And they all confessed...

This document originally appeared on Andrew Majzlik's Website at  

This site went down in March 2008, so I have copied it here.


This document was written by and is therefore copyright Andrew Majzlik, a teacher at Guildford College in the UK. 

He wrote on his website: 'Hello, and welcome to my Web Site. I'm Andrew Majzlik and I am the new subject co-ordinator for History at Guildford College. I have been teaching for nearly 30 years and before coming to Guildford  College I was Head of History at Giggleswick School, North Yorkshire (1974-1990), Deputy Head of Sixth Form at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Faversham (1991-1998), Head of History and Head of Sixth Form at Box Hill School, Surrey (1998-1999) and lecturer in charge of History at Fareham College (2000-2004). My Web Site is specifically intended to be used by my students. It provides help and information about the courses I teach, details of assignments I have set and other relevant information to make studying History at Guildford College a positive experience.'



Why was the Treaty of Versailles unpopular in Germany? 

1.      It was a 'diktat':

The Germans were not allowed into the discussions at Versailles - they were simply presented with the terms and told to sign. They were allowed to criticise the treaty in writing but their objections were ignored. Some historians feel that the Germans were justified in objecting and that it would have been reasonable to allow them to join in the discussions. This would then have deprived the Germans of the argument, much used by Hitler, that because the treaty was a 'diktat' it was not morally binding. On the other hand, it can be argued that the Germans deserved to be treated harshly, especially as they themselves had imposed a harsh treaty, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, on Russia in 1918. This was also a 'diktat'.

2.    Promises had been broken:

Germans claimed they had been promised peace terms based on Wilson's Fourteen Points. They argued that many of the treaty provisions were not in accordance with the Fourteen Points. This is not a valid objection: the Fourteen Points had never been accepted as official by any of the Allies, and the Germans themselves had ignored them in January 1918 (when there still seemed to be a chance of German victory). By November 1918 German tactics (the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the destruction of mines, factories and public buildings during the retreat through France and Belgium) caused the Allied attitude to harden and Wilson to add two additional points to his original fourteen - Germany should pay for any damage to civilian population and property and should be reduced to 'virtual impotence' (i.e. disarmed). The Germans were aware of this when they accepted the terms of the Armistice. In addition, most of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles do comply with the Fourteen Points and their additions.

3.    Loss of territory:

Germany suffered extensive territorial losses in Europe, including Alsace-Lorraine and the 'Polish Corridor'. However, both were mentioned in the Fourteen Points. The loss of Alsace-Lorraine (taken from France in 1871) must have been expected and in many other areas plebiscites were held - Germany retained South Schleswig but lost North Schleswig after plebiscites, for example. Nevertheless, Germany did lose 13% of her territory and 12% of her population. Millions of Germans were forced to live as minorities under foreign rule and as far as Germany was concerned the principle of self-determination had not been fairly applied. Considerable human suffering must have resulted.

Germany had more grounds for objecting to the loss of all their colonies. The mandate system enabled the Allies to take control of Germany's colonies without actually annexing them - Britain gained German East Africa and parts of Togoland and the Cameroons; France gained the remainder of Togoland and the Cameroons; South Africa gained German South West Africa; Japan gained various islands in the Pacific.

4.    Disarmament:

The disarmament clauses were deeply resented. The German army was reduced to a force of 100,000 - Germany claimed this was insufficient for national defence and inadequate for keeping law and order during a period of political disturbance. France wanted a weak Germany and all nations wanted to avoid a future war. Germany was forced to disarm, but other nations did not do so and this gave Germany cause for complaint. On the other hand, the disarmament clauses proved difficult to enforce and Germany was able to begin rearming in secret.

5.    War Guilt:

The Germans objected to being saddled with the entire blame for the outbreak of war Article 231, the 'War Guilt' Clause, provided that: The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all loss and damage to which the Allied and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed on them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.

There are some grounds for objection here. Historians now agree that the causes of the First World War were extremely complex and that several countries helped to precipitate the crisis. The Special Commission on War Responsibility, however, decided in only six weeks that Germany was entirely to blame. The Allies wanted Germany to accept responsibility for the war so that reparations could be justified. Germany denied all responsibility for the war, however, claiming that the declarations of war on Russia and the invasion of Belgium and France in 1914 were acts of self-defence.

6.    Reparations:

Reparations were the final humiliation for the Germans and it is now accepted that the final amount fixed by the Reparations Commission in 1921 (6,600 million) was much too high. Many contemporaries, notably the British economist John Maynard Keynes, wanted a lower, more reasonable figure to be set which Germany could afford to pay. Germany protested that the figure was much too high and could not be paid. When they defaulted on their repayments, the Allies protested (they needed the money to repay their own war debts). Recent research suggests that Germany could have made their payments without too much hardship.

7.    The Treaty was harsh and vindictive:

Germany complained that overall the Treaty of Versailles was too harsh and vindictive. This proved a useful rallying cry for various nationalist groups like the NSDAP and there is little doubt that the Weimar Republic was identified with the shameful humiliation of Versailles. Nevertheless the Treaty could have been harsher, indeed if Clemenceau had had his way the Rhineland would have become and independent state and France would have annexed the Saar.

* Read the article by Ruth Henig in MHR (April 2002)


Hyperinflation in Weimar Germany

Causes of inflation:


Germany had had a vicious inflationary cycle since 1914.


The First World War isolated Germany's economy - consequently the supply of goods in Germany could not keep up with the supply of paper money.


The value of goods increased due to their shortage and as the value of things increased so did their price.


In addition, the German government abandoned the Gold Standard in 1914 (this had always ensured that money issued and printed was backed by the supply of gold).


After 1914 it was easier for the German Government to print money and more difficult for it to control inflation.


During the War goods and raw materials were diverted for the use of the military forces. Consumer goods were therefore in short supply by 1918.


By 1920 inflation had set in - this can be seen by looking at the exchange rates: in 1914 a dollar was worth 4.2 marks but by 1920 it was worth 200 marks.


Furthermore, Germany had lost resources as part of the Treaty of Versailles (74% of iron ore; 68% of zinc ore; 26% of coal production and 14% of arable land).


The Weimar Republic inherited a huge war debt, made worse by the burden of reparations.



By April 1921 the Reparations Commission (REPKO) had set Germany's war debt at 6,600 million. Germany was to pay annual instalments of 100 million (in cash and goods such as coal and shipping).


The British economist John Maynard Keynes was very critical of the huge amount Germany was required to pay. He urged the Allies to reduce Germany's reparations to a more reasonable level but his proposals were ignored.


Chancellor Wirth began repayments but by the end of 1921 the German government declared that it was unable to make any more payments.


Attempts by Lloyd George to address the issue at the Genoa Conference (1922) failed and the American government insisted that the Allies paid their war debts in full.


The French saw reparations as a vital part of their future security. They believed the Germans were deliberately letting a crisis develop so they could escape the burden of reparations.


In 1923 Poincar' ordered the occupation of the Ruhr, the industrial heartland of Germany, to force Germany to accept her responsibilities for reparations.


In January 1923 French and Belgian troops took control of all industries and railways in the Ruhr, seizing resources in lieu of overdue reparations payments.


Cuno, the new Chancellor of Germany ordered 'passive resistance'. The Ruhr workers, civil servants and miners went on strike, financed by the government.


The striking workers had, however, to be paid. The German government simply printed more and more paper money.


Huge numbers of bank notes were soon in circulation - as more money was printed, its real value decreased and prices rose faster and faster. This resulted in hyperinflation, i.e. inflation on a massive scale.



1913 price in marks

Summer 1923 price

November 1923 price

1 kg loaf




1 egg




1 kg of butter




1 kg of beef




Pair of shoes









Winners and losers:


People on fixed incomes, e.g. pensioners, who could not bargain for increases, suffered from the massive rise in the cost of fuel, food and clothing.


Salaried employees and those who had lent money at fixed rates were also badly hit.


People with saving were ruined.


Some people in big business or finance seemed to profit by paying off their debts with 'worthless' money. Others borrowed money from the banks to buy property and other businesses, e.g. Hugo Stinnes.


