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10-08-2015, 16:58

HITLER’S RISE TO POWER, 1919–1933

At the end of World War I, Hitler joined the obscure German Workers’ Party, one of a number of right-wing nationalist parties in Munich. By the summer of 1921, he had assumed total control over the party, which he renamed the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), or Nazi for short. Hitler worked assiduously to develop the party into a mass political movement with flags, party badges, uniforms, its own newspaper, and its own police force or party militia known as the SA—the Sturmabteilung, or Storm Troops. The SA added an element of force and terror to the growing Nazi movement. Hitler’s own oratorical skills were largely responsible for attracting an increasing number of followers. In November 1923, Hitler staged an armed uprising against the government in Munich, but the so-called Beer Hall Putsch was quickly crushed, and Hitler was sentenced to prison. During his brief stay in jail, he wrote Mein Kampf (My Struggle), an autobiographical account of his movement and its underlying ideology. Virulent German nationalism, anti-Semitism, and anticommunism were linked together by a social Darwinian theory of struggle that stressed the right of superior nations to Lebensraum (“living space”) through expansion and the right of superior individuals to secure authoritarian leadership over the masses. After his release from prison, Hitler worked assiduously to reorganize the Nazi Party on a regional basis and expand it to all parts of Germany, growing in size from 27,000 members in 1925 to 178,000 by the end of 1929. Especially noticeable was the youthfulness of the regional, district, and branch leaders of the Nazi organization. Many young Germans were fiercely committed to Hitler because he gave them the promise of a new life. By 1932, the Nazi Party had 800,000 members and had become the largest party in the Reichstag. No doubt, Germany’s economic difficulties were a crucial factor in the Nazi rise to power. Unemployment rose dramatically, from 4.35 million in 1931 to 6 million by the winter of 1932. The economic and psychological impact of the Great Depression made extremist parties more attractive. But Hitler claimed to stand above politics and promised to create a new Germany free of class differences and party infighting. His appeal to national pride, national honor, and traditional militarism struck chords of emotion in his listeners. Increasingly, the right-wing elites of Germany—the industrial magnates, landed aristocrats, military establishment, and higher bureaucrats—came to see Hitler as the man who had the mass support to establish a right-wing, authoritarian regime that would save Germany from a Communist takeover. Under pressure, President Paul von Hindenburg agreed to allow Hitler to become chancellor on January 30, 1933, and form a new government. Within two months, Hitler had laid the foundations for the Nazis’ complete control over Germany. On February 27, he convinced Hindenburg to issue a decree suspending all basic rights for the full duration of the emergency, thus enabling the Nazis to arrest and imprison anyone without redress. The crowning step in Hitler’s “legal” seizure of power came on March 23, when the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act by a two-thirds vote. This legislation, which empowered the government to dispense with constitutional forms for four years while it issued laws that dealt with the country’s problems, provided the legal basis for Hitler’s subsequent acts. In effect, Hitler became a dictator appointed by the parliamentary body itself. With their new source of power, the Nazis acted quickly to consolidate their control. The civil service was purged of Jews and democratic elements, concentration camps were established for opponents of the new regime, trade unions were dissolved, and all political parties except the Nazis were abolished. When Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934, the office of Reich president was abolished, and Hitler became sole ruler of Germany. Public officials and soldiers were all required to take a personal oath of loyalty to Hitler as the “Führer (leader) of the German Reich and people.”

 

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