Modern history



At the end of the First World War, General Erich Ludendorff, Germany’s military dictator for the last two years or so of the conflict, thought it prudent to remove himself from the political scene for a while. Dismissed from office on 25 October 1918 after a bitter row with the newly appointed last, liberal government of the Kaiser, he lingered on for a while in Berlin, then, donning dark glasses and false whiskers, he slipped across the Baltic to Sweden to sit out the Revolution. By February 1919 he evidently thought the worst was over and returned to Germany. Such was the prestige he had gained in the war that he quickly became the figurehead of the radical right. A Pan-German annexationist in 1914-18, and a rabid opponent of the Peace Settlement, he immediately began conspiring to overthrow the new Republican order. Gathering a group of his former aides around him, he lent his support to the short-lived putsch mounted against the government in Berlin by Wolfgang Kapp and the Free Corps in March 1920, and when this failed, left for the more congenial atmosphere of Munich. Here he soon came into contact with the ultra-nationalist circle that had by now gathered round the previously unknown figure of Adolf Hitler.36

By the time the two eventually met, Hitler had acquired the first members of the devoted band of enthusiasts who would play a key role in one capacity or another in the growth of the Nazi Party and the building of the Third Reich. Most devoted of all was the student Rudolf Hess, a pupil of the geopolitical theorist Karl Haushofer at Munich University. The son of an authoritarian businessman who had refused to allow him to study before the war, Hess seemed to be looking for a strong leader to whom he could bind himself unconditionally. Like a number of subsequently prominent Nazis, he came from outside the German Reich: Hess was born in Alexandria in 1894. Service in the war, which he ended as an Air Force lieutenant, gave him one kind of authority to obey, study with Haushofer another. Neither gave him what he really wanted, any more than did the Free Corps or the Thule Society, of which Hess was also a member. It was eventually provided by Hitler, whom he met in 1920. Antisemitism was a shared passion: Hess denounced the ‘pack of Jews’ who he thought had betrayed Germany in 1918, and even before he met Hitler he led expeditions to working-class districts of Munich to slip thousands of antisemitic leaflets under the front doors of workers’ flats.37Henceforth, Hess directed all the force of his hero-worship towards Hitler. Naive, idealistic, without personal ambition or greed, and, according to Haushofer, not very bright, Hess had an inclination to believe in irrational and mystical doctrines such as astrology; his dog-like devotion to Hitler was almost religious in its fervour; he regarded Hitler as a kind of Messiah. From now on, he would be Hitler’s silent, passive slave, drinking in his master’s words at the regular coffee round in the Café Heck, and gradually taking much of the burden of the routine work Hitler so hated off his shoulders. In addition, he introduced Hitler to an elaborate version of the common Pan-German theory of ‘living-space’, Lebensraum, with which Haushofer justified German claims to conquer Eastern Europe, and which the novelist Hans Grimm popularized with his best-seller Race without Space (Volk ohne Raum) in 1926.38

Useful to Hitler in another way was the failed racist poet and dramatist Dietrich Eckart, a former medical student. Eckart was already active in far-right circles in December 1918, when he started publishing a political weekly, In Plain German (Auf gut deutsch),with backing from a number of Bavarian businessmen and also the political fund of the army. Eckart blamed his failure to get his plays performed on what he believed to be the Jewish domination of culture. He was in personal contact with other racists and ‘Aryan’ supremacists like Houston Stewart Chamberlain, whose work he did much to popularize. Like many antisemites, he defined as ‘Jewish’ anyone who was ‘subversive’ or ‘materialistic’, including, among others (in his view), Lenin and Kaiser Wilhelm II. Well connected and well off, Eckart, like Hess, was a member of the Thule Society and raised the funds from his friends, and from the army, for the Nazi Party to buy the Society’s ailing newspaper, the Racial Observer (Völkischer Beobachter), in December 1920. He became editor himself, bringing much-needed journalistic experience to its twice-weekly editions and expanding it into a daily early in 1923. Eventually, however, his relative independence, and his rather patronizing attitude towards Hitler, led to a cooling of relations between the two men, and he was dismissed as editor of the paper in March 1923, dying later in the year.39

