German Fascism: The NAZIs

Hitler youthful SA NAZI admirers
Figure 1.--Hitler had a special appeal to young people and devoted some energy to cultivating that appeal. Here he meets with youthful members of the SA at the Braune Haus -- the SA's headquarters in Munich.

The Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Worker's Party--NAZIs) became the most powerful of all Fascist parties. It was not founded by Hitler, but became dominated by him at an early point. He fashioned it an instrument for a personal totalitarian dictatorship. Mussolini and his Fascists seized power in Italy a decade before the NAZIs seized power and stronly influenced Hitler. Mussolini was a Fascist dictator, but not in possession of absolute power and Italy was a far weaker industrial country. After the NAZIs seized power they soon elclipsed Mussolini's Fascists. Hitler through the NAZIs managed to achieve absolute power of the most powerful industrial state in Europe. There were NAZIs with a range of ideas, but Hitler seized control of the Party and imposed his vision on it. He then used the Party to impose thast same vision on Germany. As the world was to learn it was a terrible vision of untold horror.

Intelectual Origins

The NAZIs of course did not come out of nowhere. They were the culmination of a range of diserate thought arising in the 19th century, including ideas that had been percolating in Germany for centuries. Anti-Semitism was just one of those ideas. The NAZIs are simply the most notable example of the Fascist movement of the early 20th century. Mussolini was the first Fascist leader, but neither he or Hitler invented Fascism. Fascist thought developed in the 19th century throughout Europe and it was not particularly strong in either Germany or Italy or for mater the Asian variant in Japan. We see Fascist ideas in writers from many European countries, including Austria, France, Gerjmany, and Italy. It must be recalled that at the time that most of Europe was dominsted by multi-natiinal empires (Austri-Hungary, Germany, the Ottomans, and Russia). Some of the most important early Fascist political authors were Theodor Fritsch, Paul Anton de Lagarde, Julius Langbehn, Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels, Joseph de Maistre, Charles Maurras, and Georges Sorel. The 19th century saw the rise of science and some authors attempted to use the authority of science to support their philosophy, Karl Marx dud the same. Fascist authors included Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Giovanni Gentile, Gustave Le Bon, Friedrich Nietzsche, Vilfredo Pareto, Karl Vogt, and Ernst Haeckel. There were also a range of historians and social thinkers. Some Fascists as well as many progressives were also influenced by eugenics. Eugenics and Social Farwinism became a central tennant of NAZI thought. Each national Fascist movement had its own peculiar excetricities. The NAZIs were influenced by German historical ideas such as the German tribes resustabce to the Ronman Empire and the medieval Teutonic Drang nach Osten.

World War I (1914-18)

Germany's defeat in World War I staggered the Germany people. They had such faith in the Army which had played a key role in achieving national unification. At the beginning of 1918 victory looked assured. The Russians were knoick\ked out of tge War and forced to sign the Breast-Litovsk Treaty which made Germany dominant in the East and allowed for the creation of a German protectorate in the vast Ukraine (March 1918). It also enabled the Germans Army to focus on the Western Front. Ludendorff's massive offensive nearly achieeved victory (July). Yet only months later the German Army was decisely defeated and forced to sign an Armistace (November). After 4 years of terrible sacrifice, the German people were horrified and bewildered at the outcome. Thus World War I set the stage for much of the rest of the 20th century. It shatered the existing order in Europe. After the War the question became what would replace it.

German Political Ferment

Germany was devestated by its defeat in World War I. Agricultural production was impaired and there was wide-spread food shortages, even starvation. The monarchy which had been at the center of German political life was abolished. The War had also humiliated the Germany Army, perhaps the most respected national institution. Democratic politicans formed a governent, but had forced to accept the Versailles Peace Treaty that was very unpopular with the German people (1919). The most important party was the Social Democrats (SDP), but they were far short of a majority in the Reichstag. Radicals on the right and left fought in the street. Middle class Germans were terrified that the Communists might succeed in seizing power as in Russia. The Catholic Party was also Important as was the Natuionsalist Party. There were also a number of small xhnephobic right-wing parties with varying platforms except for a mutual opposition to the Versailles Treaty and democratic government.

