from “The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich”
by William L. Shirer
The Historical Roots Of The Third Reich
In the delirious days of the annual rallies of the Nazi Party at Nuremberg at the beginning of September, I used to be accosted by a swarm of hawkers selling a picture postcard on which were shown the portraits of Frederick the Great, Bismarck, Hindenberg and Hitler. The inscription read: “What the King conquered, the Prince formed, the Field Marshal defended, the Soldier saved and unified.” Thus Hitler, the soldier, was portrayed not only as the savior and unifier of Germany but as the successor of these celebrated figures who had made the country great. The implication was the continuity of German history, culminating in Hitler’s rule, which was not lost upon the multitude. The very expression “the Third Reich” also served to strengthen this concept. The First Reich had been the medieval Holy Roman Empire; the Second Reich had been that which was formed by Bismarck in 1871 after Prussia’s defeat of France. Both had added glory to the German name. The Weimar Republic, as Nazi propaganda had it, had dragged that fair name in the mud. The Third Reich restored it, just as Hitler had promised. Hitler’s Germany, then, was depicted as a logical development from all that had gone before -– or at least of all that had been glorious.
The Thirty Years War and the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, which ended it, brought .. catastrophe to Germany, a blow so devastating that the country has never fully recovered from it. This was the last of Europe’s great religious wars, but before it was over it had degenerated from a Protestant-Catholic conflict into a confused dynastic struggle between the Catholic Austrian Hapsburgs on the one side and the Catholic French Bourbons and the Swedish Protestant monarchy on the other. In the savage fighting, Germany itself was laid waste, the towns and countryside were devastated and ravished, the people decimated. It has been estimated that one third of the German people perished in this barbarous war.
The Peace of Westphalia was almost as disastrous to the future of Germany as the war had been. The German princes, who had sided with France and Sweden, were confirmed as absolute rulers of their little domains, some 350 of them, the Emperor remaining merely as a figurehead so far as the German lands were concerned.
Serfdom was re-imposed, even introduced in areas where had been unknown. The towns lost their self-government. The peasants, the laborers, even the middle-class burghers, were exploited to the limit by the princes, who held them down in a degrading state of servitude. The pursuit of learning and the arts all but ceased. The greedy rulers had no feeling for German nationalism and patriotism and stamped out any manifestations of them in their subjects. Civilization came to a standstill in Germany. The Reich, as one historian has put it, “was artificially stabilized at a medieval level of confusion and weakness.”
Germany never recovered from this setback. Acceptance of autocracy, of blind obedience to the petty tyrants who ruled as princes, became ingrained in the German mind. The idea of democracy, of rule by parliament, which made such rapid headway in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and which exploded in France in 1789, did not sprout in Germany. This political backwardness of the Germans, divided as the were into so many petty states and isolated in them from the surging currents of European thought and development, set Germany apart from and behind the other countries of the West,. There was no natural growth of a nation. This has to be borne in mind if one is to comprehend the disastrous road this people subsequently took and the warped state of mind which settled over it. In the end the German nation was forged by naked force and held together by naked aggression.
Beyond the Elbe to the east lay Prussia. As the nineteenth century waned, this century which had seen the sorry failure of the confused and timid liberals at Frankfurt in 1848-49 to create a somewhat democratic, unified Germany, Prussia took over the German destiny. For centuries this Germanic state had lain outside the main stream of German historical development and culture. It seemed almost as if it were a freak of history. Prussia had begun as the remote frontier state of Brandenburg on the sandy wastes east of the Elbe which, beginning with the eleventh century, had been slowly conquered from the Slavs. Under Brandenburg’s ruling princes, the Hohenzollerns, who were little more than military adventurers, the Slavs, mostly Poles, were gradually pushed back along the Baltic. Those who resisted were either exterminated or made landless serfs. The imperial law of the German Empire forbade the princes from assuming royal titles, but in 1701 the Emperor acquiesced in the Elector Frederick III’s being crowned King in Prussia at Koenigsberg.
By this time Prussia had pulled itself up by its own bootstraps to be one of the ranking military powers of Europe. It had none of the resources of the others. Its land was barren and bereft of minerals. The population was small. There were no large towns, no industry and little cattle. yet by a supreme act of will and a genius for organization the Hohenzollerns managed to create a Spartan military state whose well-drilled Army won one victory after another and whose Machiavellian diplomacy of temporary alliances with whatever power seemed the strongest brought constant additions to its territory.
