That is the miracle of our age, that you have found me, that you have found me among so many millions! And that I have found you, that is Germany's good fortune! — Adolf Hitler
What luck for the rulers that men do not think. — Adolf Hitler
Hitler appeared on the political scene on 30 January 1933 with all the triumphal ceremonial of the historical victor. The grandiose setting with mass marches and torchlight processions was out of all proportion to the constitutional significance of the occasion, which technically speaking had merely brought a change of government. However, the public duly noted that the nomination of Hitler as Reich Chancellor was not like cabinet reshuffles in the past, but a new departure. In spite of the boastful arrogance of Papen, who dismissed all warnings about Hitler's determined hunger for power with the assurance, 'You're wrong; we've hired him', (1) the safety measures taken by his German Nationalist partners in the coalition — who trusted to their influence over the Reich President, the economy, the Army and the civil service, and all the key positions in society proved completely ineffective in a matter of weeks. The tactical singleness of purpose of the National Socialists and the tidal wave of enthusiasm for the 'work of national unification', guided and intensified by systematic stage management, developed a force which simply swept away all plans for 'damming up' Hitler. To this force his conservative coalition partners had no answer. Their amateurish efforts to join in the speeches and celebrations and to take part themselves in directing the masses played into the hands of the National Socialists. Hitler left no doubt that this was his promised hour, the hour of his will and his power. Even the first signs of terrorism could not mute the jubilation but rather added to it. The brutal behaviour with which the regime celebrated its entry into office was widely seen as merely the expression of an energy that was striving to manifest itself as much on the governmental plane as in the street, and hence earned respect and even trust; for public feeling, perverted by a mood of depression, valued even brutal activity higher than the state's past inaction. Once again it was proved that in revolutionary times public opinion is easily won over and perfidy, calculation and fear carry the day.
It was not only opportunism and lack of character, however, that lay behind the extraordinary reversals of political allegiance during those turbulent weeks of spring, and the flood of desertions to the National Socialist camp from both left and right; often it was a secret desire, released as though at a cue, to throw old prejudices, ideologies and social barriers into the revolutionary fire and embark upon a new approach to a better form of state organization. Mighty parties and associations rich in tradition collapsed, leaving only unmanoeuverable debris even before they were forcibly dissolved. The old order was dead. The fast vanishing minority of those who did not succumb to the urge to embrace the new, which was spreading like an epidemic, found themselves isolated, hiding their bitterness, their lonely disgust, in the face of a defeat manifestly inflicted upon them 'by history itself'. Violence for opponents, and for supporters the great experience of a new sense of solidarity -these were the most striking features of this phase. Opponents were swept off the streets and into concentration camps, and then came demonstrations by hundreds of thousands with mass oaths under searchlight domes, addresses by the Fuhrer, beacons and the Netherlands Prayer of Thanksgiving. Hitler, who once attributed all historical revolutions to the emergence of great popular speakers, also declared forthrightly that
'human solidarity was imposed on men by force and can be maintained only by the same means'. (2)
Nevertheless the strong-arm methods employed in the process of seizing power, which began immediately after 30 January, should not be overestimated. There is a core of truth in the phrase, soon to become part of the basic rhetorical vocabulary, about the 'most bloodless revolution in world history'. (3) In fact, one of the chief features of this new type of revolution was that violence was directed largely against the mind. Murder and bloody outrages were seen as an indispensable but more or less auxiliary form of demonstration. The decisive effects were achieved by a cunning system of psychological violence, which on the one hand won support by the seductive notion of the 'National Awakening', and on the other, paralysed opposition by the concept of the 'legal revolution' which not merely restricted the use of terrorist methods but actually ruled them out on ideological grounds. Immediate success in gaining control of all the mass media created the technical preconditions for the imposition of a programme of thought and feeling that now disciplined the nation as a single unit. At its centre, in endless and at times grotesque variations, stood the theme of the Fuhrer. The growing clamour of propaganda backed by all the resources of the state celebrated Hitler as the 'People's Chancellor', the 'national liberator', the 'renewer of the German blood', and