back into the opposition, the Potempa affair and the conflict with Hindenburg were spoiling the image of himself as the destined savior and unequaled leader. Once the trend to success was reversed, the party’s attraction was dispelled and it could plunge straight to the bottom.

Papen had convoked the Reichstag for its first working session on September 12. In his drive to take vengeance on Papen, Hitler lost sight of all other considerations. Goring had in the meantime been elected President of the Reichstag, and with his help Hitler dealt the Chancellor the severest defeat in German parliamentary history, a vote of no confidence carried by a vote of 512 to 42. Papen had already obtained an order of dissolution before the session; he carried it in the traditional red portfolio for everyone to see; but Goring deliberately ignored it until the no-confidence vote had been taken. Papen was thus given his comeuppance; but the result was that the newly elected legislature was dissolved after a session lasting approximately one hour. The new elections were set for November 6.

Ever since August 13 Papen had obviously made up his mind to make no more concessions to Hitler. Why he took this hard line is something of a mystery, since his own explanations do not ring true. It may be that he belatedly caught on to the trickery of the Nazis, saw through their posture, which Goebbels later accurately described as “sham moderation,” and changed his attitude accordingly. He realized also that the National Socialist Party depended heavily on a constant series of successes. Its internal situation was so precarious that it could not long stand up to determined sternness. To be sure, the government had had to give in to Nazi pressure and commute the Potempa sentences. But in the end Hitler had been outmaneuvered; he had become nervous and betrayed himself by his telegram to the murderers. Shortly afterward he once more made a serious mistake.

Obeying the rules of classical drama, the events of the autumn of 1932 took a turn which seemed to promise that the crisis might be overcome. The elements to which Nazism chiefly owed its rise began to be undermined. For one ironic moment the play seemed to reverse itself on every plane and to expose Hitler’s expectations of power as wildly exaggerated—before the scene suddenly collapsed.

Then again his mood swung to confidence. Papen’s frivolity, foolishness, and weakness, together with the President’s softness toward all nationalist elements, not to speak of the old general’s age (it made him laugh, Hitler publicly stated)—all these things gave him cause for hope. A few days after he had called the Potempa murderers “comrades” Hitler received a message from Hjalmar Schacht. It assured him of the writer’s “unalterable sympathy,” and expressed faith that sooner or later power would come to him, one way or another. Schacht advised him for the present not to allow himself to be identified with any specific economic program, and concluded: “Wherever my work may lead me in the near future—even if some day you should see me inside the fortress—you can count on me as your reliable helper.”

And while he was expatiating on the historical challenge he had seen and accepted, and was comparing himself to Bismarck, he abruptly asked whether there was a formal extradition treaty between the Free City of Danzig and the German Reich. When Rauschning indicated that he did not understand the question, Hitler explained that a situation might arise in which he would need a place of refuge.

This dichotomy was on his mind when Hermann Rauschning, the Nazi President of the Danzig Senate, called upon him at Obersalzberg around this time. Rauschning was astonished at the petty bourgeois life style of the mighty tribune of the people, the cretonne curtains on the windows, the so-called peasant furniture, the chirping songbirds in the draped cage, and the society of stout elderly ladies. Hitler inveighed violently against Papen and called the nationalistic bourgeoisie “the real enemy of Germany.” He justified his protest against the Potempa sentences in grandiloquent abstract terms: “We must be cruel. We must recover the capacity to commit cruelties with a clear conscience. Only in this way can we expel our nation’s softheartedness and sentimental philistinism, this Gemutlichkeit and easygoing evening-beer mood. We have no more time for fine feelings. We must compel our nation to greatness if it is to fulfill its historic task.”

Hitler’s fury over the snub from Hindenburg and Papen was so strong that he seemed for the first time tempted to abandon his course of legality and seize power by a bloody insurrection. The affront had not only meant a political setback; it had been a personal insult, a fresh reminder that he could not be part of respectable circles. More and more often the grim formula was uttered in demonstrations: “The hour of reckoning is coming!” He began negotiations with the Center with the aim of overthrowing the Papen government; and once during the discussions the wild proposal arose to form an alliance with the disappointed Left and force the deposing of Hindenburg by decree of the Reichstag; this would then be followed by a referendum. Then again, in the vengeful mood of those weeks, he painted for himself and his entourage the circumstances and the chances for a revolutionary seizure of the key government posts. Once again he dwelt on the bloodbath he would prepare for his Marxist opponents. In any case, the legal course he had been following for years corresponded only to the circumspect, instinctively dependent side of his nature; on the other side were his aggressiveness, his powerful imagination, and the conviction that historical greatness could not be achieved without bloodshed.

I know what those gentlemen have in mind. They would like to provide us with a few posts now and silence us. But they won’t ride far in that old rattletrap…. No, gentlemen, I did not form the party to haggle, to sell it, to barter it away! This isn’t a lion’s skin that any old sheep can slip into. The party is the party and that’s all there is to it!… Do you really think you can bait me with a couple of ministerial posts? I don’t even want to associate with any of you. Those gentlemen have no idea how little I give a damn about all that. If God had wanted things to be the way they are, we would have come into the world wearing a monocle. Not on your life! They can keep those posts because they don’t belong to them at all.44

At any rate, Hitler was now deploying the SA in a more and more threatening manner. And on September 2, after ten days of disorders, Papen actually backed down and sacrificed the slender remnant of his prestige: he recommended to the President commuting the five men’s sentences to life imprisonment—from which they were released a few months later, hailed as glorious fighters. Yet in a speech that Hitler delivered on September 4 the rage and indignation of a man who felt he had been duped rang out:

For the moment, however, the National Socialists threw their whole weight into embittered opposition. When on August 22 the five who had trampled the Communist to death at Potempa were condemned to death on the basis of the new law against political terrorism, the Nazis demonstrated wildly inside the courtroom. The SA leader in Silesia, Edmund Heines, stood up in court in full uniform and shouted threats of vengeance. And Hitler sent a telegram to the five assuring them that “in the face of this monstrous, bloodthirsty sentence” he remained linked to them in “boundless loyalty.” He promised that they would soon be released. Now he was throwing off the mask of respectable conduct that he had so carefully maintained for the past two years. Once more, as in wilder early days, he was expressing solidarity with murderers. Such recklessness revealed how badly disappointed he had been—although to some extent he was driven by the need to placate his followers. Once more the SA felt itself thwarted. It was by far the largest paramilitary organization in the country, was raring to fight, and despised the tail-coated von Papen. Toughs of this sort could not comprehend why Hitler would go on accepting humiliations when he could turn loose his loyal warriors and let them take over the streets for that bloody carnival they thought they were entitled to.

Hitler’s bitterness increased when he found himself outmaneuvered by the official communique. Hindenburg, it stated, had rejected Hitler’s demands “very firmly on the grounds that he could not reconcile with his conscience and his duties to the Fatherland transferring all administrative power exclusively to the National Socialist movement which intends to apply this power onesidedly.” There was also an expression of official regret that Hitler did not see fit to support, in keeping with his earlier promises, a nationalist government that enjoyed the President’s confidence. In the oblique style of officialese, this was nothing less than charging Hitler with breaking his word; and for Hitler the reproach conjured up figures of the past, Seisser and the hated Herr von Kahr. Only a few months later, however, such spasms of resentment were forgotten.

We can be sure that Hitler had already visualized how he would offer to a dumfounded and doomed world the spectacle of his summons to rule. On the way to Berlin he had stopped in a restaurant at Chiemsee and, “while eating a large piece of sponge cake,” had described to his lieutenants how he was going to massacre the Marxists. Instead he suddenly found himself, made a fool of. And as always in response to setbacks, a dramatic gesture of despair followed hard upon the disappointment. When he was summoned to see Hindenburg that afternoon, he at first wanted to refuse to come. Only an explicit assurance from the presidential palace that nothing had yet been decided gave him hope once more. But Hindenburg merely inquired whether he was prepared to support the present administration. Hitler said no. An appeal to patriotism, such as the old man commonly sprinkled into his personal interviews, left Hitler unaffected. The meeting ended with a few admonishments and an “icy leave-taking.” In the hallway Hitler excitedly prophesied the overthrow of the President.

These events obviously contributed to the sudden shift that once again barred the gates of power from the Nazis. But to what degree has not yet been clarified. Schleicher may have abandoned his idea of taming the Nazis by making Hitler Chancellor in a rightist coalition government, thus fettering him with responsibility and undermining his popularity. At any rate this plan now encountered vigorous resistance from the President, who had developed a paternal fondness for the agile and frivolous Papen. Hindenburg certainly did not care to exchange Papen for the Bohemian fanatic and ersatz messiah Hitler, who, moreover, would want to take over the Kaiser role that the President had grown attached to. On August 13 an extended round of negotiations with the National Socialist leadership was held. In conjunction with Papen, Hindenburg rejected all Hitler’s claims to assume full powers and instead offered him the post of Vice-Chancellor in the existing cabinet. Furious, in the all-or-nothing mood of those days, Hitler turned down the offer, and stuck to his refusal, even when Papen broadened the terms. He would give his word of honor, he proposed, that after an interlude of “trusting and fruitful collaboration” he would resign the chancellorship in favor of Hitler.

Hitler left Schleicher convinced that he stood on the verge of power. As they parted, he genially proposed that a plaque be put on the house in Furstenberg to commemorate their meeting. The storm troopers were already leaving their places of work and preparing for the day of victory with its celebrations, its excesses, and the promise of becoming big shots. To quiet them, as well as lend emphasis to his demands, Hitler had the SA units around Berlin parade within the city, and encircle it in an ever tighter ring. Throughout the Reich, but especially in Silesia and East Prussia, the number of bloody clashes increased. Thereupon, a decree of August 9 threatened the death penalty for anyone who “in the passion of the political struggle undertakes, in rage and hatred, a fatal assault upon his opponent.” The very next night five uniformed SA men in Potempa, a village in Upper Silesia, forced their way into the apartment of a Communist worker, pulled him out of bed, and literally trampled him to death before his mother’s eyes.

On August 5 Hitler met Schleicher in Furstenberg, Mecklenburg, near Berlin, and for the first time demanded full power: the office of Chancellor for himself, the Ministries of the Interior, Justice, Agriculture, and Air Transport, and a Propaganda Ministry to be newly created. He also insisted, on the basis of the coup of July 20, on the posts of Prussian Prime Minister and Prussian Minister of the Interior. Furthermore, he wanted a law empowering him to rule by decree with unlimited powers. For, as Goebbels remarked, “if we have the power we’ll never give it up again unless we’re carried out of our offices as corpses.”

As a result, Papen’s coup only increased the impatience of the Nazis. In the struggle for power three sharply divided camps now faced one another: the nationalist-authoritarian group around Papen, who in parliamentary terms represented barely 10 per cent of the voters but who had the backing of Hindenburg and the army; the exhausted democratic groups, who however could still count on considerable support by the public; and the totalitarian opposition consisting of both Nazis and Communists. Together these last held a negative majority of 53 per cent. But just as the Nazis and Communists could not work together, all the groups blocked and paralyzed one another. The summer and autumn of 1932 were marked by continuous efforts to overcome the current political rigidity by some new tactical maneuver.

It is hard to deny a good deal of validity to the arguments of the Prussian politicians. In view of all the circumstances, their decision may well have been a reasonable one. But in the face of history their reasonableness counts for little. No thought was given to a demonstration of defiance, and in no phase of the events did Severing and his unnerved, morally broken fellows consider the possibility that going down to defeat in honor might have made people forget the halfway measures and missed opportunites of the past thirteen years, and have sparked a renewal of confidence in democracy. The real and immense importance of July 20, 1932, lies in its psychological consequences. It discouraged one side and taught the others how little fight the defenders of the republic would be likely to put up.

Widespread resistance had, to be sure, been considered. According to a contemporary observer, Grzesinski and Heimannsberg, in conjunction with Undersecretary Klausener are supposed to have urged Severing to “carry on the fight by every means.” In particular they allegedly demanded “immediate action by the Berlin police, proclamation of a general strike, immediate arrest of the Reich government and the President, and declaration of the President’s incapacity to perform his duties.” But Severing is said to have rejected this proposal. Opposition did not go beyond ineffectual publication of protests and an appeal to the Supreme Court. The Prussian government had at its disposal more than 90,000 well-equipped police troops, the paramilitary Reichsbanner, the adherence of the republican parties, the unions, and all the important key posts. Fear of civil war, respect for the Constitution, doubts of the force of a general strike when so many men were unemployed, and many similar considerations ultimately undermined all ideas of resistance. Papen was able to seize power in the “strongest bulwark of the Republic,” with nothing to stop him beyond the looks of anguished resignation in his opponents’ eyes.

Severing declared that he would yield only to force. Papen—“a cavalier even in a coup d’etat”—inquired what exactly he meant by that. The Minister retorted that he would move out of his office only under pressure. Meanwhile, using a prepared second emergency decree, Papen imposed a military state of emergency on Berlin and Brandenburg, thus seizing the police powers for himself. In the evening three police officers came to the Ministry of the Interior and requested Severing to leave. He was now yielding to force, Severing replied, and stepped out of his office and into his adjacent apartment. By the following afternoon, similarly without resistance, the leadership of the redoubtable Prussian police had been “overwhelmed.” Berlin Police Commissioner Grzesinski, Deputy Commissioner Weiss, and Police Commander Heimannsberg were led across the yard of police headquarters for a brief internment. It is said that some of the policemen called after their chiefs the slogan of the Social Democratic Reichsbanner: “Freiheit!” Konrad Heiden has pointedly remarked that this was the last gasp of the crumbling, unwanted and now surrendered freedom of the Weimar Republic.

Refusing to realize that his concessions were only emboldening the Nazis, Papen went a step further. His idea was to strengthen the prestige of his virtually isolated administration, and simultaneously conciliate Hitler and the Nazis, by some grand gesture of authoritarianism. Accordingly, on the morning of July 20 Papen summoned three members of the Prussian government to the chancellery and abruptly informed them that he had just deposed Prussian Prime Minister Braun and Interior Minister Severing by emergency decree. He himself, he said, would assume the duties of the Prime Minister as Reich Commissioner.

