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Adolf Hitler was born on 20th April, 1889, in the small Austrian town of Braunau near the German border. Both Hitler's parents had come from poor peasant families. His father Alois Hitler, the illegitimate son of a housemaid, was an intelligent and ambitious man and was at the time of Adolf Hitler's birth, a senior customs official in Lower Austria. (1)
Alois had been married before. In 1873 he had married Anna Glasl, the fifty-year-old adopted daughter of another customs collector. According to Ian Kershaw, the author of Hitler 1889-1936 (1998): "It is unlikely to have been a love-match. The marriage to a woman fourteen years older than himself had almost certainly a material motive, since Anna was relatively well off, and in addition had connections within the civil service." Anna suffered from poor health and her age meant that she was unable to have children. (2)
Klara Polzl, Adolf Hitler's mother, left home at sixteen to join the household of her second cousin, Alois Hitler. Soon afterwards Alois began a sexual relationship with another maid in the house, Franziska Matzelberger. In 1877 Alois changed his surname from Schickelgruber to Hitler. It is claimed he did this to inherit money from Johann Nepomuk Hiedler (Hitler was an another way of spelling Hiedler - both mean "smallholding" in German. (3)
Franziska saw Klara as a potential rival and insisted that she left the household. In 1882 Franziska gave birth to a child named Alois. When Anna Hitler died in 1883, Alois married Franziska and two months after the wedding she gave birth to a second child, Angela. Franziska developed tuberculosis and Alois invited Klara to return to the home to look after his two young children. Franziska, aged twenty-three, died in August, 1884. Alois also began a sexual relationship with Klara and on 7th January, 1885, the couple married. As they were second cousins they had to apply for episcopal dispensation to permit the marriage. (4)
The first of the children of Alois's third marriage, Gustav, was born in May 1885, to be followed in September the following year by a second child, Ida, and another son, Otto, who died only days after his birth. In December 1887 both Gustav and Ida contracted diphtheria and died within weeks of each other. On 20th April 1889, Klara gave birth to her fourth child, Adolf. Edmund was born in 1894 but lived only six years. The fifth and last child, Paula, was born in 1896. (5)
In 1895, when Adolf Hitler was six years old, his father, Alois Hitler retired from government service. For the next four years he moved restlessly from one district to another near Linz, buying and selling farms, raising bees, and spent most of his time drinking in local inns. According to Adolf: "When finally, at the age of fifty-six, he went into retirement, he could not bear to spend a single day of his leisure in idleness. Near the Upper Austrian market village of Lambach he bought a farm, which he worked himself, and thus, in the circuit of a long and industrious life, returned to the origins of his forefathers. It was at this time that the first ideals took shape in my breast. All my playing about in the open, the long walk to school, and particularly my association with extremely husky boys, which sometimes caused my mother bitter anguish, made me the very opposite of a stay-at-home. And though at that time I scarcely had any serious ideas as to the profession I should one day pursue, my sympathies were in any case not in the direction of my father's career." (6)
Alois was an authoritarian, overbearing, domineering husband and a stern, distant, aggressive and violent father. Konrad Heiden commented: "Hitler's father was a short-tempered old man, grown prematurely inactive. He had fought a bitter struggle with life, had made the hardest sacrifices, and in the end things had not gone according to his will. He goes walking about... usually holding his gold-bordered velvet cap in his hands, looks after his bees, leans against the fence, chats rather laconically with his neighbours. He looks on as a friend erects a little saw-mill and sourly remarks: such are the times, the little fellows are coming up, the big ones going down. His lungs are affected, he coughs and occasionally spits blood." (7)
Louis L. Snyder has pointed out: "Hitler's mother was a quiet, hardworking woman with a solemn, pale face and large, staring eyes. She kept a clean household and labored diligently to please her husband. Hitler loved his indulgent mother, and she in turn considered him her favorite child, even if, as she said, he was moonstruck. Later, he spoke of himself as his mother's darling. She told him how different he was from other children. Despite her love, however, he developed into a discontented and resentful child. Psychologically, she unconsciously made him, and through him the world would pay for her own unhappiness with her husband. Adolf feared his strict father, a hard and difficult man who set the pattern for the youngster's own brutal view of life... This sour, hot-tempered man was master inside his home, where he made the children feel the lash of his cane, switch, and belt. Alois snarled at his son, humiliated him, and corrected him again and again. There was deep tension between two unbending wills. It is probable that Adolf Hitler's later fierce hatreds came in part from this hostility to his father. He learned early in life that right was always on the side of the stronger one." (8)
Alois Hitler was extremely keen for his son to do well in life. Alois did have another son Alois Matzelsberger, but he had been a big disappointment to him and eventually ended up in prison for theft. Alois was a strict father and savagely beat his son if he did not do as he was told. Hitler later wrote: "After reading one day in Karl May (a popular writer of boys' books) that the brave man gives no sign of being in pain, I made up my mind not to let out any sound next time I was beaten. And when the moment came - I counted every blow." Afterwards he proudly told his mother: "Father hit me thirty-two times.... and I did not cry". Hitler later told Christa Schroeder about his relationship with his parents: "I never loved my father, but feared him. He was prone to rages and would resort to violence. My poor mother would then always be afraid for me." (9)
In early childhood Adolf Hitler was often ill and his mother became over-protective, wanting nothing less than to lose another child. Dr. Edward Bloch, her Jewish doctor, remarked: "Outwardly, his love for his mother was his most striking feature... I have never seen a closer attachment between mother and son." Hitler was deeply fond of his mother. He said that one of his happiest memories was of sleeping alone with her in the big bed when his father was away. (10)
Adolf Hitler also found it very distressing to see his mother suffering from "drunken beatings". His sister, Paula, said her mother was "a very soft and tender person, the compensatory element between the almost too harsh father and the very lively children who were perhaps somewhat difficult to train. If there were ever quarrels or differences of opinion between my parents it was always on account of the children. It was especially my brother Adolf who challenged my father to extreme harshness and who got his sound thrashings every day. How often on the other hand did my mother caress him and try to obtain with her kindness what her father could not succeed in obtaining with his harshness!" (11)
Adolf Hitler did extremely well at primary school and it appeared he had a bright academic future in front of him. Hitler later referred to "this happy time" when "school work was ridiculously easy, leaving me so much free time that the sun saw more of me than my room". He was also popular with other pupils and was much admired for his leadership qualities. His religious mother sent him to the monastery school at Lambach, where she hoped that he would eventually become a monk. He was expelled after he was caught smoking on the monastery grounds. (12)
Hitler began his secondary schooling on 17th September, 1900. The attention he had received from his village teacher was now replaced by the more impersonal treatment of a number of teachers responsible for individual subjects. Competition was much tougher in the larger secondary school and his reaction to not being top of the class was to stop trying. His father was furious as he had high hopes that Hitler would follow his example and join the Austrian civil service when he left school. However, Hitler was a stubborn child and attempts by his parents and teachers to change his attitude towards his studies were unsuccessful. (13)
Adolf Hitler also lost his popularity with his fellow pupils. They were no longer willing to accept him as one of their leaders. As Hitler liked giving orders he spent his time with younger pupils. He enjoyed games that involved fighting and he loved re-enacting battles from the Boer War. His favourite game was playing the role of a commando rescuing Boers from English concentration camps. However, his favourite game was taking shots at rats with an airgun.
Hitler had little respect for his teachers: "Most of my teachers had something wrong with them mentally, and quite a few of them ended their days as honest-to-God lunatics." He later recalled: "They had no sympathy with youth; their one object was to stuff our brains and turn us into erudite apes like themselves. If any pupil showed the slightest trace of originality, they persecuted him relentlessly, and the only model pupils whom I have ever known have all been failures in later-life." (14)
Dr. Eduard Humer was not very impressed with Hitler as a student. He recorded in 1923: "I can recall the gaunt, pale-faced youth pretty well. He had definite talent, though in a narrow field. But he lacked self-discipline, being notoriously cantankerous, wilful, arrogant, and bad-tempered. He had obvious difficulty in fitting in at school. Moreover he was lazy... his enthusiasm for hard work evaporated all too quickly. He reacted with ill-concealed hostility to advice or reproof; at the same time, he demanded of his fellow pupils their unqualified subservience, fancying himself in the role of leader." (15)
Konrad Heiden was a journalist working in Munich who was one of the first people to investigate Hitler's early life. He discovered that several people he interviewed mentioned Hitler's laziness: "If we look into his laziness, it seems to have concealed fear of his fellow men; he feared their judgment, and hence shunned doing anything which he would have had to submit to their judgment. Perhaps his childhood furnishes an explanation. The data at our disposal show Adolf Hitler to be a model case for psychoanalysis, one of whose main theories is that every man wants to murder his father and marry his mother. Adolf Hitler hated his father, and not only in his subconscious; by his insidious rebelliousness he may have brought him to his grave a few years before his time; he loved his mother deeply, and himself said that he had been a mother's darling. Constantly humiliated and corrected by his father, receiving no protection against the mistreatment of outsiders, never recognized or appreciated, driven into a lurking silence - thus, as a child, early sharpened by hard treatment, he seems to have grown accustomed to the idea that right is always on the side of the stronger; a dismal conviction from which people often suffer who as children did not find justice in the father who should have been the natural source of justice. It is a conviction for all those who love themselves too much and easily forgive themselves every weakness; never are their own incompetence and laziness responsible for failures, but always the injustice of the others." (16)
The only teacher Adolf Hitler appeared to like at secondary school was Leopold Potsch, his history master. Potsch, like many people living in Upper Austria, was a German Nationalist. Potsch told Hitler and his fellow pupils of the German victories over France in 1870 and 1871 and attacked the Austrians for not becoming involved in these triumphs. Otto von Bismarck, the first chancellor of the German Empire, was one of Hitler's early historical heroes.
Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf (1925): "Dr. Leopold Potsch, my professor at the Realschule in Linz, embodied this requirement to an ideal degree. This old gentleman's manner was as kind as it was determined, his dazzling eloquence not only held us spellbound but actually carried us away. Even today I think back with gentle emotion on this gray-haired man who, by the fire of his narratives, sometimes made us forget the present; who, as if by enchantment, carried us into past times and, out of the millennial veils of mist, molded dry historical memories into living reality. On such occasions we sat there, often aflame with enthusiasm, and sometimes even moved to tears. What made our good fortune all the greater was that this teacher knew how to illuminate the past by examples from the present, and how from the past to draw inferences for the present. As a result he had more understanding than anyone else for all the daily problems which then held us breathless. He used our budding nationalistic fanaticism as a means of educating us, frequently appealing to our sense of national honor. By this alone he was able to discipline us little ruffians more easily than would have been possible by any other means. This teacher made history my favorite subject. And indeed, though he had no such intention, it was then that I became a little revolutionary. For who could have studied German history under such a teacher without becoming an enemy of the state which, through its ruling house, exerted so disastrous an influence on the destinies of the nation? And who could retain his loyalty to a dynasty which in past and present betrayed the needs of the German people again and again for shameless private advantage?" (17)
Hitler's other main interest at school was art. His father was incensed when Hitler told him that instead of joining the civil service he was going to become an artist. "One day it became clear to me that I would become a painter, an artist... My father was struck speechless." Eventually he replied: "Artist! No! Never as long as I live!" (18)
The relationship between Adolf Hitler and his father deteriorated and the conflict only ended with his death on 3rd January 1903. Hitler later wrote: "A stroke of apoplexy felled the old gentleman who was otherwise so hale, thus painlessly ending his earthly pilgrimage, plunging us all into the depths of grief. His most ardent desire had been to help his son forge his career, thus preserving him from his own bitter experience. In this, to all appearances, he had not succeeded. But, though unwittingly, he had sown the seed for a future which at that time neither he nor I would have comprehended." (19)
Hitler was thirteen when his father died. Klara Hitler, a kind and gentle woman, tended to spoil her son. Like her husband she was keen for Adolf to do well at school. Her attempts at persuasion achieved no more success than her husband's threats and he continued to obtain poor grades. Adolf Hitler continued to show no real interest in his studies. His last school report, dated 16th September, 1905, shows marks of "adequate" in German, chemistry, physics, geometry and geometrical drawing. In geography and history he was "satisfactory". However, his free-hand drawing was described as "excellent". (20)
At the age of fifteen he did so badly in his examinations that he was told he would have to repeat the whole year's work again. Hitler hated the idea and managed to persuade his mother to allow him to leave school without a secondary education qualification. He celebrated by getting drunk. However, he found it an humiliating experience and vowed never to get drunk again. He kept his promise and by the time he reached his thirties he had given up alcohol completely. (21)
Hitler's mother, who was then forty-two, moved to a modest apartment in Urfahr, a suburb of Linz, where she tried to keep herself and her two surviving children, Adolf and Paula, on the savings and pensions left her. According to William L. Shirer, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1964), "the young widow was indulgent to her son, and he seems to have loved her dearly... there was friction and Adolf continued to neglect his studies." (22)
Hitler later commented: "My mother, to be sure, felt obliged to continue my education in accordance with my father's wish; in other words, to have me study for the civil servant's career. I, for my part, was more than ever determined absolutely not to undertake this career. In proportion as my schooling departed from my ideal in subject matter and curriculum, I became more indifferent at heart. Then suddenly an illness came to my help and in a few weeks decided my future and the eternal domestic quarrel." (23)
Adolf Hitler met August Kubizek at a opera house in 1904. As Louis L. Snyder has pointed out: "Before long August began to regard his chance acquaintance as his best friend. The two subsequently became roommates and took frequent walks through the town and went on country excursions. The serious, tense, and meticulous Adolf dominated his friend, who served as a kind of audience." (24)
Kubizek later claimed that Hitler felt very strongly about political issues: "Adolf was exceedingly violent and highly strung. Quite trivial things, such as a few thoughtless words, could produce in him outbursts of temper which I thought were quite out of proportion to the significance of the matter. But probably, I misunderstood Adolf in this respect. Perhaps the difference between us was that he took things seriously which seemed to be quite unimportant. Yes, this was one of his typical traits; everything aroused his interest and disturbed him - to nothing was he indifferent." (25)
In May 1906 Adolf Hitler and Kubizek visited Vienna. They were both impressed with the cultural life of the city and loved the splendor of its buildings, its art galleries and theatres. On his return to Linz, Hitler was less inclined than ever to find a job. The two men decided that they would become students in Vienna. However, Hitler had to wait until he received his inheritance from his father's will when he reached the age of eighteen. (26)
Klara Hitler became seriously ill. According to Dr Eduard Bloch: "One day Frau Hitler came to visit me during my morning office hours. She complained of a pain in her chest. She spoke in a quiet, hushed voice; almost a whisper. The pain she said, had been great; enough to keep her awake nights on end. She had been busy with her household so had neglected to seek medical aid. Besides, she thought the pain would pass away... An examination showed that Frau Hitler had an extensive tumor of the breast." She was operated on for breast cancer in February, 1907.
Dr Bloch later recalled that Hitler was a dutiful son: "He slept in the tiny bedroom adjoining that of his mother so that he could be summoned at any time during the night. During the day he hovered about the large bed in which she lay." Bloch told Hitler that the operation was not a success and the cancer had spread to other parts of the body. He proposed the use of the disinfectant, iodoform. At the time it was believed that iodoform gauze packed onto the suppurating wound was the best treatment for cancer. (27)
Adolf Hitler did not let his mother's illness to interfere with his plans and in the autumn of 1907 he left home for Vienna. He was joined by August Kubizek who intended to study the viola at the Academy of Music. The two men roomed together at No. 29 Stumper Alley. Hitler later recalled: "I had set out with a pile of drawings, convinced that it would be child's play to pass the examination. At the Realschule I had been by far the best in my class at drawing, and since then my ability had developed amazingly; my own satisfaction caused me to take a joyful pride in hoping for the best. Yet sometimes a drop of bitterness put in its appearance: my talent for painting seemed to be excelled by my talent for drawing, especially in almost all fields of architecture." Hitler received bad news in October when the Academy of Art rejected his application stating that his "test drawing" was "unsatisfactory". Hitler's mood was not helped by the fact that Kubizek's application was successful. (28)
Hitler returned home when he heard that his mother was close to death. Bloch pointed out: "An illness such as that suffered by Frau Hitler, there is usually a great amount of pain. She bore her burden well; unflinching and uncomplaining. But it seemed to torture her son. An anguished grimace would come over him when he saw pain contract her face. There was little that could be done. An injection of morphine from time to time would give temporary relief; but nothing lasting. Yet Adolf seemed enormously grateful even for these short periods of release. I shall never forget Klara Hitler during those days. She was forty eight at the time; tall, slender and rather handsome, yet wasted by disease. She was soft-spoken, patient; more concerned about what would happen to her family than she was about her approaching death." (29)
Klara Hitler died of cancer on 21st December, 1907. Hitler commented: "It was the conclusion of a long and painful illness which from the beginning left little hope of recovery. Yet it was a dreadful blow, particularly for me. I had honored my father, but my mother I had loved." Her death affected him far more deeply than the death of his father. He had fond memories of his mother, carried her photograph wherever he went. (30)
Rudolph Binion, the author of Hitler Among the Germans (1976) has argued that Hitler blamed Dr Eduard Bloch for using iodoform on his mother. It was "utterly ineffective, expensive, and the caustic solution caused unbearable agony for the patient it was administered to, usually in the form of idoform-soaked gauze applied directly to the skin above the tumor." Binion goes on to argue that Hitler used phrases in his speeches such as "Jewish cancer", the "Jewish poison", the "Jewish profiteer." Binion suggests that "Hitler's mother cannot have escaped fatal poisoning from a given treatment applied to her by a Jewish doctor in her last weeks of life and ... Hitler's experience of her agony was the unconscious source of his deadly hate for the Jews." (31)
Ron Rosenbaum, the author of Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of his Evil (1998), rejects this theory. He points out that Hitler later sent Bloch a postcard saying that he had his "undying gratitude" for the the care he showed his mother. (32) Bloch later recalled that Hitler "bore him no grudges" because he knew that he was right to prescribe the "burn out the abscesses... to the raw flesh." (33) This view is confirmed by Austrian historian Brigitte Hamann in her book on Hitler's early life. (34)
Adolf Hitler now returned to Vienna and continued to live with August Kubizek. Hitler's biographer, Alan Bullock, has commented: "Apart from Kubizek, Hitler lived a solitary life. He had no other friends. Women were attracted to him, but he showed complete indifference to them. Much of the time he spent dreaming or brooding. His moods alternated between abstracted preoccupation and outbursts of excited talk. He wandered for hours through the streets and parks, staring at buildings which he admired, or suddenly disappearing into the public library in pursuit of some new enthusiasm. Again and again, the two young men visited the Opera and the Burgtheater. But while Kubizek pursued his studies at the Conservatoire, Hitler was incapable of any disciplined or systematic work... He had the artist's temperament without either talent, training, or creative energy." (35)
In September 1908 Hitler applied again for admission to the Academy of Art. Once again he was rejected. "When I presented myself to the rector, requesting an explanation for my non-acceptance at the Academy's school of painting, that gentleman assured me that the drawings I had submitted incontrovertibly showed my unfitness for painting, and that my ability obviously lay in the field of architecture; for me, he said, the Academy's school of painting was out of the question, the place for me was the School of Architecture. It was incomprehensible to him that I had never attended an architectural school or received any other training in architecture." Hitler did apply to the School of Architecture, but he was rejected because he did not have a School Leaving Certificate. Kubizek claims that Hitler took the news very badly: "Choking with his catalogue of hates, he would pour his fury over everything, against mankind in general who did not understand him, who did not appreciate him and by whom he was persecuted and cheated... I had the impression that Adolf Hitler became unbalanced." Without saying goodbye Hitler left the flat he was sharing with Kubizek and became homeless. (36)
After leaving Stumper Alley he took furnished rooms in Simon Denk Gasse. A lack of funds forced to leave this place and several months during the summer of 1909 he lived on the streets. Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf (1925) that the next few years were the worst in his life. He said he identified with the peasant from the rural areas who moved to Vienna to find work: "He loiters about and is hungry. Often he pawns or sells the last of his belongings. His clothes begin to get shabby - with the increasing poverty of his outward appearance he descends to a lower social level." (37)
In December 1909 he found a bed in a doss-house behind Meidling Station in Vienna. Reinhold Hanisch, a tramp from Bohemia, met Hitler on his first day in the refuge. "On the very first day there sat next to the bed that had been allotted to me a man who had nothing on except an old torn pair of trousers - Hitler. His clothes were being cleaned of lice, since for days he had been wandering about without a roof and in a terribly neglected condition." The two men became friends and that winter they moved to a hostel for men at 27 Meldemannstrasse started by a charitable foundation. (38)
Ian Kershaw has pointed out in Hitler 1889-1936 (1998): "He (Hanisch) encountered a miserable-looking Hitler, down at heel in a shabby blue check suit, tired, hungry, and with sore feet, in the hostel dormitory one late autumn night, shared sonic bread with him and told tales of Berlin to the young enthusiast for all things German. The hostel was a night-shelter offering short-term accommodation only. A bath or shower, disinfection of clothes, soup and bread, and a bed in the dormitory were provided. But during the day the inmates were turned out to fend for themselves. Hitler, looking in a sorry state and in depressed mood, went in the mornings along with other destitutes to a nearby convent in Gumpendorfersrrafse where the nuns doled out soup. The time was otherwise spent visiting public warming-rooms, or trying to earn a bit of money. Hanisch took him off to shovel snow, but without an overcoat Hitler was in no condition to stick at it for long. He offered to carry bags for passengers at the Westbahnhof, but his appearance probably did not win him many customers." (39)
Hanisch asked Hitler if he had skills he could use to make money. Adolf Hitler told him he was an artist and said that he could fake some old masters. According to Hanisch he replied: "I suggested to Hitler that it would be better to stay in an honest trade and paint postcards. I myself was to sell the painted cards, we decided to work together and share the money we earned." Hitler produced little copies of views of Vienna, which Hanisch sold in taverns and fairs.
