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Hitler’s meteoric rise from leader of a weak and small party in the 1920s, to absolute ruler of Germany from 1933–1945 is one of the amazing rise to power stories in world history. Many political factors contributed to his rise to power – some external and some internal factors. Along with these factors, Hitler’s personal appeal combined to make him a dictator was both feared and respected as the ‘Fuehrer’. An analysis of various factors that contributed to Hitler’s rise to power shows that his personal appeal was indeed instrumental in his success but it was not the only factor.
Several political, social and economic factors combined to contribute to Hitler’s rise. His rise to power is best studied in phases: Hitler’s formative years, years of struggle and will to power (HEPRG, 2007).
Formative years 1889-1918: In his early childhood, Hitler led a lonely and isolated life. It was during this period that Hitler developed some personality traits that later on proved to be vital to his rise to power.
These traits were inability to establish normal interpersonal relationships, hatred towards the established bourgeois and the Jews; a tendency for showing hysterical and passionate outbursts; and finally indulgence in fantasizing.
He served in World War I and was awarded the Iron Cross in December 1914 and August 1918 (Meier, 2007). So began his love for war. His military experiences nurtured his beliefs in authoritarianism, inequity, and the heroism associated with war. This love for war and heroism also were a vital part that contributed towards his rise to power later on.
Years of Struggle 1919-1924 : Hitler joined the German Worker’s Party in Munich in September 1919 and took active interest in politics at the cost of his military career. This party was renamed National Socialistiche Deutsche Arbeiterpartei and referred to as Nazi. This was a period in history when there was widespread resentment toward the victorious powers of WWI. Hitler lived the 1920s at Bavaria in an environment of traditional enmity of the republican government in Berlin (Meier, 2007).
Using his talents in oratory, Hitler spoke to scores of mass audiences, calling for the German people to resist the yoke of Jews and Communists, and to create a new empire which would rule the world for 1,000 years. Thus the Nazi party membership grew as more ex-military personnel, protestors of the republic and members of the Freikorps joined the Nazi party. Hitler took advantage of this growth opportunity and soon in July 1921 he became president of the party with unlimited power (Meier, 2007). Hitler worked through heavy propaganda through the party newspaper, the Volkischer Brobachter.
This was where his personal charisma helped him. He ensured he had a growing mass of followers by projecting his personal magnetism and leadership qualities. He tried to exploit the lawlessness and opposition to the Weimar Republic by calling for a national revolution against the government in November 1923. However, he was defeated and put in prison. Hitler used this publicity and time in prison to write his book Mein Kempf. Through this book he propagated his political ideas on the superiority of the German class.
Rise to Power 1924:
When he came back from prison, Hitler had to reconstruct the Nazi party. The Weimar Republic was now economically more stronger and respectable. Hitler was not allowed to give public speeches until late 1927. Silently he nurtured the growth of his party and consolidated his position within the party. The economic depression that followed the cold war in 1929 gave rise to a period of economic and political instability (Vean, 2006). Hitler allied with Nationalist Alfred Hugenberg in a campaign and thereby secured access to huge audiences and to the newspapers under the control of Hugenberg. It was through this platform that Hitler received huge political funds for the Nazi party.
His party did not receive many votes in November 1932 (Vean, 2006). Yet, he continued to aim for the Chancellorship. One can see that more than personal charisma, it was the hard work and shrewd intelligence to exploit favorable situations that contributed to his rise to power (Southgate, 2007). In January 1933, Hindenburg offered him the Chancellorship and he accepted it readily. Once in power, Hitler proceeded to establish an absolute dictatorship.
He called for new elections and the Reichstag fire, on February 27, 1933 gave Hitler an excuse for a law that would curb the freedom of the Reichstag. Under these chaotic conditions, the Nazis polled 43.9% of the votes. Hitler was soon given full powers by the combined votes of Nazi, Nationalist, and Centre party deputies. Through this account we find that the economic depression of 1929, the weakness of the Weichmar Republic, the trust Hindenburg placed in Hitler, and the manipulativeness of Hitler contributed to the rise to power of Hitler.
Hitler adopted the policy of trying to win over support of opposition and in case of failure executing them. He thus won the support of the army and when Hindenburg died on August 2, Hitler merged the Chancellorship and Presidency and thus became the supreme commander of the Reich’s armed forces (Meier, 2007). It must be mentioned in this context that the German Minister of Propaganda, Dr Josef Goebbels ensured that Hitler was presented strongly to the public as the Fuhrer – a powerful leader who epitomized all German virtues. He took special care of Hitler’s appearances and speeches. Goebbels can be seen as the man behind the design of personal appeal Hitler. However, the regime was accepted by the public mainly because of economic recovery and reduction in unemployment (Styles of Leadership, 2007).