There thus arose quite artificially a state born of no popular force nor even of an idea except that of conquest, and held together by the absolute power of the ruler, by a narrow-minded bureaucracy which did his bidding and by a ruthlessly disciplined army. ‘two thirds and sometimes as much as five sixths of the annual state revenue was expended on the Army, which became, under the King, the state itself. “Prussia,” remarked Mirabeau, “is not a state with an army, but an army with a state.” And the state, which was run with the efficiency and soullessness of a factory, became all’ the people were little more than cogs in the machinery. Individuals were taught not only by the kings and the drill sergeants but by the philosophers that their role in life was one of obedience, work, sacrifice and duty. Even Kant preached that duty demands the suppression of human feeling, and the Prussian poet Willibald Alexis gloried in the enslavement of the people under the Hohenzollerns. To Lessing, who did not like it, “Prussia was the most slavish country of Europe.”
The Junkers, who were to play such a vital role in modern Germany, were also a unique product of Prussia. They were, as they said, a master race. It was they who occupied the land conquered from the Slavs and who farmed it on large estates worked by these Slavs, who became landless serfs quite different from those in the West. There was an essential difference between the agrarian system in Prussia and that of western Germany and Western Europe. In the latter, the nobles, who owned most of the land, received rents or feudal dues form the peasants, who though often kept in a state of serfdom had certain rights and privileges and could and did, gradually acquire their own land and civic freedom. In the West, the peasants formed a solid part of the community; the landlords, for all their drawbacks, developed in their leisure a cultivation which led to, among other things, a civilized quality of life that could be seen in the refinement of manners, of thought and of the arts.
The Prussian Junker was not a man of leisure. He worked hard at managing his large estate, much as a factory manager does today. His landless laborers were treated as virtual slaves. On his large properties he was the absolute lord. There were no large towns nor any substantial middle class, as there were in the West, whose civilizing influence might rub against him. In contrast to the cultivated grand seigneur in the West, the Junker developed into a rude, domineering, arrogant type of man, without cultivation or culture, aggressive, conceited, ruthless, narrow-minded and given to a petty profit-seeking that some German historians noted in the private life of Otto von Bismarck, the most successful of the Junkers.
It was this political genius, this apostle of “blood and iron,” who between 1866 and 1871 brought an end to a divided Germany which had existed for nearly a thousand years and, by force, replaced it with Greater Prussia, or what might be called Prussian Germany. Bismarck’s unique creation is the Germany we have known in our time, a problem child of Europe and the world for nearly a century, a nation of gifted, vigorous people in which first this remarkable man and then Kaiser Wilhelm II and finally Hitler, aided by a military caste and by many a strange intellectual, succeeded in inculcating a lust for power and domination, a passion for unbridled militarism, a contempt for democracy and individual freedom, and a longing for authority, for authoritarianism. Under such a spell, this nation rose to great heights, fell and rose again, until it was seemingly destroyed with the end of Hitler in the spring of 1945 – it is perhaps too early to speak of that with any certainty.
“The great questions of the day,” Bismarck declared on becoming Prime Minister of Prussia in 1862, “will not be settled by the resolutions and majority votes –- that was the mistake of the men of 1848 and 1849 –- but by blood and iron.” That was exactly the way he proceeded to settle them, though it must be said that he added a touch of diplomatic finesse, often of the most deceitful kind. Bismarck’s aim was to destroy liberalism, bolster the power of conservatism –- that is, of the Junkers, the Army and the crown –- and make Prussia, as against Austria, the dominant power not only among Germans but, if possible, in Europe as well. “Germany looks not to Prussia’s liberalism,” he told the deputies in the Prussian parliament, “but to her force.”
Bismarck first built up the Prussian Army and when the parliament refused to vote the additional credits he merely raised them on his own and finally dissolved the chamber. With a strengthened Army he then struck in three successive wars. The first against Denmark in 1864, brought the duchies of Schleswig and Holstein under German rule. The second against Austria in 1866, had far-reaching consequences. Austria, which for centuries had been first among the German states, was finally excluded from German affairs. It was not allowed to join the North German Confederation which Bismarck now proceeded to establish.