presented him with tireless inventiveness as everything from the greatest of all Germans to the children's friend. He soon rose to almost mythical stature, and before the platforms which he mounted the artificially stimulated rutting cry of the masses rose more voraciously than ever. It was 'Hitler the great magician', (4), far more than any event, person or group among his followers, who was responsible for the overwhelming level of the jubilation that quickly drowned the screams rising from the 'heroes' cellars' of the SA headquarters. It was his combination of tactical skill with a sure grasp of the masses that within a year not only gave the NSDAP almost complete power but also roused the majority of the German people to a pitch of excitement that was a curious mixture of self-deception, idealism, fear, self-sacrifice and credulity, exuberantly celebrated as the 'miracle of Germany's emergence as a nation'.(5)
From his sense of personal victory Hitler then claimed the right to remould the state entirely according to his own judgement which meant, according to the autocratic structure of the NSDAP leadership. In a revealing phrase, he once called the German people his 'instrument' (6), and this naked principle of subjection was stylized into a sworn bond between Fuhrer and people. If National Socialism, apart from certain racial and expansionist fixations, ever did have a binding ideological or day-to-day political programme, this was finally abandoned in the course of seizing power and preserved only by a few eccentrics who were ridiculed or eliminated. The mass of former militants, many of them rewarded with benefices and offices, were steered on to the 'official' course, now quite openly aimed in the direction of Hitler's personal rule, and National Socialism revealed itself as what fundamentally it had always been: the ideological justification for its leader's will to power.
'The new Chancellor,' remarked a contemporary National Socialist essayist, 'entirely understandably from his point of view, has so far refused to present a detailed programme ("Party Member Number 1 doesn't answer", as the current Berlin joke has it)'. (7)
The public also saw in the events of those months the seizure of power not so much by the NSDAP or National Socialism as by Hitler himself. What held them captive, overwhelmed them or swept them along with it was not the patchwork of National Socialist ideology, which had never been taken seriously and was an affront to common sense and every ethical principle, but the figure of this man; he was the ideology, the focal point of fluctuating expectations and the desire for self-surrender and subjection. It was from this popular reaction that the well-prepared transformation of National Socialism into Hitlerism received its real confirmation and the legitimation of its autocracy. (8)
Hitler's path to absolute power, which has since been variously imitated, remains in its several phases the classic model for the totalitarian capture of democratic institutions from within, that is to say with the assistance of, not in opposition to, the power of the state. Briefly, the technique consisted in the tactic of so linking the processes of revolutionary assault with legal actions that a screen of legality, dubious in individual cases and yet convincing as a whole, hid the illegality of the system from view. The concealed manner of the conquest of power, which took place behind the facade of old institutions deliberately preserved for that purpose, was the crucial feature and the one that had the gravest consequences. National Socialism adopted and perfected the practices of the Bolshevik and Fascist states, and developed its own version of the so-called 'period of struggle'. It was part of the plan that certain areas of public life were provisionally spared; thus, for example, civil law was initially allowed considerable independence. Islands on which the rule of law prevailed were left amid an ocean of lawlessness, reassuring preserves in which traditional ideas of order continued apparently undisputed and this made it harder to assess the legality or illegality of the regime and decide whether to support or oppose it. In so far as the institutions and individuals responsible for constitutional integrity felt any concern at all over these acts on the boundaries of legality, and did not simply dismiss the partial encroachments with the crude formula that you can't make omelettes without breaking eggs, the almost universal reaction was one that only served to assist the National Socialists to gain power. Not a few people hoped by willing cooperation to prevent the 'worst excesses', the open transgression of legal bounds. They hoped to domesticate the revolutionary will, which Hitler was forever using as a bargaining counter and holding over their heads as a threat — above all as embodied in his brown-shirted storm-troopers. A smoke screen of nationalism fostered these illusions and persuaded the civil service, the army, the political parties and trade unions, and above all the simultaneously nationalist and law-abiding legal profession, to support precisely those totalitarian aims which some of them at least were trying to avert.
