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Germany and Adolf Hitler to 1928

Treason, Communism and Jews | Coup Attempts and Violence, 1920-21 | The Rathenau Assassination | Hitler, His Youth and Political Party | German Worker's Party becomes the "Nazi" Party | Inflation, Occupation and Outrage | Hitler Maneuvers | Chancellor Gustav Stresemann| Hitler's Failed Coup | Recovery and European Reconciliation | Hitler and Mein Kampf, 1924-27 | Prosperity and Prospect for Peace

Treason, Communism and Jews

After the world war, Germans from Marxist to ultra-conservative were united in looking forward to their nation's regeneration. But public opinion in Germany was like public opinion elsewhere: it contained portions of half-truths, untruths and myth. Many Germans blamed their nation's troubles on the old regime of Wilhelm II losing the war and having turned power over to the socialists. Some blamed their nation's defeat on those who had signed the armistice, seeing these men as traitors and pacifistic cowards. They believed that the German army had marched home intact after having been stabbed in the back.

Prominent among those seen as traitors were an ethnic minority: the Jews. Among Germany's Jews were the murdered Communist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. And there was the Jewish Kurt Eisner who had led the Communist takeover in Bavaria. A sloppy generalization associated Jews with communist revolution: leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution were thought to be predominately Jewish – as was Leon Trotsky, Gregory Zinoviev and Karl Radek. Béla Kun, who led the Soviet regime in Hungary, was also Jewish – as was Karl Marx. Many Germans who opposed Communism saw Jews as internationalist rather than loving the German fatherland because Jews had a heritage of wandering and rootlessness.

Many Germans saw little difference between the Communists and the Social Democrats who had taken power in Germany just before the Armistice. The Social Democrats were traditionally a Marxist party. They still had a red flag and viewing Social Democrats as Marxists and Jews as internationalists helped some Germans label the Social Democrats as Jewish and of foreign origin.

Germans tended to look upon themselves as a superior people – as had other tribes and nationalities through history. It was a view that had been reinforced by Germany's accomplishments in science and industry. From reading the ancient Roman historian Tacitus, some Germans believed that Germans had an inborn special character. Tacitus had described Germans as a people who did not mix with other tribes. Germans in the early 20th century saw this as having benefited their nation, and they disapproved of Germans interbreeding with lesser peoples, including Jews.

Anti-Semitism in Germany dated back to Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism. Luther had wanted Germany to deprive its Jews of all their cash, jewels, silver and gold. He had wanted their synagogues set afire, their homes destroyed and Jews driven out of the country. In the late nineteenth century, when people were superimposing Darwin's theory of evolution onto social development, anti-Semitism in Germany received a boost from enhanced concern about bloodlines and race. And Germany's anti-Semitism had a boost from Jews having been heavily represented in money lending. Nineteenth century German novels depicted money lending Jews entering rural areas from the cities and depriving peasants of their wealth and land. One such book that sold in the millions was Der Büttnerbauer (The Peasant from Büttner). Adolf Hitler, an avid and eclectic reader, was to claim that this book was among the many books that had influenced him. In Der Büttnerbauer, a German peasant becomes indebted to a Jewish moneylender. The peasant's land is foreclosed. And, losing the soil that had nourished his life, he hangs himself – end of story.

Scapegoating and losing the war contributed to the intensity of Germany's anti-Semitism, but perhaps anti-Semitism was greater in Germany than in France or Italy because Germany had more Jews per capita. Jews in Germany were but a small percentage of the population: 0.9 percent compared to 0.5 percent in France, and 0.13 percent in Italy. In absolute numbers about 600,000 Jews lived in Germany as opposed to about 100,000 in France and 45,000 in Italy.

The rise in number of Jews in Germany was a recent development, coming soon after 1880 with a migration from Eastern Europe into Central and Western Europe and the United States. These migrants went mainly to big cities, and in Germany's big cities they became highly visible, some of them rising in trade and commerce, in the professions, including journalism, and in cultural pursuits.

The acceptance of Jews in Germany's cities had been widespread. Germans were by instinct as decent as others. There was assimilation, with intermarriages, some prominent gentile men having taken wives from Jewish families. And there were Jews who believed that they too were German. But in the cities some Jews continued to wear orthodox clothing and to maintain their orthodox appearance. They had accents, and many chauvinistic Germans were suspicious of people with foreign accents. Some Jews responded to gentile hostility with an unpleasant, defensive manner rather than the traditional courtesy to which Germans were accustomed. As Hannah Arendt pointed out, anti-Semitism in Germany poisoned the personalities of some Jews.

Anti-Semitism had been strong among German students in the late nineteenth century – a product of years of student elitism and belief in the idea of a Germany made superior by its exceptional spirit, opposed to liberalism and materialism. Continuing into the 20th century, the faculty of the University of Heidelberg in 1901 opposed the existence of a Jewish fraternity on campus on the grounds that it endangered peace among the students. This anti-Semitism among university students took shape after the war with many students believing that national revitalization would be helped by ridding Germany of Jewish influences. These students tended to be from Germany's more wealthy and refined families, but they had allies among Germany's coarse and less pampered gentiles.


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