“In 1866,” the eminent German political scientist Wilhelm Roepke once wrote, “Germany ceased to exist.” Prussia annexed outright all the German states north of the Main which had fought against her, except Saxony; these included Hanover, Hesse, Nassau, Frankfurt and the Elbe duchies. All the other states north of the Main were forced into the North German Confederation. Prussia, which now stretched from the Rhine to Koenigsberg, completely dominated it, and within five years, with the defeat of Napoleon III’s France., the southern German states, with the considerable kingdom of Bavaria in the lead, would be drawn into Prussian Germany.
Bismarck’s crowning achievement, the creation of the Second Reich, came on January 18, 1871, when King Wilhelm I of Prussia was proclaimed Emperor of Germany in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. Germany had been unified by Prussian armed force. It was now the greatest power on the Continent; its only rival in Europe was England.
Yet there was a fatal flaw. The German Empire, as Treitschke said, was in reality but an extension of Prussia. “Prussia,” he emphasized, “is the dominant factor… The will of the Empire can be nothing but the will of the Prussian state.” This was true, and it was to have disastrous consequences for the Germans themselves. From 1871 to 1933 and indeed to Hitler’s end in 1945, the course of German history as a consequence was to run, with the exception of the interim of the Weimar Republic, in a straight line and with utter logic.
Despite the democratic facade put up by the establishment of the Reichstag, whose members were elected by universal manhood suffrage, the German Empire was in reality a militarist autocracy ruled by the King of Prussia, who was also Emperor. The Reichstag possessed few powers; it was little more than a debating society where the representatives of the people let off steam or bargained for shoddy benefits for the classes they represented. The throne had the power –- by divine right. As late as 1910 Wilhelm II could proclaim that the royal crown had been “granted by God’s Grace alone and not by parliaments, popular assemblies and popular decision… Considering myself an instrument of the Lord,” he added, “I go my way.”
He was not impeded by Parliament. The Chancellor he appointed was responsible to him, not to the Reichstag. The assembly could not overthrow a Chancellor nor keep him in office. That was the prerogative of the monarch. Thus, in contrast to the development in other countries in the West, the idea of democracy, of the people sovereign, of the supremacy of parliament, never got a foothold in Germany, even after the twentieth century began.
The middle classes, grown prosperous by the belated but staggering development of the industrial revolution and dazzled by the success of Bismarck’s policy of force and war, had traded for material gain any aspirations for political freedom they may have had. They accepted the Hohenzollern autocracy. They gladly knuckled under to the Junker bureaucracy and they fervently embraced Prussian militarism. Germany’s star had risen and they -– almost all the people -– were eager to do what their masters asked to keep it high.
At the very end, Hitler, the Austrian, was one of them. To him Bismarck’s Second Reich, despite its mistakes and its “terrifying forces of decay” was a work of splendor in which the Germans at last had come into their own.
The Intellectual Roots Of The Third Reich
In 1807, following Prussia’s humiliating defeat by Napoleon at Jena, Johann Gottlieb Fichte began the famous “Addresses to the German Nation” from the position of the University of Berlin, where he held the chair of philosophy. They stirred and rallied a divided, defeated people and their resounding echoes could still be heard in the Third Reich.
On Fichte’s death in 1814, he was succeeded by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel at the University of Berlin. This is the subtle and penetrating mind whose dialectics inspired Marx and Lenin and thus contributed to the founding of Communism and whose ringing glorification of the State as supreme in human life paved the way for the Second and Third Reichs of Bismarck and Hitler.
Heinrich von Treitschke came later to the University of Berlin. From 1974 until his death in 1896 he was a professor of history there and a popular one, his lectures being attended by large and enthusiastic gatherings which included not only students but General Staff officers and officials of the Junker bureaucracy. His influence on German thought in the last quarter of the century was enormous and it continued through Wilhelm II’s day and indeed Hitler’s. Though he was a Saxon, he became the great Prussianizer; he was more Prussian than the Prussians. Like Hegel he glorifies the State and conceives of it as supreme, but his attitude is more brutish: the people, the subjects, are to be little more than slaves in the nation. “It does not matter what you think,” he exclaims, “so long as you obey.”
And Treitschke outdoes Hegel in proclaiming war as the highest expression of man. To him “martial glory is the basis of all the political virtues; in the rich treasure of Germany’s glories the Prussian military glory is a jewel as precious as the masterpieces of our poets and thinkers.” He holds that “to play blindly with peace… has become the shame of the thought and morality of our age.”