People were forced to barter or swap good, as all confidence was lost in money as a form of exchange.


Foreign visitors to Germany were in a good position as their 'hard' currency was worth a great deal.

The end of hyperinflation:


In August 1923 Gustav Stresemann formed a coalition government to break the crisis. In September the new government ended the campaign of passive resistance and of 15 September a new currency, the Rentenmark, was issued. A new bank, the Rentenbank, was established to give the new currency backing and the German people more confidence. In 1924 the Rentenmark was replaced by the Reichsmark.


Hjalmar Schacht was put in charge of the Reichsbank.


The new currency was quickly accepted and the hyperinflation crisis ended almost as quickly as it had started.


The Finance Minister, Hans Luther, introduced policies to curb inflation and balance the budget. He sacked 900,000 civil servants and public employees.


Meanwhile Briand became Prime Minister in France. He was more prepared to compromise than Poincare and he withdrew French troops from the Ruhr.


The Dawes Plan, 1924:


Following a conference in London, the Dawes Plan was launched. This was an attempt to alleviate Germany's reparations burden and help the German economy recover.


An international committee, chaired by Charles G. Dawes, an American financier, recommended that the Reichsbank should be reorganised under Allied supervision and that Germany should be given a loan of 800 million gold marks (mainly from the USA) to aid industrial recovery.


There was to be no reduction in the total of reparations that Germany had to pay but yearly repayments were reduced to 50 million for the next five years, after which time they would be increased to 125 million.


The Dawes Plan was approved by the Reichstag, but it was not popular with all sections of society - Hitler, for example, claimed the Dawes Plan was 'a second Versailles'.


The Dawes Plan did enable the German economy to recover but the dangers of this recovery being dependent on American loans were not seen.

The effects and consequences of hyperinflation: 


The inflationary crisis had major economic, social, political and psychological effects, some of which left deep scars that may help to explain the eventual collapse of the Weimar Republic. 'The hyperinflation crisis thus inflicted wounds that in the long term contributed to Weimar's death.'


Basic values were challenged and in the short term the crisis provoked civil unrest.


However, despite the fact that millions of Germans lost their life savings, radical right wing groups like the NSDAP did not win mass support.


The Weimar Republic was, even so, weakened politically, since the great financial losses that people with savings suffered turned them against the democratic regime.


Health suffered, especially among the elderly, as a result of inflation-induced poverty and this was also blamed on the Weimar Government.


'The savings, hopes, plans and assumptions and aspirations of huge numbers of people were swept away in a chaotic whirlwind' Even when the worst material impact was over, the psychological shock of the experience was to have longer lasting effects, confirming a deep-seated dislike of democracy, which was thereafter equated with economic distress, and a heightened fear of the possibility of economic instability.' (Mary Fulbrook, Fontana History of Germany, p.34)


'Millions of Germans,' wrote Gordon Craig in Germany 1866-1945 (1981),  'who had passively accepted the transition from Empire to Republic suffered deprivations that shattered their faith in the democratic process and left them cynical and alienated.'


Some historians have argued, however, that hyperinflation helped Germany wipe out its internal war debts, modernise its industries and give itself a competitive lead in exports.


Value of the Reichsmark against the U.S. Dollar

July 1914


July 1919


July 1920


July 1921


July 1922


January 1923


July 1923


August 1923


September 1923


October 1923


November 1923










The Young Plan, 1929:


The Dawes Plan helped the German economy recover: unemployment fell and there was a period of relative economic prosperity. This was seen as a temporary solution, however, and in 1928 a committee was appointed, under Owen Young, to arrange for the final settlement of the reparations issue.


The Young Plan (1929) reduced the total amount Germany had to repay to $2,000 million.


This was to be repaid in annual instalments over 59 years. Payments would be on a sliding -scale, relating to the state of the German economy.


Extreme nationalists in Germany opposed the Young Plan because it confirmed that Germany still had to pay reparations. Hugenberg (leader of the DNVP) and Hitler (leader of the NSDAP) both denounced the Young Plan and campaigned for a referendum on its acceptance. Even though it eventually failed, this campaign helped to make Hitler into a nationally known politician.


In March 1930 the Reichstag accepted the Young Plan.

The Wall Street Crash, 1929:


In October 1929 the Wall Street Crash took place. This marked the beginning of the Great Depression.


German prosperity depended on American loans. 'It is generally accepted that the economic situation in Germany was highly precarious even before the world depression.' (E. Kolb, The Weimar Republic, 1988) Once the Depression began American banks demanded the repayment of loans they had made. Many German banks and businesses were forced to close down.


The effects of the slump were widespread but German farmers were particularly badly hit - by 1932 18,000 farmers had gone bankrupt. The government tried to reduce expenditure, even cutting war victims' pensions, but the crisis worsened.


Eventually Chancellor Bruning suspended reparations payments and set up public works schemes to reduce unemployment, but such measures were a classic example of 'too little, too late.'


The economic crisis, together with high unemployment, had a great impact on how Germans voted between 1930 and 1932. There were 5 national elections during these years, as well as numerous state elections, and support for extremist, anti-Weimar parties like the NSDAP and the KPD grew significantly.


The slump also had a major effect on the Weimar Republic itself. It induced a general feeling of gloom and despair and reinforced many Germans' hostility to what they saw as a feeble and failing democratic system. Most historians agree that the economic effects of the slump reduced the chances of Weimar democracy surviving.


Many historians agree that the economic crisis played a major role in the increasing popularity of the NSDAP. Martin Brozat, for example, has shown that 55% of all working-class recruits joining the Nazi Party between 1930 and 1933 were unemployed.


Unemployment rose rapidly in Germany, reaching 6 million by 1932, and a crisis developed. Hitler and the Nazis were quick to exploit the situation. 'It is inconceivable that Hitler could ever have come to power had not the Weimar Republic been subjected to the unprecedented strain of a world economic crisis.' (W. Carr)


The Weimar Constitution


Elections to the Constituent (or National) Assembly took place on 19 January 1919. There was a high turn-out (83%) and all adult men and women were entitled to vote. These elections were, in fact, the first completely democratic elections ever to take place in Germany.

The SPD emerged as the largest single party with 38% of the vote (163 seats out of 421) but anti-socialist parties like the DNVP, DVP and DDP all did well. The KPD and the DAP both boycotted the elections, but otherwise there was a reassuring commitment from most of the other parties to the new Republic.

The Assembly began its work on 6 February 1919. It met in Weimar, hence the name 'Weimar Republic', because Berlin was still torn by political unrest. By 10 February agreement had been reached on an interim constitution and the following day the Assembly elected Friedrich Ebert as President. Ebert asked Philipp Scheidemann to become Chancellor and form a government. The SPD then formed a coalition with the Zentrum and the DDP.

On 31 July 1919 the full Weimar Constitution, which owed much to the efforts of a liberal lawyer, Hugo Preuss, was formally approved by the Assembly. It is important to note, however, that the DNVP, the DVP and the USPD all voted against the new Constitution.

The Weimar Constitution:

The Constitution was a complex document that had 181 separate articles. The first Article of the constitution declared that 'The German Reich is a republic. Political power is derived from the people.' The Constitution established a federal system of government in which political authority was divided between the individual states (La;nder) and the central, or federal, government. The powers of the states were relatively limited, however.

All Germans over the age of 20 were entitled to vote in a secret ballot. The constitution also made provision for the holding of a referendum on any issue.

The President, the head of state, was elected for a term of 7 years. He had considerable powers: he could summon and dissolve the Reichstag; he appointed the Chancellor; he appointed all important officials, both civilian and military; he was commander-in-chief of the armed forces; he had special emergency powers to suspend civil liberties and rule by decree under Article 48 of the Constitution; he also had a legislative veto (but this could be overridden by a referendum).

It was expected that Germany would be governed by ministers responsible to the Reichstag, but under Article 48 of the Constitution, the President was given powers to intervene in an emergency. Between 1930 and 1933 Germany was governed continuously on the basis of these emergency powers, something that the framers of the Weimar Constitution had not anticipated.

