(The WEIMAR REPUBLIC and ADOLF HITLER – continued)
Adolf Hitler had loved his mother dearly and had been deeply wounded by her death when he was eighteen. He knew isolation and homelessness when he was nineteen, and he had experienced the near madness that can accompany this. In multi-ethnic Austria-Hungary he had found identity and pride in being German, and when the war broke out in 1914, he enthusiastically joined the army to serve his adoptive nation, Germany. His passionate identity with Germany and his patriotism contributed to his courage as a soldier. Hitler won for himself the Iron Cross Second Class in December 1914, then in May 1918 a regimental certificate of bravery, and finally on August 1918 the Iron Cross First Class, rarely awarded to an enlisted man.
In February 1919, Adolf Hitler was serving with a remnant of the German Army that was processing Russian and French prisoners of war for release. In March, he returned to Munich, still in the army and a trusted anti-Bolshevik working with army intelligence trying to keep track of political organizations. Hitler was assigned to investigate a group of about twenty-five who called themselves the German Workers' Party. The group met in beer halls, which was the custom in Bavaria. They saw themselves as patriotic Bavarians in support of common working people, and they believed that Germans were a superior breed.
As Hitler was leaving one of the little party's gatherings, a speaker began espousing Bavarian independence from Germany. Enraged, Hitler turned, interrupted the speaker and denounced what he espoused as ruinous, as dividing and therefore weakening Germany. It was an idea, he said, that was fit for a traitor or a provocateur. Hitler's outburst impressed the party's leaders and members. Having won some recognition from them, Hitler returned to their later meetings, and he spoke again. He was not one of those slow in putting together his words or inclined to lose focus. His service in the military gave him confidence, and believing strongly in something made him a good speaker. He preached to the already converted about the terrible peace treaty signed at Paris. He denounced the "November Criminals," the Jews, Marxist internationalism, and the Social Democratic leaders of the government in Berlin, whom he labeled as Marxists.
In 1920, Hitler quit the army, remained in Munich, and devoted his free time to the German Worker's Party, attracting attention in Munich and bringing new members into the party. One of those joining the party was Rudolf Hess, who had served in the same infantry company as Hitler during the war, then as a flyer, and after the war as a member of the Free Corps, and now he was enrolled at the University of Munich. Another member of the party was Ernst Roehm (Röhm), who had been born in Munich, had been an army captain during the war and had been a member of the Free Corps that had driven the communist regime from Munich in 1919.
One who had joined the German Workers' Party before Hitler was Alfred Rosenberg. Like Hitler, Rosenberg read a lot of books. He was a German from Estonia who had lived in Russia, had studied in the Crimea, had read a lot of Nietzsche and had read a lot of anti-Semitic authors, including Houston Chamberlain. Rosenberg was destined to be recognized as the party's leading theorist. But he was a different kind of bookworm than was Adolf Hitler.
Hitler had read a lot of ancient history, and he had a theory about ethnicity that encompassed all humanity. He saw human history as a struggle between nations for living space and for regional domination. The Aryans who had invaded Europe thousands of years ago – the ancestors of the Greeks, Germans and others who were not Slavic – he saw as a superior people. It was right and natural, he believed, for the superior people to conquer and subdue inferior people. This Aristotle had believed, and so too a variety of 19th century intellectuals. But, unlike Aristotle, Hitler harbored no sympathy for the golden mean. Said Hitler, "Until the present day the half-hearted and the lukewarm have remained the curse of Germany."
Unlike Rosenberg, Hitler did not speak much about abstractions. Men in the party were little interested in abstract ideas and had little respect for Rosenberg. Abstractions did not carry well in speeches or pronouncements. Rather than presenting himself as scholarly, Hitler presented himself as a man of action for the building of a new Germany. Those impressed by the German Workers' Party and by Hitler were moved by verbal attacks not only against Jews and those politicians who had been in power during Germany's defeat but also against bankers and international capitalists, whom they saw as among the insufficiently patriotic.
Those who joined the German Workers' Party tended to loathe the upper classes, including the Hohenzollern monarchy and Bavaria's old royalty. And they tended to be without admiration for Germany's Lutheran or Catholic churches, which they associated with the divine right of monarchies. Members of the German Workers' Party tended to believe in an egalitarianism inspired in part by the glory attained by the common soldier during the war. Germany's conservatives looked with favor upon the Hohenzollern monarchy and the altar, and Hitler separated himself from the old, conservative elite. Germany's aristocratic and upper-class politicians had disdained the notion of organizing common people. Hitler, on the other hand, favored organizing common people. As a youth he had been impressed by the ability of the Social Democrats to organize great demonstrations of marching, unionized workers. Hitler announced that Germany's liberation would come only from a welling up from the great masses. Without the help of the German workingman he said, we will never regain a German Reich (empire).
Hitler spoke of the monarchy led by Wilhelm II as having contributed to the defeat in war by having been "rotten to the core." He denounced the middle-class for believing in its superiority and for having accepted "Jewish propaganda." And while speaking up for the masses, Hitler denounced the word proletariat. The word proletariat he claimed had been invented by the Jews. The Jews, with their Marxist theory, he said, had created class division. Hitler continued to call for a return to the classlessness and unity that had existed when the nation marched off to war. And in this, Hitler had the support of Ludendorff, who was still meddling in politics, Ludendorff speaking of the honor of the common soldier as being worth that of a king.
Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.