“War is not only a practical necessity, it is also a theoretical necessity, an exigency of logic. The concept of the State implies the concept of war, for the essence of the State is power… That war should ever be banished from the world is a hope not only absurd, but profoundly immoral. It would involve the atrophy of many of the essential and sublime forces of the human soul… A people which becomes attached to the chimerical hope of perpetual peace finishes irremediably by decaying in its proud isolation…”
Nietzsche, like Goethe, held no high opinion of the German people, and in other ways, too, the outpourings of this megalomaniacal genius differ from those of the chauvinistic German thinkers of the nineteenth century., Indeed, he regarded most German philosophers, including Fichte and Hegel, as “unconscious swindlers.” He poked fun at the “Tartuffery of old Kant.” The Germans, he wrote in Ecce Homo, “have no conception how vile they are.” and he came to the conclusion that “wheresoever Germany penetrated, she ruins culture.” He thought that Christians, as much as Jews, were responsible for the “slave morality” prevalent in the world; he was never an anti-Semite. He was sometimes fearful of Prussia’s future, and in his last years, before insanity closed down his mind, he even toyed with the idea of European union and world government.
Yet I think no one who lived in the Third Reich could have failed to be impressed by Nietzsche’s influence on it. His books might be full, as Santayana said, of “genial imbecility” and “boyish blasphemies.” Yet Nazi scribblers never tired of extolling him. Hitler often visited the Nietzsche museum in Weimar and publicized his veneration for the philosopher by posing for photographs of himself staring in rapture at the bust of the great man.
There was some ground for this appropriation of Nietzsche as one of the originators of the Nazi Weltanschauung. Had not the philosopher thundered against democracy and parliaments, preached the will to power, praised war and proclaimed the coming of the master race and the superman -– and in the most telling aphorisms? A Nazi could proudly quote him on almost every conceivable subject, and did. On Christianity: “the one great curse, the one enormous and innermost perversion… I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind… This Christianity is no more than the typical teaching of the Socialists.” On the State, power and the jungle world of man: “Society has never regarded virtue as anything else than as a means to strength, power and order. The State is unmorality organized… the will to war, to conquest and revenge… Society is not entitled to exist for its own sake but only as a substructure and scaffolding, by means of which a select race of beings may elevate themselves to their higher duties… There is no such thing as the right to live, the right to work, or the right to be happy: in this respect man is no different from the meanest worm.” And he exalted the superman as the beast of prey, “the magnificent blond brute, avidly rampant for spoil and victory.”
Women, whom Nietzsche never had, he consigned to a distinctly inferior status, as did the Nazis, who decreed that their place was in the kitchen and their chief role in life to beget children for German warriors. Nietzsche put the idea this way: “Man shall be trained for war and woman for the procreation of the warrior. All else is folly.” He went further. In ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ he exclaims: “Thou goest to woman? Do not forget thy whip!” -– which prompted Bertrand Russell to quip, “Nine women out of ten would have got the whip away from him, and he knew it, so he kept away from women…”
And war? Here Nietzsche took the view of most of the other nineteenth-century German thinkers. In the thundering Old Testament language in which ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ is written, the philosopher cries out: “Ye shall love peace as a means to new war, and the short peace more than the long. You I advise not to work, but to fight. You I advise not to peace, but to victory… Ye say it is the good cause which halloweth even war? I say unto you: it is the good war which halloweth every cause. War and courage have done more great things than charity.”
Finally there was Nietzsche’s prophecy of the coming elite who would rule the world and from whom the superman would spring. In ‘The Will To Power’ he exclaims: “A daring and ruler race is building itself up… The aim should be to prepare a transvaluation of values for a particularly strong kind of man, most highly gifted in intellect and will. This man and the elite around him will become the “lords of the earth.”
Such rantings from one of Germany’s most original minds must have struck a responsive chord in Hitler’s littered mind. At any rate he appropriated them for his own -– not only the thoughts but the philosopher’s penchant for grotesque exaggeration, and often his very words. “Lords of the Earth” is a familiar expression in ‘Mein Kampf.’ That in the end Hitler considered himself the superman of Nietzsche’s prophecy can not be doubted.