The Reich Chancellor, normally, but not always, the leader of the largest party in the Reichstag, was responsible for forming a government. The Chancellor determined the main lines of policy and was answerable to the Reichstag. He could be dismissed after a vote of no-confidence.

The Reichstag, the lower house of the legislature or law-making body was elected every 4 years by a system of proportional representation. Germany was divided into 35 equal electoral districts. Each political party drew up a list of candidates and in the elections voters voted for the party as a whole rather than for individual candidates. For every 60,000 votes a party gained in each district, it was awarded one deputy. Party officials chose their allocated number of deputies from their respective party lists. If a party did not obtain 60,000 votes in any particular district, but did obtain over 30,000 votes in several districts, these votes would be added up and translated into an appropriate number of deputies. Significantly, the total number of deputies in the Reichstag was not fixed - it depended on the total number of votes cast.

The individual states (Lander) also had to adopt a democratic form of government and all state monarchs, e.g. in Bavaria, and Prussia, were replaced. The 17 individual states looked after some of their own affairs (education, law, police) and had their own law-making body or Lantag but the federal government controlled taxation, the armed forces, foreign policy and communications. The state parliaments (Lantag) sent representatives (67 in total) to the Reichsrat.

The Reichsrat, the upper and less important house of the legislature, was much less powerful than the Reichstag. The Reichsrat was little more than an advisory body. It was able to veto legislation passed by the Reichstag but this veto could be overridden by a two-thirds majority in the Reichstag. Each state had 1 vote in the Reichsrat for every 700,000 of its inhabitants. Any laws passed by the Reichstag  automatically prevailed over laws passed by the state parliaments or Lantag and in an emergency the federal state had powers to intervene in state affairs.

The Weimar Constitution contained a Bill of Rights which guaranteed personal liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, legal equality and religious freedom. It also guaranteed a minimum provision of social services, including 'a healthy dwelling for every German' and various new labour laws to protect workers and improve their conditions.

The judiciary (judges) had an important role in ensuring that laws were fairly applied and enforced. The judiciary was also responsible for punishing all those who broke the law. The Supreme Court was also responsible for interpreting the constitution.

The Constitution could be altered by legislation, but this required a two-thirds majority in the Reichstag.

The Weimar system of government was a hybrid affair based partly on the British parliamentary system and partly on the American federal system with its directly elected President. It has been called 'a masterpiece of liberalism' (Martyn Housden) and it was a sincere attempt at introducing democratic government in Germany in place of the traditional authoritarian system of the German Empire headed by the Kaisers. John Hiden has described the finished constitution as 'a synthesis between, on the one hand, progressive political and social ideas and, on the other, the desire to protect traditional institutions'. Given this idealism, it was most unfortunate that the Weimar Constitution contained a number of serious flaws and was from its earliest days unpopular with key sections of German society (landed elites, bureaucrats, the military).

The weaknesses of the Weimar Republic:

The Weimar Republic was closely associated with the humiliating and unpopular Treaty of Versailles, with its arms limitations, territorial losses, reparations and war guild clauses. It was therefore always associated with defeat and dishonour and could never be accepted by German nationalists. Although several historians have argued that it is wrong to blame the Treaty of Versailles for the ultimate defeat of the Weimar Republic, the Treaty of Versailles continued to poison the political atmosphere in Germany. Whenever a major problem, such as hyperinflation , hit Germany, it was easy for critics to blame everything on Versailles and so reinforce the 'stab in the back' or 'dolchstoss' myth.

There was, in addition, a tradition lack of respect for democratic government and a great admiration for the army and the officer class as the rightful leaders of Germany. In 1919 the view was widespread that the army had not been defeated: it had been betrayed, 'stabbed in the back' by the democrats and socialists who had needlessly agreed to the Treaty of Versailles. What most Germans failed to appreciate was that it was General Ludendorff who had first suggested an armistice when the Kaiser was still in power. Many Germans believed that the nation had been betrayed by the 'November Criminals' and so right from the start the Weimar Republic was unpopular.

The parliamentary system introduced by the new Weimar Constitution had several weaknesses, the most serious of which was that it was based on a system of proportional representation. It was intended to ensure that all political groups would be fairly represented in a very democratic system. Unfortunately there were so many different groups that no party could ever win an overall majority. A succession of weak coalition governments was inevitable and no party was able to carry out its programme. Between 1919 and 1928 there were 15 different cabinets, none lasting for more than 18 months, and some only surviving for three.

Coalition governments found it difficult to agree on a common set of policies and the German electorate became increasingly exasperated by political in-fighting and frequent changes of government. Only 8 of the 21 coalition governments between 1919 and 1933 had majority support in the Reichstag and generally it was too easy for anti-democratic parties like the KPD and NSDAP to gain seats. The result, inevitable, was a succession of weak coalition governments. The Weimar Republic was, in consequence, characterised by political instability (except during the Stresemann era, 1923-29)

The various political parties had very little experience of government. Before 1919 the Reichstag had not controlled policy - the Chancellor had the final authority and was the one who really ruled the nation. Under the Weimar Constitution it was the other way round - the political parties were not used to operating on a national scale or to working with each other. Co-operation between parties was made more unlikely by the fundamental differences between them.

The constitution allowed for plebiscites to be help on specific issues. This was very democratic but it also enabled those parties opposed to democracy to put their case to the public and undermine the system. A good example of this was the referendum over the Young Plan in 1929 which helped Hitler and the NSDAP to have a platform for their right-wing, nationalist views.

Communists and nationalists did not believe in the republic anyway and refused to support the SDP. The right-wing parties never gave the new constitution their wholehearted support. Disagreements became so bitter that some of the parties organised their own private armies, for self-defence to begin with, but this increased the threat of civil war and unrest. There were numerous outbreaks of violence and various attempts to overthrow the republic, e.g. the Kapp Putsch, 1920 and Hitler's Munich Putsch, 1923. Successive governments seemed incapable of preventing these outbreaks of violence and were easily discredited. An increasing number of people began to favour a return to strong, authoritarian government that would maintain strict public order.

Although the Constitution introduced political changes designed to provide Germany with a democratic form of government, within the new Republic much remained unchanged. The structure of German society remained the same with former ruling elites still controlling the civil service, diplomatic corps, the judiciary, commerce, industry and education.  Many of these groups were potentially hostile to the Republic and in a good position to undermine it. Unwilling to transfer their loyalty from an imperialist Kaiser to a democratically elected President, they were to prove a dangerous and subversive influence on future events.

The President was also in a position to undermine the power of the Reichstag and democratic government. The President had extensive powers under Article 48 of the Constitution - he could appoint and dismiss governments and suspend civil rights, without parliamentary support, in times of emergency. The first president, Ebert, used Article 48 rarely and was committed to sustaining democracy. Hindenburg, President from 1925-1934, used Article 48 frequently and did much to undermine democracy.

There is some debate about whether or not the Weimar Republic was 'doomed from the outset'. Several historians have pointed out that the Weimar regime was a 'republic without republicans', lacking supporters committed to its success. Other historians disagree, suggesting that the regime did gain in popularity after a shaky start and that it was principally the disastrous impact of the Great Depression that caused its downfall rather than any real lack of support. As Feuchtwanger has pointed out, 'it was not the political and constitutional arrangements in themselves that were at fault, but the way in which they were used in a country where large sections of the population had little regard for democracy and parliamentary government.'


Hitler's Rise to Power in Germany: the early years, 1919-1924


Hitler's background and early life:


Hitler was born on 20 April 1889 in a guesthouse in the small Austrian town of Branau-am-Inn. His father, Alois, was a local customs official (who seems to have changed his name from Schicklgruber in 1877). Contrary to what he later claimed in Mein Kampf, Hitler's family were quite well off, and lived a comfortable middle-class lifestyle. Hitler was brought up strictly. At school he was considered lazy and without self-discipline but he was not without ability. In spite of his genuine interest in art and history, he failed his examinations and left school without any qualifications. 'Hitler's self-inflicted failure at secondary school left him with a bitter and lifelong contempt for book-learned academics and intellectuals.' (McDonough)


After his father's death in January 1903, he left home and moved to Linz where he lived on a small allowance made by his mother, Klara. In 1906 he visited Vienna. He dreamed of becoming an artist but he failed to gain entry to the Vienna Academy of Art in 1907, something he later blamed on influential, Jewish academics. Hitler was 'an artist with a talent deficit' (McDonough) - he was good at drawing buildings and landscapes but not people.


