Sunday, May 15, 2011

Entry into politics

After World War I, Hitler remained in the army and returned to Munich, where he – in contrast to his later declarations – attended the funeral march for the murdered Bavarian prime minister Kurt Eisner. After the suppression of the Bavarian Soviet Republic, he took part in "national thinking" courses organized by the Education and Propaganda Department(Dept Ib/P) of the Bavarian Reichswehr Group, Headquarters 4 under Captain Karl Mayr. Scapegoats were found in "international Jewry", communists, and politicians across the party spectrum, especially the parties of the Weimar Coalition.
In July 1919, Hitler was appointed a Verbindungsmann (police spy) of an Aufklärungskommando (Intelligence Commando) of the Reichswehr, both to influence other soldiers and to infiltrate a small party, the German Workers' Party (DAP). During his inspection of the party, Hitler was impressed with founder Anton Drexler's antisemitic, nationalist, anti-capitalist and anti-Marxist ideas, which favoured a strong active government, a "non-Jewish" version of socialism and mutual solidarity of all members of society. Drexler was impressed with Hitler's oratory skills and invited him to join the party. Hitler joined DAP on 12 September 1919 and became the party's 55th member. His actual membership number was 555 (the 500 was added to make the group appear larger) but later the number was reduced to create the impression that Hitler was one of the founding members. He was also made the seventh member of the executive committee. Years later, he claimed to be the party's seventh overall member, but it has been established that this claim is false.
A copy of Adolf Hitler's German Workers' Party (DAP) membership card.
Here Hitler met Dietrich Eckart, one of the early founders of the party and member of the occult Thule Society. Eckart became Hitler's mentor, exchanging ideas with him, teaching him how to dress and speak, and introducing him to a wide range of people. Hitler thanked Eckart by paying tribute to him in the second volume of Mein Kampf. To increase the party's appeal, the party changed its name to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei or National Socialist German Workers Party(abbreviated NSDAP).
Hitler was discharged from the army in March 1920 and with his former superiors' continued encouragement began participating full time in the party's activities. By early 1921, Hitler was becoming highly effective at speaking in front of large crowds. In February, Hitler spoke before a crowd of nearly six thousand in Munich. To publicize the meeting, he sent out two truckloads of party supporters to drive around with swastikas, cause a commotion and throw out leaflets, their first use of this tactic. Hitler gained notoriety outside of the party for his rowdy, polemic speeches against the Treaty of Versailles, rival politicians (including monarchists, nationalists and other non-internationalist socialists) and especially against Marxists and Jews.
The NSDAP was centred in Munich, a hotbed of German nationalists who included Army officers determined to crush Marxism and undermine the Weimar Republic. Gradually they noticed Hitler and his growing movement as a suitable vehicle for their goals. Hitler traveled to Berlin to visit nationalist groups during the summer of 1921, and in his absence there was a revolt among the DAP leadership in Munich.
The party was run by an executive committee whose original members considered Hitler to be overbearing. They formed an alliance with a group of socialists from Augsburg. Hitler rushed back to Munich and countered them by tendering his resignation from the party on 11 July 1921. When they realized the loss of Hitler would effectively mean the end of the party, he seized the moment and announced he would return on the condition that he replace Drexler as party chairman, with unlimited powers. Infuriated committee members (including Drexler) held out at first. Meanwhile an anonymous pamphlet appeared entitled Adolf Hitler: Is he a traitor?, attacking Hitler's lust for power and criticizing the violent men around him. Hitler responded to its publication in a Munich newspaper by suing for libel and later won a small settlement.
The executive committee of the NSDAP eventually backed down and Hitler's demands were put to a vote of party members. Hitler received 543 votes for and only one against. At the next gathering on 29 July 1921, Adolf Hitler was introduced as Führer of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, marking the first time this title was publicly used.
Hitler's beer hall oratory, attacking Jews, social democrats, liberals, reactionary monarchists, capitalists and communists, began attracting adherents. Early followers included Rudolf Hess, the former air force pilotHermann Göring, and the army captain Ernst Röhm, who eventually became head of the Nazis' paramilitary organization the SA (Sturmabteilung, or "Storm Division"), which protected meetings and attacked political opponents. As well, Hitler assimilated independent groups, such as the Nuremberg-based Deutsche Werkgemeinschaft, led by Julius Streicher, who became Gauleiter of Franconia. Hitler attracted the attention of local business interests, was accepted into influential circles of Munich society, and became associated with wartime General Erich Ludendorff during this time.
Drawing of Hitler, 1923