“Whoever wants to understand National Socialist Germany must know Wagner,” Hitler used to say. This may have been based on a partial misconception of the great composer, for though Richard Wagner harbored a fanatical hatred, as Hitler did, for the Jews, who he was convinced were out to dominate the world with their money, and though he scorned parliaments and democracy and the materialism and mediocrity of the bourgeoisie, he also fervently hoped that the Germans, “with their special gifts,” would “become not rulers, but ennoblers of the world.”
It was not his political writings, however, but his towering operas, recalling so vividly the world of German antiquity with its heroic myths, its fighting pagan gods and heroes, its demons and dragons, its blood feuds and primitive tribal codes, its sense of destiny, of the splendor of love and life and the nobility of death, which inspired the myths of modern Germany and gave it a Germanic Weltanschauung which Hitler and the Nazis, with some justification, took over as their own.
From his earliest days Hitler worshiped Wagner, and even as his life neared a close, in the damp and dreary bunker at Army headquarters on the Russian front, with his world and his dreams beginning to crack and crumble, he loved to reminisce about all the times he had heard the great Wagnerian works, of what they had meant to him and of the inspiration he had derived from the Bayreuth Festival and from his countless visits to Haus Wahnfried, the composer’s home, where Siegfried Wagner, the composer’s son, still lived with his English-born wife, Winifred, who for a while was one of his revered friends.
“What joy each of Wagner’s works has given me!” Hitler exclaims on the evening of January 24-25, 1942, soon after the first disastrous German defeats in Russia, as he discourses to his generals and party cronies, Himmler among them, in the depths of the underground shelter of Wolfsschanze at Rastenburg in East Prussia. Outside there is snow and an arctic cold, the elements which he so hated and feared and which had contributed to the first German military setback of the war. But in the warmth of the bunker his thoughts on this night, at least, are on one of the great inspirations of his life. “I remember,” he says, “my emotion the first time I entered Wahnfried. To say I was moved is an understatement… On the day following the end of the Beyreuth Festival… I’m gripped by a great sadness -– as when one strips the Christmas tree of its ornaments.”
Though Hitler reiterated in his monologue that winter evening that to him ‘Tristan und Isolde’ was “Wagner’s masterpiece,” it is the stupendous ‘Nibelungen Ring’, a series of four operas which was inspired by the great German epic myth, ‘Nibelungenlied’, and on which the composer worked for the better part of twenty-five years, that gave Germany and especially the Third Reich so much of its primitive Germanic mythos. Often a people’s myths are the highest and truest expression of its spirit and culture, and nowhere is this more true than in Germany. Schelling even argued that “a nation comes into existence with its mythology… The unity of its thinking, which means a collective philosophy, is presented in its mythology; therefore its mythology contains the fate of the nation.” And Max Mell, a contemporary poet, who wrote a modern version of the ‘Song Of The Nibelungs’, declared, “Today only little has remained of the Greek gods that humanism wanted to implant so deeply into our culture… but Siegfried and Kriemhild, Brunhild and Hagen – these are the ancient heroes and heroines with whom so many modern Germans liked to identify themselves. With them, and with the world of the barbaric, pagan Nibelungs – an irrational, heroic, mystic world, beset by treachery, overwhelmed by violence, drowned in blood, and culminating in the Goetterdaemmerung, the twilight of the gods, as Valhalla, set on fire by Wotan after all his vicissitudes, goes up in flames in an orgy of self-willed annihilation which has always fascinated the German mind and answered some terrible longing in the German soul. These heroes, this primitive, demonic world, were always, in Mell’s words, “in the people’s soul.” In that German soul could be felt the struggle between the spirit of civilization and the spirit of the Nibelungs, and in the time with which this history is concerned the latter seemed to gain the upper hand. It is not at all surprising that Hitler tried to emulate Wotan when in 1945 he willed the destruction of Germany so that it might go down in flames with him.
Wagner, a man of staggering genius, an artist of incredible magnitude, stood for much more than has been set down here., The conflict in the Ring operas often revolves around the theme of greed for gold, which the composer equated with the “tragedy of modern capitalism,” and which he saw, with horror, wiping out the old virtues which had come down from an earlier day. Despite all his pagan heroes he did not entirely despair of Christianity, as Nietzsche did. And he had great compassion for the erring, warring human race, But Hitler was not entirely wrong in saying that to understand Nazism one must first know Wagner.