Hitler ensured that no person would grow within the Nazi party to challenge his own absolute power. Hitler sought to reunited the German people and expand the German empire. To avoid any suspicion, he posed as the champion of the causes of Europe by taking a stand against Bolshevism. He also declared that he was against the inequalities of Versailles. Hitler even signed a treaty of non-aggression in 1934. When his own party members under his orders, murdered Chancellor Dollfuss of Austria and attempted a coup d’etat in July 1934, to absolve himself from any kind of suspicion, he executed all those who had acted with his permission.
In January 1934 Hitler renounced any claims on France. In June 1935, he negotiated a naval treaty with Britain. His master stroke was in March 1936, when he used the excuse of a pact between France and the Soviet Union to remilitarize the Rhineland. In October 1936 Hitler established the Rome-Berlin axis and soon after he signed the Anti-Cominterm Pact with Japan. He dismissed or executed anyone who did not accept Nazi dynamism in a wholehearted manner (EB, 2007).
In November 1937, Hitler revealed his plans of German expansion to a secret meeting of his military leaders. In February 1938, Hitler invited the Austrian chancellor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, to Bertesgarden and forced him to sign an agreement giving the Austrian Nazis a virtual free hand (EB, 2007). When Schuschnigg attempted protest against this forced action of Germany, Hitler immediately ordered the occupation of Austria by German troops (EB, 2007). Hitler was enthusiastically received by the Austrians and hence he annexed Austria.
He met with no resistance mainly due to his careful preparation of the surrounding nations and the public. Hitler ordered Konrad Henlein, leader of the German minority in Czechoslovakia, to agitate for impossible demands for the Sudetenland. In the conflict that followed, Hitler tried to call for a war with Czechoslovakia. Britain, France and Mussolini of Italy used their influence in preventing the war and asked the Czechoslovakian government to cede the Sudentenland areas to Germany peacefully.
By provoking Slovak discontent, Hitler in March 16, 1939, dissolved the state of Czechoslovakia (Schools History, 2006). He forced the Lithuanian government to cede Memel, on the northern frontier of East Prussia, to Germany. Hitler strengthened the alliance with Italy through the Pact of Steel – May 1939 and even signed a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union. Signed on August 23, this allowed Hitler to attack Poland on September 1, 1939 (Schools History, 2006). The Polish invasion was quickly followed by a British and French declaration of war.
This account of events shows that it was Hitler’s astute strategic sense that allowed him to rise to the extent of being a dominating power in Europe. Nothing was worked on personal appeal. He manipulated things with shrewd foresight and cold calculations. Hitler occupied Denmark and Norway in April 1940. He then struck against France, by invading through the Ardennes. However, Hitler helped the British to escape from Dunkirk. The campaign as a whole was a brilliant success and Hitler could claim the major credit for its overall planning.
He was the most successful leader in history up to 1941. When the attack against the USSR was launched on June 22, 1941 (Vean, 2006), Hitler began facing his downfall. Hitler’s rise to power thus is due to a number of factors: the conditions of post World War I Germany, the shrewd strategic mind of Hitler and to some extent, his personal charisma. Hitler did effectively project himself as a heroic leader through his public speeches, his dress and his manner. His personal appeal also worked in getting support from conventional politicians.
As the Chancellor, Hitler projected to upgrade his image as the Fuhrer – the prophetic leader. This personal appeal worked to a certain extent in bringing huge audiences to his speeches, a large number of votes to his party and friends among the political circle. However, if there was no real suffering of the German people due to economic depression, or in the lack of Hitler’s astute strategy to exploit circumstances to his advantage, Hitler’s rise to power would not have been possible.
HEPRG (2007). The Holocaust Education Program Resource Guide. Virginia War Museum. http://www.holocaust-trc.org/wm.htm#toc
Meier, A. David (2000). Adolf Hitler’s Rise to Power.
Styles of Leadership (2007). http://www.thorogoodpublishing.co.uk/dat/smp/180smp.pdf?PHPSESSID=d8648d2467e82de40bfd74c043c1423e
Southgate, Troy (2007). Hitler the Demogogue. http://www.rosenoire.org/articles/hist27.php
Schools History (2006). How did the Hitler and the Nazi party take power? http://www.schoolshistory.org.uk/hitlergainspower.htm
Encyclopedia Britannica (2007). Adolf Hitler. http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-10116/Adolf-Hitler
Vean, Tolgus (2006). History: Peace to War 1919-1939. http://www.redruth.cornwall.sch.uk/content/departments/history/gcse/peacetowar/peacetowar1919-1939.htm
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