Furthermore, the public was confused not only by this brilliantly applied technique for concealing the facts but also by the breakneck speed at which, one after the other, opponents' positions were captured, leaving them no time to gather and regroup their in any case small and discouraged forces. Hitler later stated that it was his intention 'to seize power swiftly and at one blow'. (9) From the decree 'for the protection of the German People' of his first week as Chancellor, (10) the action against the Land of Prussia taken a few days later, and the so-called Reichstag Fire Decree, which established a permanent state of emergency, through the Enabling Law to the unparalleled decree declaring the murders carried out in connection with the Rohm affair to have been legal — which concluded the process of seizing power — each step was a consequence of the one before, and created the factual, technical preconditions for the next. It was precisely Ernst Rohm's lack of understanding of this concept of the gradual revolution carried out under the cloak of legality that led to his death and that of his followers. Naturally, Hitler's brutal action against Rohm lifted for one moment the carefully constructed backdrop and revealed what was going on offstage, where he and the rest of the leading actors of the 'legal revolution' were disclosed, without any disguise, in their unconditional determination to gain power. At the beginning of August 1934 Hitler had all the powers of the state in his hands before, in an act giving institutional status to the fact of his power, he followed Hindenburg as President of the Reich.
'For the next thousand years,' he proclaimed at Nuremberg, 'there will not be another revolution in Germany.' (11)
Hitler had reached his goal. In the 'years of construction' which followed he skilfully ran before the wind of the incipient world economic boom. With the instinct peculiar to him he sensed that the masses, and also the economy, were hungry for a forward thrust. And it was to his credit that he gave them what Bruning's government above all, excessively inhibited by its sense of responsibility, had failed to give. The decisiveness with which he was able to issue instructions gave his policy an added effectiveness scarcely possible for democratic institutions, with their multiple control mechanisms. The large-scale stimulation of production not only rapidly reduced the number of unemployed, but also opened the way to considerable and effective activity in the socio-political field. The regime strove to temper the rigorous imposition of its ideas of order, as expressed in the compulsory regulation of tariffs or the establishment of a state trade union, by showing conciliation towards the workers. While the new holders of power did not carry rout a single 'socialist' measure in their party programme, comprehensive welfare schemes served to organize the workers by means of holiday trips, sports festivals, factory celebrations, folk dancing, evening entertainments, and political education. At the same time, alongside the avowed aims of the 'Strength Through Joy' and 'Beauty of Labour' movements, these schemes performed the functions of control and pacification. The benefits to the individual scarcely concealed the true nature of these entertainments, which were merely compensations for a considerable deprivation of political rights. They reflected a contemptuous attitude towards the workers who, in Hitler's words, demanded nothing more than bread and circuses and had 'no understanding of any ideal'. (12) The intention to buy from the worker his right to social and political self-determination was always clear, however energetically these schemes were presented as manifestations of a sense of national community. Socialism in the Third Reich. according to Robert Ley's succinct phrase, was everything that served the interests of the German people; and since their interests were consistently identified by the National Socialist leaders with their own personal power aims, the rigid totalitarian permeation of every sphere of life was indeed 'socialism'. Moreover the regime's exceptional ability to spotlight its spectacular projects led to an overestimate of its successes. Any realistic judgement of this as of all other matters concerning Hitler's policies will also have to take account of the ruthlessness in the choice of means, as for example, that with regard to the policy for raising money, revealed by Hitler's cynical remark that
'no country has ever been ruined on account of its debts'. (13)
Finally, we must bear in mind the link between these achievements and the outbreak of war. Rearmament led to full employment, but the unrestrained expansion of production and credit was always linked with speculation on the future, the conquest of new Lebensraum, and was only feasible on this basis, if it was not to end in national economic disaster. (14) However, these implications were difficult to grasp at the time; moreover, few Germans, still shaken by the horrors of the economic crisis, were willing to reflect on these problems, and in 1937 and 1938 the popularity of Hitler and his government, reinforced by the success of their foreign policy, reached its zenith.