The journalist, Konrad Heiden, interviewed Reinhold Hanisch in the 1920s. "Hanisch... believed that in Hitler he had made the great find of his life. It had business possibilities: pictures could always be sold, for small sums, perhaps, but it ran into money if the artist worked quickly and conscientiously. Adolf answered that he was tired and wretched, and wanted to rest.... Yes, he could paint beautiful pictures, said Hitler, but what good was that? To whom could he sell them? He couldn't show himself anywhere as an artist, because his clothes were much too shabby. Hanisch explained that it wasn't a question of great works of art, but of modest little picture postcards which could be peddled in taverns and fairs for a few cents; the secret of this business was to work very hard and sell cheap with a big turnover. But for that Adolf objected, you had to have a permit from the police, and he didn't have one; he would certainly be arrested and put in jail. He was looking for difficulties, and Hanisch may well have thought that the fallen artist-prince still had much to learn in the hard school of life. Just paint your little cards, he said, and let me worry about the rest. Hitler painted or rather drew his lifeless, rather dark pen-and-ink copies of the Burgtheater, or the Roman ruins in Schonbrunn Park; and Hanisch, little worried about permit or police, peddled them around in the taverns." (40)
Reinhold Hanisch claims that Hitler was a very lazy worker. As soon as he made a small amount of money he spent the next couple of days in a café eating cream cakes and reading newspapers. Hanisch told Rudolf Olden, the author of Hitler the Pawn (1936): "Over and over again there were days on which he simply refused to work. Then he would hang around night shelters, living on the bread and soup that he got there, and discussing politics, often getting involved in heated controversies." Hanisch also claimed that Hitler neither smoked nor drank and was too shy and awkward to have any success with women. (41)
In the summer of 1910 Adolf Hitler fell out with Reinhold Hanisch over a painting of the Vienna Parliament. On 5th August, Hitler made an official complaint against the man he knew as Fritz Walter: "Since he was destitute, I gave him the pictures I painted to sell. He regularly received fifty per cent of the proceeds from me. For about two weeks Hanisch has not returned to the Home for Men, and stole from me the picture of parliament, valued at fifty kronen, and a water-colour, valued at nine kronen." As a result of the complaint, a Viennese court sentenced Hanisch to seven days in prison. (42)
It was while living in Vienna that Adolf Hitler became interested in politics. Hitler was a supporter of Karl Lueger, the leader of the Christian Social Party and the mayor of the city. Hitler claimed in Mein Kampf (1925) that it was Lueger who helped develop his anti-semitic views: "Dr. Karl Lueger and the Christian Social Party. When I arrived in Vienna, I was hostile to both of them. The man and the movement seemed reactionary in my eyes. My common sense of justice, however, forced me to change this judgment in proportion as I had occasion to become acquainted with the man and his work; and slowly my fair judgment turned to unconcealed admiration... For a few hellers I bought the first anti-Semitic pamphlets of my life.... Wherever I went, I began to see Jews, and the more I saw, the more sharply they became distinguished in my eyes from the rest of humanity. Particularly the Inner City and the districts north of the Danube Canal swarmed with a people which even outwardly had lost all resemblance to Germans. And whatever doubts I may still have nourished were finally dispelled by the attitude of a portion of the Jews themselves." (43)
Hitler goes onto argue: "By their very exterior you could tell that these were no lovers of water, and, to your distress, you often knew it with your eyes closed. Later I often grew sick to my stomach from the smell of these caftan-wearers. Added to this, there was their unclean dress and their generally un-heroic appearance. All this could scarcely be called very attractive; but it became positively repulsive when, in addition to their physical uncleanliness, you discovered the moral stains on this 'chosen people.' In a short time I was made more thoughtful than ever by my slowly rising insight into the type of activity carried on by the Jews in certain fields. Was there any form of filth or profligacy, particularly in cultural life, without at least one Jew involved in it? If you cut even cautiously into such an abscess, you found, like a maggot in a rotting body, often dazzled by the sudden light - a kike! What had to be reckoned heavily against the Jews in my eyes was when I became acquainted with their activity in the press, art, literature, and the theater." (44)
Lueger's main political opponent at the time was Victor Adler, the leader of the Social Democratic Workers' Party (SDAP). Lueger attacked Adler for his Jewish origins and his Marxism. According to Rudolf Olden Hitler shared Lueger's dislike of Adler even though his "genius, tact and kindheartedness gained him admirers among all classes". (45) As Ian Kershaw pointed out: "Victor Adler... was committed to a Marxist programme... Internationalism, equality of individuals and peoples, universal, equal and direct suffrage, fundamental labour and union rights, separation of church and state, and a people's army were what the Social Democrats stood for. It was little wonder that the young Hitler, avid supporter of pan-Germanism, hated the Social Democrats with every fibre of his body." (46)
Hitler's attitude towards socialism was deeply influenced by his observation of Adler and the SDAP in Vienna. He wrote in Mein Kampf: "Up to that time I had known the Social Democratic Party only as an onlooker at a few mass demonstrations, without possessing even the slightest insight into the mentality of its adherents or the nature of its doctrine; but now, at one stroke, I came into contact with the products of its education and philosophy. And in a few months I obtained what might otherwise have required decades: an understanding of a pestilential whore, cloaking herself as social virtue and brotherly love, from which I hope humanity will rid this earth with the greatest dispatch, since otherwise the earth might well become rid of humanity."
Adolf Hitler also developed a dislike of trade unionism: "My first encounter with the Social Democrats occurred during my employment as a building worker. From the very beginning it was none too pleasant.... My knowledge of trade-union organization was at that time practically non-existent. I could not have proved that its existence was either beneficial or harmful. When I was told that I had to join, I refused. The reason I gave was that I did not understand the matter, but that I would not let myself be forced into anything. Perhaps my first reason accounts for my not being thrown out at once. They may perhaps have hoped to convert me or break down my resistance in a few days. In any event, they had made a big mistake. At the end of two weeks I could no longer have joined, even if I had wanted to. In these two weeks I came to know the men around me more closely, and no power in the world could have moved me to join an organization whose members had meanwhile come to appear to me in so unfavorable a light." (47)
Hitler's hatred of the Social Democratic Workers' Party and trade unionism increased after a mass demonstration in Vienna. "On such days of reflection and cogitation, I pondered with anxious concern on the masses of those no longer belonging to their people and saw them swelling to the proportions of a menacing army. With what changed feeling I now gazed at the endless columns of a mass demonstration of Viennese workers that took place one day as they marched past four abreast! For nearly two hours I stood there watching with bated breath the gigantic human dragon slowly winding by. In oppressed anxiety, I finally left the place and sauntered homeward. In a tobacco shop on the way I saw the Arbeiter-Zeitung, the central organ of the old Austrian Social Democracy. It was available in a cheap people's cafe, to which I often went to read newspapers; but up to that time I had not been able to bring myself to spend more than two minutes on the miserable sheet, whose whole tone affected me like moral vitriol. Depressed by the demonstration, I was driven on by an inner voice to buy the sheet and read it carefully. That evening I did so, fighting down the fury that rose up in me from time to time at this concentrated solution of lies. More than any theoretical literature, my daily reading of the Social Democratic press enabled me to study the inner nature of these thought-processes. For what a difference between the glittering phrases about freedom, beauty, and dignity in the theoretical literature, the delusive welter of words seemingly expressing the most profound and laborious wisdom, the loathsome humanitarian morality - all this written with the incredible gall that comes with prophetic certainty - and the brutal daily press, shunning no villainy, employing every means of slander, lying with a virtuosity that would bend iron beams, all in the name of this gospel of a new humanity."
Adolf Hitler admitted that he learnt political lessons from the activities of the SDAP. "The more independent I made myself in the next few years the clearer grew my perspective, hence my insight into the inner causes of the Social Democratic successes. I now understood the significance of the brutal demand that I read only Red papers, attend only Red meetings, read only Red books, etc. With plastic clarity I saw before my eyes the inevitable result of this doctrine of intolerance. The psyche of the great masses is not receptive to anything that is half-hearted and weak. Like the woman, whose psychic state is determined less by grounds of abstract reason than by an indefinable emotional longing for a force which will complement her nature, and who, consequently, would rather bow to a strong man than dominate a weakling, likewise the masses love a commander more than a petitioner and feel inwardly more satisfied by a doctrine, tolerating no other beside itself, than by the granting of liberalistic freedom with which, as a rule, they can do little, and are prone to feel that they have been abandoned... By the turn of the century, the trade-union movement had ceased to serve its former function. From year to year it had entered more and more into the sphere of Social Democratic politics and finally had no use except as a battering-ram in the class struggle. Its purpose was to cause the collapse of the whole arduously constructed economic edifice by persistent blows, thus, the more easily, after removing its economic foundations, to prepare the same lot for the edifice of state." (48)
Konrad Heiden, a journalist who investigated Hitler's time in Vienna, pointed out that the fact Victor Adler was Jewish had a major impact on the development of his political philosophy. "But whatever Hitler learned or thought he had learned from his model, Lueger, he learned far more from his opponent. And this opponent, whom he combated from the profound hatred of his soul, is and remains plain ordinary work. Organized, it calls itself labour movement, trade union, Socialist Party. And, or so it seems to him, Jews are always the leaders." Hitler was also aware that Adler's hero, Karl Marx, was also a Jew.
Heiden argued in Der Führer – Hitler's Rise to Power (1944): "The relatively high percentage of Jews in the leadership of the Socialist parties on the European continent cannot be denied. The intellectual of the bourgeois era had not yet discovered the workers, and if the workers wanted to have leaders with university education, often only the Jewish intellectual remained - the type which might have liked to become a judge or Government official, but in Germany, Austria, or Russia simply could not. Yet, though many Socialist leaders are Jews, only few Jews are Socialist leaders. To call the mass of modern Jewry Socialist, let alone revolutionary, is a bad propaganda joke."
Heiden rejected the idea that Hitler's anti-semitism had anything to do with the role that Jews played in capitalism: "It was in the world of workers, as he explicitly tells us, that Adolf Hitler encountered the Jews. The few bourgeois Jews. The few bourgeois Jews in the home city did not attract his attention... But he did notice the proletarian and sub-proletarian figures from the Vienna slums, and they repelled him; he felt them to be foreign - just as he felt the non-Jewish workers to be foreign. With amazing indifference he reports that he could not stand up against either of them in political debate; he admits that the workers knew more than he did, that the Jews were more adept at discussion. He goes on to relate how he looked into this uncanny labour movement more closely, and to his great amazement discovered large numbers of Jews at its head. The great light dawned on him; suddenly the 'Jewish question' became clear. If we subject his own account to psychological analysis, the result is rather surprising: the labour movement did not repel him because it was led by Jews; the Jews repelled him because they led the labour movement. For him this inference was logical. To lead this broken, degenerate mass, dehumanized by overwork, was a thankless task. No one would do it unless impelled by a secret, immensely alluring purpose; the young artist-prince simply did not believe in the morality of pity of which these Jewish leaders publicly spoke so much; there is no such thing, he knew people better - particularly he knew himself. The secret purpose could only be a selfish one - whether mere good living or world domination, remained for the moment a mystery. But one thing is certain: it was not Rothschild, the capitalist, but Karl Marx, the Socialist, who kindled Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitism." (49)
Adolf Hitler had refused twice to respond to letters calling him to join the Austro-Hungarian Army. However, he did attend the third call and reported to the army office in Salzburg in the summer of 1913. Hitler was bitterly upset when after being medically examined on 5th February, 1914, he was rejected as being: "Unfit for combatant and auxiliary duty - too weak. Unable to bear arms." Apparently, they found evidence of a lung ailment. (50)
The outbreak of the First World War provided him with an opportunity for a fresh start. It was a chance for him to become involved in proving that Germany was superior to other European countries. Hitler claimed that when he heard the news of war: "I was overcome with impetuous enthusiasm, and falling on my knees, wholeheartedly thanked Heaven that I had been granted the happiness to live at this time.... What a man wants is what he hopes and believes. The overwhelming majority of the nation had long been weary of the eternally uncertain state of affairs; thus it was only too understandable that they no longer believed in a peaceful conclusion of the Austro-Serbian conflict, but hoped for the final settlement. I, too, was one of these millions." (51)
Rejecting the idea of fighting for Austria, Hitler volunteered for the German Army. On 1st August 1914 he was a member of the cheering, singing crowd which gathered on the Odeonsplatz in Munich to listen to the proclamation of the war. (52) Hitler recalled receiving a letter replying to his application: "I opened the document with trembling hands; no words of mine can describe the satisfaction I felt... Within a few days I was wearing that uniform which I was not to put off again for nearly six years." (53)
Hitler joined the 1st Company of the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment. Another volunteer in the same regiment was Rudolf Hess and the regimental clerk was Sergeant Max Amann. After initial training in Munich Hitler arrived on the Western Front on 21st October 1914, where his regiment took part in the Battle of Ypres. It has been claimed that Hitler's regiment was reduced from 3,600 to 611 men during this first period of fighting. (54)
Hitler had very few friends but he did write a detailed letter to Ernst Hepp, a man who he had rented a room from in Munich about the fighting that had taken place: "Early in the morning of October 29 we were sent into battle... Just as we were getting our marching orders, Major Count Zech rode by: 'Tomorrow we're attacking the English!' At last! Every man of us was overjoyed. Out there the first shrapnel were flying over us, bursting at the edge of the woods, and tearing apart the trees like so much brushwood. We looked on curiously. We had no real idea of the danger. None of us was afraid."