Beer Hall Putsch

Encouraged by this early support, Hitler decided to use Ludendorff as a front in an attempted coup later known as the "Beer Hall Putsch" (sometimes as the "Hitler Putsch" or "Munich Putsch"). The Nazi Party had copied Italy's fascists in appearance and had adopted some of their policies, and in 1923, Hitler wanted to emulate Benito Mussolini's "March on Rome" by staging his own "Campaign in Berlin". Hitler and Ludendorff obtained the clandestine support of Gustav von Kahr, Bavaria's de facto ruler, along with leading figures in the Reichswehr and the police. As political posters show, Ludendorff, Hitler and the heads of the Bavarian police and military planned on forming a new government.
On 8 November 1923, Hitler and the SA stormed a public meeting headed by Kahr in the Bürgerbräukeller, a large beer hall in Munich. He declared that he had set up a new government with Ludendorff and demanded, at gunpoint, the support of Kahr and the local military establishment for the destruction of the Berlin government. Kahr withdrew his support and fled to join the opposition to Hitler at the first opportunity. The next day, when Hitler and his followers marched from the beer hall to the Bavarian War Ministry to overthrow the Bavarian government as a start to their "March on Berlin", the police dispersed them. Sixteen NSDAP members were killed.
Hitler fled to the home of Ernst Hanfstaengl and contemplated suicide; Hanfstaengl's wife Helene talked him out of it. He was soon arrested for high treason. Alfred Rosenbergbecame temporary leader of the party. During Hitler's trial, he was given almost unlimited time to speak, and his popularity soared as he voiced nationalistic sentiments in his defence speech. A Munich personality thus became a nationally known figure. On 1 April 1924, Hitler was sentenced to five years' imprisonment at Landsberg Prison. Hitler received favoured treatment from the guards and had much fan mail from admirers. He was pardoned and released from jail on 20 December 1924, by order of the Bavarian Supreme Court on 19 December, which issued its final rejection of the state prosecutor's objections to Hitler's early release. Including time on remand, he had served little more than one year of his sentence.
On 28 June 1925, Hitler wrote a letter from Uffing to the editor of The Nation in New York City complaining of the length of his sentence at "Sandberg a. S." [sic], where he claimed his privileges had been extensively revoked.

Mein Kampf

Dust jacket of Mein Kampf
While at Landsberg, he 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." It was published in two volumes in 1925 and 1926, selling about 240,000 copies between 1925 and 1934. By the end of the war, about 10 million copies had been sold or distributed (newlyweds and soldiers received free copies). The copyright of Mein Kampf in Europe is claimed by the Free State of Bavaria and scheduled to end on 31 December 2015. Reproductions in Germany are authorized only for scholarly purposes and in heavily commented form.

Rebuilding of the party

Adolf Hitler (left), standing up behind Hermann Göring at a Nazi rally in Nuremberg, 1928
At the time of Hitler's release, the political situation in Germany had calmed and the economy had improved, which hampered Hitler's opportunities for agitation. Though the "Hitler Putsch" had given Hitler some national prominence, Munich remained his party's mainstay.
The NSDAP and its organs were banned in Bavaria after the collapse of the putsch. Hitler convinced Heinrich Held, Prime Minister of Bavaria, to lift the ban, based on representations that the party would now only seek political power through legal means. Even though the ban on the NSDAP was removed effective 16 February 1925, Hitler incurred a new ban on public speaking as a result of an inflammatory speech. Since Hitler was banned from public speeches, he appointed Gregor Strasser, who in 1924 had been elected to the Reichstag, as Reichsorganisationsleiter, authorizing him to organize the party in northern Germany. Strasser, joined by his younger brother Otto and Joseph Goebbels, steered an increasingly independent course, emphasizing the socialist element in the party's programme. The Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Gauleiter Nord-West became an internal opposition, threatening Hitler's authority, but this faction was defeated at the Bamberg Conference in 1926, during which Goebbels joined Hitler.
After this encounter, Hitler centralized the party even more and asserted the Führerprinzip ("Leader principle") as the basic principle of party organization. Leaders were not elected by their group, but were rather appointed by their superior, answering to them while demanding unquestioning obedience from their inferiors. Consistent with Hitler's disdain for democracy, all power and authority devolved from the top down.
A key element of Hitler's appeal was his ability to evoke a sense of offended national pride caused by the Treaty of Versailles imposed on the defeated German Empire by the Western Allies. Germany had lost economically important territory in Europe along with its colonies, and in admitting to sole responsibility for the war had agreed to pay a huge reparations bill totaling 132 billion marks. Most Germans bitterly resented these terms, but early Nazi attempts to gain support by blaming these humiliations on "international Jewry" were not particularly successful with the electorate. The party learned quickly, and soon a more subtle propaganda emerged, combining antisemitism with an attack on the failures of the "Weimar system" and the parties supporting it.
Having failed in overthrowing the Republic by a coup, Hitler pursued a "strategy of legality": this meant formally adhering to the rules of the Weimar Republic until he had legally gained power. He would then use the institutions of the Weimar Republic to destroy it and establish himself as dictator. Some party members, especially in the paramilitary SA, opposed this strategy; Röhm and others ridiculed Hitler as "Adolphe Legalité".

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