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Andy Wilson

History 443/543

Mid-Term

October 14, 2005

I. Major Essay

In order to understand the rise of the Nazis one needs to understand the factors

that led to their emergence. The Nazis did not appear out of the blue and dramatically

seize power in a coup; they instead stealthily and quit brutishly worked within the

existing German political system over a series of years. Yet their rise was not all due to

their own cunning, a series of economic collapses and a weak government greatly helped

them on their way. To better understand the Rise of the Nazis, one needs to look back

before the First World War, to the creation of Germany as a nation state.

With the creation of the nation of German in 1871, Bismarck pulled together the

many different principalities of Germany and created a united federation. Yet this new

German state came together not before the Industrial Revolution but at its height, creating

many stresses for the new nation. Old morals and traditions of aristocratic Germany were

quickly being replaced by new bourgeois values, habits and modes of behavior of the

rapidly growing middle class; yet at the same time the new class of industrial laborers

challenged those of the middle class by organizing in massive political groups such as the

Social Democrats. German society did not become a nation in a very stable condition.

Internal conflicts between classes, religions and even regions in Germany prior to

unification were carried on into the political system of Bismarck.


The legacy of Bismarck’s regime is the creation of very strong nationalism as well

as large amounts of racism and anti-Semitism. The Nazis would use this latent

nationalism and anti-Semitism in order to further their own goals. Hitler constantly

played upon the nationalism of the Germans by calling back to the days of Bismarck. He

would play upon the nostalgia of the German people by reminding them how strong

Germany had been under Bismarck and then promise them that under the Nazis party

Germany could be returned to its previous glory. Hitler would also play off the anti-

Semitism of many Germans by declaring that the Jews were to blame for Germany’s lose

in WWI. The legacy of Germany’s emergence as a nation would prove vital in the Nazis

parties’ seizure of power.

After the German defeat in WWI, these two factors along with economic and

social upheaval would create an atmosphere that was ripe for the emergence of the Nazis

party. During the postwar period (especially 1919-1924) Germany was plunged into an

era of political terror and instability, where extreme parties of the left and right were

vying for control. With the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm, left and centrist political

parties created the Weimar Republic. On July 31, 1919 the constitution of the Weimar

republic was written, which allowed for a radical system of proportional representation.

This led to the creation of many political parties (more than 35 by 1928). With many

political parties, the government tended to be a coalition with short-lived cabinets and

ministries left in disarray, leading to the instability of Weimar. Between 1919 and 1923

the Weimar Republic experienced nine cabinet changes. There were also a large number

of assassinations and coups by both the left and the right. The Weimar Republics lack of
political stability and its inability to deal with the economic crises’ that plagued Germany

in the inter-war years led to the eventual decline and failure of democracy.

This ineptitude and instability which made the Weimar Republic ill-equipped to

deal with the economic and political turmoil that would sweep Germany in the interwar

years also made it unable to cope with the rise of the Nazis. The Nazis could have easily

been destroyed by the much the larger and stronger parties of the Centrists, Social

Democrats and Communists but each group never took the Nazis seriously. They were

convinced that the Nazis were a fringe group that would never gain the political clout

necessary to overthrow them. Hitler and the party drew local attention but the party was

confined mainly to Munich.

This all changed in 1923-1924 with the Beer Hall Putsch and Hitler’s trial. In

November of 1923 Hitler and his followers, inspired by Mussolini’s march on Rome,

conspired to seize Bavaria and then march on Berlin. The Beer Hall Putsch as it came to

be known backfired on Hitler and resulted in his being thrown in jail. Yet Hitler turned

his trial into a political success. He was able to gain national press coverage of his views

concerning the various enemies of Germany. The failure of the Beer Hall Putsch

propelled Hitler into the national spotlight and for the first time made him a recognizable

figure throughout Germany.