Hitler was then given orders to charge the enemy trenches: "We swarmed out and chased across the fields to a little farm. To left and right the shrapnel were bursting, and in between the English bullets sang. But we paid no attention. For ten minutes we lay there, and then we were again ordered forward. I was way out in front, ahead of our squad.... The first of our men began to fall. The English had set up machine-guns. We threw ourselves down and crawled slowly forward through a gutter. From time to time a man was hit and couldn't go on, and the whole column was stuck... We ran fifteen or twenty yards, then we came to a big pool of water. One after another we splashed into it, took cover, and caught our breath. But it was no place to lie still. So we dashed out quick, and double-quick, to a forest that lay about a hundred yards ahead of us. There we found each other after a while.... We crawled on our bellies to the edge of the woods. Over us the shells were howling and whistling, splintered tree-trunks and branches flew around us. And then again grenades crashed into the wood, hurling up clouds of stones, earth, and stifling everything in a yellowish-green, stinking, sickening vapour. We couldn't lie there forever, and if we were going to be killed, it was better to be killed outside."
The Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment was then ordered to try and take the British trenches. "Again we went forward. I jumped up and ran, as fast as I could, across meadows and turnip-fields, jumping over ditches, over wire and living hedges.... A long trench lay before me; a moment later I had jumped into it. Before me, behind me, to the left and right others followed. Beside me were Wurttembergers, under me dead and wounded Englishmen. The Wurttembergers had stormed the trench before us. And now I knew why I had landed so soft when I jumped in. Between 240 and 280 yards to the left of us there were still English trenches; to the right, the road to Leceloire was still in their possession. An unbroken hail of iron was whistling over our trench."
After shelling the British trenches Hitler and the other members of the regiment were ordered forward: "Finally, at ten o'clock, our artillery opened up in the sector. One - two - three - five - and so on. Again and again a shell burst in the English trenches ahead of us. The fellows swarmed out like ants, and then we rushed them. We ran into the fields like lightning, and after bloody hand-to-hand fighting in different places, we threw them out of one trench after another. Many of them raised their hands. Those who wouldn't surrender were knocked down. In this way we cleared trench after trench. For three days we fought on like this, and on the third day the Britishers were finally licked. The fourth evening we marched back to Werwick. Only then did we see what our losses had been. In four days our regiment of thirty-five hundred men had melted away to six hundred. There were only thirty officers left in the whole regiment." (55)
Hitler, like all those who survived the battle, was promoted to the rank of lance-corporal. Hitler was assigned on 9th November as an orderly (dispatch runner). His task was a runner whose job was to carry messages between the front-line and Regimental Headquarters, three kilometres away. Although he was not actually in the trenches, it was a dangerous job. On one day alone, three out of eight of the regiment's dispatch-runners were killed and another one wounded.
On 2nd December Hitler was presented with the Iron Cross, Second Class, one of four dispatch runners in his regiment to receive the honour. It was, he said, "the happiest day of my life". It is claimed that he received the award for saving the life of Lieutenant-Colonel Philipp Engelhardt. Thomas Weber, the author of Hitler's First War (2011) has raised doubts about the truth of the incident. "According to one report, in an attack that would cost the lives of 122 men, Hitler and his fellow dispatch runner Anton Bachmann saw how the List Regiment's new commander, Lieutenant Colonel Philipp Engelhardt, had foolishly stepped out of his cover on the edge of the forest. If we can believe a 1932 report by Georg Eichelsdorfer, the former regimental adjutant, Hitler and Bachmann dramatically leapt forward, covering Engelhardt's body and taking him back to safety." (56)
However, there is other evidence that Hitler did save the life of his commanding officer. Engelhardt wrote to the Hamburg Provincial Court in 1932: "As commander of the 16th Regiment of Bavarian Infantry at the Battle of Tpres in the period from November 10 to November 17, 1914, I came to know Adolf Hitler as an exceedingly brave, effective and conscientious soldier. I must emphasize the following: As our men were storming the wedge-shaped forest, I stepped out of the woods near Wytschaete to get a better view of developments. Hitler and the volunteer Bachmann, another battle orderly belonging to the 16th Regiment, stood before me to protect me with their bodies from the machine-gun fire to which I was exposed." (57)
Adolf Hitler liked being in the army. For the first time he was part of a group that was fighting for a common goal. Hitler also liked the excitement of fighting in a war. Although fairly cautious in his actions, he did not mind risking his life and impressed his commanding officers for volunteering for dangerous missions. However, his fellow soldiers described him as "odd" and "peculiar". It is significant that the fact he was a dispatch-runner was omitted from Mein Kampf. This was probably because most soldiers saw the job as a "shirker's post." (58)
One soldier from his regiment, Hans Mend, claimed that Hitler was an isolated figure who spent long periods of time sitting in the corner holding his head in silence. Then all of a sudden, Mend claimed, he would jump up and make a speech. These outbursts were usually attacks on Jews and Marxists, who Hitler claimed were undermining the war effort. He was nicknamed "crazy Adolf" by the men he came into contact with. "He struck me as a psychopath from the start. He often flew into a rage when contradicted, throwing himself on the ground and frothing at the mouth". (59)
A close friend, Ernst Hanfstaengel, claims that Hitler was the victim of sexual bullying while in the army: "Old army comrades, who had seen him in the wash-house, had noted that his genital organs were almost freakishly underdeveloped, and he doubtless had some sense of shame about displaying himself. It seemed to me that this must all be part of the underlying complex in his physical relations, which was compensated for by the terrifying urge for domination expressed in the field of politics." He was nicknamed "monk" because of his lack of interest in women. When one of the soldiers asked him: "Haven't you ever loved a girl?" Hitler replied: "I've never had time for anything like that, and I'll never get round to it." (60)
Hans Mend, a fellow dispatch-runner, has claimed that Ernst Schmidt and Hitler had a sexual relationship. "We noticed that he (Hitler) never looked at a woman. We suspected him of homosexuality right away, because he was known to be abnormal in any case. He was extremely eccentric and displayed womanish characteristics which tended in that direction. He never had a firm objective, nor any kind of firm beliefs. In 1915 we were billeted in the Le Febre brewery at Fournes. We slept in the hay. Hitler was bedded down at night with Schmidt, his male whore. We heard a rustling in the hay. Then someone switched on his electric flashlight and growled, Take a look at those two nancy boys. I myself took no further interest in the matter." (61)
Egon Erwin Kisch, who was also a dispatch-runner during the First World War, argued: "He (Hitler) was a lance corporal for four years. Every old soldier knows that the rank of lance corporal is only brief and temporary, only a preliminary to more senior noncommissioned rank. Hundreds of thousands of men can be infantrymen and never make lance corporal, but a lance corporal who never makes sergeant in four years' front-line service must be a very suspect type. Either he shirks commanding a squad, or he is incompetent to do so." (62)
Sergeant Max Amann, recommended Hitler for officer training. However, Fritz Wiedemann, Hitler's regimental adjutant, rejected the idea as he considered Hitler lacked leadership qualities. He wrote in his memoirs, The Man who Wanted to Command (1964): "By military standards Hitler really didn't at that time have potential for promotion. I'm disregarding the fact that he wouldn't have cut a specially good figure as an officer in peacetime; his posture was sloppy and when he was asked a question his answer would be anything but short in a soldier-like fashion. He didn't hold his head straight - it was usually sloping towards his left shoulder. Now all that doesn't matter in wartime, but ultimately a man must have leadership qualities if you're doing the right thing when you promote him to be a non-commissioned officer." (63)
Lothar Machtan, the author of The Hidden Hitler (2001) provides a different reason why Hitler did not become an officer: "Why did Hitler remain a lance corporal throughout the war? His toadying to higher authority, if not his efficiency, should have earned him promotion. We are told that he was offered it but refused. It would probably be more correct to say that he could not bring himself to accept. As a noncom he would sooner or later have been obliged to give up what had hitherto enabled him to tolerate war service so well: Ernst Schmidt, his other faithful partners, a relatively safe existence in the rear echelon, and possibly also, a toleration of the homosexual tendencies he could not have pursued as a noncommissioned officer." (64)
A fellow soldier, Balthasar Brandmayer, described Hitler in May, 1915, as "almost skeletal in appearance, dark eyes hooded in a sallow complexion, untrimmed moustache, sitting in a corner buried in a newspaper, occasionally taking a sip of tea, seldom joining in the banter of the group". Brandmayer claims he asked Hitler: "Haven't you ever loved a girl?" Hitler apparently replied: "I've never had time for anything like that, and I'll never get round to it." (65)
It has been claimed that Hitler appeared to be unaffected by his fellow soldiers who he saw killed on the Western Front. "His only real affection seems to have been for his dog, Foxl, a white terrier that had strayed across from enemy lines. Hitler taught it tricks, revelling in how attached it was to him and how glad it was to see him when he returned from duty. He was distraught late in the war when his unit had to move on and Foxl could not be found... The emptiness and coldness that Hitler showed throughout his life in his dealings with human beings were absent in the feeling he had for his dog." (66)
Hitler remained confident that Germany would win the war. In February 1915 he wrote to Ernst Hepp: "Those of us who have the fortune to see their homeland again will find it purer and cleansed of alien influence, that through the sacrifices and suffering that so many hundred thousand of us make daily, that through the stream of blood that flows here day for day against an international world of enemies, not only will Germany's external enemies be smashed, but that our inner internationalism will also be broken. That would be worth more to me than all territorial gains." (67)
Hitler's regiment was at the Battle of the Somme and on 2nd October 1916, Hitler was wounded in the left thigh when a shell exploded in the dispatch runners' dug-out, killing and wounding several of them. His close friend, Ernst Schmidt, was also injured in the blast. After treatment in a field hospital, he spent almost two months in the Red Cross hospital at Beelitz, near Berlin. (68)
Hitler was appalled to hear men in the hospital bragging about how they had managed to inflict minor injuries on themselves to make sure they could escape from the Western Front. In January, 1917, Hitler wrote to the regiment's adjutant, Fritz Wiedemann, for permission to return "to the 16th Reserve Infantry Regiment" and serve with his "former comrades". Hitler also wrote to Sergeant Max Amann to see if he could use his influence to be reassigned to his regiment, his "elective family". Hitler later recalled that his regiment had taught him "the glorious meaning of a male community". Hitler was allowed rejoin his regiment on 5th March 1917. (69)
Hitler's regiment took part in fighting at Passchendaele in July but the following month they moved to Alsace. At the end of September he went on 18-day leave to Berlin. Hitler later commented: "Towards the end of 1917 it seemed as if we had got over the worst phases of moral depression at the front. After the Russian collapse the whole army recovered its courage and hope, and all were gradually becoming more and more convinced that the struggle would end in our favour.... We could sing once again. The ravens were ceasing to croak. Faith in the future of the Fatherland was once more in the ascendant... This inspiring thought now became dominant in the minds of millions at the front and encouraged them to look forward with confidence to the spring of 1918. It was quite obvious that the enemy was in a state of depression." (70)
In April 1918 Hitler's regiment took part in the Spring Offensive. It was decided to attack Allied forces at three points along the front-line: Arras, Lys and Aisne. At first the German Army had considerable success and came close to making a decisive breakthrough. However, Allied forces managed to halt the German advance at the Marne in June, 1918. After suffering 168,000 casualties during the battle, the exhausted German soldiers were forced to retreat.