Thereupon the conditions of virtual civil war, with wild clashes in the streets, were abruptly revived, and now reached their real climax. In the five weeks up to July 20 there were nearly 500 such clashes in Prussia alone, with a toll of 99 dead and 1,125 wounded. Throughout the Reich seventeen persons were killed on July 10; in many places the army had to intervene in the furious street battles. Ernst Thalmann, the Communist leader, rightly defined the lifting of the ban on the SA as an open invitation to murder, although he did not say whether his own fighting units took an active or a passive part. On July 17 one of the bloodiest conflicts of the summer took place in Hamburg-Altona. A deliberately provocative parade of some 7,000 Nazis through the streets of the Red working-class quarter was answered by the Communists with heavy sniping from roofs and windows, which the Nazis answered in kind. There was a bitter battle over hastily erected barricades. At the end there were seventeen dead and many severely wounded. Of the eighty-six persons who died in political clashes in July, 1932, thirty were on the side of the Communists, thirty-eight on the side of the Nazis.43 “There is brawling and shooting,” Goebbels remarked. “The regime’s last show.”

Two days later, on June 16, the ban was lifted; but the period of hesitancy had meanwhile given the impression of a “virtual genuflection by the administration before the coming new power.” At the last moment Papen made a transparent effort to trade off his conciliatory gesture for a promise that the Nazis would later help form a government. Tactically, he made his offer too late; but it also revealed a grotesque incomprehension of the urgency of Hitler’s hunger for power. Coolly, Hitler put him off; there would be time enough to consider his requests after the Reichstag elections.

The extraordinary unpopularity of the government prompted Hitler to take an attitude of cautious restraint. In his negotiations with Schleicher he had agreed to tolerate the government if new elections were called, the ban against the SA lifted, and the NSDAP allowed full freedom to carry on agitation. A few hours after Bruning’s dismissal, he had answered positively when the President asked him whether he agreed to the appointment of Papen. The new Chancellor promptly, on June 4, began his series of fateful concessions by dissolving the Reichstag and indicating that he would shortly lift the ban on the SA. Nevertheless, the Nazis began disentangling themselves. “We must part company as quickly as possible with the bourgeois transitional cabinet,” Goebbels noted. “All these are questions of delicately feeling one’s way.” A few days later he noted: “We had better betake ourselves as swiftly as possible out of the compromising vicinity of these bourgeois adolescents. Otherwise we are lost. In the Angriff I am launching a fresh attack on the Papen cabinet.” When the SA ban was not dropped in the first few days, as anticipated, Goebbels one evening entered “a large cafe on Potsdamer Platz with forty or fifty SA leaders in full uniform in spite of the ban, for the sake of provocation. All of us longing to have the police arrest us…. Around midnight we stroll very slowly on Potsdamer Platz and Potsdamer Strasse. But nobody lifts a finger. The patrolmen look stumped and then shamefacedly turn their eyes away.”

If, however, Schleicher had considered that Papen, thanks to his extensive connections, would be able to put together a coalition, or at any rate to win parliamentary approval of a cabinet including all parties to the right of the Social Democrats, he soon found that he was mistaken. The new Chancellor had no political base at all. The Center, embittered by the betrayal of Bruning, sharply opposed him. And Hugenberg, who saw himself once more passed over, also proved indignant. From the public, too, Papen encountered hostile rejection. Although he cashed in on Bruning’s successful negotiations and came back from the Lausanne Conference with the reparations question settled, he gained no popularity. The fact was that his cabinet could in no way be regarded as a legitimate solution to Germany’s problems, neither in terms of democracy nor expertise. It consisted entirely of men of distinguished families who had not been able to resist the President’s appeal to their patriotism and who now “surrounded Hindenburg like officers their general.” Seven of them were noblemen, two company directors; the roster also included Hitler’s protector from his Munich days, Franz Gurtner, and a general. Not a single representative of the middle class or the working class was included in the cabinet. The shadows seemed to be returning. But the mass indignation, the scorn and protest on the part of the populace, had no effect—proof of how thoroughly the members of the former ruling class had lost contact with reality. The “cabinet of barons,” as it was soon called, drew its support solely from Hindenburg’s authority and the army’s power.

Yet it was obviously this cavalier quality of Papen that recommended him to Schleicher. For Schleicher was plainly thinking more and more of doing away with the weakened parliamentary system and replacing it by some kind of “moderate” dictatorship. Papen might be just the man to carry out such plans for him. Schleicher must also have imagined that the inexperienced Papen, a man concerned largely with externals, would find his vanity satisfied with the office and its ceremonial functions, and for the rest would be a docile tool. Schleicher, as ambitious as he was wary of publicity, needed exactly that kind of man. When Schleicher’s friends, incredulous at his choice, protested that Papen was a man without a head, Schleicher replied: “I don’t need a head, I need a hat.”

General von Schleicher put forward as Bruning’s successor a man who at best could be considered a political dilettante. Franz von Papen came from an aristocratic Westphalian family, had served in a Junker cavalry regiment, and come to wide public notice for the first time—in a characteristic way—during the World War: in 1916 he had been expelled from the United States, where he was serving as military attache, for sabotage activities; on the crossing to Europe he carelessly let important documents regarding his secret service work fall into the hands of the British authorities. His marriage to the daughter of a leading Saar industrialist had brought him considerable wealth and excellent connections with industry. As a Catholic nobleman he also had connections with the higher clergy, and as a former General Staff officer multiple contacts with the army. It may be that this position of Papen’s at the intersection of many interests first attracted Schleicher’s attention. The man seemed grotesquely antiquated; in all his long-legged stiffness, haughtiness, and bleating arrogance he was almost a caricature of himself—a figure from Alice in Wonderland, as a contemporary observer remarked. He was considered foolish, overhasty; nobody took him quite seriously. “If he succeeds with a thing, he is very pleased; if he fails, he does not worry about it.”

That act was, in keeping with the camarilla’s plans, only the prelude. On May 12 Hindenburg left Berlin for nearly two weeks, to spend the Whitsun holidays on his estate, Gut Neudeck. Bruning asked to see him, but the President irritably refused. During this period he was obviously under the influence of his fellow Junkers, who were now preparing the assault on Bruning’s weakening position. Whatever line of argument they followed, they no doubt brought to the task “that heavy force peculiar to large landowners and old army officers, which dispensed with honesty and concern for principle.” When Hindenburg returned to Berlin at the end of the month, he was determined to part with his Chancellor. Bruning thought he was on the verge of great successes in foreign policy, and as late as the morning of May 30, shortly before he set out to see Hindenburg, had heard that there was going to be a significant turn in the matter of disarmament. But as things turned out, he was not given the time to inform the President of this. Only a year before, Hindenburg had assured him that he would be his last Chancellor, that he would not part with him. Now Bruning found himself dismissed in an insultingly brusk interview. He had been allowed only a few minutes on the President’s calendar; Hindenburg did not want to miss the parade of the naval guard in commemoration of the Battle of Jutland. A wartime memory and a minor military spectacle took precedence over an act that decided the fate of the republic.42

After about a month of such intrigues, matters finally came to a head. On May 10 Groener defended in the Reichstag the SA ban against furious attacks from the Right. He was a feeble speaker at best, and his protests against the National Socialist “state within the State” and “state against the State” made little headway against the wild uproar that the Nazis unleashed. The angered, helpless, and no doubt exhausted Minister went down to defeat, and with him the cause he was advocating. Schleicher and General Kurt von Hammerstein, commander in chief of the army, coolly informed the Minister of Defense that he no longer enjoyed the confidence of the army, and must resign. Two days later, after a vain appeal to Hindenburg, Groener handed in his resignation.

At the end of April Schleicher met with Hitler for a first discussion. “The conversation went well,” Goebbels noted. Soon afterward there was a second meeting, in which State Secretary Meissner, Hindenburg’s man of confidence, and Oskar von Hindenburg were included; at this time not only the dismissal of Groener but the fall of the entire Bruning cabinet was discussed. “Everything is going well….” Goebbels noted again. “Delightful feeling that nobody suspects anything, Bruning himself least of all.”

Meanwhile, Schleicher let the leadership of the NSDAP know that he personally was not at all in favor of the ban on the SA. He still clung to the idea of disabling the Nazis by letting them participate in power and “locking them in”—to use the magic formula of the moment—by surrounding them with a cabinet of influential specialists. The example of Mussolini should have shown him that such tricks are useless against tribunes of the people who can call upon a private army.

The very next day a strikingly frosty letter from Hindenburg to Minister of Defense Groener gave the signal for a monumental intrigue. A passionate campaign in the rightist newspapers, joined by a choir of prominent voices of the nationalist camp, went along with it. The Crown Prince thought it “incomprehensible” that the Defense Minister of all persons should help to “shatter the marvelous human material that has been brought together in the SA and SS and is receiving valuable training there.” Schleicher advised his Minister, who still regarded him as his “adopted son,” to resign, and either circulated spiteful slanders against Groener or did nothing to stem such slanders. Word went round that Groener was ill, or that he was a pacifist, or that he had brought the army into disrepute when his second wife gave birth prematurely. Schleicher wittily told President Hindenburg that in the army the baby was called “Nurmi,” after the Finnish runner famous for his speed in the final spurt.

Hitler’s compliance may have come easily to him since by that time he had received information—from Schleicher or people close to Schleicher—about friction within the administration. On the whole he showed an air of confidence. On the eve of the day that was to begin the dismemberment of the Hitler movement, Goebbels noted a conversation with Hitler in the Hotel Kaiserhof: “We discussed personnel questions for the period of taking power just as if we were already the government. I think no movement in the opposition has ever been so sure of its success as ours!”

Backed by the belligerence and strength of his 400,000 men, Rohm at first seemed ready for a trial of strength. But Hitler would not hear of it. Instead, without more ado, he incorporated the SA into the party organization and in this way kept its organization intact. Here was another example of a Fascist movement abandoning the field without a fight at the first show of resistance by the government. Similarly, in 1920 Gabriele d’Annunzio had evacuated the city of Fiume in response to a single cannon shot. Once more Hitler declared himself on the side of legality, and called for strict observance of the ban. He did this not out of fear but because any other measure would have nullified the “Fascist constellation,” the alliance between conservative rule and a revolutionary-popular movement.

With some scruples, and with anxious side glances at the “old wartime comrades” now serving in the SA and SS, Hindenburg finally signed the decree; and on April 14, in a widespread police action, Hitler’s private army was broken up, its headquarters, shelters, schools and depots occupied. This action was the most energetic blow that the government had struck against Nazism since November, 1923. The official statement at last showed a certain mettle on the part of the republic: “It is exclusively the concern of the State to maintain an organized force. As soon as such a force is organized by private parties and the State tolerates this, a danger to law and order already exists…. Undoubtedly, in a constitutional state power may be organized by the constitutional organs of the State itself. Any private organized force therefore cannot by its very nature be a legal institution…. In the interests of its own preservation, the State must order such forces dissolved.”

But a few days before proclamation of the ban, events took a dramatic turn. Schleicher, who had at first agreed to the ban and even boasted of being its author, changed his mind overnight, and when his shift did not meet with instant approval, began intriguing furiously against the ban. Soon he had won over Hindenburg, on grounds that the ban would make the President even more unpopular with his already disappointed followers on the Right. Schleicher himself had decided that it would be better to collaborate with the SA in dissolving all other private defense organizations, such as the Stahlhelm or the loyally Republican Reichsbanner, and to collect them all into a militia or a military sports association subordinated to the army. But his change of heart also sprang from his temperamental love of intrigue. The crude method of a ban was antipathetic to him; he liked subtler procedures. His counterproposal, significantly, was to present Hitler with a number of ultimatums demanding the demilitarization of the SA. The demands would be so impossible to meet that by rejecting them Hitler would be placed in the wrong.

Two days before the first presidential election, Goebbels had noted in his diary: “Thorough discussion with SA and SS leadership of standards of behavior for the next few days. Everywhere a wild restiveness prevails. The word putsch haunts the scene.” For election day, Rohm had decreed a state of emergency readiness and his brown shirts encircled Berlin. While raiding several of the SA’s organizational centers, the Prussian police found detailed instructions for violent measures to be taken if Hitler won. Although there was no evidence of any plans for a large-scale uprising, the police did come upon the secret putsch cue familiar from other documents: “Grandmother dead.” Orders were also found instructing the storm troopers of the eastern territories to refuse to participate in the country’s defense if there were a Polish attack—a discovery that must have made its impression on Hindenburg in particular. Several state governments were urging a Reich ban on the SA and SS. The decision to impose the ban was now taken unanimously; it was an action long weighed and repeatedly postponed before finally being taken.

The beginning of Bruning’s overthrow was marked by what looked like an act of governmental vigor, but actually exposed the hidden contradictions within the leadership of the Reich, thereby hastening the death of the republic. The government banned the SA and the SS. Since the discovery of the Boxheim Papers, fresh evidence had accumulated of the real intentions of the Nazis. The party’s army was becoming more impatient and brash than ever. And Hitler kept up his pretense of legality by off and on publicly worrying how long he would be able to keep his brown storm troops in check. Testily, Ludendorff referred to Germany as territory “occupied by the SA.”

The landowners were appalled. Their fierce attacks on the proposal culminated in the charge that the Chancellor had Bolshevistic tendencies. Given the President’s age and weak judgment, one cannot say how much he was swayed by such pressure. But there is no doubt that it at least contributed to his decision to drop Bruning. Moreover, Hindenburg bore a grudge against the Chancellor for leading him to fight on the wrong front for reelection. Nor did his entourage let him forget that painful affair. Bruning’s hour struck when he lost the confidence of Schleicher, who alleged that he spoke in the name of the army.