Wagner had known, and been influenced by, first Schopenhaur and then Nietzsche, though the latter quarreled with him because he thought his operas, especially ‘Parsifal’, showed too much Christian renunciation. In the course of his long and stormy life, Wagner came into contact with two other men, one a Frenchman, the other an Englishman, who are important to this history not so much for the impression they made on him, though in one case it was considerable, as for their effect on the German mind, which they helped to direct toward the coming of the Third Reich. These individuals were Count Joseph Arthur de Gobineau, a French diplomat and man of letters, and Houston Stewart Chamberlain, one of the strangest Englishmen who ever lived.
Gobineau’s ideas were quickly taken up in Germany. Wagner, whom the Frenchman met in 1876 toward the close of his life (he died in 1882) espoused them with enthusiasm, and soon Gobineau societies sprang up all over Germany.. though not in France.
The Strange Life Of H.S. Chamberlain
Among the zealous members of the Gobineau Society in Germany was Houston Stewart Chamberlain, whose life and works constitute one of the most fascinating ironies in the inexorable course of history which led to the rise and fall of the Third Reich.
The son of an English admiral, nephew of a British field marshal, Sir Neville Chamberlain, and of two British generals, and eventually son-in-law of Richard Wagner, was born at Portsmouth in 1855. He was destined for the British Army or Navy, but his delicate health made such a calling out of the question and he was educated in France and Geneva, where French became his first language. Between the ages of fifteen and nineteen fate brought him into touch with two Germans and thereafter he was drawn irresistibly toward Germany, of which he ultimately became a citizen and one of the foremost thinkers and in whose language he wrote all of his many books, several of which had an almost blinding influence on Wilhelm II, Adolf Hitler and countless lesser Germans.
Hypersensitive and neurotic and subject to frequent nervous breakdowns, Chamberlain was given to seeing demons who, by his own account, drove him on relentlessly to seek new fields of study and get on with his prodigious writings. One vision after another forced him to change from biology to botany to the fine arts, to music, to philosophy, to biography to history. Once, in 1896, when he was returning from Italy, the presence of a demon became so forceful that he got off the train at Gardone, shut himself up in a hotel room for eight days and, abandoning some work on music that he had contemplated, wrote feverishly on a biological thesis until he had the germ of the theme that would dominate all of his later works: race and history.
Whatever its blemishes, his mind had a vast sweep ranging over the fields of literature, music, biology, botany, religion, history and politics. There was, as Jean Real has pointed out, a profound unity of inspiration in all his published works and they had a remarkable coherence,. Since he felt himself goaded on by demons, his books (on Wagner, Goethe, Kant, Christianity and race) were written in the grip of a terrible fever, a veritable trance, a state of self-induced intoxication, so that, as he says in his autobiography, ‘Lebenswege’, he was often unable to recognize them as his own work, because they surpassed his expectations. Minds more balanced than his have subsequently demolished his theories of race and much of his history, and to such a French scholar of Germanism as Edmond Vermeil, Chamberlain’s ideas were essentially “shoddy.” Yet to the anti-Nazi German biographer of Hitler, Konrad Heiden, who deplored the influence of his racial teachings, Chamberlain “was one of the most astonishing talents in the history of the German mind, a mine of knowledge and profound ideas.”
The book which most profoundly influenced that mind, which sent Wilhelm II into ecstasies and provided the Nazis with their racial aberrations, was ‘Foundations of the Nineteenth Century’ (Grundlagen des Neunzehnten Jahrunderts) a work of some twelve hundred pages which Chamberlain, again possessed of one of his “demons,” wrote in nineteen months between April 1, 1897 and October 21, 1898, in Vienna, and which was published in 1899.
Publication of ‘Foundation of the Nineteenth Century’ created something of a sensation and brought this strange Englishman sudden fame in Germany, Despite its frequent eloquence and its distinguished style –- for it was soon taken up by the upper classes, who seem to have found in it just what they wanted to believe. Within ten years it had gone through eight editions and sold 60,000 copies and by the time of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 it had reached a sale of 100,000. It flourished again in the Nazi time and I remember an announcement of its twenty-fourth edition in 1938, by which time it had sold more than a quarter of a million copies.