On 4th August 1918, Adolf Hitler received the prestigious Iron Cross First Class. He was nominated by a Jewish officer, Lieutenant Hugo Gutmann. His wrote: "As a dispatch-runner, he has shown cold-blooded courage and exemplary boldness. Under conditions of great peril, when all the communication lines were cut, the untiring and fearless activity of Hitler made it possible for important messages to go through". (71)
In October 1918, Hitler was blinded in a British mustard gas attack. Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf (1925): "On a hill south of Werwick, in the evening of October 13th, we were subjected for several hours to a heavy bombardment with gas bombs, which continued throughout the night with more or less intensity. About midnight a number of us were put out of action, some for ever. Towards morning I also began to feel pain. It increased with every quarter of an hour; and about seven o’clock my eyes were scorching as I staggered back and delivered the last dispatch I was destined to carry in this war. A few hours later my eyes were like glowing coals and all was darkness around me."
Adolf Hitler was sent to a military hospital and gradually recovered his sight. While he was in hospital Germany surrendered. "Everything went black before my eyes; I tottered and groped my way back to the ward, threw myself on my bunk, and dug my burning head into my blanket and pillow. So it had all been in vain. In vain all the sacrifices and privations; in vain the hours in which, with mortal fear clutching at our hearts, we nevertheless did our duty; in vain the death of two million who died. Had they died for this? Did all this happen only so that a gang of wretched criminals could lay hands on the Fatherland. I knew that all was lost. Only fools, liars and criminals could hope for mercy from the enemy. In these nights hatred grew in me, hatred for those responsible for this deed. Miserable and degenerate criminals! The more I tried to achieve clarity on the monstrous events in this hour, the more the shame of indignation and disgrace burned my brow." Konrad Heiden commented that "Hitler entered the war with a contempt for the masses: he left it with an equal contempt for the leaders." (72)
Hitler went into a state of deep depression, and had periods when he could not stop crying. He spent most of his time turned towards the hospital wall refusing to talk to anyone. Rudolf Olden, who researched Hitler's time in the war, was unable to locate his medical records: "Doctors have declared the description of Hitler's illness as he gives it in Mein Kampf to be impossible. If he is correct about the symptoms, then it is impossible to explain how it was that the illness lasted only three weeks... Blindness has sometimes been called a symptom of hysteria, not infrequently observed towards the end of the war. It is hardly likely that the medical reports which might enlighten us will ever be found." (73)
At the end of the war Hitler returned to Munich. Approaching thirty years of age, without education, career or prospects, his only plans were to stay in the German Army. The barracks to which he returned were run by soldiers' councils. Left-wing socialists were in control in Bavaria, where Kurt Eisner, the leader of the the Independent Socialist Party, had formed a coalition government with the Social Democratic Party. Not only was Eisner a Marxist, he was also a Jew and an opponent of a war that he considered to be "imperialistic". (74)
Adolf Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf (1925) that he joined up with his old friend, Ernst Schmidt. He wrote in Mein Kampf (1925): "I went to the depot of my regiment, which was now in the hands of the ‘Soldiers’ Councils’. As the whole administration was quite repulsive to me, I decided to leave it as soon as I possibly could. With my faithful war-comrade, Ernst Schmidt, I came to Traunstein and remained there until the camp was broken up. In March 1919 we were back again in Munich." (75)
By the time he returned to Munich Kurt Eisner was dead. He had been assassinated by Anton Graf von Arco auf Valley on 21st February, 1919. It is claimed that before he killed Eisner he said: "Eisner is a Bolshevist, a Jew; he isn't German, he doesn't feel German, he subverts all patriotic thoughts and feelings. He is a traitor to this land." (76)
Hitler later recalled: "Eisner’s death served only to hasten this development and finally led to the dictatorship of the Councils - or, to put it more correctly, to a Jewish hegemony, which turned out to be transitory but which was the original aim of those who had contrived the Revolution. At that juncture innumerable plans took shape in my mind. I spent whole days pondering on the problem of what could be done, but unfortunately every project had to give way before the hard fact that I was quite unknown and therefore did not have even the first pre-requisite necessary for effective action." (77)
Hitler saw socialism and communism as part of a Jewish conspiracy. Many of the socialist leaders in Germany, including Victor Adler, Friedrich Adler, Kurt Eisner, Rosa Luxemburg, Ernst Toller and Eugen Levine were Jews. So also were many of the leaders of the October Revolution in Russia. This included Leon Trotsky, Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Dimitri Bogrov, Karl Radek, Yakov Sverdlov, Maxim Litvinov, Adolf Joffe, and Moisei Uritsky. It had not escaped Hitler's notice that Karl Marx, the prophet of socialism, had also been a Jew.
It was no coincidence that Jews had joined socialist and communist parties in Europe. Jews had been persecuted for centuries and therefore were attracted to a movement that proclaimed that all men and women deserved to be treated as equals. This message was reinforced when on 10th July, 1918, the Bolshevik government in Russia passed a law that abolished all discrimination between Jews and non-Jews.
Konrad Heiden, an early biographer of Adolf Hitler, and a Jewish journalist living in Vienna, wrote: "The relatively high percentage of Jews in the leadership of the Socialist parties on the European continent cannot be denied... The Jewish Socialist leaders of Austria in Hitler's youth were for the most part a type with academic education, and their predominant motive was just what Hitler at an early age so profoundly despised, 'a morality of pity', an enthusiastic faith in the oppressed and in the trampled human values within them. The Jewish Socialist, as a rule, has abandoned the religion of his fathers, and consequently is a strong believer in the religion of human rights... To call the mass of modern Jewry Socialist, let alone revolutionary, is a bad propaganda joke." (78)
Ernst Schmidt and Hitler spent a lot of time together in Munich. According to Schmidt they also attended the opera in the city: "We only bought the cheapest seats, but that didn't matter. Hitler was lost in the music to the very last note; blind and deaf to all else around him." Schmidt also pointed out that Hitler had not yet given up hope of being an artist. During this period he made contact with the well-known artist, Max Zaeper, to whom he "gave several of his works for expert appraisal". (79)
Hans Mend, who served with Schmidt and Hitler, during the First World War, told Friedrich Alfred Schmid Noerr that he saw the men together several times. "I met Adolf Hitler again at the end of 1918. I bumped into him on the Marienplatz in Munich, where he was standing with his friend Ernst Schmidt.... Hitler was then living in a hostel for the homeless at 29 Lothstrasse, Munich. Soon afterward, having camped at my apartment for several days, he took refuge at Traunstein barracks because he was hungry. He managed to get by, as he often did in the future, with the help of his Iron Cross 1st Class and his gift of the gab. In January 1919 I again ran into Hitler at the newsstand on Marienplatz. Then, one evening, while I was sitting in the Rathaus Cafe with a girl, Hitler and his friend Ernst Schmidt came in." Mend claimed that after the two men left his girlfriend told him: "If you're friendly with people like that, I'm not going out with you anymore." (80)
Adolf Hitler met Ernst Röhm on 7th March, 1919: "There, in that atmosphere of displaced fanaticism, he met a veteran of the Franco-German front, a pale and puny man with a look of exaltation in his eyes, fired by nationalist passion and visionary ambition, a magnetic orator who spoke in short, sharp bursts." Hitler later recalled that they spent the evening "in a cellar where we racked our brains for ways of combating the revolutionary movement". It is believed that night Hitler was recruited as a spy and informer on left-wing organisations. (81)
William L. Shirer, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1964) has argued: "He (Röhm) was a stocky, bull-necked, piggish-eyed, scar-faced professional soldier... with a flair for politics and a natural ability as an organizer. Like Hitler he was possessed of a burning hatred for the democratic Republic and the 'November criminals' he held responsible for it. His aim was to re-create a strong nationalist Germany and he believed with Hitler that this could be done only by a party based on the lower classes, from which he himself, unlike most Regular Army officers, had come. A tough, ruthless, driving man - albeit, like so many of the early Nazis, a homosexual." (82)
Hans Mend, who spent time with Hitler in Munich that year later claimed: "Hitler... made persistent attempts to obtain a senior position with the Communists, but he couldn't get into the Munich directorate of the Communist Party although he posed as an ultra-radical. Since he promptly requested a senior Party post that would have exempted him from the need to work - his perpetual aim - the Communists distrusted him despite his mortal hatred of all property owners." (83)
The Freikorps, led by Colonel Franz Epp, entered Munich on 1st May, 1919. Over the next two days the Freikorps easily defeated the Red Guards. Allan Mitchell, the author of Revolution in Bavaria (1965), pointed out: "Resistance was quickly and ruthlessly broken. Men found carrying guns were shot without trial and often without question. The irresponsible brutality of the Freikorps continued sporadically over the next few days as political prisoners were taken, beaten and sometimes executed." An estimated 700 men and women were captured and executed." It is estimated that Epp's men killed over 600 communists and socialists over the next few weeks. (84)
Adolf Hitler was arrested with other former soldiers in Munich and was accused of being a socialist. Hundreds of socialists were executed without trial but Hitler was able to convince them that he had been an opponent of the regime. It seems almost certain that Ernst Röhm protected him during this period. Hitler volunteered to help to identify soldiers who had supported the Socialist Republic. The authorities agreed to this proposal and Hitler was transferred to the commission investigating the revolution. (85)
On 30th May 1919 Major Karl Mayr was appointed as head of the Education and Propaganda Department. He was given considerable funds to build up a team of agents or informants and to organize a series of educational courses to train selected officers and men in "correct" political and ideological thinking. Mayr was also given the power to finance "patriotic" parties, publications and organizations. Captain Röhm was one of those who joined this unit. (86)
It is believed Röhm suggested that Mayr should recruit Hitler as an informer. Mayr later recalled that Hitler was "like a tired stray dog looking for a master" and someone "ready to throw in his lot with anyone who would show him kindness". Mayr argued that at the time Hitler "was totally unconcerned about the German people and their destinies". Mayr added that Hitler was "paid by the month, from whom regular information could be expected."
