After World War I, Hitler returned to Munich. Having no formal education and career prospects, he tried to remain in the army for as long as possible. In July 1919 he was appointed Verbindungsmann (intelligence agent) of an Aufklärungskommando (reconnaissance commando) of the Reichswehr, to influence other soldiers and to infiltrate the German Workers’ Party (DAP). While monitoring the activities of the DAP, Hitler became attracted to the founder Anton Drexler’s antisemitic, nationalist, anti-capitalist, and anti-Marxist ideas. Drexler favoured a strong active government, a non-Jewish version of socialism, and solidarity among all members of society. Impressed with Hitler’s oratory skills, Drexler invited him to join the DAP. Hitler accepted on 12 September 1919, becoming the party’s 55th member.
A copy of Adolf Hitler’s German Workers’ Party (DAP) membership card At the DAP, Hitler met Dietrich Eckart, one of the party’s founders and a member of the occult Thule Society. Eckart became Hitler’s mentor, exchanging ideas with him and introducing him to a wide range of people in Munich society. To increase its appeal, the DAP changed its name to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party – NSDAP). Hitler designed the party’s banner of a swastika in a white circle on a red background. Hitler was discharged from the army in March 1920 and began working full-time for the NSDAP. In February 1921—already highly effective at speaking to large audiences—he spoke to a crowd of over 6,000 in Munich. To publicise the meeting, two truckloads of party supporters drove around town waving swastika flags and throwing leaflets.
Hitler soon gained notoriety for his rowdy polemic speeches against the Treaty of Versailles, rival politicians, and especially against Marxists and Jews. At the time, the NSDAP was centred in Munich, a major hotbed of anti-government German nationalists determined to crush Marxism and undermine the Weimar Republic. In June 1921, while Hitler and Eckart were on a fundraising trip to Berlin, a mutiny broke out within the NSDAP in Munich. Members of the its executive committee, some of whom considered Hitler to be too overbearing, wanted to merge with the rival German Socialist Party (DSP). Hitler returned to Munich on 11 July and angrily tendered his resignation. The committee members realised his resignation would mean the end of the party. Hitler announced he would rejoin on the condition that he would replace Drexler as party chairman, and that the party headquarters would remain in Munich.
The committee agreed; he rejoined the party as member 3,680. He still faced some opposition within the NSDAP: Hermann Esser and his allies printed 3,000 copies of a pamphlet attacking Hitler as a traitor to the party.[a] In the following days, Hitler spoke to several packed houses and defended himself, to thunderous applause. His strategy proved successful: at a general membership meeting, he was granted absolute powers as party chairman, with only one nay vote cast. Hitler’s vitriolic beer hall speeches began attracting regular audiences. He became adept at using populist themes targeted at his audience, including the use of scapegoats who could be blamed for the economic hardships of his listeners. Historians have noted the hypnotic effect of his rhetoric on large audiences, and of his eyes in small groups.
Kessel writes, “Overwhelmingly … Germans speak with mystification of Hitler’s ‘hypnotic’ appeal. The word shows up again and again; Hitler is said to have mesmerized the nation, captured them in a trance from which they could not break loose.” Historian Hugh Trevor-Roper described “the fascination of those eyes, which had bewitched so many seemingly sober men.” He used his personal magnetism and an understanding of crowd psychology to his advantage while engaged in public speaking. Alfons Heck, a former member of the Hitler Youth, describes the reaction to a speech by Hitler: “We erupted into a frenzy of nationalistic pride that bordered on hysteria. For minutes on end, we shouted at the top of our lungs, with tears streaming down our faces: Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil! From that moment on, I belonged to Adolf Hitler body and soul”.
Although his oratory skills and personal traits were generally received well by large crowds and at official events, some who had met Hitler privately noted that his appearance and demeanour failed to make a lasting impression. Early followers included Rudolf Hess, former air force pilot Hermann Göring, and army captain Ernst Röhm. Röhm became head of the Nazis’ paramilitary organisation, the Sturmabteilung (SA, “Stormtroopers”), which protected meetings and frequently attacked political opponents. A critical influence on his thinking during this period was the Aufbau Vereinigung, a conspiratorial group of White Russian exiles and early National Socialists. The group, financed with funds channelled from wealthy industrialists like Henry Ford, introduced Hitler to the idea of a Jewish conspiracy, linking international finance with Bolshevism. Beer Hall Putsch
Main article: Beer Hall Putsch
Drawing of Hitler (30 October 1923)
Hitler enlisted the help of World War I General Erich Ludendorff for an attempted coup known as the “Beer Hall Putsch”. The Nazi Party used Italian Fascism as a model for their appearance and policies. Hitler wanted to emulate Benito Mussolini’s “March on Rome” (1922) by staging his own coup in Bavaria, to be followed by challenging the government in Berlin. Hitler and Ludendorff sought the support of Staatskommissar (state commissioner) Gustav von Kahr, Bavaria’s de facto ruler. However, Kahr, along with Police Chief Hans Ritter von Seisser (Seißer) and Reichswehr General Otto von Lossow, wanted to install a nationalist dictatorship without Hitler.