Foundation and Seizure of Power (1919-33)

The National Socialist German Worker's Party (NAZIs) became the most powerful of all Fascist parties. It was not founded by Hitler, but became dominated by him at an early point. He fashioned it an instrument for a personal totalitarian dictatorship. Mussolini and his Fascists seized power in Italy a decade before the NAZIs seized power and stronly influenced Hitler. After the NAZIs seized power they soon elclipsed Mussolini's Fascists. One of the central questions of the 20th century is how an esentially criminal gang took over the government of a great nation. There are of course many factors involved. Perhaps the central one is the power of natioanalism, a still powerful force today, although waning in much of Europe. Here was Hitler's great skill as a politican. The vast majority of the German people did not endorse the plan he spelling out in Mein Kampf with almost startling frankness. Most Germans did, however, believe and some with great fervor that Germany was an agreved nation that was being trampeled by its enemies. And most wanted the territorial and populatioin losses of the Versailles Treaty reversed as well as other restrictions of the Treaty. Hitler by concentrating on these popular issues was able to attract adherents and voters that never would have endorsed his real program. His success was made possible because the Weimar Republic allienated the right and military because of Versailles and the middle-class because of the disastrous inflation. The Depression was a claminity because it alienated many working-class people from democracy and the Weimar Republic. The central factor, however, has to be Hitler's skillful political manipulation of and handling of the issues, especially nationalist fervor.

Support

We know a great deal about who supported the NAZI Party. Of course after the War, no one wanted to admit supporting the NAZIs. But even before the NAZIs seized power, they had become Germany's largest political pasrty with millions of fervent supportetrs. They never got a majority of vites, bjut they were the lkargest single party. Weimar Germany was functioning democracy with competitive free elections contested by a wide rang of political parties. And we know where those parties found support. After the failure of the Beer Hall Putch, Hitler concluded that the only way to seize power was to compete in the electoral process. Before Depression, support for the NAZI Party was minimal and limited to the country's right-wing fringe. Wall Street crashed (September 1929). Almost immnediatedly the econnomic down turn affected Germany as American companies began canceling import orders. And the politucal impact can be seen in the elections held in (1929-32). These were free elections and the results reported in great detail. Thus agood deal of statistical data is available to researchers. Tthe breakdown of the votes thus tells us just where the NAZIs drew their support. With Hitlker's seizure if power (1933) there were still afew elections, actually referenhdum, but the mixture of NAZI control of the mnedia and the expanding police state make these elections results less useful in examining NAZI voter appeal. Especially notable is the NAZI appeal to rural and small town as well as Protestant voters.

Party Name

The party name is interesting. The party's name was "Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei". The German acronym was the NSDAP. For HBC we tend to use NAZI, the more common English-lasnguage acronym. The Party name was chosen to try to attract workers (Arbeiter) and trying to promise socialistic welfare, similar to what communists tried to promise. Under this view (intially) the Nazis were a left-wing party. And while Hitler changed the focus of the Party , their remained a strong left-wing element that wanted to attack capilastlists and redistribute wealth. The left element of the Party was led by Gregor Strasser and his brother. This orientation was strongly represented in the SA which Hitler found useful, but difficult to control. In one celebrated incident before seizing power, Hitler had to ask the Berlin police to evict the SA from the Party headquaters in Berlin that they had seized. This class warfare was not Hitler's vision. Hitler had a racial, not a class vission. He wanted a united German Volk that he could use to pursue the goals of NAZI Germany. And Hitler who proved to be a master politican, managed to convince German industrialists to finance his party as a bulwark against the Communists and Revolution in Germany. The National part of the NAZI name appealed to the highly pastriotic German middle-class and small town Germans who were also concerned with Communist revolution and the threat to traditionasl values they saw in Berlin snd other big cities.

Idelology

NAZI Party idelogy is not easy to describe. This is in part because what Hitler wanted and what the NAZI faithful wanted was not identical, although therec were many shated interesys. Hitler's ability to bridge or mask these differences are a tribute to his masterful political skills. Thus Hitler adjusted his speeches and writing to the political conditions. The Party he seized control over and the belieffs of the SA faitful was strongly nationalists, but consisted of many working-class members who wanted deep-seated social revoloution. Hitler was sympathetic to this, but saw what Roehm and others did not see, that Germany's industrial establishment and military would never allow such a revolution which seem to close to what the Communists wanted. Thus Hitler carefully crafted his speeches and writing to what was necessary to achieve power. Hitler wanted to create a New Germany, but he also wanted to obtain the loyalty of the indiustrialists and military who he needed for his primary goal--to create a New Europe which Germany dominated and which could only be achieved by war. The New Europe would given Germany the Lebensraum it needed and allow Germany to reshape the ethnic make up of Europe. Here the primary goal was the destruction of the Jews and the enslavement of the Slavs. Hitler was rematkably honest about this in Mein Kampf, although he down played the obvious fact that his goals could only be achieved by war.