Hitler returned to Linz in October 1907 to nurse his terminally ill mother. She died on 21 December, with Hitler at her bedside. He was devastated by the death of his mother and it was clearly a very traumatic personal event. He lived as a virtual recluse for a while and began developing extremist ideas of Aryan supremacy and anti-Semitism. In this he was greatly influenced by the writing of men like Charles Darwin and George von Schonerer.


Hitler returned to Vienna in 1908. He visited the opera regularly and generally lived a life of idleness. He failed the entrance examination for the Vienna Academy of Arts for the second time in September 1908 and became quite bitter and depressed. He lived rough for a while, making a little money as an artist but his personal sense of failure promoted violent hatred and prejudice. In May 1913 he left Vienna (probably to avoid military service) and moved to Munich in Germany. He continued living a Bohemian lifestyle until the Austrian authorities caught up with him and charged him with avoiding military service. He was taken to Salzburg and ordered to appear before a recruitment panel. Hitler's excuses for not completing his military service were eventually accepted and the panel concluded by declaring he was 'unfit' and 'too weak' for military service because he had a minor lung complaint.


Hitler and the First World War:


He was back in Munich when war broke out in 1914. Like many other young men at the time, Hitler was excited by the prospect of glory and fighting for the Fatherland: In Mein Kampf he described how he was 'carried away by the enthusiasm of the moment' and how he 'sank down on my knees and thanked heaven out of the fullness of my heart for granting me the good fortune of being permitted to live in such a time.'


He joined the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment and spent most of the war on the Western Front as a dispatch runner. He was not a soldier in the trenches, but his job was dangerous and he was personally brave. According to his commanding officer he was loyal and obedient but he never rose above the rank of lance-corporal. He was twice wounded and was twice awarded the Iron Cross. He was badly injured in a gas attack in 1918 and was still recovering in hospital when he heard the news that the German High Command had asked for an armistice. In Mein Kampf, Hitler recalled his feelings:


Text Box: 'They wanted to capitulate. Was such a thing really possible? 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. And so it had all been in vain. In vain all the sacrifices and privations, in vain the hunger and thirst of months which seemed endless; in vain the hours in which, with mortal fear clutching at our hearts, we nevertheless did our duty; and in vain the deaths of millions who died. Did all this happen only so that a gang of wretched criminals could lay hands on the fatherland?











 After the War:


After the War Hitler, who was still serving in the German Army, was appointed a Bildungsoffizier (an education officer in the political department of the army's district command in Munich). His job was to ensure that young Germans were not indoctrinated with divisive ideas like socialism and pacifism but were made aware of the dangers of Communism.


In September 1919 he was ordered to attend a meeting of Anton Drexler's German Workers' Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or DAP) and report back on its activities. Hitler listened to a talk by Gottfried Feder, a political and economic theorist, and was greatly impressed by what he heard. Later he joined the Party (member number 515) in what he saw as 'the most decisive moment of my life. From here there could be no turning back'.


He was soon co-opted onto the DAP's committee and given responsibility for recruitment and propaganda. Hitler was energetic and enthusiastic, often addressing meetings himself. The DAP gradually grew in size and Hitler emerged as a prominent figure. He was clearly a skilful speaker and political agitator, often speaking about the 'stab-in-the-back', the shame and betrayal of Versailles, the inadequacies of the Weimar government, profiteering Jews and the need for strong leadership.


In May 1920 Hitler left the army to concentrate on his political career. In December 1920 the Party purchased a local newspaper which it renamed, the Volkischer Beobachter (the People's Observer). Publshed by Dietrich Eckhart, this newspaper was used to spread Nazi ideas. The money for this came from Dietrich Eckart, prominent Munich conservatives and secret army funds.


Hitler also appreciated the propaganda value of using symbols, salutes and slogans and of attracting to the Party nationally known figures and celebrities. He adopted the swastika (hakenkrauz or 'hooked cross') as the Party emblem - he cleverly used the same colours as the old imperial flag, i.e. red, white and black, suggesting both traditionalism and revolution.  Hitler also introduced the raised arm salute and the 'Heil' greeting. Significantly, too, at the Hofbrauhaus Meeting in Munich (February 1920) he changed the name of the DAP to the National Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers' Party) and the Party adopted the Twenty-Five Point Programme.


Hitler then pressed for the reorganisation of the Party's structure. He wanted a single leader to have control over decision making rather than a committee. At the first national congress of the NSDAP, held in Munich in January 1921, Drexler spoke against Hitler's plans and they were rejected. Drexler also began holding talks with the German Socialist Party (DDP) with a view to merging the two nationalist parties. Hitler was against this and on 11 June 1920 he dramatically resigned from the Nazi Party. The loss of such a powerful speaker and organiser was potentially damaging and at a specially convened national congress of the Nazi Party held on 29 July 1921, the proposal that Hitler be given 'dictatorial' control over the party was carried by 553 votes to 1. Hitler was now in complete control.


In November 1921 Hitler created the Sturmabteilung (SA or Brownshirts) under the leadership of Ernst Roehm. Recruited from ex-Freikorps members, the unemployed and the criminal classes, the SA were used to give Hitler and other speakers protection at meetings and to disrupt the meetings of rival groups. The actions of the SA also helped to create an atmosphere of violence and terror on the streets.


Throughout 1922 Hitler's speeches were consistently 'for Germany' and 'against' democratic government. At this time Hitler tended to refer to himself as a 'drummer', the man who would mobilise the masses for Germany's regeneration, not as a future German dictator.  After Mussolini's successful 'March on Rome' in October 1922, however, Hitler began to see himself more and more as a 'dynamic leader'.  Nazi propaganda became instrumental in developing the cult of the Fuhrer. Hitler was seen more and more as a 'heroic' leader, a man destined to restore German pride and greatness.


Membership continued to grow steadily and by 1922 the NSDAP had 6,000 members. The NSDAP's power base was largely confined to Munich at this time but during 1922 support began to develop in the north of Bavaria around the ancient city of Nuremberg.

This secret of this success lay in the willingness of the NSDAP to clash violently with their political opponents - in Coburg, for example they fought a pitched battle with members of the SPD.


By this time Hitler had enlisted the support of a number of men who were to prove key figures in the early development of the NSDAP. Alfred Rosenberg provided many of the Nazi movement's racial theories, especially its anti-Semitism; Max Amann became the NSDAP's publishing manager; Hermann Goring, a former fighter pilot, introduced Hitler to important people in Bavarian high society; Rudolf Hess was another important member with many useful contacts in society. In 1922 Julius Streicher, leader of a rival right-wing group in Nuremberg, agreed to join the Nazis. In 1923 he founded Der Sturmer, another Nazi newspaper.


The Munich Putsch, 1923:


By 1923 the NSDAP had a membership of 20,000.  By the end of the year this had increased to over 50,000. At the height of the hyperinflation crisis in November 1923, Hitler launched an armed coup in Munich (the Munich Putsch). This was planned by Hitler in conjunction with renegade forces in the army, the most prominent of whom was General Ludendorff. The idea was to overthrow the Weimar government and establish an authoritarian nationalist regime in Bavaria. On 8 November 1923, von Kahr, the leader of the Bavarian government, was addressing a meeting in a beerhall (the Burgerbraukeller) in Munich when Hitler, accompanied by a large number of SA men, burst in. Hitler proclaimed 'the National Revolution has begun', but the army, the police and the Bavarian government all refused to give their support. The following day, Hitler, accompanied by a large group of supporters, some of whom were armed, marched on the Odeonsplatz in the centre of Munich hoping to capture the War Ministry and other key buildings. They were met by the state police, shots were fired and 14 Nazis and 4 policemen were killed.