Nevertheless there was a dark side. There were persistent rumours about the concentration camps; and the defamation of minorities, the race cult, the policy towards the churches, the pressure on art and science, the arrogance of office holders and the sometimes intolerable over-organization of individuals also caused unrest. This of course appeared solely in cautious expressions of discontent that had no practical effect. The wide-spread expectation that power and the compulsions inherent in it would have a moderating influence on Hitler proved illusory, he remained, despite all popular appearances, the most radical National Socialist, whose personal initiative was one indeed the chief — source of the violent elements in the regime. But the astounding abilities which he had displayed during his rise to power were now supplemented by his capacity, used again and again with stimulating effect, to embody power now that he had it. In response to the needs and aims of the moment he could wield power threateningly or grandiosely, demonstrate it sombrely or intimidatingly, or from time to time jovially lighten the terror that regularly penetrated public consciousness — in high spirits among film actresses, eating stew at a field kitchen, at gala performances at Bayreuth, or as the simple man among children or old party militants. The principle of duplicity, which had always guided his tactics and given them their equivocal character, continued to set the pattern of his behaviour and that of his followers: barbed wire and steamer outings, 'mercy killings' and community get-togethers, dark cells and backslapping with the man in the street went hand in hand. But there was always one thing at stake: power, the ceaseless increase of which for its own sake alone was the obsession of his life.
Any demands of his office that did not offer opportunities for increasing his power were soon neglected. He had always hated the discipline of regular work; 'a single idea of genius is worth more than a whole lifetime of conscientious office work', he used to say. (15) It was only during the first month of his Chancellorship that Hitler could be induced to take his duties seriously. Back came the old bohemian traits, the dependence upon emotions and the abrupt changes of mood. Irresolutely according o unanimous witnesses — he frittered away his disorderly days by sudden changes of interest, putting off important decisions and pursuing others with disproportionate zeal.
'The efforts we are constantly trying to make,' wrote Goebbels in his characteristically Byzantine phraseology, 'have become in him a system of world-wide dimensions. His creative method is that of the authentic artist, no matter in what sphere he may operate.' (16)
Meanwhile whole areas of the state's functions went to rack and ruin because of his lack of interest, while the uncertainty of the various institutions as to their jurisdiction — an uncertainty which was, of course, to some extent deliberately fostered — at times led to chaos. Energetic and vigorous as the state appeared from the activities of individuals in the foreground, on closer examination it proved muddled and disorganised. From 1937 onwards there were no meetings of the Reichsleiters or Gauleiters. Departmental ministers had for months and finally for years on end no opportunity to make their reports; and in his distaste for the pressure of duties inescapable in the capital — and also from a dislike for Berlin and the Berliners — Hitler withdrew more and more frequently to Munich or to his mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden.
He secured agreement for his measures from the yes-men immediately about him and from the masses. In addition to the manipulated plebiscites it was above all the storms of enthusiasm aroused by his rhetorical appearances that were held to demonstrate the agreement of the nation with the policy of the government. These he contrasted, as the expression of 'true' democracy, with democratic methods that had degenerated into formalism and liberalism. It has been calculated that in the course of his life Hitler spoke before almost 35 million people. At the party gatherings held every autumn he regularly delivered between fifteen and sixteen speeches, as dependent as an addict upon the opiate of communication with the masses and furious if he failed to receive the expected ovation. (17) It was entirely in character that at the same time he isolated himself and from 1938 onwards admitted people to his presence solely as a mark of favour. (18) He hated discussions; unaccustomed to contradiction and long since reduced to expressing himself only in monologues, he preferred the hoarse exaltations of the public platform to the stricter rules of private argument. On the occasion of Mussolini's state visit, after a meal Hitler addressed his anguished visitor uninterruptedly for an hour and a half, without giving him the opportunity, which he strenuously sought, to reply. Almost all his visitors or colleagues had similar experiences, especially during the war, when the restless man's flood of words grew ever more excessive. The generals of the Fuhrer's headquarters found themselves forced to listen in helpless deference, fighting back sleep, night after night and mostly till early morning, to endless tirades on art, philosophy, race, technology, or history. He always needed listeners, receivers, never interlocutors, and any occasional objection that might be raised merely incited him to further wildly proliferating digressions, without bounds, without order, and without end.