The Beer Hall Putsch and the trial may have made Hitler famous in Germany but

it was truly his ideas and the Nazis parties’ ability to campaign that made Hitler so

popular. Hitler wooed the people while at the same time telling them what they wanted

to hear. Hitler provided the German people with a spectacle. Rallies consisted of SS men

marching and praising Hitler to the grandiose music of Wagner. But his popularity
among the German people mainly came from his attacking issues which were seen as

hurting or holding back Germany. Hitler’s message appealed to all Germans who were

chafing under the Weimar Republic and the Versailles Treaty. The Versailles Treaty,

which in Germany was seen as unfair and the cause the cause of many problems was

repeatedly attacked by Hitler. Many Germans felt held down by the dictates of the

Versailles Treaty and wished to repeal it and make Germany strong again. Hitler grew

popular because not only hated the treaty but wished to nullify it. The Weimar Republic

faired no better. With its instability and ineptitude in dealing with hyperinflation and the

crash of the stock market, the Weimar Republic was disliked by many Germans. Hitler

labeled the Weimar Republic a traitor because it had signed the Versailles Treaty and

pointed out how Communist groups in the government were trying to subvert the people.

Hitler also played on the German people’s fears and sense of betrayal by blaming

the Jews and Communists for Germany’s defeat in WWI. He told the German people that

the Jews and Communists had betrayed them during the war and that they were also at

fault for the economic instability of the inter-war years.

With the burning of the Reichstag on February 27, 1933, Hitler was able to

effectively destroy the Weimar Republic and eliminate any threats to the Nazis. After the

burning all other parties were eliminated because the Nazis deemed them to be

subversive and dangerous to the German people, and the Jews became second class

citizens. By the end of 1933 the Nazis had effectively seized control of Germany and the

Third Reich had begun.

But the rise of Hitler is not uniquely German nor was he unique. Certainly there

were factors that facilitated his rise to power but they did not make Hitler. Hitler was the
product of an all too common human flaw, a desire for power. Evil men have occurred

throughout human history but they did not share the same circumstances. There have

been mad men who where born with silver spoons in their mouths, such as Nero. Stalin

is the opposite end of that spectrum, coming from a poor background. Hitler, Stalin and

Nero all came from different backgrounds and had a different set of circumstances but

they were all murderous despots who desired power at any cost; and when they had it

were willing to do anything to keep it. Hitler is not the product of unique circumstances;

many other Germans went through similar experiences as his and did not become

murderous dictators. Hitler’s problem was one of humanities greatest problems, the

desire for power.

II. Lesser Essays

1. From 1933 to 1939 the Adolf Hitler pursued an aggressive but shrewd foreign policy

that was intended to return Germany to the prominence that it had enjoyed before the

First World War and create a new German empire. This foreign policy consisted of

destroying the Treaty of Versailles as well as returning ethnic Germans to Germany,

gaining Lebensraum (living space) in the East for the German Volk, economic self-

sufficiency, creating a greater German Reich to dominate Europe, and removing all

“Judeo-Bolshevik” elements in the East. Economic self-sufficiency came into effect

under Hitler’s Four-Year Plan and the removal of Eastern “Judeo-Bolshevism” was

not realized until the invasion of the Soviet Union but the other three were being

obtained prior to the outbreak of war. These policies had been stated in Hitler’s book

Mein Kampf, long before he obtained power, but they were simply ideas. It was not
until the rise of the Nazis Party that Hitler’s machinations for European dominance

became reality.

Beginning in 1933, Hitler took his first giant step forward in regards to his foreign

policy by destroying the Versailles Treaty. During the Geneva Disarmament Conference,

Hitler proposed disbanding his armed forces if the other European powers did the same.

When the other countries did not accept, as Hitler knew they would, he withdrew from

the conference and the League of Nations. In March of 1935 Hitler began rebuilding the

Luftwaffe, as a defensive action. Seeing that the other European powers did nothing, he

began rebuilding the Army one week later. The final nail in the coffin of the Versailles

Treaty was in March of 1936 when German troops reentered the Rhineland and

remilitarized it.

