It was not out of modesty that I wanted to become a drummer. That is the highest thing, the rest is a trifle. — Adolf Hitler, 1924 before the Munich People's Court
In the anonymous mass of the beaten German armies returning from the front there shows up for the first time, blurred and indistinct, the face of the 'Unknown Soldier of the World War', Adolf Hitler. In one of the courses in 'national thinking' organized at the beginning of 1919 by the Education or Propaganda Department (Dept Ib/P) of the Bavarian Reichswehr Group Headquarters 4 under the alert Captain Mayr, Hitler attracted attention as
'one of those everlasting barrack dwellers who didn't know where else to go, a lance corporal with a lean, yellow, crabbed face, who wore the Iron Cross First Class, a medal rarely won by private soldiers'. (1)
He had spent the revolutionary days of 1918 in a military hospital in Pasewalk, his
'aching head buried between the blankets and pillow with bitterness and shame', as he writes. 'I had not cried since the day I stood beside my mother's grave. But now I could not help it. During those nights my hatred increased hatred for the originators of this dastardly crime.' (2)
This hatred began to make itself heard in his first uncertain and not very effectual attempts at public speaking. His excitability, the vehemence with which he intervened in the discussions among others attending the course, soon attracted the attention of his superiors, and his name first crops up in one of the early lists of men charged with special assignments (V-men). Soon afterwards he received his first trial task. On 22 July 1919, in a list of members of a so-called Enlightenment Commando for the transit camp at Lechfeld, number 17 is the 'infantryman Adolf Hitler'. The task of the commando was to influence the returning soldiers of the transit army in an anti-socialist, patriotic direction. At the same time it was to be a 'practical course in public speaking and agitation' for the participants. (3)
Hitler was now getting his first psycho-political experience. His 'doctrine', which he later attributed to ceaseless bitter struggle, a solitary illumination vouchsafed to him in dark hours of distress, in fact acquired its content here; here too the opportunism later embodied in what came to be known as National Socialism first emerged clearly. He read the resentment in the faces of the returning soldiers, who after years of war saw themselves cheated of everything that had given substance and greatness to their youth — the sacrifices, the victories, the heroism and the confidence — and he offered clearly defined enemies for their still blind and aimless anger. His exercises in public speaking — the chief features of which, according to those involved, were a passionate 'fanaticism' and the 'easily comprehensible' nature of his ideas (4) — were consequently centred upon attacks on the 'Versailles disgrace', the 'Jewish-Marxist world plot', and that group which later, in a popular phrase, he called the 'November criminals'. From the same period also dates Hitler's first extant written utterance on political questions, a letter on the 'Danger which Jewry today constitutes for our people':
Through a thousand years of incest, often practised within the narrowest circles, the Jew has generally preserved his race and its characteristics more sharply than many of the peoples among whom he lives. His power is the power of money, which multiplies in his hands effortlessly and endlessly in the form of interest and imposes upon the people that most dangerous yoke, whose original golden gleam makes it so difficult to foresee its later melancholy consequences. Everything which makes man strive for higher things, whether it is religion, socialism or democracy, is to him all a means to the end of satisfying his lust for money and power in their consequences his activities become a racial tuberculosis of the peoples. And this has the following result: anti-Semitism for purely emotional reasons will find its final expression in the form of pogroms. The anti-Semitism of reason, however, must lead to the systematic combating and elimination of Jewish privileges. Its ultimate goal must implacably be the total removal of the Jews. Of both these purposes only a government of national strength is capable, never a government of national impotence. (5)
The anti-revolutionary setting in which Hitler took his first tentative steps in the field of politics arose from specifically Bavarian circumstances; for in Munich in November 1918 certain well-meaning, radical but amateurish politicians of the extreme left had surprisingly seized power, quickly losing it again in chaos. There was a widespread feeling of guilt at having disloyally forsaken the royal house, together with indignation at rule by soviets, and the universal distress and anxiety of a society shaken to its roots. Blindly and bitterly determined to recover what they had unjustly lost, people were only too easily disposed, in their search for those responsible, to see the spokesmen of the revolutionary experiment, some of them Jewish, as commissars of a vast conspiracy. They were saddled with the guilt for everything behind the general malaise; for defeat, humiliation, the hopelessness of the future, people's fear of sinking to a lower social class.