His impatience took increasingly violent forms. Even as a child, on his own admission, Hitler had once had a fainting fit when he 'failed to get the last word in an argument with his father'. (19) Now he had the power to get it all the time. After describing himself to the British journalist Ward Price as 'one of the most musical people in the world', he whistled a tune wrong. When a member of his entourage pointed this out he retorted,
'It's not I who am whistling it wrong, but the composer who made a blunder here.'(20)
This episode, harmless in its infantility, contrasts with others where his claim to infallibility was linked with the 'argument' of vulgar force; he once challenged his lawyer Hans Frank to test the power of law against the power of his bayonet. Criticism he found intolerable; completely overlooking its constructive function, he saw in it only carping discontent and an outdated freedom which, he claimed, merely led people to behave 'like apes'. (21) His growing obstinacy and arrogance increased the void around him and made the expression of disagreement increasingly rare.
In his egocentricity Hitler naturally took this silence as a sign of dumbfounded admiration for the overwhelming grandeur of his visions and for his person. If the assertion of infallibility had originally been assumed for propaganda purposes, intended to gain him authority both in the party leadership and in the eyes of the masses, he now began to see himself wrapped in the aura of the Leader free from the weakness of human fallibility, his wishes consecrated by concurrence with the will of Providence itself.
'When I look back upon the five years that lie behind us,' he exclaimed during a speech in summer 1937, 'I can say, this was not the work of human hands alone!'(22)
In order to live up to the dimensions of his self-portrait he forced himself into the mould of a monument, at the price of what self-mutilation one can only guess. 'Through-out his life there was something indescribably distant about him,' Ribbentrop noted later, and the observation that he had 'a horror of appearing ridiculous', is merely the reverse side of the same complex. (23) One of his secretaries reports that he always scrupulously avoided being surprised playing with one of his dogs; the moment he knew he was being watched 'he roughly drove the dog away'. When his personal photographer Heinrich Hoffmann photographed him playing with Eva Braun's terrier, Hitler remarked,
'You mustn't publish this snap, Hoffmann. A statesman does not permit himself to be photographed with a little dog. A German sheepdog is the only dog worthy of a real man.' (24)
It was just this fear of showing himself without the pose of statesmanlike monumentality that made him so impersonal, so inhuman. Journalists and others often asked for information about his personal life; this was always refused. He never laughed without holding his hand across his face, apparently for fear of showing any natural human reaction. He tried to persuade Goring to give up smoking, using the highly revealing argument that as a monument one could not be portrayed 'with a cigar in one's mouth'.(25)
The state, over which he held absolute power, quickly took the shape of his own personality in countless respects: the naked dependence on power in relationships with people and things, coupled with a growing deterioration in all fields not connected with power; the boastful brutality of public manifestations of his will; the degradation of law; the theatrical and grandeur-seeking coldness which characterized all public announcements and all buildings representative of the state: the rigid constraint, followed from time to time by sudden discharges of energy; and finally the lack of relaxation and self-control. The special German form that all this took was not so much the expression of characteristics inherent in totalitarian systems as such as the faithful reflection of the mind of a psychopath in the institutions of state and society.