Two associates he brought into the Party from the Thule Society served Hitler more reliably, however, and a good deal longer. The first of these was the Baltic-German architect Alfred Rosenberg. Another leading Nazi from beyond the Reich, he was born in Reval, Estonia, in 1893. He fled the Russian Revolution, conceiving an intense hatred for Bolshevism, and at the end of the war arrived in Munich, where he became a contributor to Eckart’s little magazine. He had already become an antisemite before 1914, as a result of reading Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s work at the age of 16. An enthusiast for the Tsarist police forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purported to provide evidence of an international Jewish plot to subvert civilization, Rosenberg also read Gobineau and Nietzsche, and after the war wrote polemical tracts attacking Jews and Freemasons. His main desire was to be taken seriously as an intellectual and a cultural theorist. In 1930 Rosenberg was to publish his magnum opus, named The Myth of the Twentieth Century in homage to the principal work of his idol, Houston Stewart Chamberlain. This was intended to provide the Nazi Party with a major work of theory. The book had sold over a million copies by 1945 and some of its ideas were not without influence. But Hitler himself claimed never to have read more than a small part of it and disliked what he saw as its pseudo-religious tone, and it is unlikely that more than a few of the most dedicated readers managed to plough their way through its acres of turgid prose to the end. Still, in their frequent conversations in Munich cafés, Rosenberg more than anyone probably turned Hitler’s attention towards the threat of Communism and its supposed creation by a Jewish conspiracy, and alerted Hitler to what he considered the fragile nature of the Soviet Russian polity. Through Rosenberg, Russian antisemitism, with its extreme conspiracy theories and its exterminatory thrust, found its way into Nazi ideology in the early 1920s. ‘Jewish-Bolshevism’ now became a major target of Hitler’s hate.40

The other man whom Eckart brought into the Nazi Party was Hans Frank. He was born in Karlsruhe in 1900, the son of a lawyer who initially followed in his father’s footsteps. While still a law student, in 1919, he joined the Thule Society and served in the Epp Free Corps in the storming of Munich. Frank quickly fell under Hitler’s spell, though he never became one of his inner circle. Hearing him speak in January 1920, Frank felt, like many others, that Hitler’s words came directly from the heart: ‘He uttered what was in the consciousness of all those present,’ he said later. Throughout his life, he was fascinated by the pornography of violence: he admired brutal men of action, and frequently used the language of violence with a directness and aggression unmatched by almost any other leading Nazi, in an attempt to seem like them; but his legal training and background gave him a residual belief in the law that sometimes sat uneasily alongside his penchant for coarse language and his defence of murderous actions. He qualified as a lawyer, with a doctorate in 1924, and his legal expertise, however limited, was to prove extremely useful to the Party. Up to 1933 he represented it in over 2,400 cases brought against its members, usually for acts of violence of one kind or another. Soon after he defended some Nazi thugs in court for the first time, a senior lawyer who had been one of his teachers said: ‘I beg you to leave these people alone! No good will come of it! Political movements that begin in the criminal courts will end in the criminal courts!’41

By the time these men and many more like them had become part of the Nazi Party, the fledgling movement had an official Programme, composed by Hitler and Drexler with a little help from the ‘racial economist’ Gottfried Feder, and approved on 24 February 1920. Its 25 points included the demand for ‘the union of all Germans in a Greater Germany’, the revocation of the 1919 Peace Treaties, ‘land and territory (colonies) to feed our people‘, the prevention of ’non-German immigration’, and the death penalty for ‘common criminals, usurers, profiteers etc.’Jews were to be denied civil rights and registered as aliens, and they were to be banned from owning or writing for German newspapers. A pseudo-socialist note was sounded by the demand for the abolition of unearned incomes, the confiscation of war profits, the nationalization of business trusts and the introduction of profit-sharing. The Programme concluded with a demand for ‘the creation of a strong central state power for the Reich’ and the effective replacement of the federated state parliaments by corporations based on estate and occupation’.42 It was a typical far-right document of its time. In practice, it did not mean very much, and, like the Social Democrats’ Erfurt Programme of 1891, was often bypassed or ignored in the everyday political struggle, although it was soon declared to be ‘unalterable’, so as to prevent it from becoming a focus for internal dissension.43

Dissension there was, however, with other causes, principally Drexler’s efforts to merge the party with other far-right organizations in the Bavarian capital. Drexler. had his eye in particular on the ‘German-Socialist Party’, a similar-sized group with virtually identical aims to those of the Nazis. Unlike the Nazi Party, it had a presence in north Germany. A merger would give more influence to those who, like Feder, disapproved of the vulgarity of Hitler’s constant rabble-rousing speeches. Hitler, fearing he would be submerged in the new movement, scotched the negotiations in April 1921 by threatening to resign. Another crisis blew up when Hitler was with Eckart in Berlin on a fund-raising mission for the Racial Observer. Merger talks began again in his absence, this time also involving a third small antisemitic party, based in Augsburg and led by one Otto Dickel, whose abilities as a public speaker were rated by some almost as highly as Hitler’s own. Unable to prevent the Nazi Party going along with Dickel’s scheme to create a merged ‘Western League’ (named after his somewhat mystical racist tract The Resurrection of the West), Hitler threw a tantrum and resigned from the Party altogether. This brought matters to a head, as Drexler back-pedalled and asked Hitler to name the conditions on which he would rejoin. In the end, few were prepared to do without the man whose demagogy had been the sole reason for the Party’s growth over the previous months. The merger plans were abandoned. Hitler’s uncompromising conditions were accepted with acclaim at an extraordinary general meeting on 29 July: they culminated in the demand that he should be made Party chairman ’with dictatorial powers’ and that the Party be purged of the ‘foreign elements which have now penetrated it’.44