Partly because of its role in crushing the soviets, but also as the representative of the civil authorities, who to begin with remained in hiding in Bamberg, Reichswehr Group Head-quarters 4 at first appeared in Munich as the effective repository of power. Over and above military needs, it also claimed political and administrative jurisdiction. Its representatives kept a careful eye on the fifty-odd political parties and groups in Munich, whose numbers reflected the confusion of public consciousness at this moment of crisis, as did the sectarian programmes blazoned in many of their titles. (6)
As a trusted member of Headquarters, Hitler was ordered to attend a meeting of the German Labour Party (DAP) on 12 September 1919. The party had been founded by a machine fitter named Anton Drexler and a sports journalist, Karl Harrer. Its small group of faithful followers — workmen, craftsmen, members of the lower-middle-class — assembled each week in the Leiber Room of the Sternecker-Brau 'for the discussion and study of political matters'. (7) The trauma of the lost war, anti-Semitic feelings, and complaints about the snapping of all the 'bonds of order, law and morality' set the tone of its meetings. It stood for the widespread idea of a national socialism 'led only by German leaders' and aiming at the 'ennoblement of the German worker'; instead of socialization it called for profit-sharing, demanded the formation of an association for national unity, and proclaimed that its 'duty and task' was
'to educate its members in an ideal sense and raise them up to a higher conception of the world'.
It was not so much a party in the usual sense, as a mixture of secret society and drinking club typical of the Munich of those years; it did not address itself to the public. Obscure visionaries would hold forth to the thirty or forty who had gathered together, discuss Germany's disgrace and rebirth, or write postcards to like-minded societies in North Germany.
On 12 September Gottfried Feder spoke on 'How and by what means is capitalism to be eliminated?' When in the ensuing discussion a visitor demanded that Bavaria should break away from the Reich, Hitler attacked him so violently that Drexler whispered to a neighbour,
'My, he's got the gift of the gab. We could use him.'(8)
When Hitler soon afterwards left the 'dreary society', Drexler hurried after him and asked him to come back soon. He pressed into Hitler's hand a small pamphlet written by himself, Mein politisches Erwachen (My Political Awakening), and evidently arranged for him to receive unrequested, a few days later, a membership card numbered 555. (9) Having nothing else to do, Hitler attended a few more meetings. At his instigation, on 16 October 1919, the little party risked a meeting in the Hofbraukeller. A hundred and eleven people turned up, and Hitler rose to address his first public meeting as the second speaker of the evening. In a bitter stream of words the dammed-up emotions, the lonely man's suffocated feelings of hatred and impotence, burst out; like an explosion after the restriction and apathy of the past years, hallucinatory images and accusations came pouring out; abandoning restraint, he talked till he was sweating and exhausted.
'I spoke for thirty minutes,' he writes, 'and what I had always felt deep down in my heart, without being able to put it to the test, proved to be true.' Jubilantly he made the overwhelming, liberating discovery. 'I could make a good speech!' (10)
Hitler often later emphasized the superiority of the spoken over the written word, and with an eye on the great redeeming experience of the power of his rhetoric, one-sidedly attributed all the revolutions of history to the 'magic power', the 'burning brand of the word hurled among the masses'. He held to this principle from the beginning of his political activity, and its effect was apparent in the comparatively little importance that was to be attached to the NSDAP party press (11). A list of meetings of the party in which he quickly rose to the top shows him as a speaker thirty-one times within the first year after his self-discovery. He appeared in public at increasingly shorter intervals. The list clearly reflects a growing intoxication, an urge to self-assertion through public appearances, which after years of continuous deprivation filled him with an orgiastic sense of fulfilment. He always spoke on the same subjects: twenty-two times the title of his lecture refers to the Treaty of Versailles and the Jewish problem.