In 1938 Hitler moved to obtain lands that consisted of ethnic Germans as well as

increasing German lands. He began with the Anschluss of Austria, which received only

mild protest form the international community. Hitler’s next move was into the

Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. Europe appeared on the Brink of war until

Mussolini and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain brokered an agreement with

Hitler under the Munich Pact, which gave the Sudetenland to the Germans. Seeing the

weakness of the Europeans, Hitler took the rest of Czechoslovakia under the guise of

stopping ethnic tensions. This was the final piece of territory which Hitler would take

without a fight because the European powers saw Hitler’s true colors. Hitler next looked

to the only piece of pre-WWI German territory that he had not retaken, the Polish

Corridor. In 1939, Hitler signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact with Stalin, agreeing to a
partition of Poland. On September 1, 1939 Hitler attacked Poland and quickly

overwhelmed it, starting WWII.

With the ability of hind sight it is easy to see that appeasement was a failure when

dealing with Hitler’s foreign policy. Not only were they incapable of satisfying Hitler’s

desire for more land but they allowed the German armed forces to rearm and become a

true threat to Europe. Yet, for European leaders, such as Neville Chamberlain, there was

no way of knowing what Hitler’s true intentions were. They desired to avoid the horrors

of WWI and by giving Hitler what he wanted they believed that war could be evaded.

Men like Neville Chamberlain were not weak; they simply believed that Hitler could be

dealt with through peaceful means. Looking back on the era it is easy to see the errors of

the European leaders but for many of them appeasement was the most appealing option.

4. Anti-Semitism appeared in Germany and Europe far before the rise of Hitler and the

Nazis. Beginning in the Middle Ages, Christians throughout Europe blamed the Jews for

all sorts of calamities, attacking them because of their religion and accusing them of

being witches and agents of the Devil. By the time of the establishment of the

Bismarkian Reich these anti-Semitic feelings had changed from attacking Jews due to

their religion, because many Jews had converted to Christianity, to attacking them based

on race. These feelings began to be strongly felt in Germany in the late 19th century with

the formation of fringe social and political groups, under such men as Adolf Stocker, Max

Von Stonnenberg, and Ernst Henrici, who believed that the Jews were the cause of

Germany’s problems and that they should be removed. There were also a large number
of writers, artists and intellectuals at the time who espoused the idea of racial superiority

and separation of the races, such as Richard Wagner, Wilhelm Marr, or Alfred Schuler.

Anti-Semitism however was in no way unique to Germany, in fact prior to WWI

Germany housed a cultured Jewish community and lacked a violent overt or political

anti-Semitic movement. It was in nations such as France, where the Dreyfus affair led to

massive anti-Semitism, and Russia, where Tsarist forces had been murdering large

numbers of Jews since 1905, that the strongest anti-Semitic movements of Europe could

be found in the years leading up to WWI.

With the German loss in WWI and the economic woes that followed, anti-

Semitism began to gain strength in Germany. Many Germans, such as Ludendorff,

believed that the Jews had stabbed Germany in the back during the war resulting in

Germany’s defeat. They believed that the Jews led subversive institutions, agreed to the

Versailles Treaty, and set up the Weimar Republic. In fact, Jews who participated in

revolutionary movements acted not as Jews but as revolutionaries; and the leading

Germans that signed the Versailles Treaty were not Jews but Germans. The Jews also

became the scapegoat for the economic problems, hyperinflation and high

unemployment, that struck Germany in the years following WWI.

With the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazis in the 1920’s and 1930’s, anti-

Semitism became a central aspect of German politics. For many of the German anti-

Semites leading up to and after WWI, the Jews were a convenient scapegoat. They saw

Jews as a problem but they lacked an emotional motivation for action. In the Case of

Hitler, anti-Semitism involved much deeper roots. Prior to his experience in WWI

Hitler’s anti-Semitism was very similar to that of other Germans, it had an abstract
almost, theoretical quality to it. It was not until the end of WWI when Hitler’s hatred of

Jews became visceral, personal and extreme. Believing that the Jews had stabbed

Germany in the back during the war, Hitler’s malice towards the Jews became real. No

longer were the Jews just an impediment to the German people; in the eyes of Hitler they

were now an enemy who had attacked Germany. An enemy, he felt, which should be

destroyed.