On 5th June 1919, Hitler began a course on political education at Munich University that had been organized by Mayr. Hitler attended courses entitled "German History Since the Reformation", "The Political History of the War", "Socialism in Theory and Practice", "Our Economic Situation and Peace Conditions" and "The Connection between Domestic and Foreign Policy". (87)
The main aim was to promote his political philosophy favoured by the army and help to combat the influence of the Russian Revolution on the German soldiers. Speakers included Gottfried Feder and Karl Alexander von Müller. During one of Müller's lectures, Hitler was involved in a passionate debate with another student about Jews. Müller was impressed with Hitler's contribution and told Mayr that he had "rhetorical talent". (88)
As a result of this recommendation, Hitler was selected as a political officer in the team of instructors that were sent to lecture at an German Army camp near Augsburg. This was arranged by Mayr in response to complaints about the political unreliability of men stationed there. The task of the squad was to inculcate nationalist and anti-Bolshevik sentiments in the troops, described as being "infected" by Bolshevism and Spartacism.
Hitler gave lectures on "Peace Conditions and Reconstruction", "Emigration", and Social and Political-Economic Catchwords". His students were impressed with Hitler's lectures. Hans Knoden pointed out that Hitler "revealed himself to be an excellent and passionate speaker and captured the attention of all the listeners with his comments". Another soldier, Lorenz Frank, argued that "Hitler is a born popular speaker who, through his fanaticism and his populist style in a meeting, absolutely compels his audience to take note and share his views." (89)
Adolf Hitler, who had for years been ignored when he made political speeches, now had a captive audience. The political climate had also changed. Germany was a defeated and disillusioned country. At Versailles the German government had been forced to sign a peace treaty that gave away 13% of her territory. This meant the loss of 6 million people, a large percentage of her raw materials (65% of iron ore reserves, 45% of her coal, 72% of her zinc) and 10% of her factories. Germany also lost all her overseas colonies. Under the terms of the treaty Germany also had to pay for damage caused by the war. These reparations amounted to 38% of her national wealth. (90)
Ian Kershaw the author of Hitler 1889-1936 (1998), has argued: "He (Hitler) threw himself with passion into the work. His engagement was total. And he immediately found he could strike a chord with his audience, that the way he spoke roused the soldiers listening to him from their passivity and cynicism. Hitler was in his element. For the first time in his life, he had found something at which he was an unqualified success. Almost by chance, he had stumbled across his greatest talent." (91)
Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf (1925): "I started out with the greatest enthusiasm and love. For all at once I was offered an opportunity of speaking before a larger audience; and the thing that I had always presumed from pure feeling without knowing it was now corroborated; I could speak... And I could boast of some success; in the course of my lectures I led many hundreds, indeed thousands, of comrades back to their people and fatherland."
Hitler was no longer isolated. The German soldiers who attended his lectures shared his sense of failure. They found his message that they were not to blame attractive. He told them that Germany had not been beaten on the battlefield but had been betrayed by Jews and Marxists who had preached revolution and undermined the war effort. "We were all more or less firmly convinced that Germany could not be saved from imminent disaster by those who had participated in the November treachery – that is to say, the Centre and the Social Democrats; and also that the so-called Bourgeois-National group could not make good the damage that had been done, even if they had the best intentions. They lacked a number of requisites without which such a task could never be successfully undertaken.The years that followed have justified the opinions which we held at that time." (92)
In September 1919, Captain Karl Mayr instructed Hitler to attend a meeting of the German Worker's Party (GWP). Formed by Anton Drexler, Hermann Esser, Gottfried Feder, Karl Harrer and Dietrich Eckart, the German Army was worried that it was a left-wing revolutionary group. Harrer was elected as chairman of the party. Alan Bullock, the author of Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) has pointed out: "Its total membership was little more than Drexler's original forty (Committee of Independent Workmen), activity was limited to discussions in Munich beer-halls, and the committee of six had no clear idea of anything more ambitious." (93)
Hitler recorded in Mein Kampf (1925): "When I arrived that evening in the guest room of the former Sternecker Brau (Star Corner)... I found approximately 20–25 persons present, most of them belonging to the lower classes. The theme of Feder’s lecture was already familiar to me; for I had heard it in the lecture course... Therefore, I could concentrate my attention on studying the society itself. The impression it made upon me was neither good nor bad. I felt that here was just another one of these many new societies which were being formed at that time. In those days everybody felt called upon to found a new Party whenever he felt displeased with the course of events and had lost confidence in all the parties already existing. Thus it was that new associations sprouted up all round, to disappear just as quickly, without exercising any effect or making any noise whatsoever." (94)
Hitler discovered that the party's political ideas were similar to his own. He approved of Drexler's German nationalism and anti-Semitism but had doubts about the speech made by Gottfried Feder. Hitler was just about to leave when a man in the audience began to question the logic of Feder's speech on Bavaria. Hitler joined in the discussion and made a passionate attack on the man who he described as the "professor". Feder was impressed with Hitler and gave him a booklet encouraging him to join the GWP. Entitled, My Political Awakening, it described his objective of building a political party which would be based on the needs of the working-class but which, unlike the Social Democratic Party (SDP) or the German Communist Party (KPD) would be strongly nationalist. (95)
Hitler commented: "In his (Feder's) little book he described how his mind had thrown off the shackles of the Marxist and trades-union phraseology, and that he had come back to the nationalist ideals. The pamphlet secured my attention the moment I began to read, and I read it with interest to the end. The process here described was similar to that which I had experienced in my own case ten years previously. Unconsciously my own experiences began to stir again in my mind. During that day my thoughts returned several times to what I had read; but I finally decided to give the matter no further attention." (96)
Louis L. Snyder has argued that Feder's views appealed to Hitler for political reasons: "For Hitler, Feder's separation between stock exchange capital and the national economy offered the possibility of going into battle against the internationalization of the German economy without threatening the founding of an independent national economy by a fight against capital. Best of all, from Hitler's point of view, was the fact that he could identify international capitalism as wholly Jewish-controlled. Hitler became a member of the German Workers' Party and Feder became his friend and guide." (97)
Anton Drexler had mixed feelings about Hitler but was impressed with his abilities as an orator and invited him to join the party. Adolf Hitler commented: "I didn't know whether to be angry or to laugh. I had no intention of joining a ready-made party, but wanted to found one of my own. What they asked of me was presumptuous and out of the question." However, Hitler was urged on by his commanding officer, Major Karl Mayr, to join. Hitler also discovered that Ernst Röhm, was also a member of the GWP. Röhm, like Mayr, had access to the army political fund and was able to transfer some of the money into the GWP. Drexler wrote to a friend: "An absurd little man has become member No. 7 of our Party." (98)
Hitler gave his early impression of Anton Drexler and Karl Harrer in Mein Kampf (1925): "Herr Drexler... was a simple worker, as speaker not very gifted, moreover no soldier. He had not served in the Army, and was not a soldier during the war, because his whole being was weak and uncertain, he was not a soldier during the war, and because his whole being was weak and uncertain, he was not a real leader for us. He (and Herr Harrer) were not cut out to be fanatical enough to carry the movement in their hearts, nor did he have the ability to use brutal means to overcome the opposition to a new idea inside the party. What was needed was one fleet as a greyhound, smooth as leather, and hard as Krupp steel." (99)
The German Workers Party used some of this money from Karl Mayr and Ernst Röhm to advertise their meetings. Hitler was often the main speaker and it was during this period that he developed the techniques that made him into such a persuasive orator. Hitler always arrived late which helped to develop tension and a sense of expectation. He took the stage, stood to attention and waited until there was complete silence before he started his speech. For the first few months Hitler appeared nervous and spoke haltingly. Slowly he would begin to relax and his style of delivery would change. He would start to rock from side to side and begin to gesticulate with his hands. His voice would get louder and become more passionate. Sweat poured of him, his face turned white, his eyes bulged and his voice cracked with emotion. He ranted and raved about the injustices done to Germany and played on his audience's emotions of hatred and envy. By the end of the speech the audience would be in a state of near hysteria and were willing to do whatever Hitler suggested. As soon as his speech finished Hitler would quickly leave the stage and disappear from view. Refusing to be photographed, Hitler's aim was to create an air of mystery about himself, hoping that it would encourage others to come and hear the man who was now being described as "the new Messiah". (100)
Hitler had more respect for Dietrich Eckart than other leaders of the GWP. The journalist, Konrad Heiden, pointed out: "The recognized spiritual leader of this small group was Eckart, the journalist and poet, twenty-one years older than Hitler. He had a strong influence on the younger man, probably the strongest anyone ever has had on him. And rightly so. A gifted writer, satirist, orator, even (or so Hitler believed) thinker, Eckart was the same sort of uprooted, agitated, and far from immaculate soul.... He could tell Hitler that he (like Hitler himself) had lodged in flop-houses and slept on park benches because of Jewish machinations which (in his case) had prevented him from becoming a successful playwright." (101)
Alan Bullock, the author of Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) agrees: "Dietrich Eckart was considerably older than Hitler, well known as a journalist, poet and playwright, a Bavarian character, fond of beer, food, and talk... He talked well even when he was fuddled with beer, and had a big influence on the younger and still very raw Hitler. He lent him books, corrected his style of expression in speaking and writing, and took him around with him." (102)
In February 1920, the German Worker's Party published its first programme which became known as the "Twenty-Five Points". It was written by Adolf Hitler, Gottfried Feder, Anton Drexler and Dietrich Eckart. In the programme the party refused to accept the terms of the Versailles Treaty and called for the reunification of all German people. To reinforce their ideas on nationalism, equal rights were only to be given to German citizens. "Foreigners" and "aliens" would be denied these rights. To appeal to the working class and socialists, the programme included several measures that would redistribute income and war profits, profit-sharing in large industries, nationalization of trusts, increases in old-age pensions and free education. Feder greatly influenced the anti-capitalist aspect of the Nazi programme and insisted on phrases such as the need to "break the interest slavery of international capitalism" and the claim that Germany had become the "slave of the international stock market". (103)
Hitler's reputation as an orator grew and it soon became clear that he was the main reason why people were joining the party. At one meeting in Hofbräuhaus he attracted an audience of over 2,000 people and several hundred new members were enrolled. This gave Hitler tremendous power within the organization as they knew they could not afford to lose him. One change suggested by Hitler concerned adding "Socialist" to the name of the party. Hitler had always been hostile to socialist ideas, especially those that involved racial or sexual equality. However, socialism was a popular political philosophy in Germany after the First World War. This was reflected in the growth in the German Social Democrat Party (SDP), the largest political party in Germany. (104)
Adolf Hitler advocated that the party should change its name to the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). Hitler, therefore redefined socialism by placing the word "National" before it. He claimed he was only in favour of equality for those who had "German blood". Jews and other "aliens" would lose their rights of citizenship, and immigration of non-Germans should be brought to an end. In April 1920, the German Workers Party became the NSDAP. Hitler became chairman of the new party and Karl Harrer was given the honorary title, Reich Chairman. (105)
Konrad Heiden, a journalist working in Munich, observed the way Hitler gained control of the party: "Success and money finally won for Hitler complete domination over the National Socialist Party. He had grown too powerful for the founders; they - Anton Drexler among them - wanted to limit him and press him to the wall. But it turned out that they were too late. He had the newspaper behind him, the backers, and the growing S.A. At a certain distance he had the Reichswehr behind him too. To break all resistance for good, he left the party for three days, and the trembling members obediently chose him as the first, unlimited chairman, for practical purposes responsible to no one, in place of Anton Drexler, the modest founder, who had to content himself with the post of honorary chairman (July 29, 1921). From that day on, Hitler was the leader of Munich's National Socialist Movement." (106)
As this violence was often directed against Socialists and Communists, the local right-wing Bavarian government did not take action against the Nazi Party. However, the national government in Berlin were concerned and passed a "Law for the Protection of the Republic". Hitler's response was to organize a rally attended by 40,000 people. At the meeting Hitler called for the overthrow of the German government and even suggested that its leaders should be executed.
