There are several factors that led to Hitler’s rise to power. Germany was a country in shambles. The Versailles Treaty depleted Germany of territory, forced exorbitant reparation payments, and robbed a great nation of its national pride. Not only was the treaty devastating to Germany but also the war itself took a toll on the people on the home front. Germany lost 15.1 percent of its active male population during the war and civilians were dying from malnutrition and poor sanitary conditions (23). Such was the atmosphere in January 1933 when Hitler becomes Chancellor and his Nazi Party wins 43.9 percent of the vote (a 25.6 percent jump from 1930). Hitler did not become “The Fuehrer” overnight. His views, shaped during his youth, were strengthened as a soldier after World War One when he felt the leaders of Germany betrayed the “Fatherland” and the Jewish agitators back home were the reason for Germany’s loss. The staging ground for World War Two took place in the few days after Germany’s defeat to the Allies. The 1920’s laid the foundation for Hitler’s immense power in the 1930’s and also for another devastating loss to the German people.
Hitler’s great ambition in 1914 was to be an artist but the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand brought Germany to the brink of war. After a complicated series of miscues, Germany blunders into a declaration of war against Russia. This event gave Hitler’s aimless life a direction it previously lacked. He wrote in Mein Kampf, “I am not ashamed to say that, overcome with rapturous enthusiasm; I fell to my knees and thanked heaven . . . for granting me the good fortune of being allowed to live at this time” (60). Two days after war was declared on France, Hitler petitioned Ludwig III for petition to enlist in his army. On August 16th Hitler the Artist, who had previously been ruled unfit for military service, became Hitler the Soldier. By the summer of 1915, Hitler had impressed his commanding officers with his dedication and skill as a runner. He often took messages for other runners without being asked and because of his constant exposure to danger-escaped death many times. Hitler had no patience for the talk of the defeatists. Later in the war, the soldiers new to the front despised the ranting lunatic but those who served in the trenches with Hitler respected his zeal. In his book “Adolf Hitler”, John Toland writes, “Four years of trench warfare gave Hitler an abiding hatred of the pacifists and slackers back home that were betraying the Fatherland” (61). In October of 1918, Hitler’s luck ran out and his company was attacked by poison gas sending him to the hospital blinded. When Hitler was released from the hospital, the war was over and Hitler’s rage at the “November Criminals” began.
In 1919, Hitler began working as a political officer in the army in Munich. In September of that year, Ernst Roehm introduced Hitler to the German Workers Party, a nationalistic and anti-Semitic group. It was here that Hitler learned to be a great speaker and propagandist. By 1921, only two years after attending his first meeting, Hitler helped increase the membership of the party to 6,000. In April of that year he became the leader of the German Workers Party now named the National Socialist German Workers Party, the official name of the Nazi Party. Although Hitler was a charismatic speaker, his ability to increase the membership of his party comes mainly from the dreadful condition of the German economy at this time. Reparations were bringing Germany to bankruptcy, food riots were rampant and many families lived with little or no heat. The payments to the War Council were resented by many and viewed as taking away from the needy. Hitler began to receive a fraction of official recognition but, in an attempt to gain more power, resigned from the German Workers Party knowing they would be willing to grant him any request he made as long as he returned. Hitler demanded to be named the Chairman in order to obtain a dictatorship. As he knew they would, the party granted him the Chairmanship and Hitler returned to the party making changes for a revolution. Hitler wanted a system based on the concept of Fuhrerprinzip, absolute obedience to the commander. After gaining power, Hitler developed his own private army, the Sturmbteilung, or the SA, led by Ernst Rohm. Hitler wanted a revolution so he used revolutionary devices. He became a master of propaganda, staged a series of public provocations, and set the stage for his war against the Jews.