This ceaseless repetition of identical themes was not merely the expression of his fixations, but also his deliberate technique:
The chief function [of propaganda] is to convince the masses, whose slowness of understanding needs to be given time in order that they may absorb information; and only constant repetition will finally succeed in imprinting an idea on their mind. Every digression in a propagandist message must always emphasize the same conclusions. The slogan must of course be illustrated in many ways and from several angles, but in the end one must always return to the assertion of the same formula. Then one will be rewarded by the surprising and almost incredible results that such a persistent policy secures. The success of any advertisement, whether of a business or a political nature, depends on the consistency and perseverance with which it is employed. (12)
It was ideas such as these, applied with increasing skill, that gained Hitler his first successes. Soon a poster announcing his appearance could offer this assurance:
'Since Herr Hitler is a brilliant speaker, we can hold out the prospect of an extremely exciting evening.' (13)
The ingenuous, unworldly Anton Drexler saw the party unexpectedly change under this man's influence. He had always wanted to keep it small, well within his control amid the intimate haze of a beer hall; whereas Hitler, visibly growing in self-confidence, demanded an appeal to the people.
The party's sociological face also began to change. The workers and small tradesmen were now joined by soldiers, many brought into the party by Hitler himself, others sent by Captain Rohm of the Reichswehr Group Headquarters. In the Munich barracks life for the majority was an aimless, day-to-day affair, since the war had alienated the soldiers from everything that gives meaning to a civilian existence. In many cases their whole lives had been disrupted by the war, a formative experience from which they could not find their way back to any other way of life; there were adventurers, officers whose energies had nothing to get a grip upon in the post-war period with its laborious return to normality. Baffled by the unfamiliar problems of earning a living in the civilian world, they yearned in their drab idleness after the heroic bustle that for so long had given direction and meaning to their lives and an outlet to their hunger for action. Their idea of 'trench socialism', derived from their experiences at the front and comradeship in the face of death, found no link with the complex reality of peace, with its passionate controversies. This, and the general mood of national indignation, impelled them towards radical ideas. With their help Hitler gradually gave the party a firm organizational structure, as a basis for the leadership he had worked for from the beginning, which he saw as the precondition for any political mass movement.
Records have been preserved of various meetings held during this developmental phase of the party, in which Hitler celebrated his first if modest triumphs as a speaker. They reveal the positively clinical primitivism that brought speakers and audience together. Behind the clumsy, inarticulate phrasing of the keeper of the records we glimpse again and again the emotionally charged figure of Hitler, who distorted with his own prejudices everything he took up as he endeavoured by pathological tirades of hate to find a way out of the 'inner ghetto of his individuality'.
The meeting began at 7:30 and ended at 10:45. The lecturer gave a talk on Jewry. The lecturer showed that wherever one looks one sees Jews. The whole of Germany is governed by Jews. It is a scandal that the German workers, whether with head or hand, let themselves be so harassed by the Jews. Of course, because the Jew has the money in his hands. The Jew sits in the government and swindles and smuggles. When he has his pockets full again he drives the workers into confusion, so that again and again he finds himself at the helm, and we poor Germans put up with all that. He also spoke about Russia and who did all that? Only the Jews. Therefore, Germans, be united and fight against the Jews. Because they will gobble up our last crumbs. The lecturer's concluding words: we shall carry on the struggle until the last Jew has been removed from the German Reich even if it comes to an insurrection or even to revolution. The lecturer received great applause. (14)
Herr Hitler then spoke on the subject, but he got into such a rage that people at the back couldn't understand very much. During Herr Hitler's speech one fellow kept shouting 'Shame' while the others approved the speech with cries of 'Hear, hear'. The fellow was given short shrift. He was thrown out of the hall; on the steps a policeman took him into his protection; otherwise he might not have got home in one piece. [Hitler] said that the time was coming when we should see whether Germany was united, but he hoped that Germany would soon open its eyes. (15)
In the seething beer cellars, heavy with smoke, the agitator who had now risen to be the party's 'recruiting chief' slowly talked his way upward; the record of a meeting in October 1920 states that there were almost five thousand listeners. It was probably at this time that Hitler decided to become a politician. Barely a year later we find by his name the remark:
'He is a businessman and is becoming a professional public speaker.' (16)
In any case, he left the Army and once more went to live in a men's hostel, giving his profession as 'writer'. All the speeches that have come down to us show that he had no set programme but drew his slogans from the masses, whose resentments and moods of protest he identified all the more surely because they allied with his own aggressive attitudes. The poverty of his ideology contrasted with the demagogic skill with which he turned to his own ends dissatisfactions sprung from a thousand sources. Hitler's radical rejection of existing society in favour of an unreal, ideal conception, for which at different times he claimed different omens, would bring the first contacts with his audience, a feeling of unity between himself and an assembly of people who were at first frequently hostile or inclined to laugh at him, but whom with increasing mastery he brought to the melting point of mindless intoxication.