Among its first and most enthusiastic readers was Kaiser Wilhelm II. He invited Chamberlain to his palace at Potsdam and on their very first meeting a friendship was formed that lasted to the end of the author’s life in 1927. An extensive correspondence between the two followed. Some of the forty-three letters which Chamberlain addressed to the Emperor (Wilhelm answered twenty-three of them) were lengthy essays which the ruler used in several of his bombastic speeches and statements. “It was God who sent your book to the German people, and you personally to me,” the Kaiser wrote in one of his first letters. chamberlain’s obsequiousness, his exaggerated flattery, in these letters can be nauseating. “Your Majesty and your subjects,” he wrote, “have been born in a holy shrine,” and he informed Wilhelm that he had placed his portrait in the study opposite one of Christ by Leonardo so that while he worked he often paced up and down between the countenance of his Savior and his sovereign.
His servility did not prevent Chamberlain from continually proffering advice to the headstrong, flamboyant monarch. In 1908 the popular opposition to Wilhelm had reached such a climax that the Reichstag censored him for his disastrous intervention in foreign affairs., But Chamberlain advised the Emperor that public opinion was made by idiots and traitors and not to mind it, whereupon Wilhelm replied that the two of them would stand together -– “You wield your pen; I my tongue and my broad sword.”
And always the Englishman reminded the Emperor of Germany’s mission and its destiny. “Once Germany has achieved the power,” he wrote after the outbreak of the First World War, “– and we may confidently expect her to achieve it -– she must immediately begin to carry out a scientific policy of genius. Augustus undertook a systematic transformation of the world, and Germany must do the same… Equipped with offensive and defensive weapons, organized as firmly and flawlessly as the Army, superior to all in art, science, technology, industry, commerce, finance, in every field, in short; teacher, helmsman, and pioneer of the world, every man at his post, every man giving his utmost for the holy cause – thus Germany… will conquer the world by inner superiority.”
For preaching such a glorious mission for his adopted country (he became a naturalized German citizen in 1916, halfway through the war) Chamberlain received from the Kaiser the Iron Cross.
But it was on the Third Reich, which did not arrive until six years after his death but whose coming he foresaw, that this Englishman’s influence was the greatest. His racial theories and his burning sense of the destiny of the Germans and Germany were taken over by the Nazis, who acclaimed him as one of their prophets. During the Hitler regime books, pamphlets and articles poured from the presses extolling the “spiritual founder” of National Socialist Germany. Rosenberg, as one of Hitler’s mentors, often tried to impart his enthusiasm for the English philosopher to the Fuehrer. It is likely that Hitler first learned of Chamberlain’s writings before he left Vienna, for they were popular among the Pan-German and anti-Semitic groups whose literature he devoured so avidly in those early days. Probably too he read some of Chamberlain’s chauvinistic articles during the war. In ‘Mein Kampf’ he expresses the regret that Chamberlain’s observations were not more heeded during the Second Reich.
Chamberlain was one of the first intellectuals in Germany to see a great future for Hitler – and new opportunities for the Germans if they followed him. Hitler had met him in Bayreuth in 1923, and though ill, half paralyzed, and disillusioned by the collapse of all his hopes and prophecies! – Chamberlain was swept off his feet by the eloquent young Austrian. “You have mighty things to do,” he wrote Hitler on the following day, “… My faith in Germanism had not wavered an instant, though my hope -– I confess -– was at a low ebb. With one stroke you have transformed the state of my soul. That in the hour of her deepest need Germany gives birth to a Hitler proves her vitality; as do the influences that emanate from him; for these two things -– personality and influence -– belong together… May God protect you!”
This was at a time when Adolf Hitler, with his Charlie Chaplin mustache, his rowdy manners and his violent, outlandish extremism, was still considered a joke by most Germans. He had few followers then. But the hypnotic magnetism of his personality worked like a charm on the aging, ill philosopher and renewed his faith in the people he had chosen to join and exalt. Chamberlain became a member of the budding Nazi Party and so far as his health would permit began to write for its obscure publications. One of his articles, published in 1924, hailed Hitler, who was then in jail, as destined by God to lead the German people. Destiny had beckoned Wilhelm II, but he had failed; now there was Adolf Hitler. This remarkable Englishman’s seventieth birthday, on September 5, 1925, was celebrated with five columns of encomiums in the Nazi ‘Voelkischer Beobachter’, which hailed his ‘Foundations’ as the “gospel of the Nazi movement,” and he went to his grave sixteen months later –- on January 11, 1927 -– with the high hope that all he had preached and prophesied would yet come true under the divine guidance of this new German Messiah.