Having secured his complete mastery over the Nazi Party, Hitler now enjoyed its full support for the propaganda campaign he quickly unfolded. It soon descended from provocation to violence. On 14 September 1921 a group of young Nazis went with Hitler to a meeting of the Bavarian League, a separatist organization, and marched onto the platform with the intention of silencing the speaker, Otto Ballerstedt. Someone switched all the lights off, and when they came on again, chants of ‘Hitler’ prevented Ballerstedt from continuing. As the audience protested, Hitler’s young thugs attacked the separatist leader, beat him up, and pushed him roughly off the platform onto the floor, where he lay bleeding profusely from a head wound. Soon the police appeared and closed the meeting down. Ballerstedt insisted on prosecuting Hitler, who duly served a month in Munich’s Stadelheim gaol. The police warned him that if he continued in this way he would be sent back to Austria as an alien. The warning had little effect. In early November 1921, shortly after his release, Hitler was at the centre of another beer-cellar brawl, with beer-mugs flying across the room as Nazis and Social Democrats traded blows. Soon the Nazis were arming themselves with knuckledusters, rubber truncheons, pistols and even grenades. In the summer of 1922, a crowd of Nazis shouted, whistled and spat at Reich President Ebert as he was visiting Munich. An outing to a nationalist rally in Coburg in October 1922 culminated in a pitched battle with Social Democrats in which the Nazis eventually drove their opponents from the streets with their rubber truncheons.45 Not surprisingly, the Nazi Party was soon banned in most German states, especially after the murder of Foreign Minister Rathenau in June 1922, when the Berlin government attempted a clampdown on far-right extremists whether or not they had been involved in the assassination. But not in right-wing Bavaria.46

The new note of physical violence in the Nazi campaign reflected not least the rapid growth of the Party’s paramilitary wing, founded early in 1920 as a ‘hall protection’ group, soon renamed the ’Gymnastics and Sports Section’. With their brown shirts and breeches, jackboots and caps - a uniform that only found its final form in 192447—its members soon became a familiar sight on Munich’s streets, beating up their opponents on the streets and attacking anyone they thought looked like a Jew. What turned them from a small group of bully-boys into a major paramilitary movement was a series of events that had little to do with Hitler. The relative immunity from police interference which they enjoyed reflected in the first place the fact that the Bavarian government, led by Gustav Ritter von Kahr, had long been sympathetic to paramilitary movements of the far right, as part of the counter-revolutionary ’white terror’ of 1919—20. In this atmosphere, Captain Hermann Ehrhardt, former commander of a Free Corps brigade, had established an elaborate network of assassination squads that had carried out political murders all over Germany, including the killing of several leading Republican politicians, and the murder of a number of their own members whom they suspected as double agents.48 Kahr himself regarded the Republic as a Prussian creation, to be countered by the maintenance of Bavaria as a centre of anti-Republican ‘order’, and to this end he maintained a massive, so-called Denizens’ Defence Force, set up immediately after the crushing of the Communist Council Republic in the spring of 1919. Heavily armed and militarily equipped, it clearly contravened the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and was compulsorily wound up early in 1921. Its dissolution was the signal for a reorganization of Bavaria’s radical right and a sharp increase in the incidence of violence, as its members reformed into a huge variety of armed bands, many of them Bavarian separatist in orientation, all of them antisemitic.49

Ehrhardt brought his Free Corps veterans into the Nazis’ ‘Gymnastics and Sports Section’ in August 1921; they were hardened graduates of violent confrontations with Poles and others in Silesia, where the Peace Settlement had created massive German resentment by lopping off territory held by Germany before the war to give to the newly founded Polish state. The deal with Ehrhardt was brokered by Ernst Röhm, another Free Corps veteran, who had participated in the assault on Munich in the early spring of 1919. Born in 1887, the son of a Bavarian railway official, Röhm had joined the army in 1906 and became an officer two years later. He served at the front in the war, but was invalided out - shrapnel had partially destroyed his nose and badly damaged his face, and he had been seriously wounded at Verdun. After this, Röhm worked for the War Ministry in Bavaria and was in charge of arranging the supply of weapons, first for Kahr’s Denizens’ Defence Force and then for its fragmented successor groups. Known to such people as the ‘machine-gun king’, Röhm boasted a huge range of contacts on the far right. Among other things, he was a staff officer and enjoyed a high reputation in the army, and acted as a liaison officer with the paramilitaries. He clearly had a talent for organization. But his interest did not really lie in politics. Ernst Röhm was the epitome of a front-line generation that had come to believe in its own myth.50

