Modern World History


Asked to explain why Hitler had gained such a hold on the German people one of the defendants at the Nuremberg Trials put it down to the habit of obedience, taught to German children from birth. Once Hitler had focussed that obedience on himself he could count on it absolutely, even as the country went down in ruins. How did the one time penniless artist from Vienna achieve this? Firstly he shared the bitterness felt by of thousands of ex-soldiers who had come home defeated from the trenches, only to find that they were no longer heroes in post war republican Germany. Secondly, he attracted the loyalty of capable but deeply frustrated men like his propaganda minister Josef Goebbels. The real Hitler could be charming even gracious, especially to women, but Goebbels presented him to the world as superhuman, a man of destiny, the epitome of the master-race. Thirdly, after failing ignominiously to start a military uprising in Munich in 1926 Hitler became convinced that he would have to win power through the ballot box. Once he had the organs of the state at his disposal, then he could announce the death of democracy and the birth of the 'Thousand Year Reich'.

So it was through a deal with other right wing parties in the German parliament or Reichstag that Hitler became chancellor of the German republic in 1933. Like Lenin he never had the majority of the votes cast in a free election, but within days of taking power his 'storm-troopers' were rounding up political opponents. In the wake of a fire that destroyed the parliament building in Berlin Hitler was given the power to rule by decree and in 1934 he became both head of state and commander-in-chief of the army.