The first victim of this group was, ironically, Bruning himself. The Chancellor, trusting that he would be backed by the President, had incurred the enmity of some of those “mighty institutions” that his opponent Hitler was trying so persistently and successfully to cultivate. He had too often refused to consider the demands of industry. Now he antagonized Hindenburg’s peers in the landowning class. They expected subsidies from the state, but Bruning wanted to make such financial aid conditional on an examination of the profitability of the estate in question. Hopelessly indebted properties were to be used for resettling some of the unemployed upon the land.

The following months were filled with the background maneuvers of these men. Their various motives and interests are hard to determine. Hitler had appeared on the political scene as a tremendous and troublesome force, and their general intention was to integrate him, to bind him, and also to use him as a threat against the Left. This was the last attempt, springing from the deluded arrogance of a traditional leadership, by old Germany to regain a forfeited role in history.

Alarmingly, the first signs of this sinister prospect began to appear. With the switch to governing purely by emergency decree, and especially since his re-election, Hindenburg had given his office an increasingly personal touch and had more and more obstinately equated his wishes with the welfare of the state. In this opinionated behavior he was supported by a small group of irresponsible advisers. One of these was his son Oskar, whose role in the government, to quote a popular sarcasm, “was not provided for in the Constitution.” Others were State Secretary Meissner, General Schleicher, the young conservative deputy Dr. Gereke, Hindenburg’s neighboring estate owner, von Oldenburg-Januschau (who had long enjoyed the reputation of being a “reactionary brute” and who, for example, outraged public opinion by asserting that it should always be possible to dissolve Parliament by sending a lieutenant and ten enlisted men to do the job). In addition there were some other Prussian magnates, and later the group was joined by Franz von Papen.

The uproar unleashed by Hitler would, however, never have led to power by itself. The elections to the Prussian Landtag had given the NSDAP 36.3 per cent of the vote and eliminated the preponderance hitherto enjoyed by the coalition of Social Democrats and Center parties. But the hoped-for absolute majority had not been attained, nor was it reached three months later in the Reichstag elections of July 31, 1932. Nevertheless, the party had more than doubled its previous number of seats, to 230, and was by far the strongest party in the Reichstag. There were many indications that Hitler had expanded as far as he could go. True, he had decimated or entirely absorbed the bourgeois parties of the Center and the Right. But he had not been able to make significant inroads on the Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party. All that tremendous propaganda effort, the incessant mass meetings, parades, poster and leaflet distributions, the party speakers pushing their strength to the limit, and even Hitler’s third “flight over Germany,” in the course of which he spoke in fifty cities within fifteen days—all of it had brought the party an increase of only 1 per cent compared with the vote for the Prussian Landtag. Goebbels remarked on the results: “Now something must happen. We must come to power in the near future. Otherwise we’ll drop dead from winning elections.”41

Just as the ritual of opening a mass meeting was carefully orchestrated, so was the conclusion. Amid the din and the cheering the band burst out with “Deutschland, Deutschland iiber Alles,” or else one of the party anthems. The music created an impression of closed ranks and high pledges. But it was also intended to hold the audience until Hitler, still dazed and soaked in sweat, had left the room and entered the waiting car. Sometimes he stood for a few moments beside the chauffeur, saluting, mechanically smiling, while the crowd surged up or SA and SS units formed into broad columns for a torchlight parade. He, however, went back to his hotel room, totally drained; and this bears out the erotic quality of these mass meetings. One follower, who came upon Hitler at such a moment, staring silently into space with a glazed look, started toward him but was blocked by his adjutant Bruckner, who said: “Leave him be; the man is done in!” And the morning after one speech a gauleiter found him in the remotest room of a hotel suite occupied by him and his retinue. Hitler, “alone, back bent, looking tired and morose, sat at a round table slowly sipping his vegetable soup.”

On the whole, 1932 was undoubtedly the year of Hitler’s greatest oratorical triumphs. To be sure, some members of his entourage would recall that he had spoken more richly and persuasively in earlier years, and in the perfectly ritualized mass meetings of his years as Chancellor he reached larger, almost unbelievably large crowds. But never again did the longing for redemption, consciousness of his charismatic powers, utter concentration upon a goal, and faith in his own chosenness, against the highly emotional background of misery, all enter into such an “alchemical” combination. For Hitler himself that period of his life was one of his key experiences, and the examples he drew from it served again and again to influence his decisions. In the myth of the “time of struggle,” this period was glorified as “heroic epic,” a “hell fought through,” a “titanic battle of character.”

The vagueness of his terms also enabled him to brush aside social conflicts and veil social contradictions in a cloud of verbosity. After one midnight speech by Hitler in the Berlin Friedrichshain district, Goebbels noted: “That is where the very little people are. They are deeply moved after the Fuhrer’s speech.” But the very big people were no less moved, and those in between as well. A Professor Burmeister proposed Hitler as the “candidate of the German artists” and spoke of the “humanly gripping heartwarming tones of his oratory.” After Hitler had given a two-hour talk to leaders of the Agrarian League and the Brandenburg nobility, one of the landowners stood up and “in the name of everyone present” called for omitting the customary discussion: “We would not want our sense of solemn dedication to be disturbed by anything distracting.” Hitler continually exacted such an unquestioning response from his audiences on the ground that with skeptics one “of course could not conquer the world; with them one cannot storm either a kingdom of heaven or a State.” Out of the curious hodgepodge of his slogans, bits of eclectic philosophy, and cleverly played-on emotions, everyone could take what he had put in. The frightened bourgeoisie could find the promise of order and recovered social status; the revolutionary-minded youth the outline for a new, romantic society; the demoralized workers security and bread; the members of the 100,000-man army the prospect for careers and fine uniforms; the intellectuals a bold and vital creed in line with the fashionable attitude of contempt for reason and idolization of “life.” Underneath all this ambiguity was not so much deception as the gift of striking the fundamental note of an unpolitical attitude. Like Napoleon, Hitler could say of himself that everyone had run into his net and that when he came to power there was not a single group which in some way did not place its hopes in him.

With such accusatory formulas, varied and repeated a thousand times over, with vague invocations of fatherland, honor, greatness, power, and revenge, he mobilized the masses. He saw to it that their stormy emotions furthered the chaos he so scathingly described. He placed his hope in everything that could destroy existing conditions, or could at least create disturbance, because any movement would have to be movement away from the existing system and would ultimately accrue to his profit. For nobody else was formulating in so credible, decisive, and mass-effective a manner the agonizing craving for change. People in Germany were so desperate, Harold Nicolson noted in his diary during his visit to Berlin at the beginning of 1932, that they would “accept, anything that looks like an alternative.”40

Starting with the day of the Revolution up to the epoch of subjugation and enslavement, up to the time of treaties and emergency decrees, we see failure upon failure, collapse upon collapse, misery upon misery. Timidity, lethargy and hopelessness are everywhere the milestones of these disasters…. The peasantry today is ground down, industry is collapsing, millions have lost their saved pennies, millions of others are unemployed. Everything that formerly stood firm has changed, everything that formerly seemed great has been overthrown. Only one thing has remained preserved for us: The men and the parties who are responsible for the misfortunes. They are still here to this day.39

By turning all his propaganda against the status quo, he achieved the simplicity that he himself saw as one of the requirements for success. “All propaganda must be popular and its intellectual level must be adjusted to the most limited intelligence among those it is addressed to.” To illustrate his approach, here is a passage from a speech of March, 1932, in which he upbraids the government for having had thirteen years to prove its worth yet having produced nothing but a “series of disasters”:

But his major theme, which he found as harrowing as did the masses, was the “ruin of the Reich.” He cited the vast numbers who were reduced to wretchedness, the danger of Marxism, the “unnatural incest of party government,” the “tragedy of the small savers,” hunger, unemployment, suicides. His descriptions were deliberately generalized, first, because that assured him the maximum following, and secondly because he had recognized that within parties the precise statements of policy led to dissension and the impetus of a movement increased with the vagueness of its goals. Whoever succeeded in combining the most thorough negation of the present with the most indefinite promises for the future would capture the masses and ultimately win power. Thus, in one of his typical dualities of image and counterimage, of damnation and utopia, he demanded: “Is it by any chance German when our people is torn apart into thirty parties, when not one can get along with the others? But I tell all these sorry politicians: ‘Germany will become one single party, the party of a heroic great nation!’ ”

Hitler recognized what could be done with these negativistic complexes more keenly than did any of his rivals on the Left or the Right. His agitational technique really consisted in defamation and vision, in indicting the present and promising a potent future. All he did was ring the changes on his praise of a strong state, his glorification of the nation, his call for racial and national rebirth and for a free hand on the domestic and the foreign fronts. He appealed to the German longing for unity, decried the nation’s “self-laceration,” called class struggle the “religion of the inferior,” hailed the movement as the “bridge building of the nation,” and conjured up the fear that the Germans might once more become the world’s “cultural manure.”

With the bravura of a great orator, however, he was freeing himself more and more from specific content and concrete ideas. His continuous triumphs were proof that Nazism was a charismatic rather than an ideological movement, not looking to a progam but looking up to a leader. His personality gave outline and consistency to the loose jumble of ideas in the foreground. What people followed was merely the tone, a hypnotic voice; and although Hitler could draw upon unfulfilled nostalgias and dreams of hegemony, most of those who wildly cheered him were longing to forget, beneath his speaker’s platform, their exhaustion and their panic. They were certainly not thinking of Minsk or Kiev, or of Auschwitz, either. They wanted, above all, things to change. Their political faith scarcely went beyond blind negation of the status quo.

Hence, the rise of the National Socialist Party and its coming to power was not—as has often been argued in hindsight—a great conspiracy of the Germans against the world aimed at carrying out imperialistic and anti-Semitic ends. Hitler’s speeches during the years he was attracting mass audiences in the greatest numbers contain very little in the way of specific statements of intentions, and even scant his ideological obsessions, anti-Semitism and Lebensraum. Their salient characteristic, in fact, is their vague, general subject matter and the frequent resort to philosophical metaphors acceptable to all. As for spelling out aims, they are a far cry from the candor of Mein Kampf. A few months before the outbreak of the Second World War, in the midst of one of the crises he had unleashed, Hitler himself admitted that for years he had put on a show of harmlessness. Circumstances, he declared, had forced him to masquerade as peaceable.

In this phase of his career Hitler operated more on the metaphysical than on the ideological plane. His success with the masses was above all a phenomenon of the psychology of religion. He spoke less to people’s political convictions than to their spiritual state. Of course Hitler could link up with an extensive system of traditional thought and conduct: with the German bent for authoritarianism and unrealistic intellectual constructs; with profound needs to follow a leader, and with a peculiar disorientation in politics. But, beyond this, agreement for the most part ended. His anti-Jewish slogans derived their force not so much from any especially violent German anti-Semitism as from the old demagogic trick of presenting people with a visible enemy. Nor was it the unique bellicose character of the Germans that Hitler mobilized; rather, he appealed to their long-ignored feelings of self-respect and national pride. The masses were not seduced by his images of land in the Ukraine; rather, they followed Hitler for the sake of their lost dignity, because they wanted once more to be participants in history. While Mein Kampf was issued in numerous editions, it was read by hardly anyone; this testifies to the general lack of interest all along in Hitler’s specific programs.

It was this deep pathological link with the masses that made Hitler more than an effective demagogue and gave him his undeniable advantage over Goebbels, whose speeches were more pointed and clever. Hitler lifted the crowds out of their apathy and despair to, as he himself called it, “forward-driving hysteria.” Goebbels called these demonstrations “the divine services of our political work,” and a Hamburg schoolmistress wrote in April, 1932, after an election meeting attended by 120,000 persons, that she had witnessed scenes of “moving faith” which showed Hitler “as the helper, rescuer, redeemer from overwhelming need.” Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche, the philosopher’s sister, drew similar conclusions after Hitler paid a visit to her in Weimar. He “struck her as a religious rather than political leader.”38

His whole being needed the mass acclaim. For this sort of cheering had once aroused him; now it maintained his states of tension and propelled him onward. He himself said that in the midst of the tumult he became “another person.” The historian Karl Alexander von Muller had long ago observed that Hitler communicated to his listeners an excitement that in turn provided fresh impetus to his voice. Certainly Hitler was a superior tactician, a capable organizer, a canny psychologist, and, despite all his deficiencies, one of the most remarkable phenomena of the period. But his invincible genius came to him only in the course of mass meetings, when he exalted platitudes into the resounding words of a prophet and seemed truly to transform himself into the leader; for in his everyday state he seemed only to be posing as der Fuhrer with considerable effort. His basic condition was lethargy punctuated by “Austrian” spells of weariness. Left to himself, he seemed ready to fall back on dull movies, endless performances of the Meistersinger, the Carlton Tearoom’s luscious chocolate confections called Mohrenkopfe, or going on and on about architecture. He needed hubbub around him to be fired for action. He drew his dynamism from the crowd. Its worship also gave him the stamina to carry out those terribly strenuous campaigns and flights over Germany; it was the drug his strained, driven existence constantly needed. When in October, 1931, he met Bruning for his first private talk with the Chancellor, he launched into a one-hour speech, in the course of which he worked himself up to a frenzy—lashed on by the singing of his SA unit, which he had ordered to march up and down past the windows. Obviously he had done this partly to intimidate Bruning, partly to recharge himself.37

At such moments Hitler made “the collective neurosis the echo of his own obsession.” He had to have applause to bring out his full oratorical powers. Even a reluctant mood in the hall irritated him, and the SA—which he had had surrounding him at all public appearances right from the beginning—served not so much to keep order as to silence all opposition, all feelings of resistance, and to whip up enthusiasm by sheer menace. There were a number of occasions when Hitler, faced with an unfriendly audience, would abruptly lose the thread, break off his speech, and turning on his heel sulkily leave the room.