Negative elements also largely determined the character of the party programme that Drexler had drawn up with Hitler and Feder, before Hitler announced it at a meeting on 24 February 1920; this occasion was later compared in National Socialist Party legend with Luther's nailing of his ninety-five theses on the Schlosskirche door at Wittenberg. (17) The programme contained twenty-five points, and was anti-Semitic, anti-capitalist, anti-democratic, anti-Marxist, and anti-liberal. Hitler himself never regarded 'positive' formulas — those advocating nationalist ideas or the protection of the middle classes, for example — as imposing constructive obligations, but always as slogans to stimulate and intensify resentment and cupidity. In a phrase that unconsciously betrayed his tactical opportunism, he later called his twenty-five points his 'publicity campaign' and declared,
'The ideas of our programme do not oblige us to behave like fools' (18).
At the same time the party's name was changed; it was now called — on the basis of existing groups, but also in response to an as yet inarticulate, but widespread need — the National Socialist German Workers' Party (National-sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei: NSDAP). By the end of 1920 it numbered some three thousand members, and six months later the prolonged and bitter struggle for the leadership ended with total victory for Hitler. On 7 December 1921 the Völkische Beobachter for the first time called him the 'leader of the NSDAP'. (19)
The acquisition of this paper was made possible by influential and wealthy patrons, who now visibly began to take an interest in the up-and-coming politician. The revolutionary upsets of the previous few years had shocked leading conservative circles with the spectacle of the irresistible dynamic of the masses, which had come to appear alien and sinister; Hitler seemed to these people to be the man to tame and master the masses.
Hitler himself, however, was seeking contacts in high places besides the favour of the street, he was systematically wooing government offices and the salons. The soviets had not been forgotten in Bavaria, and the officially fostered anti-republican mood had turned the province, by reaction, into a centre of conspiratorial activity by the extreme right. The Munich Chief of Police, Pohner, when asked whether he was aware of the existence of rightist political murder groups, gave the famous reply,
'Yes, but there aren't enough of them yet!'
His subordinate, High Bailiff Frick, asserted,
'We held our protective hand over Herr Hitler and the National Socialist Party [because] we saw in it the seed of a renewal of Germany, because we were convinced from the beginning that the movement was the one suited to bring the workers back into the nationalist camp.' (20)
Hitler's rise to be Munich's celebrated local agitator would have been unthinkable without the patronage of the German nationalist politicians who largely controlled the governmental apparatus of Bavaria; National Socialism did indeed soon become 'the naughty, pampered darling of the state'. (21) These politicians, and also the 'National Field Marshal' Ludendorff, high-ranking Reichswehr officers, Freikorps leaders, and many others who, in the city's government offices, barracks and beer halls, were hatching their private and often rival plots for a coup d'etat, lent this nationalist figure their sometimes overt, sometimes covert support in order to harness his to their own purposes.
