How Adolph Hitler Became The Fuhrer Of The Third Reich
Ahmad Faruqui writes about German dictator Adolph Hitler’s autocratic rule in which he suspended the constitution, arrested his opponents, and plunged the country into war. The parallels of Hitler’s Nazi Germany to today’s populism are scary, he says.
About a century ago, an unknown man with no political expertise became Germany’s supreme ruler by playing on people’s fears and promising to restore lost glories. He suspended the constitution, arrested his opponents, and plunged the country into war. The parallels to today’s populism are scary.
Early in life, Hitler tried his hand at artistry in Austria and failed. To avoid enlistment in the Habsburg army, he moved to Munich.
As war clouds loomed over the horizon, he put down the artist’s brush and enlisted in the Kaiser’s army. After four years of fighting the grueling World War, Germany surrendered. Corporal Hitler fought with distinction and won the Iron Cross.
Hitler decided to stay in the army and joined the propaganda section, determined to stoke German nationalism and stifle communism. As an army informer, he joined the German Workers Party, which had an avowed anti-Semitic agenda.
After his discharge from the army, Hitler changed the name of the party to the National Socialistic Party (“Nazi Party”) and soon thereafter assumed the leadership position.
While not yet a citizen of Germany, Hitler was possessed with an almost demonic ambition to end the humiliation that had been imposed by the Treaty of Versailles on the Fatherland. He exploited the public resentment against war reparations, which were taking a terrible toll on everyday life. Hyperinflation had broken out in the Weimar Republic.
To add insult to injury, Germany was forbidden from creating an army larger than 100,000 men. In 1923, he attempted a “Beer Putsch” with General Ludendorff against Bavaria. It failed, he was arrested and spent nine months in jail. During that time, he wrote the screed, which would put his name on the political map: Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”). It became the manifesto of the Nazi Party.
Hitler began a campaign to regain the wounded pride and the lost honor of Deutschland. He began by giving fiery speeches, first in breweries and pubs, then in small town meetings, and then in larger public places.
His voice, his manner of speaking, his vocabulary, and his imagery were augmented with hand gestures akin to a symphony conductor’s. Audiences were mesmerized, convinced they were listening to a man who would restore greatness.
The Nazi Party targeted the Communist Party and then the immigrants, notably the Jews. To give the fledgling party some visibility in the political sphere, Hitler adopted the black Swastika as its symbol. It would be worn on the shirtsleeve of ever Nazi on a red patch with a white center and it would adorn the party flag. Additionally, to evoke a latent longing for victory, he adopted the war cry of seig heil. It was just a question of time before the “Heil Hitler” salute would become a staple of Nazi rallies.
Duly empowered, he began to vilify his opponents both inside and outside the party. He denigrated their names and questioned their patriotism. By getting rid of them, he hollered, the greatness of the Prussian Empire would return to Germany. He had come to create the Third Reich, which would rule for a thousand years.
Germany was faced with high unemployment after Wall Street crashed in 1929. The Nazi party began to confront the Communist Party, which Hitler accused of marching to Stalin’s orders from Moscow. In the general elections of 1930, the Nazi party won 100 seats in the Reichstag, second to the Social Democrats.
Along the way, Hitler created the storm troopers (SA) as a paramilitary wing of the Nazi party. They wore brown uniforms and are called “the brown shirts” in modern writing.
In 1932, he became a German citizen. In the next elections, the Nazi party won 230 seats. It was now a force to be reckoned with. In February 1933, a mysterious fire broke out in the Reichstag. Suspicion rested on Hitler but he was able to deflect it cleverly towards the Communists.
Impressed with Hitler’s rising political status, and against his better judgment, President Hindenburg appointed him Reich Chancellor. Hitler banned all other parties and suspended the Constitution.
By now the SS, Schutzstaffel (“Protective Echelon”), which had been founded in 1925 to serve as Hitler’s bodyguards, had become the most powerful and feared organisation in all of Germany.
It outranked all other organisations. A major, dressed in the black uniform of the SS, outranked all generals in the Wehrmacht. Its head was Joseph Goebbels whose sole aim in life seemed to be the extermination of the Jews.
Anyone who opposed Hitler or threatened to oppose him was rounded up and sent to Dachau by train. Trains were often packed to the point of suffocation. They did not have toilet facilities or food for the occupants who traveled for hours in miserable conditions. Those who survived were put in concentration camps, which eventually became Death Camps.
In October 1933, Hitler withdrew Germany from the League of Nations. In the following months, he tripled the size of the German Army and ignored the arms restrictions imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.
To free the minds of the Germans from the writings of the Jews, a huge book burning exercise was carried out in Berlin. In June 1934, the Night of the Long Knives was carried out in which Hitler crushed all opposition within his own party—thus eliminating all his rivals.
In July 1934, President Hindenburg died. Hitler eliminated the position of president, retained the title of Chancellor and assumed the title with which history would remember him: Fuhrer.
In November 1938, the Crystal Night took place in which 7,500 Jewish shops were destroyed and 400 synagogues were burned. “Kristallnacht” was the beginning of the Final Solution.
Yet the Canadian prime minister compared him to Joan of Arc and the British Prime Minister said he was certain Hitler would not launch a war.
However, that’s exactly what Hitler did. He attacked Poland on September 1, 1939. Despite his swift conquest of Europe, his fate was sealed when he turned on the USSR and attacked Stalingrad. Russia proved to be his undoing just as it had been Napoleon’s. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the US entered the war. Eventually Churchill persuaded the US to enter the war in Europe.
But the Soviets got to Berlin before the Allies. Before Hitler killed himself, he told his secretary, “Tomorrow, millions will hate me. That’s how it has always been in history.” He added, “History will remember us not for what we said but for what he did.” Hitler got it right in the end.
Ahmad Faruqui is a defense analyst and economist. He has taught at the Universities of Karachi, California at Davis, and San Jose State. He has also given guest lectures at MIT, Stanford and other universities. He has authored “Rethinking the National Security of Pakistan, Ashgate, 2003.” He can be reached @AhmadFaruqui