Röhm’s penchant was for mindless violence, not political conspiracy. An analysis of his writings has shown that he used words like ‘prudent’, ‘compromise’, ‘intellectual’, ‘bourgeois’ or ‘middle-class’ almost invariably in a pejorative sense; his positive, admiring expressions included ‘strapping’, ‘daredevil’, ‘ruthless’ and ‘faithful’. The first words of his autobiography, published in Munich in 1928, were: ’I am a soldier.’ He described himself as ‘contrary’ and complained: ‘The Germans have forgotten how to hate. Feminine complaining has taken the place of masculine hatred.’51 ‘Since I am an immature and wicked person,’ he wrote with characteristic openness, ‘war and unrest appeal to me more than well-behaved bourgeois order.’52 He had no interest at all in ideas, and glorified the rough and brutal lifestyle of the soldier in his acts as well as his creed. He had nothing but contempt for civilians, and revelled in the lawlessness of wartime life. Drinking and carousing, fighting and brawling cemented the band of brothers among whom he found his place; women were treated with disdain, strangers to the military life had no place in his world.

Röhm saw in Hitler, whose own penchant for using physical violence to further his ends was already more than obvious, a natural vehicle for his desires, and took the lead in building up the Party’s paramilitary wing movement, renamed the ‘Storm Division’ (Sturmabteilung, or SA) in October 1921. His connections in the army hierarchy, in the upper levels of Bavarian politics, and with the paramilitaries, were invaluable to the fledgling organization. At the same time, however, he always maintained a degree of independence from Hitler, never really fell under his personal spell, and sought to use his movement as a vehicle for his own cult of ceaseless violent activism rather than placing the stormtroopers unconditionally at the Party’s disposal. The SA remained a formally separate organization, therefore, and Röhm’s relations with the Nazi Party’s leader always retained an uneasy undertone. With Röhm in the lead, the stormtroopers soon began to grow in numbers. Yet by August 1922 they still counted no more than 800 in their ranks, and other, long since forgotten paramilitary movements such as the Reich War Flag, or the Bavaria and Reich League, which had no fewer than 30,000 members, all of them armed, were far more prominent. It needed much more than the influence of Ehrhardt and Röhm and the demagogy of Hitler before the Nazis and their paramilitary movement could seize the initiative in Bavarian politics.53


In 1922 the Nazis’ hopes were sharply raised when news came in of Benito Mussolini’s ‘March on Rome’ on 28 October, which had immediately led to the Fascist leader’s appointment as Prime Minister of Italy. Where the Italians had succeeded, surely their German counterparts could not be far behind? As so often with Mussolini, the image was more than the reality. Born in 1883 and in his early life a prominent socialist journalist, Mussolini had changed his politics dramatically during his campaign for Italy’s entry into the war, and at the war’s end he became the spokesman for Italian feelings of injured pride as the Peace Settlement failed to deliver the hoped-for gains. In 1919 he launched his Fascist movement, which used violent tactics, terror and intimidation against its left-wing opponents, who were alarming industrialists, employers and businessmen with policies such as occupying factories in pursuit of their demand for common ownership of the means of production. Rural unrest also drove landowners into the arms of the Fascist squads, and, as the situation deteriorated in the course of 1920 and 1921, Mussolini was carried along by the dynamism of his movement. His rise to prominence indicated that postwar conflict, civil strife, murder and war were not confined to Germany. They were widespread across Eastern, Central and Southern Europe. They included the Russo-Polish War, which only ended in 1921, armed irredentist conflicts in many of the successor states to the Habsburg Empire, and the creation of short-lived dictatorships in Spain and Greece.

Mussolini’s example influenced the Nazi Party in a number of ways, notably in its adoption in late 1922 and early 1923 of the title of ‘Leader’ - Duce. in Italian, Führer in German - to denote the unquestionable authority of the man at the movement’s head. The growing cult of Hitler’s personality in the Nazi Party, fuelled by the Italian precedent, also helped convince Hitler himself that it was he, and not some figure yet to come, who was destined to lead Germany into a future national rebirth, a conviction that was indelibly confirmed by the events of the autumn of 1923.54 By this time, the Nazis had also begun to borrow from the Italian Fascists the rigid, outstretched right-arm salute with which they ritually greeted their leader in an imitation of the ceremonies of Imperial Rome; the leader responded by raising his own right hand, but crooked back at the elbow, palm opened upwards, in a gesture of acceptance. The Nazi Party’s use of elaborate standards to carry its flags also derived from the practice of the Italian Fascists. Mussolini’s main practical influence on Hitler at this period, however, was to convince him that the tactic of a march on the capital was the quickest way to power. As the Fascist squads began to seize control of major cities and towns in the Italian north, Mussolini, drawing on the famous example of the revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi during the unification of Italy more than sixty years before, declared that he would use them as a base for a ‘march on Rome’. In order to avoid bloodshed, the Italian King and the leading politicians capitulated and appointed him Prime Minister, a position which he used with increasing ruthlessness to establish a dictatorial, one-party state by the end of the decade.55