The poet Dietrich Eckart, who had joined Drexler's party before Hitler and had contacts with all the rightist circles, introduced him to Munich society, and the half curious, half repellent figure had its effect in the traditionally liberal stratum with its weakness for oddities. All accounts describe Hitler as awkward, fawningly polite, 'noteworthy for his hasty greed when eating and his exaggerated bows'. (22) His lack of confidence remained for a long time, and his sometimes eccentric efforts to show off mirrored the irreparably disturbed relationship to polite society of the former occupant of the charity ward and inmate of the men's hostel. He is reported to have made a habit of arriving late and leaving early; loud, ostentatious outbursts against the Jews or political opponents alternated abruptly with phases of introspective withdrawal. Obviously still dominated by the feeling of being an outsider, he was continually thwarted in his desire to shine by the fear of social slights, a fear which the numerous women, mostly elderly ladies who took him under their wing with belated maternal eagerness, were unable to soothe. Together with the prejudices dating from his Vienna days, he also clung to his habits, in particular to the irregular mode of life in which his earlier dreams of being an artist had found their only expression; and over his torn or carelessly worn clothes there lingered the smell of the men's hostel. When Pfeffer von Salomon, who was later to become his supreme SA leader, first met him, Hitler was wearing an old morning coat, yellow shoes, and a rucksack on his back, so that the flabbergasted Freikorps leader at first renounced personal acquaintance. (23) Of course, the fascinating reputation that preceded him always ensured interest in him, an interest that often wilted at close quarters. There are striking reports of the extraordinary difficulty people had in remembering what he looked like. Even at this time there was to be seen the curious phenomenon of Hitler's two faces: as an orator before large masses, he was exceptionally self-confident and persuasive, with an unerring instinct for triumphal effects and the means of producing collective intoxication — in the society of individuals he seemed unsure of himself, was rarely able to meet others on equal terms, and repeatedly flouted the rules of conversation in a monologue that soon tired and bored the listener. Asked once to say a few words to a circle of friends, he refused:
'I must have a crowd when I speak. In a small, intimate circle I never know what to say. I should only disappoint you all.' (24)
It was in Munich society that he made the acquaintance of a large proportion of his closest followers, among them Hermann Goring, the last commander of the Richthofen Fighter Squadron; the stiff, admiration-hungry Rudolf Hess; the Baltic German architect Alfred Rosenberg; and Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter, who died on 9 November 1923, outside the Feldherrnhalle; all of these, and the many adherents of the second rank, were not workers, as the party's name implied, but representatives of an intellectual Bohemia, members of a middle class economically affected or mentally disorientated by the war. On the journey to the 'German Day' in Coburg in October 1922 Hitler travelled in the same compartment with Max Amann, Hermann Esser, Dietrich Eckart, Christian Weber, Ulrich Graf, Alfred Rosenberg, and Kurt Ludecke, and it has been pointed out that this group almost exactly represented the party's sociological face:
'a painter, a commercial clerk, a journalist, a "horse trader", a poet, a butcher, an architect, and (including Ludecke), another man of commerce — this was the mirror image of Hitler's movement'. (25)
The people who now packed Hitler's meetings in growing numbers came from the same social classes. Certainly workers also found their way into the party, but as a rule not into the leadership, the hard core of which was made up of men from the academic or industrial middle class. Even before the war, panic had stirred among the petty bourgeoisie at the prospect of being overwhelmed by large-scale industries or department stores. Now, in the critical post-war situation, the petty bourgeoisie was drawn to the NSDAP, whose programme took express account of these fears, at the same time as giving voice to a far more comprehensive malaise in its categorical rejection of the whole existing order. The failure of the Weimar Republic — its birth in the aftermath of a lost war and the victors' uncomprehending policy of punishment for the crimes of the Kaiser's Germany — the humiliation, hunger, chaos and collapse of the currency — all this made it profoundly difficult for the middle classes to develop a patriotic attachment to the new order. The lower-, as well as the upper-middle class had always had a marked attachment to the state, a loyalty to authority, and, now feeling leaderless, refused to accept a former master-saddler over whom hung the 'putrid odour of revolution' in a position formerly occupied by the Kaiser in his still-remembered radiance. Moreover the sense of identification with state order and authority, to which the middle classes owed part of their consciousness of social worth, had become thwarted since the concept of order itself had been called in question; 'national values' had been laid open to disrespectful attack not, as it seemed to the middle classes, by the post-war confusion but by the Constitution itself with its party strife, democracy and freedom of the press. These were the origins of the call for order and morality, loyalty and faith, bizarre as they might seem against the background of Bavarian politics and in the mouths of the spokesmen of National Socialism.
