Excerpt from Chapter 4 : Hitler and the Nazi Party

The rise of the Nazi Party

The German Workers' Party

  • In early January 1919, the German Workers' Party or Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP) was formed by Anton Drexler and a small group of like-minded nationalists.
  • It was one of 73 nationalist political parties that existed in Germany at the time.

The wet poodle

  • Hitler was recruited into the murky world of political intrigue by Captain Karl Mayr in May, 1919.
  • It was recognized that Hitler had a natural talent for debate and public speaking and he soon became an important part of the army's political education program.
  • He was also recognized as something of an expert on the Jewish question.
  • In a statement dated the 16 September 1919, Hitler said that the aim of antisemiticism must: "be the removal of the Jews altogether".
  • Hitler attended his first meeting of the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei on Friday, 12 September 1919, in Munich's Sterneckerbräu brewery.
  • He found the DAP a "boring organization" and its leaders dull and uninspiring.
  • Hitler's attention was caught by comments made by one of the speakers, Professor Baumann, who was in favour of Bavarian separation from the rest of Germany.
  • Hitler immediately launched into a passionate attack on these views causing Baumann to leave the meeting, looking like "a wet poodle".
  • Under orders from the army to join the DAP, Hitler attended the next meeting that was held in the Altes Rosenbad beer hall.

Hitler speaks

  • His first speech on behalf of the DAP was on 16 October, 1919.
  • He soon became the party's best speaker, attracting increasing numbers to its public meetings.
    Hitler left the army in March 1920, at the time of the Kapp Putsch in Berlin, and became a full time political activist.
  • The ideas he promoted were common place:
  1. Nationalization of the masses
  2. Reversing the 'betrayal' of Versailles
  3. Destruction of Germany's internal enemies, particularly the Jews
  4. The rebuilding of Germany - its material and psychological renewal
  5. Continue the external struggle and attain Germany's true status as a world power
  • He was the DAP's most successful speaker because he was able to give the audience what it wanted to hear.
  • Many later said that Hitler seemed to "speak from the heart".

Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP)

  • On 25 February 1920, a 25 point program, mainly written by Hitler and Drexler, was approved.
  • Its main points included:
  1. The union of Germans in a "Greater Germany"
  2. The revocation of the Peace Treaties of 1919
  3. The dismantling of the federal parliamentary system
  4. A ban on non-German immigration
  5. Denial of civil rights to Jews
  6. Dismantling of the federal parliamentary system
  • In March 1920, the name of the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei was changed to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP) from which the name Nazi is derived.
  • Hitler and other leading figures of the Party soon fell out over the issue of an amalgamation of the NSDAP with other political groups.
  • In a fit of rage Hitler resigned from the NSDAP on 11 July, 1921.
  • Later, as Führer, Hitler was to orchestrate many such temper tantrums.
  • On 13 July, Drexler approached Hitler, cap in hand, begging him to reconsider his position and name his terms.
  • Hitler demanded that he should have dictatorial powers as party chairman, that the headquarters be based in Munich and that the party program be adhered to.
  • Drexler and the other members agreed and Hitler rejoined the NSDAP on 26 July.
  • His leadership and dictatorial powers were confirmed at an extraordinary meeting of the party on 29 July.

A change of tactics

  • One of the first things Hitler did was to transform the NSDAP into an action based party with larger and more volatile meetings.
  • In mid-September, 1921, a meeting of the Bayernbund (Bavarian Separatist League) was wrecked by a group of Nazis when Hitler arrived at the meeting.
  • The main speaker, Otto Ballerstedt and members of the audience were brutally beaten up.
  • Ballerstedt refused to let the matter rest and pressed charges.
  • Hitler was arrested, tried and sentenced in January 1922 to three months in jail and threatened with deportation to Austria.
  • As it turned out, he spent only one month in jail.
  • Acts of violence and disruption became part of the everyday activities of the Nazis and even Hitler's meetings were not exempt.
  • As he was addressing a meeting at the Hofbräuhaus on 4 November 1921, a full-scale brawl broke out between Hitler's supporters and his socialist opponents.
  • Violent attacks by the Nazis were seen as good publicity by Hitler.

Ernst Röhm

  • The right-wing militarist, Ernst Röhm, organized Freikorps veterans to join the Nazi "Sports Section".
  • Röhm was an ideal recruit to the Nazi cause as he was not only violent but, having worked for the Bavarian War Ministry, was a source of important contacts.
  • Röhm was responsible in October 1921 for the Nazi's infamous Sturmabteilung (Storm Division or SA) which by August 1922 numbered about 800 members.
  • Röhm maintained a fair degree of independence from Hitler in his command of the SA.