The Munich Putsch was a bungled and humiliating failure. Hitler, Ludendorff and most of the other leading Nazis were arrested. It looked as if Hitler's political career was over. Hitler's trial opened on 24 February. It appears that he immediately took the initiative and turned the trial into a propaganda triumph. Taking advantage of the fact that the trial was public and that the judges were sympathetic to his cause, Hitler made no attempt to deny the charge of high treason:



Text Box: 'I cannot declare myself guilty. True, I confess to the deed but I do not confess to the crime of high treason. There is 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 8th and 9th November be called treason. And if we were committing treason, I am surprised that those who, at that time, had the same aims as I, are not standing beside me now. There was no such thing as high treason against the traitors of 1918. I feel myself the best of Germans who desired what was best for his people.'








During the trial the judges allowed Hitler to make a number of long speeches. These were reported in the national press and Hitler became a national figure for the first time. He was now the hero of the fanatic right, a man who had stood up for Germany at a time of crisis. The Nazi Party was banned but it nevertheless had been prominent in opposition to the Weimar Republic.




Hitler was found guilty but received a very lenient sentence (5 years in prison). In the event he only served 9 months before being granted parole.  Hitler was treated like a celebrity. Conditions in Landsberg were quite comfortable and Hitler was allowed as many visitors as he wished. While in prison Hitler began writing Mein Kampf. The first volume was published in July 1926 and the second in December 1926. According to Kershaw the writing of Mein Kampf helped Hitler to finalise a coherent 'world view' (weltanschauung) and also to strengthen his self-belief. He now believed he was destined to become a great leader and that he had a definite mission to accomplish. Hitler dedicated the book to the 16 men who lost their lives at the time of the Munich Putsch and he stated in the authors preface that his reason for writing was 'to destroy the legendary fabrications which the Jewish press have circulated about me.


His spell in prison also helped him plan for the future. Kershaw argues that it was now that Hitler concluded that the strategy adopted between 1919 and 1923, namely to overthrow the Weimar Republic by force, was no longer feasible. He now knew that to win power he had to have popular support. He decided that the Nazi Party had to be transformed into a major national political party that would be able to gain power legally through the elections:


Text Box: '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! - Sooner or later we shall have a majority - and after that, Germany. I am convinced that this is our best line of action, now that conditions in the country have changed so radically.'









Hitler's Rise to Power in Germany, 1924-1929


1.  The NSDAP in 1924:

By the end of 1924 the future of the NSDAP seemed in serious doubt: Hitler was in prison for high treason; the SA had been banned; the NSDAP itself was banned and the party had split into rival factions. Unofficially the NSDAP continued to exist under the temporary leadership of Alfred Rosenberg but he was ineffective (some historians suggest that Hitler deliberately chose Rosenberg to show how vital he himself was to the party's fortunes.

Some Nazis joined forces with other nationalist groups to contest local and state elections. In Bavaria (April 1924) this 'Volkishcher Block' won 17% of the vote. Then in the Reichstag elections held on 4 May they won 6.5% of the vote (32 seats). These successes could not be sustained however, especially given the many divisions between the various right-wing groups but Kershaw argues that the fall in support for the NSDAP (they only won 4 seats in the Reichstag elections of 7 December) played into Hitler's hands as his claims to leadership were strengthened

2. Hitler consolidates his position, 1924-26:

Hitler was released on parole on 20 December 1924. He managed to get the ban on the NSDAP lifted in Bavaria and at a party meeting on 27 February 1925, Hitler re-established his control of the party, announcing that he was going to pursue a 'legal path to power'. To this end the party was to be reorganised nationwide and every effort made to increase the party's share of the vote in the elections. This was certain to be a lengthy process, indeed it was made more difficult by the fact that Hitler was banned from making public speeches in Bavaria and most other German states. This ban was not, in fact lifted until September 1928 which meant that the party could not rely on Hitler's charismatic speaking abilities to win support, though he was still able to speak at private party meetings. The authorities clearly believed that they had deprived the NSDAP of its main weapon but Hitler seems to have had other ideas.

Hitler needed to 'reinvent the Nazi Party from a rabble-rousing, street-fighting force to a national party with a national organisation.' (McDonough). Hitler now began to see himself not as a 'drummer' trying to raise support for someone else, but as a special person, the man selected by providence to restore German greatness, a man of destiny. He made every effort to reassert his control over the Nazi movement and paid particular attention to party organisation. Hitler was also determined to bring the SA under greater control and remove those whom he considered a liability to the party.

Hitler had a few problems dealing with some of the groups within the Nazi movement.  The most important of these was in the north where Gregor Strasser formed a left-wing splinter group which emphasised the 'socialism' in National Socialism. Strasser, supported by his brother Otto and Joseph Goebbels, a propaganda specialist, proposed a radical revision of the NSDAP's 25 Point Programme but Hitler had no wish to become involved in arguments over the finer points of ideology. All he was interested in was gaining power and he had no wish to alienate potential conservative, middle-class supporters by taking the party in a socialist direction. At a party conference held at Bamberg in February 1926, Hitler totally outmanoeuvred Strasser. He packed the meeting with southern supporters and gained acceptance of the principle that he was the undisputed leader of the Nazi movement.

Hitler cleverly won over Goebbels (who became Gauleiter of Berlin in December 1926) and then persuaded Gregor and Otto Strasser to follow his lead. (Gregor Strasser was appointed Party Propaganda leader). Over the following months Hitler reorganised the party's strategy, structure and symbols. Throughout these years Hitler provided the Nazis with charismatic leadership and a real sense of purpose and direction. This was to prove central to the party's later success.

3. Reorganising the Party:

Hitler reorganised the NSDAP, dividing Germany into regions or Gaue, each of which was controlled by a Gauleiter, chosen by Hitler for his commitment to the party and his enthusiasm for Nazi policies. Each gau was divided into areas, or Kreise, each of which roughly corresponded to a typical English county and was controlled by a Kreisleiter. Each Kreise was divided into smaller units (Ortsgruppen) supervised by an Ortsgruppenleiter. Cities and towns were divided into districts (Zellen) controlled by a Zellenleiter. These in turn were divided into groups of houses or flats known as Blocks, and were controlled by a Blockleiter.

Much of this restructuring was due to the tireless efforts of Gregor Strasser, an 'organizational genius' (Kitchen).

Following the 1928 election this system was fine-tuned, with the gaue being reorganised to correspond with the existing 35 Reichstag electoral districts. This provided the NSDAP with an efficient local and national organisation that made it extremely effective during both national and local elections.

Hitler also expanded the party structure, setting up a special committee at the top of the party (the Reichsleitung) whose members were called Reichsleiters. Below this the party was divided into two branches, one responsible for organising elections (headed by Gregor Strasser); the other (under Konstantin Hierl) responsible for planning for the time when the Nazis were in power. There was a vertical chain of command: Hitler was at the top (the Fuhrer) and sent general directives to the Reichleiters who in turn passed on instructions to the local Gauleiters. Everything was controlled from the NSDAP's headquarters in Munich.

Another significant development took place in 1926, namely the foundation of the Hitler Youth (Hitler Jugend). Other organisations soon followed, e.g. the Association of National Socialist Jurists, the Nazi Teachers' Association, the Nazi Students' Association, the Association of National Socialist Lawyers and the National Socialist Factory Cell Organization (NSBO).

In August 1927 the Nazis held their first rally in Nuremberg (the 'Day of Awakening').

By 1929 the NSDAP was a truly national movement with a strong core of loyal supporters. Hitler's personal position was extremely secure and the NSDAP was well-placed to take advantage of the economic crisis that was to hit Germany between 1929 and 1930.

4. The role of the SA:

At the same time the SA was reorganised. Ernst Rohm was forced to resign and under a new leader, Franz von Salomon, the SA ceased to be a rabble of street hooligans and was given more clearly defined responsibilities. These included spreading Nazi propaganda and organising demonstrations against both Communists and Jews. Hitler wanted to distance himself from the SA's violence, hoping to attract more middle-class support.

The SA relied more and more on 'passive aggression' - provoking opponents to attack them. 'The SA provided the Nazis with a visible presence that was difficult to ignore.' (Burleigh) SA men were forbidden to smoke or drink alcohol. They were always ready to deal with hecklers and potential opponents. Their uniforms and discipline helped develop a sense of order and respectability which appealed to the middle classes.