Similar motivations were decisive in the party's striking popularity among university students, from these same middle classes. Here championship of the economic interests of their parents was reinforced by patriotic revanchism, the bleakness of their professional prospects, and youthful protest.
'In the banqueting hall of the Hofbrauhaus yesterday,' wrote the Social Democratic Münchener Post of a meeting of the NSDAP, 'one saw people of every kind — except workers. By contrast, there were student claqueurs, swastikaed youths, Munich beer swillers.' (26)
The first industrialists soon joined the party; a few were owners of large-scale undertakings, but mostly they were proprietors of small or medium-sized factories looking to the party to protect them against trade union pressure. Then came civil servants, and later peasants. It was significant that the movement gathered on its fringes people of every background, every sociological hue. All they had in common was disappointment and discontent, an unbalanced, neurotic frame of mind attracted by the NSDAP's ill-defined programme and the noisy extremism of appeals based on revanchism. The NSDAP, they felt, understood them.
Hitler was carried along by the collective malaise, by irrational longings and ideals which he was able to articulate into aggressive protests — and there could be no mistaking an element here of the typical Bavarian liking for uproar and Gaudi (noisy revelry). More and more effectively he came to act as the 'drummer' setting the masses in movement. This was still his own view of his mission: he saw himself as a forerunner, as the herald of that leader-figure who from earliest times in German political mythology had always been a focal point for virulent dissatisfaction with reality. (27) Here and there, however, he was already himself being hailed as the saviour, which swelled his self-confidence. The almost blind Houston Stewart Chamberlain, whose racially orientated philosophy of history had profoundly influenced Hitler, declared after a visit from him that he was now reassured:
'The fact that at the hour of her deepest need Germany has given birth to a Hitler proves her vitality.' (28)
The country's growing misery helped his rise, and he was already a leading figure in Bavarian politics when, in 1923, Germany was overwhelmed by crises. In North Germany there was a quickly repressed military putsch; in the Rhineland the separatist movement gained fresh impetus; in the Ruhr, France's narrow-minded policy provoked a struggle for that region; Saxony and Thuringia came increasingly under the influence of the radical left; and as the value of the mark plunged hunger riots broke out everywhere. A revolutionary situation had arisen, charged with the moods and expectations of civil war.
In Bavaria, an inextricable tangle of conspiracies and intrigues, all directed against the Republic, now broke out into open conflict with the Reich government. The 'nationalist opposition' fell broadly into three main camps: the monarchist white-and-blue followers of General State Commissioner von Kahr; the units of the Freikorps and the Vaterlandische Kampfverbande (Fatherland Fighting Leagues), more or less closely grouped around Ludendorff but so fluid in their aims and sympathies as to defy categorisation; and Hitler's movement which, in autumn 1923, with more than 55,000 adherents, was not only numerically the strongest group but also the most tightly knit. In an atmosphere of mutual agreement and support, but also of suspicion, the three groups watched each other, not yet resolved on action and the much-discussed 'march on Red Berlin'. After this march had taken place the most diverse ideas were to arise, ranging from a military dictatorship, through the restoration of the Hohenzollerns, to vague ideas of a socialist people's state with a nationalist hue. On one point there was unanimity; in no circumstances would any of the three leave action to its rivals. As the chief of the Army, General von Seeckt, commented at the time, each of the three groups was determined not to appear at all
'if the performance turned out to be a comedy', but to appear in the third act 'if it turned out to be a drama'. (29)
At this critical point Hitler, still unsure of himself but intoxicated by his hold over the restless masses behind him, at first lost patience and ventured too far. In the mistaken belief that Kahr was ready to strike, he attempted a dramatic coup on the evening of 8th November, seeking to place himself at the head of all anti-republican groups in the Bavarian capital. Brandishing a pistol, he burst into the midst of a gathering of dignitaries, leading politicians and picked citizens of the province, who had been invited by Kahr to the Burgerbraukeller. After firing a shot into the ceiling he announced the National Revolution, declared the Bavarian government deposed, and proclaimed a provisional Reich government under his own leadership. But the attempt failed. Hitler was torn between rage, despair and nervous breakdown. His sequence of hysterical moods foreshadowed the later convulsions and fits of frenzy of the defeated war leader and clearly demonstrated the failure of a basically unstable neurotic in a critical situation. At first he determined to offer furious resistance, then, suddenly resigned, he agreed to a demonstration march next day:
'If it succeeds, very well; if it fails, we'll hang ourselves.' (30)
This too anticipated his perpetual oscillation in later years between the extremes of victory or suicide, world power or total collapse. On the following day (9th November) he placed himself, together with Ludendorff, at the head of a growing crowd that finally numbered several thousands. In the Odeonplatz, directly beside the Feldherrnhalle, there was an exchange of fire with a numerically weak police cordon. Hitler and the majority of his companions in the front rank fell or threw themselves to the ground; only Ludendorff, trembling with rage, walked on with heedless heroism and was arrested. Hitler then fled, leaving behind a few thousand followers and sixteen dead. The legend, obviously put about later by himself, that he had carried a helpless child out of the firing line — he even produced the child in support of his statement — has been proved false. (31) Whilst he was hiding at Uffing am Staffelsee, in a house belonging to the Hanfstaengl family, he declared that he must end it all and shoot himself, but the Hanfstaengls succeeded in making him change his mind. Soon afterwards he was arrested and taken to the fortress prison at Landsberg am Lech,
'with a pale harassed face over which fell a tangled strand of hair'. (32)
The course of the ensuing trial, which began on 24th February 1924, was determined by the tacit agreement of all those taking part not to 'touch upon the "essence" of those events', (33) so that the hearing was reduced to a farce in which Hitler unexpectedly ceased to be the accused and became the accuser. Admittedly, the projected treasonable undertaking had been discussed for months in a twilight atmosphere of half approval and concealed encouragement and the embarrassed and transparent attempt of the leading Bavarian politicians, with Kahr at their head, to put all the blame on Hitler made it very much easier for him to turn the tables on his accusers. At the same time, the intuitive and provocatively assertive self-confidence with which, so soon after a serious defeat, Hitler confronted the court and deliberately took all the blame upon himself, and then immediately disclaimed all guilt on the grounds that he had acted from lofty patriotic motives, was 'one of his most impressive political achievements'. (34) In a concluding speech, which accurately mirrors his confident attitude during the trial, he declared:
[He who] is born for politics must practise politics, whether he is free or in prison, sitting on a silk-upholstered chair or forced to content himself with a hard bench; the fate of his people will exercise him from early morning till late at night. The man who is born to be a dictator is not compelled; he wills it, he is not driven forward, but drives himself. The man who feels called upon to govern a people has no right to say: if you want me or summon me I will cooperate. No, it is his duty to step forward. The army which we have formed is growing day by day. I nourish the proud hope that one day the hour will come when these rough companies will grow to battalions, the battalions to regiments, the regiments to divisions, that the old cockade will be taken from the mud, that the old flags will wave again, that there will be a reconciliation at the last great divine judgement which we are prepared to face. For it is not you, gentlemen, who pass judgement on us. That judgement is spoken by the eternal court of history. What judgement you will hand down, I know. But that court will not ask us: Did you commit high treason, or did you not? The court will judge us, the Quartermaster-General of the old Army [Ludendorff], his officers and soldiers, as Germans who wanted only the good of their own people and Fatherland, who wanted to fight and die. Pronounce us guilty a thousand times over: the goddess of the eternal court of history will smile and tear to pieces the State Prosecutor's submission and the court's verdict; for she acquits us. (35)
In fact the verdict of the Munich People's Court, as has been aptly remarked, corresponded almost exactly to the heavenly verdict predicted by Hitler. The president of the court had the greatest difficulty in persuading the three lay judges to find him guilty at all. They agreed only on his assuring them that Hitler would unquestionably be granted an early pardon. The sentence, the preamble to which once more emphasized the accused's 'purely patriotic spirit and noble intentions', was the minimum punishment of five years' imprisonment with the prospect of serving the term on probation after six months in prison. When the court announced its decision not to make use in Hitler's case of the legal provision for the expulsion of undesirable foreigners, there were cheers in court. After this Hitler showed himself to the cheering crowd from a window of the law courts.