Within this larger pattern the widely canvassed view that Hitler gradually turned towards evil — which figures so prominently in the attempts at self-justification made especially by his accomplices from the conservative camp - becomes untenable. The popular version of the same argument, according to which the National Socialist state, with a few reservations, proved itself competent, effective and devoted to the public good, is also quickly shown to be an illusion. In this argument the war is presented as an avoidable deviation, and the extermination of the Jews, for example, as the inexorable consequence of an extremism that arose out of the bitterness caused by the 1939 war. But the will to force, the extremism, indeed the war itself, were from the very beginning rooted alike in the convictions of the rulers and in the nature of the regime; they were inseparable from its energetic measures for creating 'order'. we need not even look at the brutal incidents of its exercise of power -the murders, the l935 Nuremberg Laws against the Jews, or the growing number of concentration camps — to realize what the hectic policies and the continual striving for fresh goals make clear. Action, an unruly, turbulent dynamism that shook off all restraint, was among its characteristics and was bound to lead to aggression abroad as soon as there was no internal resistance left to overcome. The conditions which helped the system to success were the very conditions which caused its excesses, its acts of injustice, and finally its collapse.
This has recently been demonstrated by study of the Third Reich's economic policy. The economic upsurge, in so far as it was attributable not to the world economic boom but to the programme outlined in Hitler's memorandum for the Four-Year Plan, was mainly a false flowering achieved by destructive exploitation. True, it produced a considerable concentration of forces, but it brought the regime
'into a continually more acute state of emergency from which in the end war offered the only means of escape, if the National Socialist leaders were not prepared to sacrifice their ideological postulates to a realistic attitude to foreign policy'. (26)
Hitler himself later put this succinctly during one of the table talks at his headquarters.
'Particularly in the case of this war,' he explained to his hearers, 'one must never forget that if we lose it, we lose everything. There can therefore be but one slogan: Victory! If we win, the billions we have spent will weigh nothing in the scales.' (27)
The overstraining of the economy was simply one sign of the inescapable interrelation between 'success' and injustice in the National Socialist system; it was only one of the elements pushing the country towards war. In the centre there still stood the few primitive principles on which Hitler based his conception of human social life: life is struggle, the stronger kills the weaker, morality is stupidity or decadence. In his own words:
'The duel between intellect and strength will always be decided to the advantage of strength'; 'He who has, has'; 'Cruelty impresses'; or 'Everlasting peace will come to the world when the last man has slain the last but one.'(28)
Translated from the context of a general judgement of man and the world into that of concrete political policy, this becomes, for example:
I shall give a propagandist reason for starting the war, no matter whether it is plausible or not. The victor will not be asked afterwards whether he told the truth or not. When starting and waging war it is not right that matters, but victory.
Close your hearts to pity. Act brutally. Eighty million people must obtain what is their right. Their existence must be made secure. The strongest man is right. The greatest harshness. (29)
Hitler made this declaration to his military commanders a few days before the outbreak of war, when the pact with the Soviet Union had placed Poland 'where I wanted it'. The right of the 'biologically valuable' nation to subjugate, suppress and exterminate 'inferior' races seemed to him incontestable, and quite apart from his contempt for 'negrified' France or his later disparagement of 'degenerate' Britain, he always took for granted this assessment of the relative values of the German nation and its neighbours to the east. His concept of nationalism - which always had an imperialist tinge — always directed the thrust towards the East.
'We shall put an end to the perpetual Germanic march to the south and west of Europe', he writes in the famous passage in Mein Kampf, 'and turn our eyes towards the lands of the East. We shall finally put a stop to the colonial and trade policy of pre-war times and pass over to the territorial policy of the future.' (30)
The conquest of new Lebensraum in the 'heartland of the world',alongside the first-stage aim of wiping out the Treaty of Versailles, was the constant goal of Hitler's foreign policy, concealed at times for tactical reasons but never abandoned. On 5th November 1937, when he first disclosed his aggressive plans to a small group of top leaders, he described this conception as his legacy to the nation, in case he should die before it was realized. (31)
The idea of an early death, combined with the idea of his personal irreplaceability, perturbed him continually from this time on. This is indicated in numerous declarations referring to the need for rapid action, and swift and sudden actions that have been interpreted as springing from cold-blooded calculation were in reality also an expression of the disquiet that sprang from his premonitions of death. He stated in a speech at the end of 1937:
According to human calculations he, Hitler, had not very much longer to live. In his family people did not live to a great age. Both his parents had also died young.