Although he had great doubts about some of the leading figures in the Nazi Party he greatly respected Dietrich Eckart. Eckart's biographer, Louis L. Snyder, has argued: "By 1923 Eckart's connections in Munich, added to Hitler's oratorical gifts, gave strength and prestige to the fledgling Nazi political movement. Eckart accompanied Hitler at rallies and was at his side in party parades. While Hitler stirred the masses, Eckart wrote panegyrics to his friend. The two were inseparable. Hitler never forgot his early sponsor... Hitler, he said, was his North Star... He spoke emotionally of his fatherly friend, and there were often tears in his eyes when he mentioned Eckart's name." (107)
Hitler also began reading books written by Henry Ford. This included The International Jew and My Life and Work. When he heard that Ford was considering running for President in 1923, Hitler told the Chicago Tribune, "I wish that I could send some of my shock troops to Chicago and other big American cities to help in the elections... We look to Heinrich Ford as the leader of the growing Fascist movement in America... We have just had his anti-Jewish articles translated and published. The book is being circulated to millions throughout Germany." (108)
The Thule Society ran a newspaper called Völkischer Beobachter (Racial Observer). It was an anti-socialist and anti-Jewish newspaper. For example, its headline on 10th March, 1920, was "Clean Out the Jews Once and for All." The article urged a "final solution" of the Jewish problem by "sweeping out the Jewish vermin with an iron broom." The newspaper also campaigned for the concentration camps to house Germany's Jewish population. (109)
The Völkischer Beobachter was not very popular with the German people and by the end of 1920 it was heavily in debt. Major Ernst Röhm was informed of the situation and he persuaded his commanding officer, Major General Franz Ritter von Epp to purchase it for 60,000 marks. The money came from wealthy friends and secret army funds. This now became the newspaper of the German Worker's Party (GWP) and Dietrich Eckart became its editor. (110)
Adolf Hitler took control of the newspaper in 1921 when he became the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). Hitler appointed Max Amann as the NSDAP business manager and he now took responsibility of the newspaper. Hitler later explained: "On my request, party comrade Amann took over the position of party business manager. He told me at once that further work in this office was absolutely impossible. And so, for a second time, we went out in search of quarters, and rented an old abandoned inn in Corneliusstrasse, near the Gartnerplatz.... A part of the old taproom was partitioned off and made into an office for party comrade Amann and myself. In the main room a very primitive wicket was constructed. The S.A. leadership was housed in the kitchen." (111)
James Pool, the author of Who Financed Hitler: The Secret Funding of Hitler's Rise to Power (1979) believed that Hitler had made an excellent choice in Amann. "Efficient, parsimonious, incorruptible, and without personal political ambition, Amann was exactly the right man for the job. He brought a commonsense business approach to Party affairs." It was said that his motto was "Make propaganda pay its own way." Hitler later praised Amann in particular for his financial management of the Party newspaper: "The fact that I was able to keep the Völkischer Beobachter on its feet throughout the period of our struggle - and in spite of the three failures it had suffered before I took it over - I owe first and foremost to... Amann. He as an intelligent businessman refused to accept responsibility for an enterprise if it did not possess the economic prerequisites of potential success." (112)
The Völkischer Beobachter enabled Hitler to put across his political message. He also recruited Heinrich Hoffmann as his official photographer, who travelled with him everywhere. William L. Shirer said his "loyalty was doglike". According to Louis L. Snyder: "Hoffmann's personal and political relationship with Hitler began in Munich in the early days of the National Socialist movement. The photographer, sensing a brilliant future for the budding politician, became his constant companion. For some time he belonged to Hitler's inner circle. Hitler often visited the Hoffmann home in Munich-Bogenhausen, where he felt he could relax from his hectic political life.... Much of Hitler's early popularity was due to Hoffmann's superb photography." Hoffmann was the only man permitted to take pictures of Hitler and he had to get permission from him before the photographs appeared in the newspaper. (113)
In February 1923, Ernst Hanfstaengel provided $1,000 to ensure the daily publication of Völkischer Beobachter. (114) As the author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1964), has pointed out: "It became a daily, thus giving Hitler the prerequisite of all German political parties, a daily newspaper in which to preach the party's gospels." Alfred Rosenberg, the NSDAP's unofficial philosopher, became its editor. Rosenberg filled its columns with anti-Semitic material such as the anti-Jewish poetry of Josef Czerny. He also reproduced The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. (115)
The Völkischer Beobachter published in full all of his speeches. In 1923 Dietrich Eckart and Alfred Rosenberg, selected and published one hundred and fifty speeches, entitled Adolf Hitler, His Life and Speeches. Over the next few years several new editions of the book appeared. However, the speeches in the books were often different from those in the newspaper. This included the removal of attacks on powerful foreign politicians. Hitler was especially concerned with not upsetting politicians in the United States. (116)
According to Louis L. Snyder Rosenberg was often in conflict with Max Amann: "Rosenberg wanted to politicize his readers by stressing the Nazi way of life, while Amann called for a sensational newspaper that would make money for the party... In the shabby Munich office Rosenberg worked zealously on editorials, while Amann exploited the reporters on starvation wages. Rosenberg and Amann often had furious arguments that ended with each throwing scissors and inkwells at the other." (117)
Ernst Hanfstaengel was another devoted follower. He arrived in Germany from the United States after the war. Soon after arriving in Berlin he met Captain Truman Smith, a military attaché at the American Embassy. It was Smith who advised Hanfstaengel to go and see Hitler speak at a NSDAP meeting. Hanfstaengel later recalled: "In his heavy boots, dark suit and leather waistcoat, semi-stiff white collar and odd little moustache, he really did not look very impressive - like a waiter in a railway-station restaurant. However, when Drexler introduced him to a roar of applause, Hitler straightened up and walked past the press table with a swift, controlled step, the unmistakable soldier in mufti. The atmosphere in the hall was electric. Apparently this was his first public appearance after serving a short prison-sentence for breaking up a meeting addressed by a Bavarian separatist named Ballerstedt, so he had to be reasonably careful what he said in case the police should arrest him again as a disturber of the peace. Perhaps this is what gave such a brilliant quality to his speech, which for innuendo and irony I have never heard matched, even by him. No one who judges his capacity as a speaker from the performances of his later years can have any true insight into his gifts." (118)
Emil Maurice, an early member of the Nazi Party (member No. 19) helped establish Gymmnastic and Sports Division in August 1921. This group eventually became known as the Sturmabteilung (Storm Detachment). Hitler's stormtroopers were often former members of the Freikorps (right-wing private armies who flourished during the period that followed the First World War) and had considerable experience in using violence against their rivals. (119)
The SA wore grey jackets, brown shirts (khaki shirts originally intended for soldiers in Africa but purchased in bulk from the German Army by the Nazi Party), swastika armbands, ski-caps, knee-breeches, thick woolen socks and combat boots. Accompanied by bands of musicians and carrying swastika flags, they would parade through the streets of Munich. At the end of the march Hitler would make one of his passionate speeches that encouraged his supporters to carry out acts of violence against Jews and his left-wing political opponents. (120)
The SA was assigned the task of winning the battle of the streets against the Communists. Hitler believed that the "possession of the streets in the key to the power of the state." Captain Ernst Röhm of the Bavarian Army played an important role in recruiting these men, and became the SA's first leader. Röhm's biographer, Paul R. Maracin, has pointed out that he played a vital role in arming the SA: "After the war a large arsenal was left by the German Army, and Röhm was one of several officers who conspired to divert and cache the arms. The German government had promised the Allies that the guns, ammunition, and vehicles would be dutifully destroyed, and according to the peace treaty, this should have been done. However, in some instances (with the connivance of some Allied officers attached to control commissions), these arms were stored for future use and would later he issued to members of the Freikorps and the SA. As an officer, Röhm had the reputation of a man who resolutely stood by his subordinates, while acting as a buffer between them and his superior officers. For all his dedication as a soldier, he was, paradoxically, a person who casually arranged for the murder of informants who tried to reveal the whereabouts of his hidden arsenals." (121)
The SA was assigned the task of winning the battle of the streets against the Communists. Hitler believed that the "possession of the streets in the key to the power of the state." Kurt Lüdecke saw Hitler speak on 11th August 1922. He later recalled: "I studied this slight, pale man, his brown hair parted on one side and falling again and again over his sweating brow. Threatening and beseeching, with small pleading hands and flaming steel-blue eyes, he had the look of a fanatic. Presently my critical faculty was swept away he was holding the masses, and me with them, under a hypnotic spell by the sheer force of his conviction." The following day, Lüdecke joined the Nazi Party. (122)
Lüdecke considered the Sturmabteilung (SA) as "little better than gangs". He approached Hitler and suggested that he should form an elite, well-disciplined company of Storm Troopers. He thought that their example might prove an inspiration to the rest of the SA. Hitler agreed and as James Pool points out: "Lüdecke began recruiting, accepting only the toughest and most able-bodied men who had either served in the war or had some military training. Two former Army officers were appointed as platoon leaders. A number of young students began to join the troop. A band with four drummers and four fifers was organized. Drills were held regularly. Every Wednesday night the entire company would assemble in a room Lüdecke had rented in a cafe on Schoenfeldstrasse, where he lectured his men on the political aims of the Nazi Party. Every new member took an oath of allegiance on the swastika flag and pledged loyalty to Hitler." (123)
Kurt Lüdecke also bought the uniforms and other equipment for the men. Except for a few small details, the appearance of Lüdecke's men was almost indistinguishable from regular Army troops. Their uniform consisted of Army tunic, military breeches, Austrian ski-caps, leggings, and combat boots. each man also wore a leather belt and a swastika armband. By the end of December 1922 about 100 men. Lüdecke a close friend of Ernst Röhm had managed to help him obtain 15 heavy Maxim guns, more than 200 hand grenades, 175 rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition. According to Lüdecke's own account, he earned the money to finance his S.A. troop by selling treadless tires to the Russian government. (124)
In February 1923, Adolf Hitler and Ernst Röhm, entered into negotiations with the Patriotic Leagues in Bavaria. This included the Lower Bavarian Fighting League, Reich Banner, Patriotic League of Munich and Oberland Defence League. A joint committee was set up under the chairmanship of Lieutenant Colonel Hermann Kriebel, the military leader of the Working Union of the Patriots Fighting Associations. Over the next few months Hitler and Rohm worked hard to bring in as many of the other right-wing groups as they could. (125)
Gustav Stresemann, of the German National People's Party (DNVP), with the support of the Social Democratic Party, became chancellor of Germany in August 1923. On 26th September, he announced the decision of the government to call off the campaign of passive resistance in the Ruhr unconditionally, and two days later the ban on reparation deliveries to France and Belgium was lifted. He also tackled the problem of inflation by establishing the Rentenbank. (126)