In the Circus Krone, Hitler spoke. He was an evangelist speaking to a camp meeting, the Billy Sunday of German politics. His converts moved with him, laughed with him, felt with him. They booed with him the French. They hissed with him the Republic…. The 8,000 were an instrument on which Hitler played a symphony of national passion.36

It has often been asserted that Hitler told every meeting only what it wanted to hear, that he merely brought its true intentions to the fore and flaunted them for all to see. That, too, is true. Nevertheless, he was not an opportunistic flatterer of the crowd; rather, he was the spokesman for the massed feelings of being victimized, of fear, of hatred. He at once integrated those feelings and transformed them into political dynamics. The American journalist H. R. Knickerbocker noted after a mass meeting in Munich:

Although his speeches were carefully prepared and strictly followed the notes he always had in front of him, they nevertheless all sprang from his close communication and immediate exchange with the masses. It seemed to one of his temporary followers that he actually inhaled the feelings of his audience. This remarkable sensitivity of his, which endowed him with an unmistakably feminine aura, made possible those orgiastic unions with his public; it “knew him” in the Biblical sense of the word. To be sure, he was a shrewd psychologist and a superb stage manager. Yet he could not have bewitched the masses if he had not shared their secret emotions and incorporated all their psychoses into his own psyche. When he spoke, the masses met, hailed, and idolized themselves. An exchange of pathologies took place, the union of individual and collective crises in heady festivals of released repression.

The first words were dropped mutedly, gropingly, into the breathless silence; they were often preceded by a pause that seemed to become utterly unbearable, while the speaker collected himself. The beginning was monotonous, trivial, usually lingering on the legend of his rise: “When in 1918 as a nameless soldier at the front I…” This formal beginning prolonged the suspense once more, into the very speech itself. But it also allowed him to sense the mood and to adjust to it. A catcall might abruptly inspire him to take a fighting tone until the first eagerly awaited applause surged up. For that was what gave him contact, what intoxicated him, and “after about fifteen minutes,” a contemporary observer commented, “there takes place what can only be described in the primitive old figure of speech: The spirit enters into him.” With wild, explosive movements, driving his metallicly transformed voice mercilessly to its highest pitch, he would hurl out the words. Quite often, in the furor of his conjuring, he would cover his grimacing face with his clenched fists and close his eyes, surrendering to the spasms of his transposed sexuality.

He had learned that long processions increased the suspense and therefore made a principle of entering the meeting halls only from the rear. He had chosen the “Badenweiler March” for his own entrance music, reserved for him alone. The distant sound of it would hush the murmuring and send the people springing from their seats with raised arms, shouting wildly—overwhelmed in the double sense of being manipulated and ecstatic: now HE was here. Many films of the period have preserved his appearance as he strode down the path of light made by the spotlights between lines of shouting, sobbing people—a “via triumphalis… of living human bodies,” as Goebbels extravagantly wrote. Often women pressed to the front, while he himself remained unapproachable, tight-lipped, in no way lending himself to their hungers. He ruled out introductory speeches or greetings that could only distract the audience from his person. For a few moments he would linger before the platform, mechanically shaking hands, mute, absent-minded, eyes flickering restively, but ready like a medium to be imbued and carried aloft by the strength that was already there, latent, in the shouting of the masses.

But his thoughts returned again and again to the subject of the mass meetings which “burned into the small, wretched individual the proud conviction that, paltry worm that he was, he was nevertheless a part of a great dragon, beneath whose burning breath the hated bourgeois world would some day go up in fire and flame.”35 The procedure of these meetings followed an unchanging tactical and liturgical order, which he was forever improving, to dramatize his own appearance. While the flags, the marches, and the shouts of expectation sent the audience into a state of restlessness and receptivity, he himself sat nervously, drinking mineral water almost continually, in a hotel room or a party business office. Every few minutes he would check on the mood in the hall. Quite often he issued final instructions or suggested some message to be relayed to the audience. Only when the excitement of the masses threatened to sag would he set out for the meeting.

He boasted that an “exact calculation of all human weaknesses” underlay his ideas and demagogic maxims, and this assured them a virtually “mathematical” certainty of success. In the course of his second airplane campaign he discovered the emotional effect the illuminated plane had in the night sky as it circled above tens of thousands of people staring in fascination. He thereupon used this trick again and again. Any invocation of the martyrs of the movement was also, he found, highly effective, though not as much as it might be. After the first defeat in the presidential election he criticized the party press for “dullness, monotony, lack of independence, lukewarm absence of passion.” Above all, he wanted to know what the press had done with the deaths of so many SA men. Mismanagement of this matter drove him into a fury. As one person present at the meeting recalled his words, he declared that the party comrades had “been buried with pipes and drums and the party sheet had written a pompous and self-pitying sermon about it. Why hadn’t the newspapers displayed the corpses in their own windows, so the people could see the dead men with shattered skulls, their shirts bloody and ripped by knives? Why had these newspapers not preached funeral sermons calling on the people to riot, to rise up against the murderers and their manipulators, instead of bleating out ridiculous political half-truths? The sailors of the battleship Potemkin made a revolution out of rotten food, but we could not make a national struggle of liberation out of the deaths of our comrades.”34

When from his little workshop or big factory, in which he feels very small, [the individual] steps for the first time into a mass meeting and has thousands and thousands of people of the same opinions around him, when, as a seeker, he is swept away by three or four thousand others into the mighty effect of suggestive intoxication and enthusiasm, when the visible success and agreement of thousands confirm to him the rightness of the new doctrine and for the first time arouse doubt in the truth of his previous conviction—then he himself has succumbed to the magic influence of what we designate as “mass suggestion.” The will, the longing, and also the power of thousands are accumulated in every individual. The man who enters such a meeting doubting and wavering leaves it inwardly reinforced: he has become a link in the community.33

In that solemn annunciatory tone he reserved for his fundamental insights he declared: “For, in truth, every such meeting represents a wrestling bout between two opposing forces.” In accord with his views on the nature of fighting, he approved of any and all means by which the agitator might overwhelm his adversary. His methods were meant for the “elimination of thinking,” “paralysis by suggestion,” creating a “receptive state of fanatical devotion.” Along with the place, the time, the march music, and the play of lights, the mass meeting was itself a form of psychotechnical warfare. Hitler offered the following explanation:

He assigned a high significance to space as well as time. The “mysterious magic” of the darkened Bayreuth Festspielhaus during a performance of Parsifal and the “artificially created, yet mysterious twilight in Catholic churches” were, he believed, almost perfect examples of places treated for their maximum psychological effect. This was, in his words, what all propaganda aimed at: to achieve “an encroachment upon man’s freedom of will.”32

In fact, the triumphs of this phase were distinguished from those of earlier years by the greater planning that went into his performances, as well as the elaborated stagecraft. Essentially, Hitler’s effectiveness still depended upon his always going to the utmost extreme; but he was now more radical not only in his emotions but also in his calculations. As long ago as August, 1920, he had, in a speech, described his task as “to arouse and whip up and incite… the instinctive” on the basis of sober understanding. He had, it would seem, a fairly good grasp of these basic principles right from the start. But only now, under the impact of the worldwide Depression, did he consciously shape his style of agitation to achieve the psychological “capitulation” that he had called the goal of all propaganda. When he planned his campaigns, every detail was, as Goebbels wrote, “organized down to the least item.” Nothing was left to chance: the route, the massing of party units, the size of the meetings, the carefully determined proportions of the audiences, the mounting suspense produced by processions with waving banners, march rhythms, and rapturous shouts of Heil, while the speaker’s appearance was again and again artificially delayed. Then, suddenly, he would step out in a blaze of lighting effects in front of an audience deliberately starved and prepared for frenzy. Ever since Hitler had once, in the early days of the party, arranged a morning meeting and in spite of the full hall had felt “profoundly unhappy at being unable to create any bond, not even the slightest contact” between himself and his audience, he had held his meetings only in the evening hours. Even during his campaign by plane throughout Germany, he kept to this rule as far as possible, although concentrating the already concentrated meetings within a few hours made for many difficulties. Thus it could happen that on a flight to Stralsund he was delayed and did not arrive at the demonstration until half past two in the morning. But 40,000 persons had waited it out nearly seven hours, and by the time he began his speech dawn was breaking.

Nevertheless, anyone who thought the entire secret of Hitler’s success as an orator lay in this use of speech as a sexual surrogate would be making a serious mistake. Rather, once again it was the curious coupling of delirium and rationality that characterized his oratory. Gesticulating in the glare of spotlights, pale, his voice hoarse as he hurled his charges, tirades, and outbursts of hatred, he remained always the alert master of his emotions. For all his seeming abandon, he never lost control. We are dealing here with the same ambiguity that governed his entire behavior and was one of the basic facts of his character. His oratorical technique was as tangibly marked by it as his tactic of legality and later the methodology of his conquest of power or his maneuvers in foreign policy. The very regime he set up assumed this character and has actually been defined as a “dual state.”31

As soon as he had recovered his composure, he continued on to Hamburg after all. There, amid the cheers of thousands, he delivered one of his passionate speeches that whipped the audience into a kind of collective orgy, all waiting tensely for the moment of release, the orgasm that manifested itself in a wild outcry. The parallel is too patent to be passed over; it lets us see Hitler’s oratorical triumphs as surrogate actions of a churning sexuality unable to find its object. No doubt there was a deeper meaning to Hitler’s frequent comparison of the masses to “woman.” And we need only look at the corresponding pages in Mein Kampf, at the wholly erotic fervor that the idea and the image of the masses aroused in him, to see what he sought and found as he stood on the platform high above the masses filling the arena—his masses. Solitary, unable to make contact, he more and more craved such collective unions. In a revealing turn of phrase (if we may believe the source) he once called the masses his “only bride.” His oratorical discharges were largely instinctual, and his audience, unnerved by prolonged distress and reduced to a few elemental needs, reacted on the same instinctual wave length. The sound recordings of the period clearly convey the peculiarly obscene, copulatory character of mass meetings: the silence at the beginning, as of a whole multitude holding its breath; the short, shrill yappings; the minor climaxes and first sounds of liberation on the part of the crowd; finally the frenzy, more climaxes, and then the ecstasies released by the finally unblocked oratorical orgasms. The writer Rene Schickele once spoke of Hitler’s speeches as being “like sex murders.” And many other contemporary observers have tried to describe the sensually charged liquescence of these demonstrations in the language of diabolism.

It is fairly certain that she enjoyed her uncle’s fame and naively participated in his celebrity. But the relationship, which for years had been sustained by joint enthusiasms, by love for the opera and the pleasures of coffeehouses and country outings, had gradually developed oppressive aspects. Hitler’s shadow fell heavily upon his niece. He was given to furious jealousy, and to making inordinate demands upon her. Though she had only a moderate gift and scarcely any ambition, he insisted on sending her to famous singing teachers so that she could be trained as a Wagnerian heroine. And his tyranny cut her off from any opportunity to lead a life of her own. Members of his entourage reported that immediately before his departure for Hamburg there had been a loud, violent scene between them, triggered by the girl’s wish to go to Vienna for a while. It seems probable that all these complex and seemingly hopeless circumstances finally sent her over the brink. Less plausible is the story popular among his political enemies that the girl shot herself because she was expecting a child by Hitler. Still others held that Hitler himself ordered her murdered, or purported to know that the SS had passed a Feme (vigilante) sentence on Geli because she had distracted her uncle from his historic mission. Hitler himself occasionally grumbled that all this “terrible filth” was killing him. He also declared darkly that he would never forgive his enemies for the nasty gossip of those weeks.30

One must wonder at Hitler’s obtuseness in regard to Geli, for he could be acute enough psychologically where others were concerned. Did he not see that the situation was becoming impossible for this impulsive and unbalanced girl? It has never been established that she was Hitler’s mistress. Some informants claim to know she was, and explain the suicide as a desperate escape from what had become the unendurably oppressive relationship with her uncle. Another story is that certain abnormal acts demanded of her by a perverted Hitler drove the girl to suicide. Still a third version denies that there was any sexual relation between the two, but lays stress on Geli Raubal’s promiscuity with the men of Hitler’s uniformed staff.29

His complexes seemed to loosen up only after Geli Raubal appeared with her sentimental and at first, evidently, half-childish fondness for “Uncle Alf.” It may be that he could be more relaxed with someone of his own blood. In fact, his feelings for Geli may have sprung from this very incestuous factor. There is a precedent in his own immediate family. His father had taken a niece into his house when she was sixteen and made her his mistress. Among the many women who crossed Hitler’s path—from Jenny Haug, the sister of his first chauffeur, to Helena Hanfstaengl, the first wife of Ernst Hanfstaengl, Leni Riefenstahl, and all those he addressed or referred to in the Austrian intimate style as “Mein Prinzesschen,” “Meine kleine Grafin,” “Tschapperl,” or “Flietscherl,” and up to Eva Braun—none meant as much to him as Geli Raubal. She was, oddly inappropriate though the phrase sounds, his great love, a tabooed love of Tristan moods and tragic sentimentality.

If our evidence is to be believed, for some time after his mother’s death, women had played only the most peripheral part in his life. The men’s home, chance acquaintanceships in Munich beer halls, the dugout, the barracks, the male circles of politics and the party—these had been his world. The realm that complemented them tended to be the brothel, which, however, he found despicable, or light, casual relationships—but these were not easy for him to form, with his stiff unyielding nature. The shy inhibited attitude he had toward women was early expressed in his youthful crush on Stefanie. His fellow soldiers in the field considered him a “woman hater.” Though later on he was always involved in close social relationships, always surrounded by a host of people, his biography is eerily empty of other human beings. His fear of all undignified attitudes included, according to a remark by a member of his entourage, constant anxiety about “having his name linked with a woman.”

There was a strangely exaggerated, idolizing quality about all of Hitler’s reactions to his niece’s death—in strong contrast to his usual coldness and inability to relate to others. We have reason to think that he was not putting on a performance, that in fact the incident was one of the key events in his personal life. It seems to have fixed forever his relationship to the opposite sex, which was curious enough in any case.