In 1926 Hitler also established an elite force responsible for his own personal safety. This was the Schutzstaffel or SS (Blackshirts) and it became particularly important once Heinrich Himmler became its leader in 1929.

5.  Nazi strategy, 1926-29:

Between September 1926 when Gregor Strasser became Party Propaganda Leader and late 1927, the Nazis' focus was on the urban working-class. Strasser's 'urban plan' aimed to win the support of workers who were disillusioned with the left, but he had little success - support for trade unions and the SPD and KPD remained strong and most workers tended to see the NSDAP as a party for the middle-classes.

Hitler then took steps to refocus the NSDAP in the years before the 1928 election: he called the Gauleiters to a meeting in November 1927 and announced that the lower-middle class should be targeted rather than the working class; he visited rural areas and made speeches to farmers and farm workers; he took over control of propaganda himself and moved Strasser to the post of Reich Organisation Leader; he reassured the middle-classes that the Nazis would not take over land owned by private individuals (implied by Article 17 of the 25 Point Programme)

However, in spite of all these developments, the NSDAP made little progress politically between 1924 and 1928, the so-called 'wilderness years' (Kershaw) 'The atmosphere of crisis which had prevailed in the early years of the republic had given way to a period of political and economic calm.' (Layton) The NSDAP was one of a number of small 'splinter' parties with a radical nationalist outlook whose support dwindled as conditions seemed to improve.

In the 1928 elections the Nazis gained 0.8 million votes (2.6% of the votes and 12 seats out of 491). In effect, therefore 97.4% of the nation did not vote for the NSDAP and the future looked bleak. Significantly, however, the NSDAP did well in rural areas, especially in the north-west. By the end of 1928, in spite of its relatively small vote, the NSDAP was well-organised nationally and was developing sophisticated propaganda techniques that enabled it to target specific groups and campaign very effectively on specific regional issues.

6. The anti-Young Plan campaign, 1929:

After the disappointment of the 1928 elections Hitler distanced himself from the left-wing national revolutionary section of the NSDAP in an effort to secure more middle class and agrarian votes. In 1929 he was invited by Alfred Hugenberg, the leader of the DNVP, to join his anti-Young Plan campaign (the Reich Committee for a Referendum to Oppose the Young Plan). Hugenberg was impressed by Hitler's anti-communist and anti-Weimar ideas. Hitler supported Hugenberg's demands for a 'Freedom Law'. This law, which was put to a referendum in December 1929, would have repudiated the war guilt clause and negated any treaty obligations like the paying of reparations. In the event, Hugenberg's campaign was a failure with only 13.8% of the electorate supporting his proposals. Significantly, the NSDAP benefited from this, not the least because they were able to make use of Hugenberg's vast media empire to gain a national platform for their ideas.  The campaign also provided Hitler with valuable contacts in Big Business and, by association with respectable right-wing groups like the Stahlhelm, helped him gain considerable legitimacy. Membership of the NSDAP increased significantly, with 19,000 new members joining in Novemeber 1929 alone.

The impact on the ballot box was immediate and the NSDAP started to make significant gains in local elections, especially in Saxony, Baden and Thuringia (where Wilhelm Frick became the first Nazi to be appointed to a state (land) government when he was given the post of Minister for the Interior and Education). By the end of 1929 the NSDAP had 48 delegates elected to the various provincial parliaments.

 7. The Wall Street Crash:

Then dramatically, the Wall Street stock market collapsed in October 1929 (24 October 1929 is remembered as 'Black Thursday'). German prosperity during the late 1920s had depended on American loans. These were now called in and the German economy was plunged into crisis. There was a run on the banks in the summer of 1931 as people with savings rushed to convert what they had into gold or strong foreign currency. Demand for steel, shipping, chemicals and other products of heavy industry fell and the total value of German exports dropped by 55% between 1929 and 1931. Unemployment spread rapidly through Germany, rising from 1.4 million to 6 million in 1932. During the same period there was a 42% drop in industrial production and an alarming fall in agricultural prices. In 1928 there was a harvest failure. Everyone in Germany was affected (bankers, businessmen, farmers, shopkeepers, agricultural labourers, industrial workers, pensioners, white-collar workers and even members of the middle-class professions) and the political effects for the Weimar Republic were catastrophic.

Hitler skilfully exploited the effects of economic depression to win further electoral support for the NSDAP. He had predicted that bad times were around the corner. 'Once they arrived, he grasped his opportunity to exploit them with quite exceptional ability: he offered certain sections of German society the hope of deliverance from the misery all around them; he offered a faith in the German people and optimism for the future of Germany under Nazi rule which none of his political rivals could remotely match; and he opposed everything, and promised everything, but with a passion and vision which many Germans found incredibly seductive. Unlike the other parties in the German system, which represented very specific and often narrow interest groups, Hitler emphasised the 'national' appeal of the Nazi Party. This allowed the party to win votes from those who had previously supported narrow, small special interest parties, especially those operating in rural areas and small towns.' (McDonough) The real breakthrough came in the national elections held in September 1930.

8. The 1930 election:

During the campaign for the national elections of September 1930, Hitler and the Nazis cleverly played on the fears and anxieties of middle-class and rural German voters who were feeling the effects of the Depression. The NSDAP increased its share of the vote from 810,000 in 1928 to 6.4 million (18% of the total number of votes). By increasing their total number of seats in the Reichstag from 12 to 107, the NSDAP became the second largest political party in Germany. 'In one election, the Nazi Party had advanced from insignificance to national prominence' (McDonough).  Significantly most other parties saw their share of the vote fall (apart from the Catholic Centre Party, which maintained its electoral position, and the KPD, which increased its share of the vote from 10.6% to 13% of the overall vote.

The Nazis also did well in a number of local elections in 1929 and 1930. Shortly after the Wall Street Crash, the NSDAP trebled its vote of 1928 in an election in Thuringia, breaking the 10% barrier for the first time and winning 6 seats out of 53. In Oldenberg (May 1930) the NSDAP won 37.2% of the vote and became, for the first time, the largest party in a state parliament. In Saxony (June 1930) the NSDAP became the second largest party with 14.4% of the vote. In Hessen (November 1930) the Nazis gained 37.1% of the vote and became the largest party in a state parliament where they had previously been unrepresented.

Explaining this phenomenon is difficult and many factors clearly contributed to Nazi success. It does seem, though that the NSDAP had a flexibility that other parties lacked. They were ideally placed to take advantage of the economic crisis that followed the Wall Street Crash. Their propaganda had an obvious appeal and more and more people supported the Nazis because they believed it was in their best interest to do so. Hitler himself was a charismatic speaker a man with a 'mission' and historians like David Welch and Ian Kershaw have noted that the vagueness of the Nazi message allowed people to reach different conclusions about what the Nazis stood for: 'Some looked to the Nazis as the saviour of old style capitalism that would restore the old status quo. For such groups the Nazis represented a 'reactionary' force, restoring former status and values. While others, particularly among younger white-collar workers, saw National Socialism as a 'revolutionary' movement bent on destroying archaic social hierarchies and replacing them with a new social order. The secret of their success was this 'dual appeal'.' (David Welch)


Hitler's Rise to Power in Germany, 1930-1933

1. The NSDAP in 1930

'The German national elections in September 1930 provided Hitler with an ideal opportunity to play on the anxiety of middle-class and rural German voters in the midst of the 'Great Depression'.' (McDonough) The NSDAP's share of the vote rose to 18.3% (6.4 million), increasing the number of seats they held from 12 to 107. The NSDAP was now the second largest party in the Reichstag and had a political prominence that few could have imagined in 1928. It was, as D.G. Williamson has noted, 'the economic crisis of 1930-33 that turned the Nazi party into a mass party of protest.' Nazi success rode on the back of the recession but it was also the product of an intense campaign of organisation, fund-raising and propaganda. Nazi slogans stressed the need for strong authoritarian government and seemed to offer something to every class in Germany.