1923 was an important year in Hitler’s rise to power. By the end of 1923, Hitler’s party had risen to 56,000 members. The economic conditions and the ballooning inflation contributed to the party’s popularity. Hitler’s audiences felt they must join Hitler in his quest to save Germany. Germans felt they must expel the French from the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland, and the Jews must be dealt with in no uncertain terms. 1923 was also the year of Hitler’s attempted coup, the Beer hall Putsch, which although it failed, brought Hitler into the German spotlight and made him a national figure. Hitler was tried for treason and spent nine months in Landsberg prison where he developed many of his political ideas and recorded them in Mein Kampf. He also planned the reorganization of his now outlawed political party. Germany’s financial situation had changed from the early part of the nineteen-twenties. Almost every element that led to Hitler’s appeal to the German population was resolved when Hitler was released. Inflation was at an end, business was thriving, and the French had withdrawn from the Ruhr. Because of the prosperity, the Nazi Party made little progress in the 1920’s attracting only 2.5 percent of the vote. The 1930’s would see a different environment, not only in Germany, but also around the world. The arrival of the Great Depression would lead to an increase in Hitler’s followers and Hitler’s power.
In October of 1929, the stock market on Wall Street collapsed. This brought the world to its financial knees and Germany found itself back in its earlier position of poverty. The prosperity they were enjoying came to an end. Unemployment doubled from three million to six million by 1932. The depression hit at almost every level. The existing government, made up of a combination of left wing and conservative parties, collapsed and many saw Hitler as their only alternative. 1933 marks the first year of Hitler’s true power, as he becomes Chancellor of Germany. His first act was to dissolve the Reichstag and forgo new elections. In fact, Hitler outlawed all political opposition and declared The National Socialist German Workers’ Party “the only political party in Germany”(263). The German people were caught up in Hitler’s dream of a greater Germany and by the middle of 1933 the majority of Germans supported Hitler. Few knew of his use of strong-armed tactics. Hitler, still the master propagandist and deceiver, staged his murders as provocations against the German way of life. One of these events is the well-known “Night of the Long Knives” which took place in 1934. The SA, led by Ernst Rohm, had grown to four million soldiers. Hitler saw Rohm as a threat to his power and ordered him and his generals killed. At least 2,000 people died in this one night. One of the reasons Hitler was able to fool the German people was the remarkable recovery he almost single handedly brought about to the German economy. Part of the recover came from Hitler’s expansion of the German army, once a source of great national pride. He made Germany a nation of workers and the people loved him for this accomplishment. In August of 1934, German President Hindenberg dies and seventeen days later Hitler becomes Fuehrer of Germany. With his new power, Hitler calls on the German military to swear undying loyalty and unconditional obedience to Hitler alone. This begins the plans Hitler had formulated in prison and wrote down in Mein Kampf. In 1935, Hitler reintroduces conscription and rearms the German military in direct violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Shortly after he reestablishes Germany’s military force, March 1936, Hitler orders the German troops to march into the Rhineland, which had been demilitarized since 1918. This begins a series of mistakes on the part of the Allies. Had France attacked, Germany would have been forced to retreat. Hitler gambled and it paid off. This also began Hitler’s plans for future invasions. In 1937, during his meeting with his high command, Hitler began to plan his attack on Austria and Czechoslovakia. Hitler sought Lebensraum, or living space, for German citizens. In his quest to take over Austria, Hitler handled the discussions the same way he handled his other affairs. In1938, he bullied the Austrian Chancellor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, into signing a statement of surrender. If he had not signed the document, Hitler threatened to march his troops into Austria and through lies and deceit and bullying, Hitler was able to occupy Austria. Within a week, Hitler was the sovereign ruler of Austria. From 1939 to 1941, Hitler would invade Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Yugoslavia, and Greece.
Looking back on Hitler’s reign of terror, it is amazing that one man could do so much harm. While he returned the German nation to their prosperity he gassed and imprisoned millions of its Jewish citizens. The 1940’s led to Hitler’s downfall as well as the downfall of a great nation. Hitler’s power ended April 30, 1945 when he commits suicide as Berlin falls to the Soviets. We look back now with the supreme condensation of hindsight and wonder how a man like Hitler ever came to power but to the people of Germany he was, at the time, a savior who only sought to return their nation to glory.
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