Only the Great Depression put the wind into Hitler’s sails

December 1, 2009

in Essays

Do you agree that this was the most important factor in Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, or are there other reasons which are equally important, such as the treaty of Versailles, the Munich Putsch, Hitler’s personality, the Weimar constitution, the invitation to become Chancellor, the Enabling Law of 1933, and the death of Hindenburg?

Discuss your choice using the given reasons and any others, which you think are relevant, such as fear of communism, the SA, and propaganda.

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Although the Great Depression was certainly the catalyst for Hitler’s dramatic rise to power, a number of other reasons contributed, and are almost as, if not equally, important factors in Hitler’s eventual installation as Fuhrer of Germany.

In 1918 the First World War was over, with Germany surrendering unconditionally. Hitler, like most of the German Army, was furious, believing they had been “stabbed in the back” by politicians back home. The Treaty of Versailles was unpopular with everyone, as it was so unfair to Germany. She lost Alsace-Lorraine to the French, West Prussia to the Polish, all her overseas colonies and had to demilitarise the Rhineland. She had to pay reparations, and most gallingly, had to accept 100% guilt for starting the war. The Germans felt humiliated at this and wanted revenge. Hitler, who had served in the army and won an Iron Cross for bravery, also wanted revenge, and blamed the November Criminals, as he called the men who had signed the Armistice and Treaty of Versailles, Communists, and Jews, for trying to bring down the country from within.

Hitler stayed in the army at end of the war. He didn’t have much choice, before the war he had been living in a doss house in Vienna, where he began to foment his hatred of Jews. Early in 1919, he was sent to Munich to watch extremist political parties, to see if they were a danger to the government. One of them was the German Workers Party. Hitler thought they were small and poorly organised, but liked what they were saying and joined it. He quickly changed it and gained it popularity, organising meetings, putting advertising in newspapers, and giving it the swastika, a simple emblem that was eye catching, and easy to draw. He also changed the party’s name to the National Socialist German Worker’s Party, and came up with the Twenty-five point plan, a simple list of aims that ordinary people could understand. In it, Hitler laid out his plans for government, such as the cancellation of the Treaty of Versailles, the militarization of the Rhineland, and building up the armed forces. Like the Communists, the Nazis brought out their own newspaper, and created the SA, or Sturm Abteilung, meaning Storm Troopers, armed thugs that took care of the Nazi’s opposition. As a result, membership rose from 50 in 1919, to over 50,000 in 1923.

This convinced Hitler that that the people supported him enough that he could take over the Weimar government, which he saw as weak and ineffective. Teaming up with an old war hero named Ludendorf, he set out to capture Munich. It was horrible failure, and Hitler was captured and put on trial for treason. However, Hitler took the opportunity to promote himself and his party, explaining he was only trying to do what was necessary for the good of the German people. As all the newspapers were running stories on him, Hitler generated a tremendous amount of publicity. The judges too were sympathetic, and when the verdict came back guilty, only sentenced him to five years for a crime which normally carried life imprisonment. Hitler served 9 months, in comfortable surroundings, during which he was allowed as many visitors as he liked, and wrote his book, Mein Kampf, or My Struggle, which eventually became a bestseller. While he was jailed, he came to the conclusion that he would have to take down the system from within; he and his party would have to be democratically elected to the Reichstag.

The system of government in the Reichstag was what was known as Proportional Representation, where the parties get a number of seats according to the number of people that vote for them, instead of competing with other parties in constituencies. This was beneficial to Hitler, as the Nazis were a small party, and would almost certainly have never got off the ground without this very important factor.

Unfortunately for Hitler, Gustav Stresemann took over the government in 1923, and he had slowly been making Germany prosperous. Quickly dealing with hyper inflation, he was popular, and the Nazis, Communists, and other extremist parties began losing support, as Germans began to have enough food and money to live on and were uninterested in politics. But Hitler was only made more determined. When Hitler was released, he set about re-organising the party, which had been banned. He divided Germany into 24 districts, and charged a Nazi with increasing support in each of them. He started the Hitler Youth, the SS, and began holding large rallies to gain publicity. But despite Hitler’s efforts, by 1928, the Nazis had only twelve seats.

But in 1929, the Wall Street Crash happened, and the world (except Russia) was thrown into the Great Depression. America, hardest hit, recalled the loans it had made to Germany in the 1920s, and Germany was again financially crippled. 6 million Germans were unemployed, but the government said it would actually have to cut unemployment benefit, because so many had no jobs. This gave Hitler the opportunity he had been waiting for. The Great Depression definitely made a great contribution to his electoral chances, and he exploited it any way he could. He made himself out to be the only man who could save Germany. He gave the Germans people to blame for their troubles, and offered quick solutions. In dire straits, the people listened, and by July 1932, Hitler had 200 seats in the Reichstag.