Mussolini’s Fascist movement shared many key characteristics not only with Nazism but also with other extremist movements of the right, for example in Hungary, where Gyula Gömbös was referring to himself as a ‘National Socialist’ as early as 1919. Italian Fascism was violent, ceaselessly active, it despised parliamentary institutions, it was militaristic, and it glorified conflict and war. It was bitterly opposed not only to Communism but also, even more importantly, to socialism and to liberalism. It favoured an organic view of society, in which class interests and popular representation would be replaced by appointed institutions cutting across the classes and uniting the nation. It was masculinist and anti-feminist, seeking a state in which men would rule and women would be reduced mainly to the functions of childbearing and childrearing. It elevated the leader to a position of unchallenged authority. It espoused a cult of youth, declaring its intention of sweeping away old institutions and traditions and creating a new form of human being, tough, anti-intellectual, modern, secular and above all fanatically devoted to the cause of his own nation and race.56 In all these respects, it provided a model and a parallel for the emerging Nazi Party.

Early Nazism, therefore, like the myriad competing movements of the far right in the immediate postwar years, belonged firmly in this wider context of the rise of European fascism. For a long time, Hitler looked admiringly to Mussolini as an example to follow. The ‘march on Rome’ galvanized the nascent fascist movements of Europe much as Garibaldi’s march on Rome and the subsequent unification of Italy had galvanized the nationalist movements of Europe sixty or so years earlier. The.tide of history seemed to be moving in Hitler’s direction; democracy’s days were numbered. As the situation in Germany began to deteriorate with increasing rapidity in the course of 1922 and 1923, Hitler began to think that he could do the same in Germany as Mussolini had done in Italy. When the German government defaulted on reparations payments, and French troops occupied the Ruhr, nationalists in Germany exploded with rage and humiliation. The Republic’s loss of legitimacy was incalculable; the government had to be seen to be doing something to oppose the occupation. A widespread campaign of civil disobedience, encouraged by the German government, led to further reprisals on the part of the French, with arrests, imprisonments and expulsions. Among many examples of French repression, nationalists remembered how one war veteran and railway worker was sacked and deported with his family for delivering a pro-German speech at a war memorial; another man, a schoolteacher, suffered the same fate after getting his pupils to turn their backs when French troops marched past.57 Schoolboy gangs shaved the heads of women thought to be ‘shamelessly consorting with the French’, while others, less dramatically, demonstrated their patriotism by walking miles to school rather than travelling by the French-run railway. A few workers actively tried to sabotage the occupation; one of them, Albert Leo Schlageter, a former Free Corps soldier, was executed for his activities, and the nationalist right, led by the Nazis, quickly seized on the incident as an example of the brutality of the French and the weakness of the Berlin government, turning Schlageter into a much-publicized nationalist martyr in the process. Industry ground to a standstill, further exacerbating the country’s already dire financial problems.58

Nationalists had a. potent propaganda weapon in the presence of black French colonial troops amongst the occupying forces. Racism was endemic in all European societies in the interwar years, as it was indeed in the United States and other parts of the world too. It was generally assumed by Europeans that dark-skinned people were inferior human beings, savages whom it was the white man’s mission to tame.59 The use of colonial troops by the British and French during the First World War had excited a certain amount of unfavourable comment in Germany; but it was their presence on German territory itself, first of all in the occupied part of the Rhineland, then in 1923 during the brief French march into the Ruhr, that really opened the floodgates for lurid racist propaganda. Many Germans living in the Rhineland and the Saar felt humiliated that, as one of them later put it, ‘Siamese, Senegalese and Arabs made themselves the masters of our homeland’.60 Soon, cartoonists were arousing racist and nationalist emotions by penning crude, semi-pornographic sketches of bestial black soldiers carrying off innocent white German women to a fate worse than death. On the right, this became a potent symbol of Germany’s national humiliation during the Weimar years, and the myth of the mass rape of German women by French colonial troops became so powerful that the few hundred mixed-race children to be found in Germany in the early 11930s were almost universally regarded as the offspring of such incidents. In fact, the overwhelming majority of them actually seem to have been the result of consensual unions, often between German colonists and indigenous Africans in the German colonies before or during the war.61

As the Nazis and many more who thought like them exploited these fears and resentments to the full, the government in Berlin seemed powerless to do anything about it. Plans and conspiracies began to multiply. Hitler was not the only person to contemplate a march on Berlin: the ‘National-Bolshevist’ Hans von Hentig, who was to become Germany’s most distinguished criminologist after 1945, was also starting to gather arms and troops in a hare-brained scheme to use the Communist Party as an ally in a violent seizure of power with the aim of getting Germany to repudiate the Treaty of Versailles.62 The idea was not very realistic, whoever tried to put it into action; both Germany’s federal structure and its constitution made a repetition of what had happened in Italy extremely unlikely. Nevertheless, it quickly took root. Hitler embarked on a massive propaganda offensive, berating the ‘November criminals’ in Berlin for their weakness, and building up in a crescendo of public demonstrations against the French.