On September 18, 1931, just as the frantic chase across Germany was beginning and while he was setting out on an election campaign visit to Hamburg, word reached him that his niece Geli Raubal had committed suicide in the apartment they shared on Prinzregentenstrasse in Munich. According to the accounts, Hitler, stunned and horrified, abruptly turned about; and unless all the indications are deceptive, no other event in his personal life affected him as strongly as did this one. For weeks he seemed close to a nervous breakdown and repeatedly swore to give up politics. In his fits of gloom he spoke of suicide; this was, once again, the mood of total capitulation into which he recurrently fell when misfortune struck. This melancholia testified to the highly charged quality of his life, demanding constant effort of will in order to be the person he wanted to seem to be. The energy that emanated from him was not the exuberance of a vigorous man but the forced product of neurosis. In keeping with his belief that the great man must have no feelings, he hid away for several days in a house on the Tegernsee, in southern Bavaria. According to his intimates, tears would come to his eyes whenever he spoke of his niece in later years; it was an unwritten rule that no one but he might mention her name. Her memory was surrounded with a kind of cult. Her room at the Berghof was kept just as she had left it; a bust of her was set up in the room at Prinzregentenstrasse in Munich, where her body had been found. There, year after year, on the anniversary of her death, Hitler would lock himself in for a meditation that might last for hours.28

This endless traveling begins again. Work must be taken care of standing, walking, driving and flying. You hold your most important conversations on stairs, in hallways, at the door, or on the drive to the railroad station. You scarcely have time to think. By train, car and plane you’re carried back and forth across Germany. You turn up in a city a half hour before your speech is scheduled, sometimes with even less time to spare; you climb to the speaker’s platform and speak…. By the time you’re done you’re in a state as if you’d just been pulled out of a hot bath fully dressed. Then you get into the car and drive another two hours….27

For long stretches of his life, therefore, the personality of this man, elusive in any case, evaporates, slips from the biographer’s grasp. Hitler’s entourage tried in vain to give color, individuality, and a human aura to the phenomenon. Even the masters of propaganda, who could command almost any effect, found themselves at a loss here. The diaries and accounts of Goebbels or Otto Dietrich are prime examples of that failure. The anecdotes his publicists endlessly circulated about Hitler the lover of children, the navigator with an infallible sense of direction in the lost airplane, the “dead shot” with a pistol, the hero with remarkable presence of mind in the midst of the “Red rabble”—all these tales sounded strained and added to the impression they were trying to dispel: remoteness from real life. Only the props he had gradually acquired gave him a certain individual outline: the raincoat, the felt hat or leather cap, the snapping whip, the intensely black mustache, and the way his hair was brushed down over his forehead. But because these items always remained the same, they, too, depersonalized him.

On the very day of the election, in a mood that mingled exhaustion, feverish excitement, and the intoxication of success, Hitler issued instructions for the elections to the state legislatures in Prussia, Anhalt, Wurttemberg, Bavaria, and Hamburg, which once more involved the entire country, four-fifths of the population. Goebbels recorded Hitler’s orders: “We will not rest for a moment and are already making decisions.” Once more Hitler set out on an airplane flight over Germany, speaking in twenty-five cities in eight days. His entourage boasted of a “world record” in personal encounters. But that was precisely what did not happen. Rather, Hitler’s individuality seemed to disappear behind the ceaseless activity, as if nothing but a dynamic principle were at work: “Our whole life is now a frantic chase after success and after power.”

As predicted, Hindenburg had no difficulty winning the requisite absolute majority, with nearly 20 million votes, 53 per cent of the total. Nevertheless, Hitler chalked up a larger increase in votes than the President; the 13.5 million voters who cast their ballots for him represented a percentage of 36.7. Duesterberg had not run in the second campaign; the Communist Thalmann received little more than 10 per cent of the total.

Alfred Rosenberg, meanwhile, was using the Volkische Beobachter to give the fainthearted followers a good shaking: “Now the fight goes on with a fierceness, a ruthlessness, such as Germany has never before experienced…. The basis of our struggle is hatred for everything that is opposed to us. Now no quarter will be given.” A few days later nearly fifty prestigious personages—nobles, generals, Hamburg patricians, and university professors—issued a statement declaring themselves for Hitler. Election day was set for April 10. But with the idea of keeping down the agitation by radicals of the Right and Left, with its eruptions of hatred and threats of civil war, the government declared a mandatory truce until April 3—on the pretext of preserving peace during Easter. This meant that the actual election campaign was limited to about a week. But as always when he found himself with his back to the wall, Hitler turned this obstacle into one of his most effective gestures. To make maximum use of the short time at his disposal, he chartered a plane for himself and his intimates, Schreck, Schaub, Bruckner, Hanfstaengl, Otto Dietrich, and the photographer Heinrich Hoffmann. On April 3 he started off on the first day of his subsequently famous flights over Germany, which day after day took him to four or five demonstrations organized with military precision. In all he visited twenty-one cities. And quite apart from the party propaganda that tried to weave a legendary wreath around this undertaking, there is no doubt that the flights created an impression of brilliant inspiration, bold modernity, fighting spirit, and a rather sinister omnipresence. “Hitler over Germany” was the effective slogan for these flights; its double meaning stirred millionfold expectations and millionfold anxieties. Moved by his own daring and the waves of cheering that greeted him, Hitler declared that he thought he was an instrument of God, chosen to liberate Germany.

However, Hindenburg had fallen short of the absolute majority, and the election therefore had to be repeated. Once more Hitler faced the situation in a characteristic way. While spirits fell throughout the party and some members saw no point in entering upon a second campaign, Hitler showed no emotion at all. On the very night of March 13 he issued a series of proclamations to the party, the SA, the SS, the Hitler Youth, and the NSKK (Motorized Corps of the National Socialist Party) calling for renewed and increased activity: “The first election campaign has ended; the second has begun today. I shall lead it in person,” he announced, and as Goebbels rapturously phrased it, Hitler raised up the party “in a single symphony of the aggressive spirit.” But late one night Ernst Hanfstaengl found him in his darkened apartment sunk in apathetic brooding, “the image of a disappointed, discouraged gambler who had wagered beyond his means.”

Given such high expectations, the actual result was a severe and shocking blow. Hindenburg, with 49.6 per cent of the votes, won an impressive victory over Hitler (30.1 per cent). Triumphantly, Otto Strasser had posters pasted in the streets showing Hitler in the role of Napoleon retreating from Moscow. The legend read: “The Grand Army is annihilated. His Majesty the Emperor is in good health.” Overwhelmingly defeated, with only 6.8 per cent of the voters supporting him, was the Conservative Duesterberg. Thus the rivalry within the nationalist camp was decided once and for all in favor of Hitler. The Communist Thalmann received 13.2 per cent of the votes.

On the other side stood Bruning, who seemed peculiarly alone. In homage to the President, he was going through this exhausting election campaign. As for the Social Democrats, their posture all too plainly betrayed their real intentions: they were supporting Hindenburg solely in order to defeat Hitler. And their uneasiness was matched by Hindenburg’s; in the one radio address the old man made during the campaign he rather mournfully defended himself against the charge that he was the candidate of a “black-and-red [i.e., Catholic-socialist] coalition.” Nevertheless, it turned out that the election, which shifted all fronts and split all loyalties, was a match entirely between Hindenburg and Hitler. On the eve of March 13 the Berlin Angriff announced confidently: “Tomorrow Hitler will be President of the Reich.”

The extent to which Hitler and the Nazis had come to dominate the political scene became clear right at the outset. For although Hindenburg, the Communist candidate Ernst Thalmann, and the Conservative Theodor Duesterberg were already running, the election campaign did not really begin until Hitler entered the race. Instantly, the Nazis began sweeping everything wildly before them. Their campaign testified both to the improved condition of the party’s treasury and to their more effective organization. In February Goebbels had transferred the national propaganda headquarters of the party to Berlin, and in his bombastic style had predicted an election campaign “such as the world has never seen before.” The top people of the party’s corps of speakers were called upon. Hitler himself traveled by car back and forth across Germany from March 1 to March 11, and if the Volkische Beobachter was to be believed, spoke to some 500,000 people. At the side of this “demagogue on the grandest scale” stood, as Hitler had prescribed, that “army of agitators who will whip up the passions of the already tormented people.” Their wit and ingenuity—they employed modern technical media for the first time—once more put to shame all their rivals. Fifty thousand copies of a phonograph record were distributed. Sound movies were made, and pressure was exerted on cinema owners to have these shown before the main film. A special illustrated magazine, devoted to the election, was launched and what Goebbels called a “war of posters and banners” unleashed, which overnight would paint whole cities or districts of cities bloody red. For days on end long columns of trucks drove through the streets. SA units stood under waving banners, chin straps drawn down, singing or shouting their “Germany, awake!” The incessant booming of slogans soon engendered within the party an autosuggestive mood of victory that Himmler tried to keep in check by restricting alcohol consumption at victory celebrations.

The last sentence reveals the doubts that had assailed Goebbels during the preceding weeks in the face of Hitler’s weak leadership. But the sequel is just as characteristic of Hitler’s psychic pattern: the sudden surge of energy with which he, threw himself into the battle without a single glance backward, once the decision had been made. On February 26, in a ceremony at the Hotel Kaiserhof, he had himself appointed a Regierungsrat in Brunswick for the period of a week, thus acquiring German citizenship. The following day, at a meeting in the Sportpalast, he cried out to his opponents: “I know your slogan! You say: ‘We will stay at any cost.’ And I tell you: We will overthrow you in any case!… I am overjoyed to be able to fight alongside my comrades, whatever the outcome.” He picked up a remark by Police Commissioner Albert Grzesinski of Berlin, who had spoken of driving him out of Germany with a dog whip: “Go ahead and threaten me with the dog whip. We shall see whether at the end of this struggle the whip is still in your hands.” At the same time, he tried to disclaim the unwelcome role of opponent to Hindenburg, which Bruning had forced on him. Rather, it was his duty to say to the Field Marshal—whose “name the German people must always hail as that of their leader in the great struggle”—“Dear old man, our veneration for you is too great for us to allow those whom we would destroy to hide behind you. With our deep regret, therefore, you must step aside, for they want to fight us and we want to fight them.” Beside himself with delight, Goebbels noted that the Fuhrer was “once more master of the situation.”

Sportpalast jammed. Genera) membership meeting of the West, East and North regions. Stormy ovations right at the start. After an hour of preamble I publicly announce the Fuhrer’s candidacy. A storm of enthusiasm rages for almost ten minutes. Wild demonstrations for the Fuhrer. People stand up cheering and shouting. They raise the roof. An overwhelming sight. This is truly a Movement that must win. An indescribable excitement and rapture prevails…. Late at night the Fuhrer telephones. I report to him, and then he comes to our house. He is glad that the proclamation of his candidacy has struck home so effectively. He is and remains our Fuhrer after all.26

For the following night Goebbels had scheduled a membership meeting at the Berlin Sportpalast. This was to be his first public appearance since he had been banned from public speaking on January 25. By now the election was only three weeks away, and Hitler was still wavering. In the course of the day Goebbels went to the Kaiserhof to brief Hitler on the contents of his speech. When he once more brought up the question of candidature, he unexpectedly received the permission he had so desperately waited for: to announce Hitler’s decision to run. “Thank God,” Goebbels noted. He added:

January 9, 1932. Everything in confusion. Much guessing about what the Fuhrer will do. People will be surprised!—January 19, 1932. Discussed the question of the presidency with the Fuhrer. I report my conversations. No decision has been taken yet. I plead strongly for his own candidacy. Actually, there probably is no other course. We draw up calculations with figures.—January 21. In this situation there really is no other choice; we have to put up our own candidate. A difficult and unpleasant struggle, but we must go through with it.—January 25. The party is quivering with militancy.—January 27. The election slogan for or against Hindenburg seems to have become inevitable. Now we must come out with our candidate.—January 29. The Hindenburg Committee is meeting. Now we must show our colors.—January 31. The Fuhrer will make his decisions on Wednesday. There can no longer be any doubts.—February 2. The arguments for the Fuhrer’s candidacy are so thoroughly persuasive that anything else is out of the question…. At noon had a long discussion with the Fuhrer. He sets forth his view of the presidential election. He decides to run himself. But first the opposition must occupy fixed positions. The Social Democratic Party will be the decisive factor. Then our decision will be communicated to the public. It is a struggle of enormously embarrassing alternatives, but we must go through with it. The Fuhrer makes his moves without the slightest haste and with a clear head.—February 3. The gauleiters are waiting for the announcement of the decision to run for the presidency. They wait in vain. This is a game of chess. You don’t tell in advance what moves you are going to make…. The party is terribly nervous, tense, but nevertheless everybody is still keeping silent…. In his leisure hours the Fuhrer is occupying himself with architectural plans for a new party headquarters as well as for a spectacular rebuilding of Berlin. He has the project all worked out, and I am constantly astonished anew at his expertise in so many fields. At night many loyal old party comrades come to see me. They are depressed because they have not yet heard of any decision. They are worried that the Fuhrer will wait too long.—February 9. Everything is still in suspense. —February 10. Outside a glassy cold winter day. Clear decisions are hovering in the clear air. They cannot be much longer in coming.—February 12. At the Kaiserhof with the Fuhrer I once again go over our computations. It is a gamble, but we must go ahead. The decision has now been taken…. The Fuhrer is back in Munich; the public decision postponed for a few days.—February 12. This week we must announce our stand on the presidential question.—February 15. Now we no longer have to hide our decision beneath a bushel.—February 16. I am going ahead as if the election campaign were already in progress. That makes for some difficulties, since the Fuhrer has not yet officially announced his candidacy.—February 19. With the Fuhrer at the Kaiserhof. I talked to him privately for a long time. The decision has been taken.—February 21. This eternal waiting is almost wearing me out.