Hence the problems that had to be solved (Lebensraum) must be solved as soon as possible, so that the task could be done during his lifetime. Later generations would no longer be able to do this. Only he personally was capable of it.
After severe inner struggles he had freed himself from childhood religious ideas which he had continued to harbour. 'Now I feel as fresh as a foal in the meadow.'(32)
Naturally his astounding series of successes in foreign policy changed his original timetable. On 5th November 1937 he had named the years 1943-5 as the most favourable for the attack; but in fact he resolved upon war as early as 1938. In foreign policy he repeated his tactics for the conquest of internal power. By regularly linking acts of aggression with assurances of peaceful intentions and brilliantly exploiting the widespread tendency to self-deluding passivity, he continually duped and paralysed his opponents. Before their partly horrified, partly helpless eyes, clouded by the same unchanging illusions and self-reassurance, he succeeded in everything he undertook, from the withdrawal from the League of Nations in October 1933 through the introduction of universal military service and the occupation of the Rhineland to Vienna, Munich and Prague. His success was due to luck, calculation and a readiness to risk everything which enabled him to stake all on even limited individual goals, and made him not only 'Europe's greatest actor', as he called himself with cynical pride, (33) but also its greatest gambler. Unlike his opponents, who believed themselves to be at peace, he considered himself permanently at war and knew pretty clearly what he wanted, whereas they only knew what they did not want: war. (34)
'Seized by the intoxication of success' (35) he trod dizzy heights. In 1938, at the mystical collective intoxication of the Nuremberg Party Rally, the personality cult approached pure idolatry. Robert Ley described him as the only human being who had never made a mistake; Hans Frank called him lonely like everything strong in the world, like God himself; and an SS Gruppenfuhrer Schulz from Pomerania asserted that he was greater than Jesus Christ, for the latter had had twelve loyal disciples, while the Fuhrer stood at the head of a nation of seventy million sworn to loyalty. (36) In spite of occasional ironic asides, Hitler accepted the utterances of the cult that was springing up around his person in the growing certainty of his superhumanity and at times himself lapsed into an exalted, hymnlike tone that was a travesty of religious phraseology:
How could we not feel once again at this hour the miracle that brought us together! [he cried in a 1936 speech to political leaders]. You once heard the voice of a man, and it struck your hearts, it awakened you and you followed this voice. You followed it for years, without even having seen the owner of the voice; you merely heard a voice and followed it.
When we meet here we are all filled by the miraculous quality of this meeting. Not every one of you sees me, and I do not see everyone of you. But I feel you, and you feel me! It is the faith in our nation that has made us small people great, that has made us poor people rich, that has made us vacillating, despondent, frightened people brave and determined; that has given us blind wanderers sight and brought us together!