His prospects were greatly improved at this time by the accession of a further group of new and very useful supporters to the Nazi movement. Among them was Ernst ‘Putzi’ Hanfstaengl, a tall, part-American socialite from a wealthy background in the world of art dealing and publishing, whose snobbery always prevented him from falling wholly under Hitler’s spell. But Hanfstaengl thought Hitler’s petty-bourgeois simplicity - his appalling taste in art, his ignorance of wine, his clumsy table manners - simply underlined his patent sincerity. His lack of polish was an essential precondition of his uncanny ability to connect with the masses. Like many other admirers of Hitler, Hanfstaengl first came into contact with him by attending one of his speeches; for his part, Hitler was overwhelmed by Hanfstaengl’s drawing-room sophistication, and enjoyed listening to him playing Wagner on the piano, marching round the room and conducting with his arms as the strains of the master sounded out. More seriously, Hanfstaengl was able to introduce Hitler to influential people in Munich high society, including publishers, businessmen and army officers. Such circles found it amusing to patronize him, were entertained when he appeared at their elegant parties dressed in an army coat and carrying a dog-whip, and shared enough of his views to guarantee his loans - as the wife of the piano manufacturer Bechstein did - and to support him in various other ways. Only the most dedicated, however, like the businessman Kurt Lüdecke, gave Hitler money in any great quantity. Otherwise, the Nazi Party had to rely on its friends in high places, like the former diplomat Max Erwin von Scheubner-Richter, to steer a small portion of business funds meant for Ludendorff in their direction while it continued to draw most of its income from Party membership dues.63

A very different kind of backing was provided in October 1922 by the arrival in the Nazi Party, with his followers in Nuremberg, of Julius Streicher, another ex-soldier, sporting, like Hitler, the Iron Cross, and a founder-member of the German-Socialist Party after the war. Impressed by Hitler’s progress, Streicher brought so many supporters into the Nazi Party that it virtually doubled in size overnight. Protestant Franconia was an ideal recruiting-ground for Nazism, with its resentful peasantry, its susceptibility to the appeal of antisemitism and the absence of any dominant established political party. Streicher’s accession extended the Party’s influence significantly further northwards. But in acquiring Streicher, the Party also acquired a vicious antisemite whose extreme hatred of the Jews matched even Hitler’s, and a man of violence who carried a heavy whip in public and personally beat up his helpless opponents once he had achieved a position of power. In 1923 Streicher founded a sensational popular newspaper, The Stormer (Der Stürmer), which rapidly established itself as the place where screaming headlines introduced the most rabid attacks on Jews, full of sexual innuendo, racist caricatures, made-up accusations of ritual murder and titillating, semi-pornographic stories of Jewish men seducing innocent German girls. So extreme was the paper, and so obviously obsessive was its brutish-looking, shaven-headed editor, that Streicher never acquired a great deal of influence within the movement, whose leaders regarded him with some distaste, and the paper was even banned for a period under the Third Reich.

Yet Streicher was not just a thug. A former schoolteacher, he was also a poet whose lyrics have been described as ‘quite attractive’, and, like Hitler, he painted watercolours, though in his case only as a hobby. Streicher, too, fancied himself as an artist; he was not without education, he was a professional journalist and was also, therefore, in a sense, a bohemian like Hitler. His ideas, though expressed in an extreme form, were not particularly unusual in the right-wing circles of the day, and owed a lot, as he himself acknowledged, to the influence of prewar German antisemitism, particularly Theodor Fritsch. And Streicher’s antisemitism was in no sense on the outer fringe of the Nazi movement. Hitler, indeed, later commented that Streicher, in a way, ‘idealised the Jew. The Jew is baser, fiercer, more diabolical than Streicher depicted him.’ He may not have been an effective administrator, Hitler conceded, and his sexual appetite led him into all kinds of trouble, but Hitler always remained loyal to him. At times, when it was important for Nazism to present a respectable face, The Stormer could be an embarrassment; but only as a matter of tactics, never as an issue of principle or belief.64