The hard core of Nazi voters in this election came from the lower middle class in rural Protestant areas (small shopkeepers, independent skilled workers, tradesmen, farmers and agricultural labourers. Support came from all classes but not from all religious groups. Nazis were strongly supported in the Protestant north German plain. They also did well in northern Bavaria (largely Protestant) but relatively poorly in south Bavaria (strongly Catholic). What set the NSDAP apart from all the other parties was the broad nature of its support. They had 'votes from a much broader cross-section of the German electorate than any other German political party.' (McDonough)

2. The Hartzburg Front:

In October 1931 Hitler formed a tactical alliance with Alfred Hugenberg of the DNVP and Franz Seldte, head of the Stahlhelm. This alliance was known as the Hartzburg Front. Hugenberg wanted a united front to rescue Germany from 'Bolshevik peril and bankruptcy'. He also demanded Bruning's resignation and fresh elections. 'The Harzburg Front represented a powerful combination of industrial, financial and political interests' (Evans & Jenkins) and it helped Hitler cultivate the image of a respectable politician. The Hartzburg Front achieved little but it did result in Hitler and the Nazis gaining more support from big business interest and conservative nationalists.

3. The Presidential Election, 1932:

On 22 February 1932 the Nazis announced that Hitler would stand in the presidential election due in March (technically Hitler was not a German citizen, but on 26 February the newly elected state government in Brunswick made Hitler a German citizen by appointing him to a minor post in the civil service).

Goebbels, now in charge of a more centralised Reich Propaganda Leadership, launched an impressive election campaign which raised Hitler's profile. Hitler flew between 21 towns in 6 days, over 8 million pamphlets were distributed and a total of 34,000 public meetings were held. Nazi posters were everywhere and in the final ballot in April Hitler gained an impressive 36.6% of the vote. This was not enough to defeat Hindenburg who polled 52.9%.  Hitler was clearly the undisputed leader of the German right (the middle and upper classes and the voters in rural areas) and Nazi propaganda lost little time in presenting Hitler's defeat as a success. Membership of the party continued to grow, reaching 1 million by the end of 1932 and the circulation of the main Nazi newspaper, Volkischer Beobachter increased from 27,000 in 1929 to 126,500 in 1932.

4. Reichstag elections in 1932:

In May 1932 Hindenburg appointed  von Papen as Chancellor. With the NSDAP and KPD holding the majority of seats in the Reichstag, he had no alternative but to rule by emergency presidential decrees (using Article 48 of the Constitution). In June 1932, von Papen lifted the ban on the SA (implemented by Bruning in April). Unfortunately none of the governments formed after the break up of the 'Grand Coalition' in 1920 could command a working majority and successive Chancellors had to rely on using the Presidential power of decree under Article 48 of the constitution to bypass the Reichstag altogether. The effects on the Weimar system were clear: from 1920 to 1930 the Reichstag sat on average for 100 days a year; from October 1930 to March 1931 it was in session for 50 days; from then to July 1932 it met for only 24 days; and from July 1932 to February 1933 it met for only 3 days. Democracy seemed, therefore, to have collapsed.

In July 1932 the Nazis gained 37% of the vote and became the largest party in the Reichstag. The Nazis now had 230 out of 608 Reichstag deputies, making it the largest individual party and giving Hitler a good claim to be appointed Chancellor. In August 1932 Hitler met Hindenburg and demanded to be made Chancellor. Hindenburg refused. Hitler was offered the post of Vice Chancellor in von Papen's cabinet but he rejected the offer and the NSDAP deputies in the Reichstag remained in opposition to the government. SA violence increased and the newly elected Reichstag was dissolved when the government lost a vote of no confidence by 512 votes to 42.

Elections were held in November 1932. The Nazis suffered a set-back when their share of the vote dropped to 33.1% (though they were still the largest individual party) and it looked as if, in the words of one historian (D. Orlow) that the Nazi party was well on its way to 'the rubbish pile of history.'

The new Chancellor, von Schleicher, tried to create a broad-based coalition which would include trade unionists and left-wing Nazis. He offered Gregor Strasser the post of vice-Chancellor and it looked as if the Nazis had lost their chance. Strasser eventually turned down von Schleicher's offer and resigned from the NSDAP. Von Papen then encouraged Hindenburg to dismiss von Schleicher (28 January).

5. The role of the SA:

The ban on the SA was lifted by von Papen in July 1932. With Rohm back in control, the SA was reorganised along paramilitary lines and street fighting against the Communists, 'the red murder mob', became common in most large cities. In August 1932 a group of SA men murdered a Communists in the village of Potempa in Upper Silesia. Their trial gained a great deal of publicity and when the SA men were sentenced to death, Hitler praised their actions and turned them into Nazi martyrs.

Membership of the SA increased significantly in these years, with considerable numbers of young, male, unemployed workers joining. By 1932 the SA had 400,000 members (making it four times larger than the Reichswehr). Their intimidation of opponents, their violence and their discipline contributed both to the NSDAP's electoral success and the preparedness of the elites to support the Nazis as a strong party who would be able to restore law and order and deal with the Communist threat.

6: Hitler becomes Chancellor:

Then, on 30 January 1933, following a period of intense political intrigue, Hitler was appointed Chancellor, head of a 'national' coalition government which included only 3 Nazis. Von Papen convinced Hindenburg that this would bring political and economic stability and bring street violence to an end. Financiers and industrialists like Hjalmar Schacht, Kurt von Schroeder were clearly alarmed by the increase in votes for the KPD and although they may have disliked the Nazis, they feared the Communists even more. Significantly, too, the Army (many of whom liked the 'nationalism' of National Socialism) made it clear that it was not strong enough to maintain law and order should a civil war erupt between the Nazis and the Communists. Even Hindenburg's son, Oskar, supported von Papen's plan. Hitler, it seemed, was the only option. Hitler, therefore, came to power legally within the existing constitution. The 'legal path to revolution' had been achieved. He was now in a position to keep his promise and sweep democracy away

The danger was not immediately obvious. His Cabinet only contained two other Nazis (Goering and Frisk) and von Papen, the Vice-Chancellor, was confident that Hitler could be 'tamed'.  'He is now in our employ!' declared von Papen, triumphantly adding, 'In two months time we will have pushed Hitler so far into a corner that he'll squeak.' In the event this proved to be an illusion, Hitler, underestimated by his opponents, quickly took steps to consolidate his position and make himself undisputed leader of Germany.

Why was Hitler appointed Chancellor in January 1933?


On 30 January 1933 President Hindenburg summoned Adolf Hitler to Berlin and appointed him Chancellor. In many ways this was a surprising development. Hindenburg disliked Hitler. In August 1932 he had refused to appoint him Chancellor after the Nazis' great electoral success. Since then Nazi support had declined and the movement had been torn by divisions. Many in the elite were also wary of the radicalism and the generally vulgar nature of the Nazi Movement.

Despite this, in January 1933, members of the elite persuaded Hindenburg to appoint Hitler Chancellor. By 1932, key industrialists and landowners were very concerned about the lack of effective government. They had never been committed to parliamentary democracy and now believed their fears were confirmed. Some saw the possibility of using the Nazis' popular support to channel the political system in a more authoritarian direction. The Junkers were also upset by Bruning's and later Schleicher's reform proposals to buy up bankrupt estates to resettle poor farmers. This was seen by landowners as 'agrarian bolshevism', and contributed to the intrigue that persuaded Hindenburg to dismiss both Bruning and Schleicher.

Members of the elite used a number of tactics in what has been called their 'taming strategy' for the Nazi Party.

  1. The first tactic was to make Hitler Vice-Chancellor under Papen; this was put forward in August 1932, but Hitler rejected it, demanding to be Chancellor. Hitler's rejection was risky, since he did not get the chancellorship, and it was seen as a defeat by many Nazis.


  1. The second tactic was used in December 1932. Schleicher, hoping to split the Nazis, proposed the idea of himself as Chancellor, with the Nazi Gregor Strasser as Vice-Chancellor. This failed, and Strasser left the Nazi Party.