Basically, this answer meant that Hitler had already decided to run against Hindenburg. But he hesitated for several weeks more before announcing the decision. For his dream had always been to come into power with the President’s blessing, not as the President’s opponent. He also realized, more keenly than did his satellites, the dangers of challenging the Hindenburg legend. Consequently, he remained impassive while Goebbels and others hammered away at him to announce his candidature. However, he went along with the proposal that German citizenship be obtained for him through the good offices of Minister of the Interior Klagges of Brunswick, who was a member of the Nazi party.25 Hitler would have to be a citizen in order to run. Here was still another instance of Hitler’s curious indecisiveness. He had a fatalistic streak and liked to let things take their course, postponing action until the last moment. For, strictly speaking, the decision had been taken long ago. Goebbel’s diary reveals, step by step, Hitler’s tortuous, almost bizarre vacillations:

Hitler remained in this quandary for some time. While Hugenberg responded with a prompt and blunt rejection, Hitler kept silent. The answer he finally gave reflected both his doubts and his caution. Each man behaved in character. Hugenberg was aping Hitler’s radicalism and breathlessly trying to surpass it but in the process only revealing his poor understanding of tactics. Hitler, on the other hand, employed his radicalism as an instrument, offsetting it with a goodly dash of shrewdness. In the present case he surrounded his rejection with so many ifs and buts that he seemed to be asking for further negotiations. He had sensed the increasing estrangement between Hindenburg and Bruning and did what he could to widen the rift. In a sudden display of pendantry he assumed the role of guardian of the Constitution, and in long-winded arguments that seemed to be scrupulously concerned about the President’s being faithful to his oath of office, he advanced all kinds of legalistic objections to the Chancellor’s plan.

Gregor Strasser was for accepting Bruning’s proposal. Rohm and, above all, Goebbels were strongly against it. “What is involved here is not the President himself,” Goebbels noted in his diary. “Herr Bruning is anxious to stabilize his own position and that of his cabinet for the foreseeable future. The Fuhrer has asked for time to consider. The situation must be clarified on all sides…. The chess game for power is beginning. Perhaps it will last throughout the year. A game that will be played with drive, prudence, and partly with cunning. The main thing is that we remain strong and make no compromises.”

Bruning had next to deal with the various parties and win them over to the constitutional amendment. At this point, Hitler became a key figure and was wooed and sued accordingly. This certainly helped his prestige, but it also confronted him with a perilous choice. For now he either had to make common cause with the “pillars of the system,” and thus help to consolidate Bruning’s position and deny his own radicalism, or else he had to wage an electoral campaign against the gray-haired old President, the object of so much reverence, the personification of German loyalty and the nation’s surrogate kaiser. To oppose Hindenburg might seriously hurt the movement and, moreover, offend the President personally. Given the decisive powers of the presidency, such a course might have dire consequences for Hitler’s access to power.

Bruning’s effort to gain time was totally dependent on the support from the President. But to his surprise Hindenburg himself had no desire to stay in office. Hindenburg was by now eighty-four; he had long since grown tired, and he foresaw troublesome discussions in connection with the plan and new attacks upon him from his already disappointed friends on the Right. All that he would consent to was a two-year extension of his term—and even this only after much persuasion. Significantly, what swayed him was a reference to Kaiser Wilhelm I, who at the age of ninety-one had declared that he had no time to be tired. But, in the course of it all, the old President lost confidence in Bruning, whom he recognized as the motive force behind all the urging. In putting across his stratagem, the Chancellor had actually lost what he had hoped to gain.

But the common people shared neither his rigor nor his hopes. They were suffering from hunger, cold, and the humiliating side effects of misery. They hated the endless stream of emergency decrees with their stereotyped appeals to the spirit of sacrifice. The government was administering misery instead of relieving it, a bitter joke had it. Certainly Bruning’s policy of belt tightening was questionable from the economic point of view; but it proved to be far more questionable politically. For the Chancellor, with his matter-of-fact approach to the problem, did not know how to frame his plea for sacrifice in terms people could respond to. All that he seemed to promise was a program of further austerity stretching on into the dim future.

The term of the President of the Reich was to expire in the spring. In order to avoid the risks and radicalizing effects of an election campaign, Bruning had earlier proposed that Hindenburg be made President for life by an amendment to the Constitution. Bruning’s whole policy was aimed at gaining time. The winter had seen an almost inconceivable worsening of the Depression. In February, 1932, the number of unemployed rose to over 6 million. But with the rigidity of the technical expert who feels that his principles stand far above the base adaptability of the politician, Bruning kept firmly to his course. He was counting on eventual cancellation of reparations, on some success in the disarmament conference, on Germany’s being granted equal rights. In the shorter perspective, he was hoping that the spring would bring proof of the efficacy of his austerity policy, rigorous to the point of starvation.

It was not only Hitler’s demagogic gifts, not only his tactical skill and radical verve that sped his fortunes; the force of irrationality itself seemed cunningly at work for him. Thus there were five major elections, held largely by chance in the course of 1932, in which Hitler could employ his special brand of agitation.

Suddenly people were no longer so sure that the Hitler party was merely a collection of petty bourgeois vermin and demagogic windbags. A feeling of paralysis spread, rather similar to the apathy felt before a force of nature. “It is the Jugendbewegung [youth movement], it can’t be stopped,” the British military attache wrote,24 describing the prevalent attitude in the German officers corps. The story of the rise of the National Socialist Party, which we have been tracing, is equally the story of the corrosion and decline of the republic. For the republic lacked the strength to resist; it also lacked any compelling vision of the future, such as Hitler was able to conjure up in his rhetorical flights. There were few who still believed the republic would long survive.

Nothing happened to the authors of the Boxheim Papers. That in itself was indicative of the deterioration of concepts of legality throughout the governmental apparatus. The bureaucracy and the judiciary obviously delayed prosecuting a case of treason. The political authorities, too, dismissed the affair with a resigned shrug, instead of seizing the chance for a strong last-minute effort to save the republic. Hitler could have been arrested and brought to trial on the basis of the clear and damning evidence. Instead, the administration remained conciliatory. Alarmed by his threats, it tried even harder to placate him. Nor was it forgotten that he had been received by Schleicher and Hindenburg and accepted as an equal by influential politicians, businessmen, and notables. In short, he had moved once more “into the vicinity of the President.” By now, moreover, one might well ask whether the movement could be curbed by police or judicial measures, or whether any such measures might not produce a most undesirable swing in the Nazis’ favor. In any case, in December, 1931, Prussian Minister of the Interior Severing shelved a plan to have Hitler arrested and deported. And around the same time General von Schleicher, urged to take energetic measures against the Nazis, replied: “We are no longer strong enough. Should we try to, we would simply be swept away!”

The disclosure of the plan created a stir. Hitler, however, disclaimed any part in the affair, though he also took no disciplinary measures against the authors of the project. Again, he seemed not too displeased to have the public given a good scare. Although the plan deviated from his own conception in its details, and especially in its semisocialist elements, its basic assumption was the same as his: that the ideal starting point for the seizure of power would be an attempt at a Communist rising. This would evoke a cry for help on the part of the threatened government and bring him forward with his SA, so that he could take over in the name of justice and with an appearance of righteousness. That was the cry he had vainly tried to force Herr von Kahr to utter on the night of November 8–9, 1923. He had never wanted to be cast merely as one politician among many others. His idea was always to come on the scene as savior from the deadly embrace of Communism, surrounded by his rescuing hosts, and thus take power. This role coincided with both his dramatic and his eschatological temperament, his sense of being always engaged in a global struggle with the powers of darkness. Wagnerian motifs, the image of the White Knight, of Lohengrin, of the Grail and an endangered fair-haired woman vaguely and half-consciously entered into this picture. Later, when circumstances did not produce this constellation, when no Communist putsch seemed in the offing, he tried to create it.

In this highly charged atmosphere, the authorities were frightened of driving Hitler to extremes. At the end of November, 1931, ten days after the elections to the Landtag of Hesse in which the National Socialist Party won 38.5 per cent of the seats, thus becoming by far the strongest party in this provincial legislature, a Nazi renegade gave the police chief of Frankfurt the Nazi plan of action in case the Communists attempted an uprising. These “Boxheim Papers”—as they were known from the estate at which the Nazi leaders had held their secret meetings—outlined the manner in which the SA and kindred organizations would assume power. The Papers spoke of “ruthless measures” to achieve “sharpest discipline of the populace.” Any act of resistance or even of disobedience would incur the death penalty, in certain cases “on the spot without trial.” Private property and all interest payments were to be suspended, the population fed communally, and everyone would be required to work. Jews, however, would not be allowed to work or receive food.

The fighting in the streets amounted to the preliminary skirmishes of a civil war that had been interrupted rather than fought to a decision in 1919 and which would shortly, in the spring of 1933, be carried to its logical conclusion in the torture cellars and concentration camps of the SA.

The goal the bourgeois parties have in mind is not annihilation [of the opponent] but merely an electoral victory…. We recognize quite clearly that if Marxism wins, we will be annihilated. Nor would we expect anything else. But if we win, Marxism will be annihilated, and totally. We too know no tolerance. We shall not rest until the last newspaper is crushed, the last organization destroyed, the last educational institution eliminated and the last Marxist converted or exterminated. There is no middle course.23

The bitter clashes between the paramilitary formations, especially between Communists and Nazis, and between these squadrons and the police, were further symptoms of the shattered authority of the state. General chaos in the streets and a train of bloody outrages on weekends became almost the rule. On the Jewish New Year the Berlin SA under Count Helldorf (who was subsequently to become police chief of Berlin) organized a series of wild riots. At the universities there were sometimes physical assaults on professors whom the Nazis did not like. The court trials of party members became the occasions for unprecedented scenes. There was no actual civil war, but Hitler’s remark that some day heads would roll still rang in the nation’s ears, and a general impression arose that more was happening in the streets than occasional bloody brawls between rival parties struggling for the favor of the voters and seats in the legislature. Some time before, Hitler had declared:

Yet for all the applause, at the end of the meeting only about a third of the audience joined in Fritz Thyssen’s cry of “Heil, Herr Hitler!” The financial benefits from this appearance were also disappointing. But what it did accomplish was to bring Hitler out of isolation. It was the government, now, which was more and more becoming isolated. From all sides growing armies of opponents besieged the battered positions of the Weimar Republic. In the state of Prussia, still ruled by a coalition under Social Democratic leadership, an attempt was made to dissolve the Landtag by referendum. All the nationalist parties united for a common action and were actually joined by the Communists. And although their united forces represented only 37 per cent of the votes, the impression lingered of a broad front of opponents ready and eager to overthrow the existing government.

People say to me so often: “You are only the drummer of nationalist Germany.” And what if I were only the drummer? It would be a far more statesmanlike achievement to drum a new faith into this German people than gradually to squander the only faith they have [cheers from the audience]…. I know quite well, gentlemen, that when National Socialists march through the streets and suddenly a tumult and commotion breaks out in the evening, then the bourgeois draws back the window curtain, looks out, and says: “Once more my night’s rest disturbed; no more sleep for me.”… But remember there is sacrifice involved when those many hundred thousands of SA and SS men of the National Socialist movement every day have to climb into their trucks, protect meetings, stage marches, exert themselves night after night and then come back in the gray dawn either to workshop and factory or as unemployed to take the pittance of the dole…. 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! [Loud applause.]22

Today we stand at the turning point of Germany’s destiny. If th^ present course continues, Germany must one day land in Bolshevist chaos, but if this development is broken, then our people must be enrolled in a school of iron discipline…. Either we will succeed in once more forging out of this conglomerate of parties, leagues, associations, ideologies, upper-class conceit and lower-class madness an iron-hard national body, or Germany will finally perish because of the lack of this inner consolidation….

For here you see before you an organization… inspired to the highest degree by nationalist sentiment, built on the concept of the absolute authority of the leadership in all spheres, at every stage—the sole party in whose adherents not only the conception of internationalism but also the idea of democracy has been completely overcome, which in its entire organization acknowledges the principles of Command and Obedience, and which has thus introduced into the political life of Germany a body numbering millions which is built up on the principle of achievement. Here is an organization which is filled with an indomitable aggressive spirit, an organization which when a political opponent says, “We regard your behavior as a provocation,” for the first time does not submissively 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 do not regard our meeting today as a provocation we shall hold another one next week…. And when you say, “You must not come into the street,” we go into the street nevertheless. And when you say, “We shall kill you,” however many sacrifices you force upon us, this young Germany will always continue its marches…. 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. And this decision we formed not from any love of brawling; I could easily imagine a pleasanter life than being harried all over Germany….

But the power and well-being of states, he added, are a consequence of their internal organization, of the “firmness of common views on certain fundamental questions.” Germany is in a state of great internal dissension; approximately half of the people are Bolshevistic, in the broad sense of the word, the other half nationalistic. One half affirm private property; the other half regard it as a kind of theft. One half consider treason a crime, the other half a duty. In order to halt this decomposition and to overcome Germany’s impotence, he had created a movement and an ideology:

That solution rests upon the realization that economic systems in collapse have always as their forerunner the collapse of the State and not vice versa—that there can be no flourishing economic life which has not before it and behind it the flourishing powerful State as its protection—that there was no Carthaginian economic life without the fleet of Carthage….

Because of Germany’s intellectual confusion and psychological disintegration, he continued, Communism had already made greater inroads there than in other countries. Millions of persons had been persuaded that Communism was the “logical theoretical complement of their actual, practical economic situation.” It was therefore wrong to seek the causes of the present misery in external factors and to attempt to fight them with external methods. Economic measures or “another twenty emergency decrees” would not be able to halt the disintegration of the nation. The reasons for Germany’s decline were political in nature and therefore required political decisions, nothing less than “a fundamental solution”:

Can’t you see that Bolshevism today is not merely a mob storming about in some of our streets in Germany but is a conception of the world which is on the point of subjecting to itself the entire Asiatic Continent, and… will gradually shatter the whole world and bring it down in ruins. Bolshevism, if it proceeds unchecked, will transform the world as completely as in times past did Christianity…. Thirty or fifty years count for nothing where fundamental ideologies are at issue. Three hundred years after Christ Christianity was only slowly beginning to establish itself throughout all of southern Europe.