Another crucial factor in this extraordinary improvement in Hitler’s fortunes was his broad appeal across the classes. It should be pointed out that the Communists profited from the Depression as well, and were the third largest party in the Reichstag, but they only appealed to the very poor, who would most benefit from a Communist government. Hitler was supported by a cross section of all of society, from the middle classes to the aristocracy. Hitler promised jobs, and bread to the unemployed, he promised to abolish the Treaty of Versailles and re-arm Germany, which appealed to the nationalists and the disaffected soldiers who had been discharged from the army. He offered something to belong to, something to be proud of, and he offered someone else to blame for Germany’s misfortunes. Hitler had something for everyone: farmers, small businessmen, bank clerks, shopkeepers, and craftsmen. He also appealed to the larger businessmen and upper middleclass, because he was seen as a better alternative to the Communists, and someone who would make Germany strong again. It was these who supported him financially, without whom he could not have funded all his campaigning. The aristocracy also supported him, financially and publicly, because they believed they could control him and make him do what they wanted.

German culture at that time had, and to a certain extent still does today, a strong basis in what was called “Ordnung”, or order. Germans believe very strongly in organisation of everything, reflected today by the stereotypical German who gets up at 5 while on holiday to reserve his lounger by the pool. The SA was popular because of the German love for smart, organised way it acted and was run. Since the First World War, the order in society had all but collapsed, but Hitler promised to return Germany to its well-structured former glory. Seeing the way the Nazi Party was run, and the way everything about Hitler was thought out to the tiniest detail, many Germans believed him.

Hitler also appealed to many people who feared the Communists, who they believed would take away their belongings and businesses, and possibly turn them into a satellite of Russia. This was good from the viewpoint of the poor and working class, but the middle class hated the idea and voted for Hitler, viewed as a strident force opposed to Communist ideals, a view which he exploited in his speeches.

A major factor in Hitler’s meteoric rise from Corporal to Fuhrer was that Hitler was also a great public speaker, and no-one since has been able to match the eloquence with which he conquered the minds and hearts of the Germans. He could whip up crowds into hysteria, virtually screaming into the microphone as he denounced Communists, Jews and anyone else who came to mind. He had a magnetic personality that drew people to him, and this gained him a lot of loyalty. His oratory was used to great effect by Goebbels in propaganda.

Goebbels was committed Nazi, and used any means he could to ensure everyone knew about the Nazis and what they stood for. After the swastika was adopted as the emblem of the Nazi party, he had flags put up everywhere. The uniforms of the SA and SS had swastikas on them. Goebbels organised mass rallies at which Hitler gave terrific speeches, he held torchlight processions, he came up with the idea of using light aircraft to get Hitler from one huge rally to another, he used newspapers, radio, records, tapes, posters, flags, buttons, flyers and film to spread the Nazis message everywhere. He used the SA to beat up the opposition and street battles were fought between the SA and the Red Fighting League of the Communists, which he then portrayed as an example of Germany’s lack of morality, saying the Communists had started it first. Most policemen were Nazis themselves and turned a blind eye to the fighting. However, without Hitler’s charisma, this would have been useless, so propaganda, and the SA, although helpful, was not a definitive reason for Hitler’s rise to power.

Despite this, in November 1932, Hitler and the Nazis were once again losing support. But other politics came into play, and one of the most important reasons for Hitler’s gain of power happened on 30 January 1933. In November 1932, Hindenburg was the president, and Franz von Papen was Chancellor, but Papen was overthrown by Schiesler, who was himself thrown out by the aging President Hindenburg. With two Chancellors gone, Hindenburg had no choice but to swear Hitler in as Chancellor. He believed that he and the now Vice-Chancellor von Papen could control Hitler, but this was false. Hitler didn’t have much real control; due to Proportional Representation only three of his ministers were Nazis, but he managed to persuade Hindenburg to hold another election, explaining he wanted a majority of Nazis so he could govern Germany democratically. Fatally, they agreed. The Nazis brought out all the usual propaganda, but a fire in the Reichstag was discovered to have been started by a Communist. This was the excuse Hitler needed to get rid of the Communists, who he had been saying were a threat to the government since he had been made Chancellor. He had Hindenburg pass the Law for the Protection of the People and State, and unleashed a wave of terror on the Communists, imprisoning 4000 of them, breaking up meetings and shutting down newspapers. As a result, the Nazis got 288 seats, and the Communists got 81. After the Nationalist party merged with the Nazis, Hitler had a majority in the Reichstag so they would pass whatever he wanted.

So Hitler put the Enabling Law in front of the Reichstag, which said Hitler could make laws without consulting the Reichstag for four years. This was a vital factor in Hitler’s ascension to dictator of Germany. It passed. Hitler had the supreme power he wanted. With the death of Hindenburg shortly after, Hitler amalgamated Chancellor and President into one job, Fuhrer.

To conclude, all the reasons outlined above were vital in Hitler’s ambition to rule Germany, interlocking like stepping stones to the emergence of the Third Reich, but considering the facts, while the Depression started Hitler’s drive to control, Hitler’s personality is the reason the Nazi party became rapidly famous. Without his charisma, and ability to reach people’s hearts, he would have died an unknown on the streets of Germany. His invitation to become Chancellor was also very important, but could not have occurred without Hitler’s magnetic personality gaining him the number of seats in the Reichstag he did.

Reminding you just in case you’ve forgotten. :)

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