Individuals

Here we will discuss the individuals who played a role in the NAZI Party or NAZI era. We will also discuss individuals who assisted the NAZIs as well as those who opposed them. Here we are interested in their childhood ahd families as well as their careers associated with the NAZI Party and associated organs. Some are all two familar whiles others re relatively unknown to history. Early in the history of the Party there were differnt ideas brandied about. Gradually as Hitler achieved control, it was his odeas that dominated. Even after he gained cintrol of the state, some were not happy with his leadership. A thorough purging of the dojbters was needed--the Might of the Long Knives. Even so, Hitler's purge was nothing like those conducted by Stalin at about the same time. This list includes Party officials, including thos appointed to Government posts. Military figures are included in the World War II biographies. Of course qwuite a few overlap the two listsas some military commanders were ardent NAZIs while others eventually tried o overhrow the regime.

Governing Years (1933-39)

The rise of the NAZIs is a frightening enough event, but perhaps even more frightening is how Hitler and the NAZIs so easily bent the German nation to their evil purposes. Every country has evil people, but how could a small group of evil thugs so easily cow a great nation into participating or at least acquiese in what were some of the most evil actions of the 20th century. Again the principal reason appears to be the considerable political skills of Adolf Hitler and his ability to give the Gerams what many wanted (jobs, order, and prestige) while laying the foundation for what he wanted (war, conquest, anf genocide).

World War II Years (1939-45)

One of the unanswered questions of World War II is how Hitler who showed such consumate political skills in his rise to power and then making huge gains as a result of first apeasement and then war become such an inept ruller. The turning point seems to have been the fall of France. It was at that point that Hitler ceased being a fabulously successful politican and became one of the most disastrous military commander in European history. Hitler in an increadibly short period turned a commanding military position in Europe against a beleagered Britain into defat on all fronts against a massive Allied coalition. We know of no other leader in history who demonsated such skill and ability, however, evil, during one point of his careeer and such stupidity and ineptitude during the second phase.

Organization

The NAZI Party was organized on a hierarchial basis. At the top of the Party structure was German Führer Adolf Hitler. This was both a party and government post Hitler assumed in the death of President Hindenburg (1934). Hitler thus combined the Party leadership and Chancelor positions he already held with that of the presidency. His title at that time became Führer. Hitler's successor designate was first, Hermann Goering (until the last weeks of the Reich), and second, Rudolf Hess (until his flight to Scotland in 1941). The leadership corps of the Party began with Hitler as was divided into six levels below him: 2. Reichsleiter (ministers) 3. Gauleiter (3 through 7 known collectively as Hoheitstraiger) | 4. Kreisleiter 5. Ortsgruppenleiter 6. Zellenleiter 7. Blockleiter. The Party was also organized into several leadership groups and associated federations. These varied somewhat ober time, both in numbers and responsibilities.

Propaganda

The NAZIs were noted for their propaganda. Hitler conceived about making propaganda in Mein Kampf. He wrote, "The masses find it difficult to understand politics, their intelligence is small. Therefore all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points. The masses will only remember only the simplest ideas repeated a thousand times over. If I approach the masses with reasoned arguments, they will not understand me. In the mass meeting, their reasoning power is paralyzed. What I say is like an order given under hypnosis." [Hitler] This was complicated while there was a free press. Once the NAZIs had control of the coercive force of the state, this changed. And Hitler chose Dr. Josef Goebbels to mastermind the ppropaganda effort. It was not the appointment that Goebbels wanted. It proved to be a masterful appointment. Goebbels mastermined the NAZI propaganda program. He quickly gained control over the print media and broadcast media. Journalists rapidly fell in line. Those who did not were fired or arrested. He had a special interest in the film ijndudsry. And Germany had one of the most important film industries in Europe. The careful staging and extensive photographic images made an indelible impression. Perhaps the greatesy propaganda film of all time was "Triumph of the Will". That NAZI propagand was carefully staged and orcestrated is undeniable. Less commonly asked is how effective it was. Here there are two components that must be assessed--domestically and internatonally. It does seem to have been effective domestically, albeit only when combined with the NAZI police state and total domination of the media. NAZI propaganda helped bend Germany to Hitler's will. The German devotion to Hitler continued even after the War was irevocably lost. Most German casualties occurred after there was no longer any chance of victory. Htler's morbid spell on Germany was not broken until he committed suiside in Berlin (April 1945). Internationally, the impact of German propaganda is more difficult to assess. It does not seem to have won over any significant converts. Only Slovakia and Croatia enthusiastically joined the NAZIs, but this seems more related to domestic politics than NAZI poropaganda. Most countries were repulsed by NAZI propaganda. NAZI propganda and the threat of war seem to have been a factor in the British and French abandoing the Czechs at Munich (1938). And fear of the Germans was an element in American isolationism. Even so, NAZI propaganda so repulsed the public in the democraxies that there was virtually no opposition to war when it came.