  1. The final tactic (arranged by a Cologne banker, Kurt von Schroeder, members of the Reich Agrarian League, industrialists and Oskar von Hindenburg) was to put Hitler in office as Chancellor, but surrounded by Papen as Vice-Chancellor and other conservatives. The Nazis' current difficulties would make them easier to control. Hindenburg agreed, against his own judgement. Papen commented to a friend. 'We've hired him', but he was fatally wrong.

(from John Hite & Chris Hinton, Weimar and Nazi Germany, p. 142)

Who were the elites in Weimar Germany?


-       The Junkers, a rich landowning class; descended from the old Prussian nobility; controlled over one-sixth of Germany's total arable area; conservative and nationalist in outlook.

-       Industrialists and capitalists like the Krupp, Wolf, Kirdorf and Mercedes-Benz families who controlled Germany's major industries.

-       The 'old bureaucracy'; holders of high administrative posts in the civil service and judiciary.

-       High ranking Army officers (20% of all commissions in the Reichswehr were held by the aristocracy).

-       Academic professionals and big businessmen.

-       All these groups believed in strong government, nationalism, conservatism and tradition.

-       They disliked democratic, popular government.

-       Hitler could not have come to power without their support.

-       Many of them, like von Papen, believed that Hitler could be 'tamed' and that Hitler's popularity could be used by the establishment to create a workable government.

-       Hitler did not seize power, it was handed to him.

-       Hitler's success therefore depended, in part, on sordid political intrigue.

-       'I have the confidence of Hindenburg. In two months we will have pushed Hitler into a corner so that he squeaks.' (von Papen)

-       'You have handed over our holy German fatherland to one of the greatest demagogues of all times. I prophesy to you solemnly that this accursed man will cast our Reich into the abyss and will bring untold misery to our nation.' (Ludendorff)

Was Weimar Democracy undermined by the Depression?


-      Germany's economy was already suffering difficulties before 1929 and was heavily dependent on American loans.

-     From October 1929, Germany was badly hit by the effects of the Wall Street Crash.

-     Between 1929 and 1932 production nearly halved and unemployment rose to over 6 million.

-     Governments were terrified of sparking off inflation if they spent extra money, and so took little action to counter the effects of the Depression.

-     The economic slump led to growing support for extreme parties in the 1930 and 1932 elections.

-      The slump induced a general feeling of gloom and despair.

-      The slump also reinforced hostility to the Weimar Republic and its democratic system.

-      Historians agree that the economic effects of the slump made it unlikely that Weimar democracy would survive.

How did the Depression affect the German people?

-      By the winter of 1932 about one-third of the workforce was unemployed.

-     The unemployment insurance scheme could not cope and many workers were forced to rely on local authority handouts.

-     Many were forced out of their homes.

-     There was no inflation BUT the government's determination to avoid inflation did have an impact. Also, memories of the 1923 inflation contributed to public despair.

-      The slump led to a fall in demand and a cut in prices - many workers were laid off, others were on short hours

-      There was a banking crisis in 1931. This hit the middle-class. The government was unable to devalue the mark and found it increasingly difficult to borrow money.

-      Farmers were badly hit as food prices fell.

-      The worst of the crisis was over by the end of 1932 but the damage had already been done to Weimar popularity.

-       Hitler took the credit once things started to improve.

Who voted for the NSDAP?

bulletThe NSDAP's electoral breakthrough happened between 1928 and 1930.
bulletRecent research suggests that after 1928 the NSDAP did best in the predominantly Protestant and rural districts of the North German plain (Schleswig-Holstein, East Prussia etc).
bulletThe NSDAP tended to do well in the smaller towns.
bulletThe larger cities and the predominantly Roman Catholic rural areas in the west and south (e.g. Bavaria) were more resistant to the Nazi message.
bulletNevertheless the Nazis did have some support from manual workers in the cities and from Roman Catholics.
bulletIndividuals and social groups voted for the NSDAP for different reasons.
bulletThe NSDAP 's working-class support came from rural workers and labourers, and workers in small industries who did not belong to trade unions and who hated communism.
bulletThe Nazi Party had little support from members of trade unions or industrial workers in the big cities, most of whom remained loyal to either the SPD or KPD.
bulletMuch support came from the 'old middle class' (small retailers, self-employed artisans, farmers, people on fixed incomes) and from the 'new middle class' (white-collar workers, professionals like teachers, doctors, civil servants, engineers). These two groups make up the 'Mittelstand'.
bulletThey believed that the Weimar Republic posed a threat to their status. They believed that the NSDAP would restore the old status quo. For this group, then, the NSDAP was a 'reactionary' movement.
bulletSome voters saw the NSDAP as a 'revolutionary' movement which aimed to impose a new social order.
bulletThe economic crisis following the Wall Street Crash increased class tension. The NSDAP cleverly exploited this. Party propaganda appealed to the emotions and highlighted grievances. It was reinforced by terror and violence.
bulletNazi organisation was of paramount importance. The Nazi message 'reached parts of Germany other parties did not reach' (Geary)
bulletThe NSDAP also seems to have captured the votes of young people voting for the first time. The Nazis seem to have appealed to the young because they had a more dynamic, colourful style of politics than the other parties. (4 million Germans who voted during the Nazi breakthrough, 1928-30 were 'new' voters).
bulletThe NSDAP gained votes from a much broader cross-section of the German electorate than any other party. It was a 'catch-all' party. This was to prove decisive.
bulletHitler and the Nazis certainly attracted many 'protest voters' those who felt threatened by the economic depression or who feared communism. They also attracted the votes of many 'floating voters', who felt involved in the Nazi Movement and were 'converted' by Hitler's passionate speeches. For many Germans therefore, Hitler was a 'German messiah'.

What was the appeal of the Nazis?

Hitler was one of the greatest speakers of the twentieth century and displayed great skill when manipulating an audience. He had supreme control over audiences, appealing to their emotions with his speeches on purity of blood and racial superiority. A study of Nazi propaganda posters suggests that the appeal of the NSDAP rested on the following factors:

Cult of the leader:

This was promoted in Hitler's dress, the content of his speeches and the visual impact of mass rallies and parades. Slogans like 'Germany awake' were especially effective. Leaders were surrounded by SA bodyguards, who presented the image of a disciplined military formation. Such devices appealed to the young.


This was stirred by the 'stab in the back' tradition and an anti-Communist platform which attracted the support of nationalist, patriotic elements.

Appeal to the youth of Germany:

This was based on the promise of action, comradeship and a sense of idealism and commitment to a cause. Young people believed they were taking part in the rebirth of Germany in a more direct way than those who supported other parties. Propaganda messages were simple, depending on action rather than thought. A recurring message was to 'suffer pain'.

The concept of struggle:

Many Germans shared Hitler's personal philosophy of 'struggle' and the will of the individual. A cult of violence spread, fostered by fears of a 'red' revolution from the KPD or SPD.


Jews were presented as an inferior race and the source of all the evil in society. Hitler claimed that the Jews undermined the nation. In reality, Jews accounted for a small percentage of Germany's population. They were, however, prominent in cultural life and the professions. Many Jews were also involved in trade and commerce. Generally, they were perceived to be wealthy and so the less well-off were jealous of them.

How would you account for the rise of Hitler in Germany?


This question has prompted considerable historical debate. Historians don't know the answer!!

A recent BBC video,  'The Nazis - A Warning from History', suggests the following reasons:

bulletHitler's charisma - he promised revenge and national revival

bulletThe legacy of the First World War - the polarisation of German politics

bulletThe terms of the Treaty of Versailles - harsh and humiliating

bulletEconomic and social circumstances

bulletThe strategies and policies of the NSDAP


o     Emphasis on traditional values

o     Emphasis on nationalism

o     Emphasis on the 'Fuhrerprinzip'

bulletThe impact of the Wall Street Crash

bulletThe impact of Nazi propaganda and the use of modern media and communication developments

bulletBackstairs political intrigue, ambition and miscalculation

Note that some of these factors are long-term, while others are short-term. There is no simple explanation, rather a complex web of causation

There may also be other plausible reasons for the rise of Hitler, e.g. the weakness of potential opposition parties like the KPD and SPD.

Was Hitler lucky? Was he in the right place at the right time? He came to power legally but he never had a majority - was the Weimar system to blame for this?