Alan Bullock, the author of Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962) has pointed out: "This was a courageous and wise decision, intended as the preliminary to negotiations for a peaceful settlement. But it was also the signal the Nationalists had been waiting for to stir up a renewed agitation against the Government." (127) Hitler made a speech in Munich attacking Stresemann, as showing "subserviency towards the enemy, surrender of the human dignity of the German, pacifist cowardice, tolerance of every indignity, readiness to agree to everything until nothing remains." (128)
Adolf Hitler, Ernst Röhm, Hermann Göring and Hermann Kriebel had a meeting together on 25th September where they discussed what they were to do. Hitler told the men that it was time to take action. Röhm agreed and resigned his commission to give his full support to the cause. Hitler's first step was to put his own 15,000 Sturm Abteilung men in a state of readiness. The following day, the Bavarian Cabinet proclaimed a state of emergency and appointed Gustav von Kahr, one of the best-known politicians, with strong right-wing leanings, as State Commissioner with dictatorial powers. Kahr's first act was to ban Hitler from holding meetings. (129)
General Hans von Seeckt made it clear that he would take action if Hitler attempted to take power. As William L. Shirer, the author of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1964), has pointed out: "He issued a plain warning to... Hitler and the armed leagues that any rebellion on their part would be opposed by force. But for the Nazi leader it was too late to draw back. His rabid followers were demanding action." (130)
Wilhelm Brückner, one of his SA commanders, urged him to strike at once: "The day is coming, when I won't be able to hold the men back. If nothing happens now, they'll run away from us." A plan of action was suggested by Alfred Rosenberg and Max Scheubner-Richter. The two men proposed to Hitler and Röhm that they should strike on 4th November during a military parade in the heart of Munich. The idea was that a few hundred storm troopers should converge on the street before the parading troops arrived and seal it off with machine-guns. However, when the SA arrived they discovered the street was fully protected by a large body of well-armed police and the plan had to be abandoned. It was then decided that the putsch should take place three days later. (131)
On 8th November, 1923, the Bavarian government held a meeting of about 3,000 officials. While Gustav von Kahr, the prime minister of Bavaria was making a speech, Adolf Hitler and 600 armed SA men entered the building. According to Ernst Hanfstaengel: "Hitler began to plough his way towards the platform and the rest of us surged forward behind him. Tables overturned with their jugs of beer. On the way we passed a major named Mucksel, one of the heads of the intelligence section at Army headquarters, who started to draw his pistol as soon as he saw Hitler approach, but the bodyguard had covered him with theirs and there was no shooting. Hitler clambered on a chair and fired a round at the ceiling." Hitler then told the audience: "The national revolution has broken out! The hall is filled with 600 armed men. No one is allowed to leave. The Bavarian government and the government at Berlin are hereby deposed. A new government will be formed at once. The barracks of the Reichswehr and the police barracks are occupied. Both have rallied to the swastika!" (132)
Leaving Hermann Göring and the SA to guard the 3,000 officials, Hitler took Gustav von Kahr, Otto von Lossow, the commander of the Bavarian Army and Hans von Seisser, the commandant of the Bavarian State Police into an adjoining room. Hitler told the men that he was to be the new leader of Germany and offered them posts in his new government. Aware that this would be an act of high treason, the three men were initially reluctant to agree to this offer. Adolf Hitler was furious and threatened to shoot them and then commit suicide: "I have three bullets for you, gentlemen, and one for me!" After this the three men agreed to become ministers of the government. (133)
It was later reported: "A nationalist demonstration was held in beer cellars here today, in the course of which Herr von Kahr, the Dictator, amid the applause of those present, read a manifesto to the German nation in which he denounced particularly the principles of Marxism. The members of patriotic organisations were present in full force. When Herr von Kahr had concluded his speech Herr Hitler, the Fascist leader, entered the cellars with 600 men and announced the overthrow of the Bavarian Government. The new Government, he added, was in the hands of General Ludendorff, who was the Commander-in-Chief, while he himself would act as General Ludendorff’s political advisor." (134)
Hitler dispatched Max Scheubner-Richter to Ludwigshöhe to collect General Eric Ludendorff. He had been leader of the German Army at the end of the First World War. Ludendorff had therefore found Hitler's claim that the war had not been lost by the army but by Jews, Socialists, Communists and the German government, attractive, and was a strong supporter of the Nazi Party. However, according to Alan Bullock, the author of Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962): "He (Ludendorff) was thoroughly angry with Hitler for springing a surprise on him, and furious at the distribution of offices which made Hitler, not Ludendorff, the dictator of Germany, and left him with the command of an army which did not exist. But he kept himself under control: this was a national event, he said, and he could only advise the others to collaborate." (135)
While Adolf Hitler had been appointing government ministers, Ernst Röhm, leading a group of stormtroopers, had seized the War Ministry and Rudolf Hess was arranging the arrest of Jews and left-wing political leaders in Bavaria. Hitler now planned to march on Berlin and remove the national government. Surprisingly, Hitler had not arranged for the Sturm Abteilung (SA) to take control of the radio stations and the telegraph offices. This meant that the national government in Berlin soon heard about Hitler's putsch and gave orders to General Hans von Seeckt for it to be crushed. (136)
Gustav von Kahr, Otto von Lossow and Hans von Seisser, managed to escape and Von Kahr issued a proclamation: "The deception and perfidy of ambitious comrades have converted a demonstration in the interests of national reawakening into a scene of disgusting violence. The declarations extorted from myself, General von Lossow and Colonel Seisser at the point of the revolver are null and void. The National Socialist German Workers' Party, as well as the fighting leagues Oberland and Reichskriegsflagge, are dissolved." (137)
The next day Adolf Hitler, Hermann Kriebel, Eric Ludendorff, Julius Steicher, Hermann Göring, Max Scheubner-Richter, Walter Hewell, Wilhelm Brückner and 3,000 armed supporters of the Nazi Party marched through Munich in an attempt to join up with Röhm's forces at the War Ministry. At Odensplatz they found the road blocked by the Munich police. What happened next is in dispute. One observer said that Hitler fired the first shot with his revolver. Another witness said it was Steicher while others claimed the police fired into the ground in front of the marchers. (138)
William L. Shirer has argued: "At any rate a shot was fired and in the next instant a volley of shots rang out from both sides, spelling in that instant the doom of Hitler's hopes. Scheubner-Richter fell, mortally wounded. Göring went down with a serious wound in his thigh. Within sixty seconds the firing stopped, but the street was already littered with fallen bodies - sixteen Nazis and three police dead or dying, many more wounded and the rest, including Hitler, clutching the pavement to save their lives." (139)
According to another source: "In seconds 16 Nazis and 3 policeman lay dead on the pavement, and others were wounded. Göring, who was shot through the thigh, fell to the ground. Hitler, reacting spontaneously because of his training as a dispatch bearer during World War I, automatically hit the pavement when he heard the crack of guns. Surrounded by comrades, he escaped in a car standing close by. Ludendorff, staring straight ahead, moved through the ranks of the police, who in a gesture of respect for the old war hero, turned their guns aside." (140)
Hitler, who had dislocated his shoulder, lost his nerve and ran to a nearby car. Although the police were outnumbered, the Nazis followed their leader's example and ran away. Only Eric Ludendorff and his adjutant continued walking towards the police. Later Nazi historians were to claim that the reason Hitler left the scene so quickly was because he had to rush an injured young boy to the local hospital. (141)
Two hours after Hitler's march through the streets had been halted and dispersed by police bullets, Ernst Röhm realized the futility of the operation, surrendered, and was placed under arrest. Adolf Hitler, Eric Ludendorff, Wilhelm Frick, Wilhelm Brückner, Hermann Kriebel, Walter Hewell, Friedrich Weber and Ernst Pöhner were also charged with high treason. If found guilty, they could faced the death penalty. The attempted revolt became known as the Beer Hall Putsch. The trial began on 26th February, 1924. The court-case created a great deal of interest and it was covered by the world's press. Hitler realized this was a good opportunity to speak to a large audience. (142)
Franz Gürtner, the Minister of Justice in Bavaria, was an old friend and protector of Hitler and he saw to it that he would be treated well in court: "Hitler was allowed to interrupt as often as he pleased, cross-examine witnesses at will and speak on his own behalf at any time and at any length - his opening statement consumed four hours, but it was only the first of many long harangues." (143)
The State Prosecutor, Ludwig Stenglein, was remarkably tolerant towards Hitler in court: "His (Hitler) honest endeavour to reawaken the belief in the German cause among an oppressed and disarmed people.... His private life has always been clean, which deserves special approbation in view of the temptations which naturally came to him as an acclaimed party leader.... Hitler is a highly gifted man who, coming from a simple background, has, through serious and hard work, won for himself a respected place in public life. He dedicated himself to the ideas that inspired him to the point of self-sacrifice, and as a soldier he fulfilled his duty in the highest measure."
Hitler argued in court: "One thing was certain, Lossow, Kahr, and Seisser had the same goal that we had - to get rid of the Reich Government with its present international and parliamentary government. If our enterprise was actually high treason, then during this whole period Lossow, Kahr, and Seisser must have been committing high treason along with us, for during all these weeks we talked of nothing but the aims of which we now stand accused.... I alone bear the responsibility, but I am not a criminal because of that. If today I stand here as a revolutionary, it is as a revolutionary against the Revolution. There is no such thing as high treason against the traitors of 1918." (144)
On the 1st April, 1924, the verdicts were announced. Eric Ludendorff was acquitted. Hitler, Weber, Kriebel and Pöhner were found guilty and were sentenced to five years' imprisonment. Röhm, although found guilty, was released and placed on probation. As Ian Kershaw has pointed out: "Even on the conservative Right in Bavaria, the conduct of the trial and sentences prompted amazement and disgust. In legal terms, the sentence was nothing short of scandalous. No mention was made in the verdict of the four policeman shot by the putschists; the robbery of 14,605 billion Marks was entirely played down; the destruction of the offices of the SPD newspaper Münchener Post and the taking of a number of Social Democratic city councillors as hostages were not blamed on Hitler." (145)
Hitler was sent to Landsberg Castle in Munich to serve his prison sentence. He was treated well and was allowed to walk in the castle grounds, wear his own clothes and receive gifts. Officially there were restrictions on visitors but this did not apply to Hitler, and a steady flow of friends, party members and journalists spent long spells with him. He was even allowed to have visits from his pet Alsatian dog. (146)
Louis L. Snyder has argued that the Beer Hall Putsch was a highly significant event: "On the surface the Beer-Hall Putsch seemed to be a failure, but actually it was a brilliant achievement for a political nobody. In a few hours Hitler catapulted his scarcely known, unimportant movement into headlines throughout Germany and the world. Moreover, he learned an important lesson: direct action was not the way to political power. It was necessary that he seek political victory by winning the masses to his side and also by attracting the support of wealthy industrialists. Then he could ease his way to political supremacy by legal means." (147)