NAZI Crimes and Attrocities

NAZI crimality is often described as war crimes. The killing was not limited the the war, but vthe great bulk of the killing did take place during, but not necesaeily as part of military operations. There were actual war crimes, but the most horrendous crimes were killing civilians that were not a threat and had nothing to do with the war. German military successes early in the War put the NAZIs in a position to carry out these crimes and the killing was conducted during the War. And not all of the killing was done by NAZI organizations. The Wehrmacht was involved as well doctors iand nurses in civilian hospitals and healt facilities. The ultimate authority for these actions, however was the NAZI government instaled by Reich Führer Adolf Hitler. The most serious war crimes was the mistreatment and muder of POWS. Here there was a destinction between POWs in the East and West. Not only did huge numbers of Russian and Polish POWs perish, but large numbers of prisoners were executed as a result of the Commisar and Commando Orders. Both prisoners and and civilians were killed as a result of the Reprisal order. The NAZI engineered Holocaust of the Jews is the best documented example of mass murder in history. This is because the NAZIs lost World War II and the copious records they took along with the testimony of individuals conducting the Holocust and their surviving victims have left us with a chilling historical record. The NAZI Holocaust succeeded in killing about 6 million Jews. This was not the largest instance of mass murder in history, but is perhaps the most horific because of the way the SS industrialized the killing process. Another 6 million non-Jews perished, mosrtly Eastern Europeans. Many perished as a result of the NAZI slave and forced labor prograjmns to support yhe war effort. Less well understood is the fact that if the NAZIs had succedded in would have been only the first chapter in a terrifying rengineering of the Human race. High on the NAZI list of untermench were the Slavs of Eastern Rurope. The NAZIs killed many more people than Jews in their preliminary efforts to build a new German empire in the Occupied East. There was also the Lebensborn program aimed at children. In all the NAZIs probably killed more than 20 million people. The NAZI penchant for killing was such that they killed millions of people who could have assisted in their war effort. And as a result, before the Allies destroyed German industry in the strategic bombing campaign, there was a severe labor shortage in the Reich. The subject of NAZI war crimes does not address the crimes committed in Germany agaist Germans. Here again, children were one of the main targets. The domestic programs were outgrowths of the German eugenics movement and included the Hereditary Health Courts and sterilization progrm. Here the most horrendous undertaking ws the T-4 Program.

Aberation

Germans tend to see Hitler and the NAZIs as an aberation in the great arc of German history. This may be the case, but it also seems to us to be an all to easy simplification of one of the most crucial events of the 20th century.

NAZIs and Communists

The NAZIs are often considred to be a conservative force. They are often referred to as a right wing group in contrast to the Socialists and Communists on the left. This topics has come up on a number of HBC pages. Some readers write that they see the NAZIs as a socialist more akin to the Communists than conservative parties. They note the name of the party and support from working-class Grmans. We do not agree that the NAZIs were a left wing party. There are many fundamental differences between NAZI and Communist ideology. We would agree, however, that the NAZIS were not a conservative party, but a party preparing a massive revolution in Germany. Even so we see a fundamental similarity shared by the NAZIs and Communists which is totalitarianism. And ghere the centralshared tenant is the subordination of the individual to the state and the elimination of basic civil liberties.

Reader Comments

A German reader writes, "For an elder person who grew up in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, it is a dangerous and horrible vision that much of the ideas of Hitler, the Nazis, the Bolchviks, Nationalists, and other extremists are still present in the world, control over the youth, Religion, terrorism, militarism, etc. are alive in our modern world."

Sources

Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf (1925).







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Created: October 3, 2003
Last updated: 11:04 AM 6/8/2014