Nevertheless his rise — he had advanced within a short time from V-man of a Reichswehr Group Headquarters to a leading figure in Bavarian politics — seemed to have been finally interrupted. The party, without the unifying force of his magical and Machiavellian talents, split up within a few months into insignificant groups engaged in jealous and embittered backbiting. The chances of his agitation succeeding — relying as it did almost exclusively upon public discontent — diminished further as, by the end of 1923, conditions in the Reich became noticeably more stable and the period of the 'happy year' began, under the Republic whose rule had started so inauspiciously.
But the way Hitler turned defeat to advantage, the way he could scent the propaganda, psychological and tactical opportunities hidden under the disaster and transform them, provided one more demonstration of his political skill. He himself later referred to the failure of November 1923, not without reason, as 'perhaps the greatest piece of good fortune in my life'. In complete agreement, Theodor Heuss remarked in a study of 'Hitler's way' written in 1932:
'What would all this — the sympathy of the German public, martyrdom as a means of recruiting followers, insurance against having to take concrete decisions, the fight against "persecution", the fostering of the incipient legend — what would all this have been without 8th November 1923? The putsch, its outcome, its consequences, were fate's greatest gift to Adolf Hitler.' (36)
In any case this failure was the starting point for a struggle for power in entirely new conditions and by new methods. Of decisive importance in this struggle was Hitler's realisation that force was not the way to capture the modern state apparatus, that power could be seized only on the basis of the Constitution itself. This certainly did not mean that he accepted the Constitution as a binding limitation on his future efforts; it meant that he resolved, and rigorously held to his decision throughout the rest of his struggle for power, regardless of dissension within the party and revolts by the impatient, to steer towards illegality under the protection of legality. Behind the protestations of loyalty to the Constitution which Hitler, following his new tactics, so readily made during the following years, there was never anything more than the desire clearly shown in the scornfully formal character of the protestations — to avoid facing the gun barrels of state power until such time as he had those same gun barrels at his command. The contemporary catchphrase 'Adolphe Legalite' revealed an instinct that this much-vaunted legality amounted to no more than a 'moratorium on illegality', (37) yet the authorities noted these assurances with a deluded satisfaction that barely hid their lack of authority, their vacillation and impotence.
The unsuccessful putsch marked the end of Hitler's political apprenticeship. The understanding of power that enabled him to rise during the following years was based on an ability to adapt to those in power, adroit handling of tactical compromises, and growing familiarity with the techniques of psychological domination and the principles of party organization. This last he increasingly directed towards his own person, elevating himself from the role of drummer to the pseudometa-physical concept of the 'Fuhrer'. The figure of the agitator carried away by events and his own impulsive reactions moved into the background, to make way for the technician of power acting with calculated opportunism, disloyal even towards 'granite' principles, devoid of moral or intellectual inhibitions, ready, in his own words,
'to swear six false oaths every day'. (38)
Naturally none of this liberated him from the complexes and hysterical fixations of his formative period. On the contrary, he now began to show clearly that bewildering coexistence of rationality and idées fixes, of craftiness and stupid fanaticism, which poses so many riddles and is one of the inexplicable features of his make-up. Any attempt to explain this strange juxtaposition of incompatibles risks stopping short at a description of symptoms. We run the same risk when we approach the most important question of all: what inner motive force made it possible for this former failure suddenly to forsake the life of the down-at-heel art student clinging hungrily to his wild eccentricities, to hold sway over Germans and most of Europe?
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