In 1923, Hitler and the Nazi Party felt no particular need to look respectable. Violence seemed the obvious way to power. The far-right Bavarian government of Gustav Ritter von Kahr, sympathetic to the paramilitaries, had fallen in September 1921. Since then, Kahr and his friends had been embroiled in intrigues against the government led by Eugen von Knilling and his Bavarian People’s Party. As many moderate conservatives were to do later on, Knilling and his allies felt that the Nazis were a threat, and disliked their violence, but considered that their heart was in the right place and their idealism only needed to be used in a more productive and healthy way. So they, too, were relatively tolerant of the Nazis’ activities. Moreover, on the one occasion on which they tried to crack down by banning a Nazi Party rally at the end of January 1923, fearing it would become violent, the army commander in Bavaria, General Hermann von Lossow, was contacted by Röhm and agreed to support Hitler’s right to hold the rally providing he gave a guarantee that it would be peaceful. Kahr, at this time regional governor of Upper Bavaria, supported him, and the Bavarian government backed down.65

Events now moved rapidly towards a climax. Much of the time they were beyond Hitler’s control. In particular, Ernst Röhm, quite independently from him, succeeded in getting the main paramilitary organizations in Bavaria together in a Working Community of Patriotic Fighting Leagues, which included some much larger groups than the Nazi brownshirts. These groups surrendered their weapons to the regular army, whose Bavarian units under General von Lossow were clearly readying themselves for the much-bruited march on Berlin and an armed confrontation with the French in the Ruhr, and they enrolled the paramilitaries as auxiliaries and started to train them. Into this witches’ brew of paramilitary conspiracy there now came General Ludendorff. An attempt by Hitler to seize the initiative by demanding the return of the brownshirts’ weapons from the army met with a cool rebuff. He was forced to yield to Ludendorff as the figurehead of the conspiracy when the paramilitaries staged a huge parade in Nuremberg at the beginning of September, with as many as 100,000 uniformed men taking part. Hitler was named political leader of the paramilitaries, but, far from being in control of the situation, he was being swept along by events.66

Röhm’s role in the reorganized paramilitary movement was crucial, and he now resigned as head of the small Nazi stormtrooper organization in order to concentrate on it. He was succeeded by a man who was to play a key role in the subsequent development of the Nazi movement and the Third Reich: Hermann Goring. Born in 1893 in Rosenheim, Bavaria, Goring was another man of action, but of a very different stamp from Röhm. He came from an upper-middle-class Bavarian background; his father had played a key role in the German colonization of Namibia before the war and was a convinced German imperialist. From 1905 to 1911 Göring attended military college, latterly in Berlin, and ever afterwards regarded himself as a Prussian soldier rather than a Bavarian. During the war, he became a well-known flying ace, ending it in command of the fighter squadron founded by the ‘Red Baron’ von Richthofen. His exploits as a pilot had earned him Germany’s highest military decoration, the Pour le mérite, and a popular reputation as a swashbuckling daredevil. Fighter pilots were widely regarded as a kind of modern knight in armour, whose derring-do contrasted dramatically with the dull, mechanized slaughter of the trenches, and Goring was lionized in aristocratic circles, strengthening his upper-crust social contacts by marrying in February 1922 a Swedish Baroness, Karin von Kantzow. Like many other wartime fighters, he continued to search for a life of action after the conflict was over, briefly belonging to a Free Corps, then becoming a show flier in Scandinavia, and finally, through the influence of his wife, finding his way into Hitler’s movement towards the end of 1922. At this time, therefore, Goring was a dashing, handsome, romantic figure, whose exploits were celebrated in numerous adulatory popular books and magazine articles.

Goring’s longing for action found its fulfilment in the Nazi movement. Ruthless, energetic and extremely egotistical, Goring nevertheless fell completely under Hitler’s spell from the very start. Loyalty and faithfulness were for him the highest virtues. Like Röhm, Goring too regarded politics as warfare, a form of armed combat in which neither justice nor morality had a part to play; the strong won, the weak perished, the law was a mass of ‘legalistic’ rules that were there to be broken if the need arose. For Goring, the end always justified the means, and the end was always what he conceived of as the national interest of Germany, which he considered had been betrayed by Jews, democrats and revolutionaries in 1918. Goring’s aristocratic connections, his chiselled good looks, his cosmopolitan mastery of French, Italian and Swedish, and his reputation as a chivalrous fighter-pilot persuaded many that he was a moderate, a diplomatist even; Hindenburg and many like him thought of Goring as the acceptable face of Nazism, an authoritarian conservative like themselves. The appearance was deceptive; he was as ruthless, as violent and as extreme as any of the leading Nazis. These varying qualities, allied to the rapidly growing abnegation of his will before Hitler’s, made him the ideal choice as the new leader of the stormtroopers in place of Röhm early in 1923.67