In the State there is an organization—the army—which cannot in any way be democratized without surrendering its very existence…. The army can exist only if it maintains the absolutely undemocratic principle of unconditional authority proceeding downwards and absolute responsibility proceeding upwards. But the result is that in a State in which the whole political life—beginning with the municipality and ending with the Reichstag—is built upon the conception of democracy, the army is bound to gradually become an alien body.

Once this is admitted, it is madness to say: in the economic sphere there are undoubtedly differences in value, but that is not true in the political sphere. It is absurd to build up economic life on the conception of achievement, of the value of personality, and therefore in practice on the authority of personality, but in the political sphere to deny the authority of personality and to thrust into its place the law of the greater number—democracy. In that case there must slowly arise a gulf between the economic and the political point of view, and to bridge that gulf an attempt will be made to assimilate the former to the latter…. In the economic sphere communism is analogous to democracy in the political sphere. We find ourselves today in a period in which these two fundamental principles clash in all areas where they meet….

The democratic principle of equality, he continued, was not an inconsequential idea with merely theroretic bearing. Rather, in the short or long run it would extend into all the aspects of life and could slowly poison a nation. Private property, he told the industrialists, was fundamentally incompatible with the principle of democracy. For the logical and moral rationale for private property was the belief that people are different in nature and achievement. At this point, Hitler came to the heart of his argument:

When the capable minds of a nation, which are always in the minority, are regarded as only of the same value as all the rest, then genius, capacity, the value of personality are slowly rendered subject to the majority, and this process is then falsely named the rule of the people. For this is not rule of the people, but in reality the rule of stupidity, of mediocrity, of half-heartedness, of cowardice, of weakness, and of inadequacy. It is more the rule of the people to let a people be governed and led in all the walks of life by its most capable individuals, those who are born for the task, rather than… by a majority who in the very nature of things must always find these realms entirely alien to them.

Early in the speech, Hitler outlined his argument for the primacy of domestic politics. He explicitly disagreed with the view—elevated to a kind of dogma by Chancellor Bruning—that Germany’s fate was largely dependent upon her foreign relations. Foreign policy, Hitler maintained, was, on the contrary, “determined by the inner condition” of a people. Any other view would be resignation, surrender of self-determination, or a dodge on the part of bad governments. In Germany the caliber of the nation had been undermined by the leveling influences of democracy:

Hitler’s above-mentioned address to the Dusseldorf Industry Club was one of the most masterly samples of his oratorical skill. Appearing in a dark pin-striped suit, behaving skillfully and correctly, he expounded the ideological foundations of his policies to an initially reserved group of big businessmen. Every word of the two-and-one-half-hour presentation was carefully adapted to his audience. Not only did he understand how attached these people were to law, order, and authority, but he was able to turn that attachment toward himself.

But it is one thing to speak of an outright plot between industry and Nazism, quite another to speak of the atmosphere of “partiality” or sympathy that surrounded Nazism. Many elements within industry were frankly in favor of Hitler’s becoming Chancellor, even though they were not themselves disposed to do anything about it. And many who were not prepared to offer him material support nevertheless regarded his program with some approval. They expected no concrete economic or political gains from it and never entirely lost their distrust for the socialistic, antibourgeois sentiments within the NSDAP. But they had never really accepted bourgeois democracy with its consequent rights of the masses. The republic had never been their state. To many of them Hitler’s promise of law and order meant a larger scope for enterprise, tax privileges, and restraints upon the unions. Implicit within the slogan, “salvation from this system,” coined by Hjalmar Schacht were vague plans for restoring the old order of things. Petrified remnants of the authoritarian state paradoxically survived more obstinately in the dynamic business world than in almost any other stratum of the German social structure. If we are to blame “capital” for the rise of the Nazi party, it was not so much on the basis of common aims, let alone of some dark plot, but on the basis of the antidemocratic spirit, the rancor against the “system,” emanating from big business. It is true that the spokesmen for business were deceived about Hitler. They saw only his mania for order, his rigid cult of authority, his reactionary features. They failed to sense the peculiar vibrations he threw off, the pulse of futurity.

The theory of a close, pragmatic alliance between Hitler and the major capitalists also fails to explain the time lag between the explosive growth of the party and the injection of, funds from industry. By the time Hitler delivered his Dusseldorf speech the Nazi party had more than 800,000 members and could command between 6.5 million and 13 million votes. The party’s strength depended on these legions of little people, and Hitler had to keep in mind their “enormous anticapitalist nostalgia.” All in all, he was more attuned to them than to the proud, pigheaded businessmen. To the industrialists he sacrificed little more than that troublemaker Otto Strasser, for whom he too had no love. When his followers joined in the Berlin metalworkers strike, Hitler explained the situation tersely by telling the employers that striking Nazis were still better than striking Marxists. But the thesis that Hitler’s party was in the pay of capitalism is most unsatisfactory in its failure to answer the key question: why this novel mass movement sprung from nothing could so effortlessly outstrip the splendidly organized German Left with its depth of tradition behind it. To call Hitler a tool of capitalism, as Marxist theory does, is merely to fall back on belief in demons. Marxist orthodoxy is prone to such simplifications. Such demonology is, as it were, “the anti-Semitism of the Left.”21

But the very categories are misleading here. There were, for instance, clearly divergent interests among capitalists and among various branches of Industry Club on January 26, 1932, was intended specifically to overcome department stores, also the chemical industry and old family enterprises, such as the firms of Krupp, Hoesch, Bosch and Klockner had great reservations about the Hitler party, at least before 1933. They were usually motivated by economic considerations. In addition, there was the rather significant number of Jewish enterprises. Otto Dietrich, who arranged some of Hitler’s contracts with Rhenish-Westphalian industry, noted that the leaders of the economy refused “to believe in Hitler… in the period of our hardest struggle.” As late as early 1932 there were “strong foci of industrial resistance.” And Hitler’s famous speech to the Dusseldorf Industry Club on January 26, 1932, was intended specifically to overcome this opposition.20 After that speech the party was in fact granted larger subsidies, which took care of its most pressing concerns; but the sums were by no means as large as expected. At the end of 1932 Hjalmar Schacht, former president of the Reichsbank, Albert Vogler, general manager of the Vereinigte Stahlwerke (United Steel), and Kurt von Schroder, the banker, drew up a petition to President Hindenburg asking him to appoint Hitler Chancellor. But this move was a failure; the majority of businessmen who were approached refused to give their signatures.

Undeniably, there did exist a network of relationships between the leader of the Nazi party and a number of important businessmen. The party actually obtained considerable funds as well as increased prestige from these connections. But it was only inheriting the contributions that had gone earlier, and in considerably greater sums, to the parties of the Center. Neither the gains in votes of the Nazi party nor the losses of the Center parties can be ascribed to the presence or absence of wealthy patronage. As late as April, 1932, as Hitler was disturbed to learn, the shrunken Deutsche Volkspartei (German People’s Party) was receiving larger sums from industry than his own party. And when Walther Funk, toward the end of 1932, went on a begging tour in the Ruhr district, all he came back with was a single contribution of some 20,000 marks. The total of such aid has often been estimated far too high. Some 6 million marks is probably a fairly realistic estimate of industry’s gifts to the Nazi party up to January 30, 1933. For those who consider such a figure too low it must be pointed out that even twice that sum could not have financed a party organization of some 10,000 local groups, with a large corps of functionaries, a private army of nearly half a million men, and twelve expensively conducted election campaigns in 1932. In fact, the annual budget of the NSDAP, as Konrad Heiden discovered, amounted at this time to between 70 million and 90 million marks. Conscious that he was dealing in sums of this magnitude, Hitler would sometimes refer to himself jokingly as one of the foremost German captains of industry.18

Much has been made of the “Harzburg Front.” Those who like to see history in terms of conspiracies and clever wirepulling find Harzburg convenient proof of their thesis that Hitler was nothing but a t<ol of finance capital. However, a closer look at the incident reveals the very opposite. Far from lending himself to the schemes of his would-be manipulators, Hitler treated these people insultingly and disappointed all their hopes. It might be more correct to say that Harzburg proved Hitler’s independence of these interests.

No genuine bond with this foreign world was possible; as the meeting at Harzburg had demonstrated, not even a tenable tactical relationship could be established. Nothing came of the plan for a joint opposition; nothing came of the previously much-discussed shadow cabinet or of agreement on a common candidate for the impending presidential election.

He occasionally referred to himself as a “proletarian,” but with an emphasis that made it appear as though he were talking not so much of his social status but of a social renunciation. “I can never be understood in terms of the bourgeoisie,” he declared. Even in his hope of winning over the working class—to which he referred occasionally as a class of “true nobility”—he seemed to be agitated not so much by any fondness for the workers than by his abiding hatred of the bourgeoisie, which had rejected him. There was an incestuous element in his hatred of the bourgeoisie, with the resentment of a would-be bourgeois who had been first rejected, then deceived, constantly erupting. The type of low-class bully he preferred for his immediate personal entourage, the crude “chauffeur types” like Schaub, Schreck, Graf, and Maurice, reflected in an extreme fashion this prejudice, which could be overcome only temporarily by a few individuals: by Ernst Hanfstaengl, for example, or by Albert Speer, or by Carl Jacob Burckhardt, League of Nations commissioner for Danzig, to whom Hitler said “sadly” in 1939: “You come from a world that is foreign to me.”17

In May, 1931, Richard Breiting, editor in chief of the Leipziger Neueste Nachrichten, asked Hitler for an interview. Hitler began the conversation by remarking, “You are a representative of the bourgeoisie which we are fighting.” He stressed that he had no intention of rescuing the dying bourgeoisie; on the contrary, he would eliminate it and would, at any rate, find it much easier to handle than Marxism. Hitler openly flaunted his present aloofness from bourgeois culture: “If a proletarian brutally tells me what he thinks, I can cherish the hope that some day this brutality can be turned toward the enemy. When a bourgeois indulges in daydreams of culture, civilization and aesthetic joys for the world, I say to him: ‘You are lost to the German nation! You belong in Berlin’s West End! Go there, dance your nigger dances till you’re worn out, and croak!’ ”

Yet this was the very bourgeois world that the young coffeehouse dandy, the lazy disciple of the arts, had longed to join. Though it had rejected him, he had nevertheless uncritically taken over its social, ideological, and aesthetic evaluations and held on to them for a long time. But in the meantime that world had declared its bankruptcy, and Hitler—unlike the representatives of the bourgeois world—never forgot that fact. In Hugenberg he was meeting a replica of the cunning, arrogant, and feeble Bavarian Prime Minister, Herr von Kahr, who had for him become the prototype of bourgeois notables. He now regarded them as a group who claimed to rule, yet had the souls of lackeys. “Cowardly,” “stupid,” “idiotic,” and “rotten,” were the adjectives he now attached to the mention of any member of this group. “No class of the population is stupider in political matters than this so-called bourgeoisie,” he would often remark. Once he said that he had for a long time deliberately tried, by strident propaganda and improper manners, to keep bourgeois people from joining the party.

At the same time there can be no doubt that Hitler’s rudeness at Harzburg expressed some of his hostility toward the bourgeois world, which he was never able to completely quell. The very sight of top hats, tailcoats, and starched shirt fronts irritated him, as did the titles, the decorations, and the conceit they suggested. Here were people who thought morality itself sustained their claims to dominance, who liked to speak of their “historically appointed role.” But Hitler sensed the weakness and rot behind the display of composure, the outmodedness of these swarms of mummies with middle-class manners.

To Hitler, the disharmony at Harzburg was by no means a tactical feint. Nor was it part of his prima-donna pose. Rather, the meeting confronted him again with the crucial question of power. Hugenberg’s talk about unity did not disguise the claim to leadership, which as arranger of the festivities he was actually making. With his own peculiar consistency, Hitler realized that any community of action could mean only subordination. At best it would imply that henceforth Germany would have to be looking up to two “saviors”—an absurdity from Hitler’s point of view. In order to dispel any such mistaken impression, only a week after the Harzburg meeting, Hitler organized a huge demonstration on the Franzensfeld in Brunswick. More than 100,000 SA men were brought there in special trains. During the hours that the parade lasted, planes with gigantic swastikas streaming behind them circled over the field. And during the dedication of standards Hitler declared that this would be the last such ceremony before the seizure of power. The movement, he said, stood “within a yard of its goal.”

For Hugenberg, who had already made all sorts of concessions to the Nazi party leader during the preparatory phases, this delay was not the last humiliation of the meeting. Hitler deliberately trampled on the feelings of his influential partners. He did not bother to appear at the session of the joint editorial committee, declaring its work to be a sheer waste of time. And at the final parade, which was supposed to be the inspiring climax of the meeting, Hitler ostentatiously left the stands as soon as the SA formations had marched past and the Stahlhelm was approaching. Nor would he attend the dinner; he could not feast, he declared, as long as thousands of his followers did their “duty on empty stomachs.” Only “concern over the adverse publicity, which none of the participants desired,” Hugenberg complained in disappointment, had prevented a “breach right out in the open.”

As soon as Frick had ended his speech, Hitler, with that dramatic surprise technique of his, entered the room with his personal retinue and in a solemn ceremony had everyone there take a pledge to follow his line. Meanwhile, the “Nationalist United Front” was waiting in the Kursaal for Hitler to appear.

Hitler was in the worst of humors. He had consented to participate only with great reluctance, and the failure of his interview with Hindenburg had increased his sullenness. As in the case of the alliance against the Young Plan, he once more had to expect criticism from his own ranks; and personally he could not help feeling uncomfortable about this liaison with all the bourgeois forces. Shortly before the beginning of the meeting, therefore, he had a closed session of his own following. Frick spoke, justifying the pact with this “bourgeois mishmash” on purely tactical grounds. Mussolini, too, Frick said, had had to win power by the roundabout route of a nationalist coalition.

