Hitler, and his Nazi parties rise to power was one of chance and circumstance. His alternative views struck a chord with the people; he was able to channel Germany’s hatred for the Weimar Republic, Treaty of Versailles and minority groups into support for his National Socialist Party. Hitler was a powerful orator capable of winning entire audiences to his views and ideologies. Hitler was able to manipulate the truth to gain widespread popularity. He controlled power by installing fear and sustained a myth about his leadership fuelled by propaganda.
Hitler’s initial attempt at gaining power via revolution in Bavaria in 1919 was a fiasco. Resulting in his brief imprisonment, he was able to gain national prominence through the Medias attention of his Beerhall Putsch, and while imprisoned wrote “Mein Kampf” in which Hitler listed his ideological views and received some new support.
The Treaty of Versailles signed by the Germans in 1919, while leaving the Germans feeling betrayed did nothing did nothing for the popularity of the Nazi Party in the short-term as between 1918 and 1928 the Nazi’s failed to gain a seat in the Reichstag. However, the long-term repercussions of the treaty helped the Nazi’s gain appeal as by the late Twenties, Germany had suffered the worse effects of the Depression more so than any other country due to treaty’s callous terms. Specifically, it was the presence of excessive reparation demands that left the German economy venerable; and the inclusion of the ‘War Guilt Clause’. Hitler learned to exploit the nation’s resentment by asserting that he would abrogate the terms of the Treaty. Thus, although the Treaty played no direct part in Hitler’s popularity early on, it did catalyse it in the long run.
The Weimar’s ineffective government also contributed to the rise of Hitler because it created a discontented populace which he was able to exploit. “The nation was in turmoil under the leadership of the Weimar Republic, which was associated with all things wrong with post-war Germany” wrote Mason. The turmoil was the poor economic and political conditions of the nation, with hyper inflation, a weak currency, widespread unemployment and the inability to attract public allegiance were the main reasons for the Weimar’s lack of support. To capitalise this disapproval, Hitler would use his rousing orating ability to declare that he would dissolve German democracy in favour of his Fascist-style dictatorial government, through existing legal conduits. As a result of anti-Weimar sentiment, Hitler was able to manipulate the masses into supporting his totalitarian views. Thus, the discontentment regarding the Weimar Republic was vital in Hitler’s coming to power.
Undoubtedly the single most influential event to Nazi power was The Great Depression. From 1924 until 1928, Germany experience economic boom as a result of loans from the United States under the Dawes Plan. In 1929 however the Stock Market crashed heralding a world wide economic depression. The effects of the Depression were most hard felt in Germany, where unemployment reached 40 percent; the savings of the middle class disappeared, and with the collapse of five major banks went twenty thousand businesses. These turn of events mobilised the people for extremist parties, with the Nazi vote augmenting from 2% in 1928 to 38% in 1932. As A.J.P. Taylor said, “The Depression put the wind into Hitler’s sails”. The Depression allowed Hitler to reinforce support for his party while at the same time still professing the same doctrines as before the Depression.
Also Hitler’s popularity lay in his ability to gain support by all levels of society. To the lowest class, the farmers, he promised he would redistribute land, end debt and protect them from foreign competition. The working class represented a group torn between communism and the Nazi’s, to them he promised quick reform, and would later win their support through fallacies. To the Junker class, Hitler’s anti-democratic ideology and belief in autocracy appealed because it assured them their position; they also feared communism of whom Hitler opposed. The middle class, as discussed felt cheated by the Weimar, this mass discontentment Hitler exploited to gain support.
Hitler also manipulated popular German beliefs of the time such as their hatred of minority groups. Through groups such as the Gypsies, the Slavs, communists and the Jew’s, Hitler was able to argue that these people were the cause of German failure, and that they were allied against Aryan purity. Through propagandising these beliefs, he created an atmosphere of extreme hatred that was capable of uniting the people of Germany, contributing to his increasing popularity.