The Führer, Hitler and leadership

  • From mid-1921 Hitler was often referred to as "unser führer" or "our leader", a title which held no special significance at this time.
  • In a speech on 20 April 1923, commemorating Hitler's 34th birthday, Hermann Göring described him as: "the beloved leader of the German freedom movement".
  • Hitler constantly spoke about the need for a "strong man", a leader with "heroic qualities", the "dictatorship of the national will", that such a leader would be a messiah - "a gift from heaven" and "our task is to give the dictator, when he comes, a people ready for him".
  • In an interview given to the British newspaper the Daily Mail on 2 October, 1923, Hitler is quoted as saying: "If a German Mussolini is given to Germany . . . people would fall on their knees and worship him".
  • Dietrich Eckart, soon after he was sacked in May 1923 as editor of the Völkischer Beobachter, the Nazi newspaper, made an interesting comment to Ernst Hanfstaengl, that Hitler had: ". . . megalomania halfway between a Messiah complex and Neroism".

The Beer Hall Putsch

The cast

  • Opposition to the Reich government intensified with the French and Belgian occupation of the Ruhr in January 1923.
  • The Government's policy of passive resistance further incensed the nationalists and talk of a revolution or a putsch began to spread.
  • Six men were to play a critical role in the events that unfolded throughout 1923:
  1. Erich Ludendorff - now the central focus of right-wing and paramilitary political aspirations
  2. Gustav Ritter von Kahr - appointed General State Commissar with virtual dictatorial powers on 26 September
  3. Colonel Hans Ritter von Seisser - head of the Bavarian State police
  4. General Otto von Lossow - Commander of the 7th Reichswehr (Army) Division, stationed in Bavaria
  5. General Hans von Seeckt - the supreme commander of the Reichswehr or German army
  6. Adolf Hitler

Crisis after crisis

  • By September 1923, Germany was experiencing the worst of the hyperinflation that had gripped the country since 1921.
  • On 23 September, President Ebert evoked his emergency powers under Article 48 of the Constitution and declared a national state of emergency.
  • Executive power was given to Otto Gessler, the Defence Minister, but was in reality exercised by General von Seeckt and through him by the local military commanders.
  • In response to Ebert's question "Where does the Reichswehr stand?", Seeckt apparently said, "The Reichswehr, Mr. President, stands behind me."
  • In October, Communists attacked police stations in Hamburg but were brutally suppressed by the Reichswehr and the police.
  • The Bavarian government, led by Eugen von Knilling and his Bavarian People's Party, feared a Right-wing nationalist rebellion.
  • As a consequence, on 26 September, Gustav Ritter von Kahr was appointed General State Commissar with virtual dictatorial powers.

Plot after plot

  • The Berlin and the Munich governments were on a collision course.
  • Kahr was backed by General von Lossow, the army commander in Bavaria, and the police chief, Colonel Hans Ritter von Seisser.
  • The three men made up what is often referred to as the "Triumvirate" (an ancient Roman term for an alliance or board of three men).
  • Kahr banned a series of meetings to be held by the Nazis on 27 September.
  • Throughout October the "Triumvirate" plotted with its north German contacts to overthrow the national government in Berlin.
  • Hitler and other Right-Wing leaders attempted to draw Lossow and Seisser to their cause, without Kahr.
  • Neither Lossow nor Seisser was prepared to completely back Hitler but neither did they completely reject these overtures.
  • Lossow spoke to the paramilitary leaders on 24 October, declaring his support for a march on Berlin (in imitation of Mussolini).
  • This created alarm and confusion in Munich.
  • Seisser was sent to Berlin at the beginning of November to build support and meet Seeckt.
  • At this critical meeting on 3 November, Seeckt made it clear that neither he nor the German army would take any action against the national government.
  • Seisser soon realized that there would be no support from Northern Germany for a putsch and the Triumvirate's plans were now in shreds.
  • It was obvious to the Triumvirate that without the army there could be no hope of a successful overthrow of the Berlin government.
  • Hitler soon realized that he needed to force the hand of Kahr, Lossow and Seisser by presenting them with a fait accompli.

The plan

  • Hitler was under pressure from his followers to lead a putsch.
  • The decision to carry out a putsch was made at a meeting between Hitler, Weber, Kriebel, Scheubner-Richter and Göring.
  • Ludendorff claimed that he was not present though he certainly had been kept informed of developments.
  • Throughout Bavaria, the SA and other paramilitaries would seize post offices, telephone and telegraph systems, police stations and town halls.
  • Socialists, communists and trade union leaders would be arrested.
  • Hitler would lead a seizure of the meeting at the Bürgerbräukeller, where Kahr would be addressing a meeting of prominent people on the fifth anniversary of the November Revolution.
  • Kahr's topic was a denunciation of Marxism.

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