After the interview Hitler went to Bad Harzburg, where next day the Nationalist opposition was celebrating its union by a great demonstration. Once more Hugenberg had gathered together everybody on the Right who had power, money, or prestige: the leaders of the Nazis and of the German Nationalists, the rightist members of the Reichstag and of the Prussian Landtag, the representatives of the German People’s Party (Deutsche Volkspartei), the Economic Party, the Stahlhelm, and the Reichslandbund. In addition, he had assembled many prominent patrons, members of former ruling houses headed by two Hohenzollern princes. Also present were Heinrich Class, leader of the Pan-Germans, and his presiding committee, such retired generals as von Luttwitz and von Seeckt, and many notables of finance and industry, including Hjalmar Schacht, Fritz Thyssen, Ernst Poensgen of the Vereinigte Stahlwerke (United Steel), Louis Ravene of the Iron Wholesalers’ Association, the shipbuilding magnate Blohm of Hamburg, the bankers von Stauss, Regendanz, and Sogemeyer. All the enemies of the republic, with the exception of the Communists, were deployed here: a variegated army of the discontented, united less by a single aim than by a single animosity.

Only the conversation with Hindenburg—which Schleicher arranged for October 10—ended in a failure. The President’s entourage had the strongest reservations; in fact, Oskar, Hindenburg’s son, had acidly commented on Hitler’s request for an interview: “I suppose he wants a free drink.” Hitler came with Goring. He seemed nervous during the meeting; when the President suggested that he support the administration, in view of the predicament of the whole country, Hitler launched into divagations on the aims of his party. On being reprimanded for the increasing acts of violence on the part of his followers, Hitler responded with verbose assurances that obviously did not satisfy the President. From Hindenburg’s entourage the remark was subsequently leaked that the President was at most prepared to appoint this “Bohemian corporal” Postmaster General, certainly not Chancellor.16

During the early part of July, 1931, Hitler finally met with Hugenberg in Berlin. Soon thereafter he had a talk with Franz Seldte and Theodor Duesterberg, leaders of the paramilitary veteran association Stahlhelm (“steel helmet”), who once again wanted to join forces with him. Then he met with General von Schleicher and General von Hammerstein-Equord, chief of the army command. He conferred with Bruning, Groener, and once again with Schleicher. The purpose of all these conversations was to sound out Hitler’s intentions, but they were also rapprochements designed to draw Hitler into the system against which he had been battling on principle. The idea was to capture him by tactical alliances and, as General Groener put it, “bind him doubly and triply to the stake of legality.” But none of these important persons had any idea of Hitler’s toughness and intransigence. They also seemed to discount Hitler’s capacity for dissimulation. Consequently, the gains were all on his side—the leader of the Nazi party emerged from his isolation and was raised several ranks in status. The conversations encouraged his followers, confused his antagonists, and impressed the voters. How desperately Hitler had been waiting for this turn of events is evident from his reaction when he was summoned to Berlin for the meeting with Chancellor Bruning. Hess, Rosenberg, and Rosenberg’s deputy, Wilhelm Weiss, were with him in Munich when the telegram arrived. He skimmed it hastily, then held it out to the others. “Now I have them in my pocket!” he exclaimed. “They have recognized me as an equal partner in negotiations.” The image he was trying to project is reflected in Groener’s summary: “Hitler’s intentions and aims are good, but [he is an] enthusiast, fervent, many-sided. Likable impression, modest, orderly person and in manner the type of the ambitious, self-educated man.” Hereafter, in confidential communications among his distinguished counterparts he would be referred to—with a shade of mockery—as “Adolf.” He had made his successful entree.

He also wooed the financiers, who on the whole had remained rather reserved. Frau von Dircksen, who held court in the Kaiserhof and had many influential connections, came to his aid just at the right time—one more of those aging female friends to whose zeal he owed so much. Frau Bechstein also continued to promote his cause. Other contacts were made through Goring, who ran a lavish house, and through the financial journalist Walther Funk. Wilhelm Keppler, a small businessman ruined by the Depression, also brought sympathetic industrialists into the movement. He founded the “Economic Friendship Circle,” which was to become notorious through its later connection with Himmler. Otto Dietrich, who had extensive family connections with men in industry, noted: “In Munich in the summer of 1931 the Fuhrer suddenly made the decision to work systematically on leading personalities in business and in the bourgeois Center parties, who were at the heart of the opposition to him.” He toured Germany in his supercharged Mercedes, going to confidential conferences. The better to keep them secret, some of these were held “in solitary forest clearings, in the bosom of nature.” At Streithof (“Squabble Farm”), the estate of Emil Kirdorf, the Ruhr industrialist, Hitler addressed more than thirty captains of heavy industry.15 He ostentatiously forced Gregor Strasser and Gottfried Feder to withdraw a motion they had introduced in the Reichstag as a kind of last bow to their abandoned socialist aims, a motion calling for the expropriation of the “bank and stock exchange barons.” And when the Communist Party faction, seeing a good joke, proposed the selfsame motion on their own account, Hitler had the Nazi deputies vote against it. Henceforth, his only comments on his economic program were dark allusions. At the same time, he drew away from the somewhat pigheaded Gottfried Feder and occasionally kept Feder from speaking in public.

When the Catholic bishops issued a sharp statement warning their flock against the Nazi party, Hitler instantly dispatched his most ingratiating associate, Hermann Goring, to Rome to negotiate. In an interview with the Daily Express Hitler expressed himself in favor of strong German-English co-operation to abolish reparations; he took a conciliatory, mature tone and emphasized the elements uniting England and Germany. When Wilhelm Pieck, the Communist deputy, announced that the Red Army stood ready to come to the aid of revolutionary armies of liberation within Germany, Hitler told an American newspaper that the National Socialist Party was the bulwark against advancing world Bolshevism. “He rants much less than he used to,” a contemporary account noted. “He no longer has Jews for breakfast” and was evidently doing his best “not to seem monomaniac.” His eagerness to be thought respectable extended to outward matters. He left the modest little Hotel Sanssouci, where he had previously stayed on his visits to Berlin, and chose to reside in the prestigious Kaiserhof. There was also deliberate challenge in this; the hotel lay diagonally across the square from the chancellery. Convinced that they had tamed their man, the spokesmen for the Right assured one another that Hitler was at last on the way to being a useful implement of state power.

As always, Hitler advanced on several fronts at once. His oath of legality at Leipzig had already contained a hidden offer of good behavior and partnership. At the beginning of 1931 he received a hint from Schleicher: the ban on participation of Nazis in the Frontier Guard was lifted. In return, Hitler instructed the SA to refrain from street fighting. He even had an SA unit in Kassel dissolved because it had obtained weapons contrary to orders. To strengthen the point, Rohm was required to issue a memorandum implying that the storm troop detachments might be dissolved altogether; they “would be superfluous” if Hitler assumed the chancellorship. “Pretty-boy Adolf is dripping with loyalty,” General Groener wrote to a friend at this time. Hitler was no longer a problem for the Defense Ministry, he added.

Despite his boast that he would bring down the “system” in a succession of election campaigns, Hitler had exerted himself since the spring to gain the confidence and support of influential circles, realizing more keenly than ever before that he would never attain governmental power solely on the basis of his success among the masses. Article 48, which shifted effective power to the President and his immediate entourage, reduced both the power of the Reichstag and the importance of an electoral victory. Not the number of votes but the will of the President determined the holder of the chancellorship. In a sense, therefore, it was more important to commend himself to Hindenburg than to win a majority.

Given a following held together less by political convictions than by volatile emotions, Hitler was actually dependent, far more than the other party leaders, on a train of new, spectacular successes. True, the party continued its victorious march in 1931: at the beginning of May it won 26.9 per cent of the vote in the elections for the Landtag, the provincial legislature, in Schaumburg-Lippe; two weeks later it reached 37.2 per cent in Oldenburg, thus for the first time becoming the strongest party in a Landtag. But these successes were only repeating on the provincial scale what the party had already achieved on the plane of national politics in September. When the Nazis marched through squares or narrow streets roaring in unison, “Hitler at the gates!” it sounded more as though they were trying to get him to the gates, despite their boast that he was already there. Nor could the Nazi party accomplish anything in the legislatures, since it continued to pursue its policy of paralysis. Thus there remained only the stale boasts over the ever-increasing membership figures, the more and more record-breaking meetings, or—these always announced with sanctimonious hypocrisy—more and more martyrs. Dissatisfaction with this state of affairs manifested itself once again in the spring of 1931, when the Berlin SA under Walter Stennes revolted. But before the SA leader could organize this open defection from the party and draw the vacillating Goebbels over to his side, an order arrived from Hitler deposing Stennes. The other conspirators quickly returned to the fold amid renewed assurances on Hitler’s part and new vows of loyalty on their own.

These efforts at rapprochement from several sides corresponded to the advances that the vexed Fuhrer of the Nazi party was making at the same time. He was vexed because his success of September still profited him nothing. The outcome of the elections had indeed made him one of the chief actors on the political stage; but as long as his isolation continued he was condemned to play a mute part. “Hitler has lost many months,” Carl von Ossietzky wrote. “He has wasted his time in inactivity, and no eternity will ever restore that lost time to him. No power in the world will ever give him back the 15th of September with the defeated parties trembling and officialdom bewildered. At that time the hour for the German Duce had come; who would have asked whether he was acting legally or illegally? But this German Duce is a cowardly, effeminate slugabed, a petty bourgeois rebel who’s fast grown fat, who takes it easy and does not realize when fate lays him in a pickling solution along with his laurels. This drummer pounds his tomtom only in rear echelon…. Brutus sleeps.”

Other conservative leaders were likewise eager to have a hand in polishing the rough diamond who happened to be master of the stadia and meeting halls; among them was Alfred Hugenberg. In the summer of 1931 President Hindenburg complained to Hugenberg about Hitler’s “ruffians” and said he did not regard the NSDAP “as a reliable nationalist party.” Hugenberg replied that that was all the more reason to strike up an alliance; he believed he had already contributed to the political education of the Nazis, he said. In spite of all previous unpleasant experiences, he added, he, too, was seeking to re-establish the broken connection with Hitler.

Schleicher’s reasoning started from the thesis that a broad popular movement like Hitler’s could not be quelled by governmental instruments of power. The shock of the revolution, when the officers’ corps suddenly found itself pitted against the strange gray hordes of the masses, had convinced the more open-minded members of the Reichswehr leadership that the army must never again be turned against the people. Although Schleicher hardly took the Nazi party leader seriously, describing him as a “visionary and idol of stupidity,” he acknowledged and respected the factors that had obtained for Hitler so tremendous a following. Schleicher by no means overlooked the disturbing aspects of the movement, that blend of lawlessness, resentment, and fanaticism that one of Schleicher’s fellow officers had called the “Russian character” of the Nazi party. But this made him all the more intent on putting through his plan. As long as Hindenburg was still alive and the army seemed organically sound, Schleicher thought he could “domesticate” Hitler by taking him into the inner circle of political responsibility. The mass army of his following, meanwhile, as long as the curbs of the Versailles Treaty remained in effect, would be used to strengthen Germany’s “defense posture.” Cautiously, therefore, Schleicher began seeking contact with Hitler by way of Ernst Rohm and Gregor Strasser.

Schleicher had already made his presence felt in the appointment of Bruning as Chancellor; he had adroitly proceeded in extending his influence to the point that no Chancellor or cabinet minister could be appointed or dismissed without his consent. His preference for background activity and finespun nets of intrigue had earned him the reputation of being a “field-gray eminence.” He was cynical, as highly sensitive persons tend to be, impulsive, unprejudiced, and wary. He used the army intelligence service to spy even on friends and neighbors. His peculiar combination of frivolity, sense of responsibility, and bent for intrigue made him a distinctly difficult person to deal with.

Similar intentions inspired the ideas for an authoritarian constitution reestablishing the prerevolutionary state, which in view of the increasing weariness with democratic methods were discussed among the Reich President’s entourage. Among the principal advocates of such plans that tended to a gradual restoration of the monarchy were Chancellor Bruning himself; Minister of Defense Groener; Groener’s liaison man with the other departments of government, the chief of the newly created Ministerial Bureau, General Kurt von Schleicher, who, thanks to his intimacy with Hindenburg, had become a key figure, albeit a background one, of the political scene.

It was apparent to all that the democratic party system was on its last legs, in theory as well as reality. There were all sorts of proposals for a revised Constitution. They combined contempt for the inadequacies of parliamentary democracy with anxiety over the totalitarian drive of extremists from both Right and Left. Conservative journalists offered foggy plans for a “new state” or a “constitutional dictatorship,” that would head off Hitler’s more radical alternative by a more moderate option.

The Depression had brought on general economic warfare among governments. Tentative efforts toward trade agreements and a lowering of customs barriers stagnated at the beginning of 1931. Germany and Austria thereupon, on their own initiative, concluded a tariffs treaty that did not infringe on the economic autonomy of both partners and explicitly called upon other countries to join. But France viewed this agreement as undermining a crucial feature of the Treaty of Versailles and concluded that “peace on the old Continent was once again imperiled.”12 French banks in both Germany and Austria promptly called their short-term loans, throwing both countries “into a massive bankruptcy,” which compelled them, in the autumn of 1931, abjectly to abandon the plan. Austria had to make considerable economic concessions. In Germany Hitler and the radical Right gloated over the government’s loss of prestige and its further enforced efforts at accommodation. When, on June 20, President Hoover proposed a moratorium on reparations payments for one year, “a mood like that at the outbreak of war” prevailed in the Chamber of Deputies in Paris.13 Subsequently, France, which admittedly would be most affected by this plan, spun out the negotiations until a series of vast collapses in Germany intensified the crisis to a degree far worse than anyone had thought possible. In Berlin, too, a contemporary observer was reminded of the days before the outbreak of the war. But it was more the deserted look of the streets, the silence brooding over the city, and the extreme tension in the atmosphere, that produced this feeling.14 At the end of 1931 Hitler announced that during the previous year the party had had fifty men killed and about 4,000 wounded.

The vexation with democracy—to understate the case—was intensified by the government’s obvious failures in both domestic and foreign affairs. Bruning’s a