Hitler wanted to seize a critical moment for successful popular agitation and support. On 8 November 1923 he and the SA stormed a public meeting of 3,000 people that had been organised by Kahr in the Bürgerbräukeller, a large beer hall in Munich. Hitler interrupted Kahr’s speech and announced that the national revolution had begun, declaring the formation of a new government with Ludendorff. Retiring to a backroom, Hitler, with handgun drawn, demanded and got the support of Kahr, Seisser, and Lossow. Hitler’s forces initially succeeded in occupying the local Reichswehr and police headquarters; however, Kahr and his consorts quickly withdrew their support and neither the army nor the state police joined forces with him. The next day, Hitler and his followers marched from the beer hall to the Bavarian War Ministry to overthrow the Bavarian government, but police dispersed them.
Sixteen NSDAP members and four police officers were killed in the failed coup. Hitler fled to the home of Ernst Hanfstaengl, and by some accounts contemplated suicide. He was depressed but calm when arrested on 11 November 1923 for high treason. His trial began in February 1924 before the special People’s Court in Munich, and Alfred Rosenberg became temporary leader of the NSDAP. On 1 April Hitler was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment at Landsberg Prison. He received friendly treatment from the guards; he was allowed mail from supporters and regular visits by party comrades. The Bavarian Supreme Court issued a pardon and he was released from jail on 20 December 1924, against the state prosecutor’s objections. Including time on remand, Hitler had served just over one year in prison.
Dust jacket of Mein Kampf (1926–1927)
While at Landsberg, Hitler dictated most of the first volume of Mein Kampf (My Struggle; originally entitled Four and a Half Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice) to his deputy, Rudolf Hess. The book, dedicated to Thule Society member Dietrich Eckart, was an autobiography and an exposition of his ideology. Mein Kampf was influenced by The Passing of the Great Race by Madison Grant, which Hitler called “my Bible”. The book laid out Hitler’s plans for transforming German society into one World War II
Early diplomatic successes
Alliance with Japan
Main article: Germany–Japan relations
Hitler and the Japanese Foreign Minister, Yōsuke Matsuoka, at a meeting in Berlin in March 1941. In the background is Joachim von Ribbentrop. In February 1938, on the advice of his newly appointed Foreign Minister, the strongly pro-Japanese Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler ended the Sino-German alliance with the Republic of China to instead enter into an alliance with the more modern and powerful Japan. Hitler announced German recognition of Manchukuo, the Japanese-occupied state in Manchuria, and renounced German claims to their former colonies in the Pacific held by Japan. Hitler ordered an end to arms shipments to China and recalled all German officers working with the Chinese Army. In retaliation, Chinese General Chiang Kai-shek cancelled all Sino-German economic agreements, depriving the Germans of many Chinese raw materials.
Austria and Czechoslovakia
On 12 March 1938 Hitler declared unification of Austria with Nazi Germany in the Anschluss. Hitler then turned his attention to the ethnic German population of the Sudetenland district of Czechoslovakia. On 28–29 March 1938 Hitler held a series of secret meetings in Berlin with Konrad Henlein of the Sudeten Heimfront (Home Front), the largest of the ethnic German parties of the Sudetenland. The men agreed that Henlein would demand increased autonomy for Sudeten Germans from the Czechoslovakian government, thus providing a pretext for German military action against Czechoslovakia. In April 1938 Henlein told the foreign minister of Hungary that “whatever the Czech government might offer, he would always raise still higher demands … he wanted to sabotage an understanding by all means because this was the only method to blow up Czechoslovakia quickly”. In private, Hitler considered the Sudeten issue unimportant; his real intention was a war of conquest against Czechoslovakia.
October 1938: Hitler (standing in the Mercedes) drives through the crowd in Cheb (German: Eger), part of the German-populated Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia, which was annexed to Nazi Germany due to the Munich Agreement In April Hitler ordered the OKW to prepare for Fall Grün (“Case Green”), the code name for an invasion of Czechoslovakia. As a result of intense French and British diplomatic pressure, on 5 September Czechoslovakian President Edvard Beneš unveiled the “Fourth Plan” for constitutional reorganisation of his country, which agreed to most of Henlein’s demands for Sudeten autonomy.
Henlein’s Heimfront responded to Beneš’ offer with a series of violent clashes with the Czechoslovakian police that led to the declaration of martial law in certain Sudeten districts. Germany was dependent on imported oil; a confrontation with Britain over the Czechoslovakian dispute could curtail Germany’s oil supplies. Hitler called off Fall Grün, originally planned for 1 October 1938. On 29 September Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Édouard Daladier, and Benito Mussolini attended a one-day conference in Munich that led to the Munich Agreement, which handed over the Sudetenland districts to Germany.
Jewish shops destroyed in Magdeburg, following Kristallnacht (November 1938)
Chamberlain was satisfied with the Munich conference, calling the outcome “peace for our time”, while Hitler was angered about the missed opportunity for war in 1938; he expressed his disappointment in a speech on 9 October in Saarbrücken. In Hitler’s view, the British-brokered peace, although favourable to the ostensible German demands, was a diplomatic defeat which spurred his intent of limiting British power to pave the way for the eastern expansion of Germany. As a result of the summit, Hitler was selected Time magazine’s Man of the Year for 1938. In late 1938 and early 1939, the continuing economic crisis caused by rearmament forced Hitler to make major defence cuts.
In his “Export or die” speech of 30 January 1939, he called for an economic offensive to increase German foreign exchange holdings to pay for raw materials such as high-grade iron needed for military weapons. On 15 March 1939, in violation of the Munich accord and possibly as a result of the deepening economic crisis requiring additional assets, Hitler ordered the Wehrmacht to invade Prague, and from Prague Castle proclaimed Bohemia and Moravia a German protectorate.
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