Hitler’s superb ability to manipulate events to his own usefulness also played a part in his consolidation of support. In 1933, following Hitler’s installation as the Chancellor of Germany, a general election was called by President Hindenburg. Fortunately for the Nazi’s, as at the time their support was waning due to improved economic conditions and increasing support for the Communists; a Dutch communist burnt down the Reichstag building. While this individual had no connection with the German communist Party, Hitler manipulated the public into no longer trusting them and naming them responsible for the fire. As a result, the Nazi’s stopped the tide of their support and instead destroyed the support for the Communist Party; the Nazi’s only real competitor.
To gain total control of Germany, Hitler proposed a new law entitled ‘The Enabling Act’ to give unprecedented power to the Chancellor, such as to pass laws without the need for Government. Hitler was able to gain this by intimidating the political elite who controlled the nation, convincing them that Germany was in a state of emergency and that there was a communist threat. Therefore, this demonstrates that Hitler had the ability to manipulate the masses, as well as the conservative elite into believing fallacies in order to generate support for his Party. Furthermore once Chancellor, Hitler left the League of nations, showing his disregard for the body created out of the despised Treaty of Versailles, a move which gained increasing support from the people.
Once in power Hitler had to gain the support of the Army, of which many previous chancellors had been removed following the sentence “You no longer enjoy the confidence of the Army”. The Army and Hitler came to an agreement, in return for support of Hitler’s leadership in the event that he took president; he would remove the SA which were essentially a second armed force in the country. Hitler, despite having received huge support from the SA early on agreed, as the SA had become a liability; alienating big business, the army, and having socialist ideas. On the 30th of June 1934 Hitler used Himmler’s SS to murder Rhom, and other leaders of the SA. The killings extended to beyond the SA, totalling 400 including minority groups, and political oppositions. The people’s reaction to this was largely positive, being that these actions were aligned with Hitler’s strong and decisive leadership.
When Hindenburg died on the 2nd of August, Hitler combined the positions of chancellor and president, and named this position Fuhrer of the Reich. On the same day, keeping to the agreement, the Army took an oath of allegiance to Hitler personally. And on the 19th of August, a plebiscite demonstrated that 90% of the population approved of these actions.
Once in power, Hitler and the Nazis orchestrated a massive propaganda blitz in order to win the devotion of the German populace. To achieve this he created the concept of Volksegemeinschaft, a people’s community. It implied returning to traditional values of nationalism and pride, and a classless society of ‘pure Germans’. Jenkins argued that “Hitler’s new social order… was merely a propaganda gimmick.” Newton agrees with this stating the “People’s community held [was] held together by a deluge of propaganda and… fear”.
The Nazis coordinated their propaganda efforts through their Propaganda Ministry which controlled all forms of mass media. Propaganda extended as far as to German culture, with a Reich Chamber of Culture controlled by Propaganda Minister Goebells defining what the German people liked and disliked, personal taste became a matter of state. Hitler also recognised the importance of the youth in his support and in the future, as such he re-organised the education system to spread his theology and created youth groups which allowed him to consolidate a young Nazi following. The Hitler Youth groups specifically were created for the sole purpose of indoctrinating the coming generations to continue Nazi support.
Nazi propaganda also extended to the creation of the “Fuhrer myth”. According to this myth Hitler representation nationalism and worked tirelessly for his people. He was above party politics or selfish motives and had brought prosperity and works to his people. He was portrayed as a defender of German rights and rebuilder of nation pride. He was as McCallum stated “A man of people; resolution, ruthless and radical”.
In order for Hitler to maintain his control over society, Hitler created a German secret police known as the Gestapo. The members of it were non-uniformed police, and use ruthless and cruel methods to identify and arrest political opponents and others who refused to obey laws and policies of the Nazi regime. Through the Gestapo, Hitler was able to instil fear in the German people, control the masses, and eliminate any chance of subversion which could oppose the Nazi Party. Historian R. Ringer stated “Hitler’s use of terror in the first years was masterly. He applied just the right measure of intimidation without driving the people to desperate opposition”.
Hitler was a strong and convincing leader. He appealed to the masses as they saw him as a bringer of salvation, a solution to the Weimar. His rise and subsequent control of power was assisted by circumstance and his manipulation of those events. He controlled power by keeping the population suppressed while encourage loyalty, he ruled with an iron first while giving the public strength and security. Hitler’s rise to power was one of chance and circumstance, which would ultimately act as a prelude to World War II.