So you come from your little villages, your market towns, your cities, from mines and factories, away from the plough on one day to this city. You come from the narrow environment of the struggle of your daily lives and your struggle for Germany and for our nation in order to have the feeling: 'Now we are together, we are with him and he is with us, and now we are Germany! It is a wonderful thing for me to be your Führer. (37)
And at about the same time as his 'intuition' had once more proved itself, contrary to the ideas of the experts, in a crisis of foreign affairs, he asserted, 'I go the way that Providence dictates with the assurance of a sleepwalker.' (38)
Now, however, this assurance began to forsake him. Alan Bullock has rightly pointed out that Hitler was favoured by success only so long as he used the belief in his infallibility as an instrument of his policy, but that his destiny changed when, blinded by the effortlessness of his victories, he began to believe in it himself and to take deification seriously:
'No man was ever more surely destroyed by the image he had created than Adolf Hitler.' (39)
Pampered, puffed up with his good fortune, he began to underrate his opponents, to set before them, more and more arrogantly, dishonourable alternatives, to blackmail them in ever swifter sequence, and finally point-blank to provoke military involvement. He declared to the dumbfounded British Premier Neville Chamberlain-at Berchtesgaden in 1938 that he 'didn't care whether there was a war or not', and after the Munich Conference he complained, 'That fellow Chamberlain has spoilt my entry into Prague' — by his willingness to compromise, (40) although the war that Hitler wanted (41) had not been adequately prepared for politically, psychologically or militarily. In spite of the massive efforts of the controlled press, the people were not ready to 'call for force', as Hitler had demanded of the chief editors of the national press in his speech of November l938. (42) When on the afternoon of 27th September the same year, at the height of the Sudeten crisis in Czechoslovakia, a motorized division passed through the streets of Berlin in marching order, the people looked on in profound silence before turning away. 'I can't wage war with this nation yet,' Hitler is said to have exclaimed angrily. (43)
But he was determined to
'compel the German people, who are hesitating before their destiny, to walk the road to greatness'. (44)
Peace, which in September 1938 had once more been preserved, a year later had no chance left. For in the meantime the world felt itself challenged to the limit by the so-called Crystal Night (on which windows of Jewish shops were smashed throughout Germany) and the swallowing up of Czechoslovakia, by the spectacle of Hitler's tearing up the Munich Agreement before the ink was dry. As though intoxicated, alternately pursuing his actions and being dragged along by them, seeking refuge in rhetorical delirium before the masses and with his judgement clouded by emotional exaltation, Hitler diligently arranged the preconditions for the catastrophe.
'Our opponents are little worms,' he scoffed. 'I saw them in Munich.'
And he refused to believe they would take risks. When, at the end of August 1939, Goring tried to halt his insane behaviour and asked him to abandon his desperate gamble, Hitler replied excitedly that he had gambled desperately all his life. (45)
At this period, at the latest, it became evident that in sheer personal calibre he fell far short of the demands of the power he exercised and that he had gained nothing in the way of real knowledge, but simply increased his skill in the techniques of power and the overcoming of opposition. Despite all the tactical adroitness and cold-blooded superiority to which he owed his momentary triumphs, he remained the prisoner of his past with its prejudices and provincial limitations; although a statesman of Machiavellian cast, he was no more than a beer-cellar agitator of demonic proportions, who discounted all moral evaluation and saw the harassing problems that had been placed in his hands in the hazy perspective of the Munich local politician. So he continually compared the war with his struggle for power in Germany and tried to deduce certainty of victory from the processes of history. But this war was a disastrous departure from the recipe for tactical success which he had followed in the past. Fundamentally, he repeated in autumn 1939 the very mistake he had made in November 1923. With so much in his favour, he could probably have got most of what he wanted by that tactic of semi-'legality', of pursuing individual goals stubbornly and by more than one route, of fraudulent assurances, which had served him so extraordinarily well in his domestic policy and so far in his foreign policy too. Now he forsook this way, out of arrogance and impatience, corrupted by the success of the politician grown great in protest and accustomed to making 'indispensable demands', but deceived by his own foolish and trite platitudes. He reverted to the 'putschist solution' that had failed once already.
'Only he who lives dangerously lives fully,' he used to quote from Nietzsche, adding on one occasion, 'He wrote that for me.' (46)
Years before he had said in one of his bloody and misanthropic prophecies to Hermann Rauschning:
We must be prepared for the hardest struggle that a nation has ever had to face. Only through this test of endurance can we become ripe for the dominion to which we are called. It will be my duty to carry on this war regardless of losses. The sacrifice of lives will be immense. We all of us know what world war means. As a people we shall be forged to the hardness of steel. All that is weakly will fall away from us. But the forged central block will last forever. I have no fear of annihilation. We shall have to abandon much that is dear to us and today seems irreplaceable. Cities will become heaps of ruins; noble monuments of architecture will disappear forever. This time our sacred soil will not be spared. But I am not afraid of this. (47)
In these few sentences lies the epitaph of almost fifty million people.
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