With Goring in charge, the stormtroopers could now be expected to toe the Nazi line again. Preparations went ahead, in conjunction with the wider paramilitary movement, which Röhm steered as far as he was able, for a rising throughout the spring and early summer of 1923. The crisis finally came when the Reich government in Berlin was forced to resign on 13 August. Its successor, a broad coalition that included the Social Democrats, was led by Gustav Stresemann, a right-wing liberal nationalist who over the coming years was to prove himself the Republic’s most skilled, most subtle and most realistic politician. Stresemann realized that the campaign of passive resistance to the French occupation of the Ruhr had to be ended, and the galloping hyperinflation brought under control. He instituted a policy of ‘fulfilment’, in which Germany would fulfil the terms of the Peace Settlement, including the payment of reparations, while lobbying behind the scenes for them to be changed. His policy met with notable success during the next six years, during which he held the position of Reich Foreign Minister. But to the extreme nationalists it was nothing more than national betrayal. Realizing that they were now likely to stage an uprising, the Bavarian government appointed Kahr as a General State Commissioner with full powers to maintain order. Backed by Lossow and the police chief, Hans Ritter von Seisser, Kahr banned a series of meetings planned by the Nazis for 27 September while they pursued their own plans for the overthrow of the government in Berlin: Pressure mounted on all sides for action; amongst the rank-and-file of the paramilitaries, as Hitler was repeatedly warned, it was becoming almost irresistible.68

In Berlin, the army leader General Hans von Seeckt refused to go along with the plans of Lossow, Seisser and Kahr. He preferred to remove Stresemann’s government by backstairs intrigue, which indeed he eventually did, though it was succeeded by another coalition in which Stresemann remained Foreign Minister. Feverish negotiations in Munich failed to produce any unity between the Bavarian army under Lossow, the police under Seisser, and the paramilitaries, whose political representative was of course Hitler. Aware that he would lose the support of the paramilitaries if he dithered any longer, and worried that Kahr was himself considering action, Hitler, now backed by Ludendorff, decided on a putsch. The Bavarian government would be arrested, and Kahr and his allies would be forced to join with the paramilitaries in a march on Berlin. The date for the putsch was set, more under the pressure of events than by any search for a symbolic date, for 9 November, the anniversary of the outbreak of the Revolution of 1918 that had overthrown the Kaiser’s regime. On the evening of 8 November, Hitler and a body of heavily armed stormtroopers broke into a meeting addressed by Kahr in the Bürgerbräukeller, a beer-cellar just outside the centre of Munich. Hitler ordered one of his men to fire a pistol-shot into the ceiling to silence the crowd, then announced that the hall was surrounded. The Bavarian government, he declared, was deposed. While Goring calmed the audience, Hitler took Kahr, Lossow and Seisser into an adjoining room and explained that he would march on Berlin, installing himself at the head of a new Reich government; Ludendorff would take over the national army. They would be rewarded for their support with important positions themselves. Returning to speak to the crowd, Hitler won them over with a dramatic plea for backing in what he called his action against ‘the November criminals of 1918’. Kahr and his companions had no option but to return to the podium and, joined now by Ludendorff, declare their support.69

But translating histrionic demonstrations into political power was not so easy. The Nazis’ plans for a putsch were half-baked. Röhm occupied the army headquarters in Munich, and Nazi units also took over the police headquarters, but other buildings including, crucially, the army barracks, remained in government hands, and while Hitler went into the city to try and sort things out, Ludendorff released Kahr and the other prisoners, who promptly backtracked on their enforced compliance with the plot and immediately got in touch with the army, the police and the media to repudiate Hitler’s actions. Back in the beer-cellar, Hitler and Ludendorff decided to march on the city centre. They gathered about two thousand armed supporters, each of whom had been paid 2 billion marks (worth just over three dollars on this particular day) from a hoard of more than 14,000 billion marks ‘confiscated’ from two supposedly Jewish banknote printers in raids carried out by brownshirt squads on Hitler’s orders. The column set off at midday on9November and, encouraged by the cheers of their supporters, they marched through the centre of the city in the direction of the Ministry of War. At the end of the street they were met by an armed cordon of police. According to the official report, they pressed pistols with their safety catches off against the policemen’s chests, spat on them and pointed fixed bayonets in their direction. Then someone on one side or the other - there were conflicting claims - fired a shot. For half a minute the air was filled with whizzing bullets as both sides let fly. Goring fell, shot in the leg; Hitler dropped, or was pushed, to the ground, dislocating his shoulder. Scheubner-Richter, Hitler’s diplomat friend and connection to patrons in high places, was killed outright. Altogether, fourteen marchers were shot dead, and four policemen. As the police moved in to arrest Ludendorff, Streicher, Röhm and many others, Goring managed to get away, fleeing first to Austria, then Italy, before settling in Sweden, becoming addicted in the process to the morphine he took to relieve the pain of his wound. Hitler was taken off, his arm in a sling, to Hanfstaengl’s country house, where he was arrested on 11 November. The putsch had come to an ignominious end.70

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