Aside from a prince representing Wilhelm II, who could not return to German soil, Hitler was the only public figure at Chamberlain’s funeral. In reporting the death of the Englishman the ‘Voelkischer Beopachter’ said that the German people had lost “one of the great armorers whose weapons have not yet found in our day their fullest use.” Not the half-paralyzed old man, dying, not even Hitler, nor anyone else in Germany, could have foreseen in that bleak January month of 1927, when the fortunes of the Nazi Party were at their lowest ebb, how soon, how very soon, those weapons which the transplanted Englishman had forged would be put to their fullest use, and with what fearful consequences.
Yet Adolf Hitler had a mystical sense of his personal mission on earth in those days, and even before. “From millions of men… one man must step forward,” he wrote in ‘Mein Kampf’ (the italics are his), “who with apodictic force will form granite principles from the wavering idea-world of the broad masses and take up the struggle for their sole correctness, until from the shifting waves of a free thought-world there will arise a brazen cliff of solid unity in faith and will.”
He left no doubt in the minds of his readers that he already considered himself that one man. ‘Mein Kampf’ is sprinkled with little essays on the role of the genius who is picked by Providence to lead a great people, even though they may not at first understand him or recognize his worth, out of their troubles to further greatness. The reader is aware that Hitler is referring to himself..
The Road To Power
The years from 1925 until the coming of the depression in 1929 were lean years for Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement, but it is a measure of the man that he persevered and never lost hope or confidence. Despite the excitability of his nature, which often led to outbursts of hysteria, he had the patience to wait and the shrewdness to realize that the climate of material prosperity and of a feeling of relaxation which settled over Germany in those years was not propitious for his purposes.
He was confident that the good times would not last.
My own acquaintance with Germany began in those days, I was stationed in Paris and occasionally in London at the time, and fascinating though those capitals were to a young American happy to have escaped from the incredible smugness and emptiness of the Calvin Coolidge era, they paled a little when one came to Berlin and Munich. A wonderful ferment was working in Germany. Life seemed more free, more modern, more exciting than in any place I had ever seen. Nowhere else did the arts or the intellectual life seem so lively. In contemporary writing, painting, architecture, in music and drama, there were new currents and fine talents. And everywhere there was an accent on youth. One sat up with the young people all night in the sidewalk cafes, the plush bars, the summer camps, on a Rhineland steamer or in a smoke-filled artist’s studio and talked endlessly about life. They were a healthy, carefree, sun-worshipping lot, and they were filled with an enormous zest for living to the full and in complete freedom. The old oppressive Prussian spirit seemed to be dead and buried. Most Germans one met -– politicians, writers, editors, artists, professors, students, businessmen, labor leaders -– struck you as being democratic, liberal, even pacifist.
One scarcely heard of Hitler or the Nazis except as butts of jokes — usually in connection with the Beer Hall Putsch, as it came to be known. In the elections of May 20, 1928, the Nazi Party polled only 810,000 votes out of a total of thirty-one million cast and had but a dozen of the Reichstag’s 491 members.
The membership of the National Socialist Party in that anniversary year -– 1928 –- was 108,000. Small as the figure was, it was slowly growing. A fortnight after leaving prison at the end of 1924, Hitler had hurried to see Dr. Heinrich Held, the Prime Minister of Bavaria and the head of the Catholic Bavarian People’s Party. On the strength of his promise of good behavior (Hitler was still on parole) Held had lifted the ban on the Nazi Party and its newspaper.
After considerable difficulties the S.A. was reorganized into an armed band of several hundred thousand men to protect Nazi meetings, to break up the meetings of others and to generally terrorize those who opposed Hitler. Some of its leaders also hoped to see the S.A. supplant the Regular Army when Hitler came to power. To prepare for this a special office under General Franz Ritter von Epp was set up, called the Wehr-politische Amt. Its five divisions concerned themselves with such problems as external and internal defense policy, defense forces, popular defense potential, and so on. But the brown-shirted S.A. never became much more than a motley mob of brawlers. Many of its top leaders, beginning with its chief, Roehm, were notorious homosexual perverts. Lieutenant Edmund Heines, who led the Munich S.A., was not only a homosexual but a convicted murderer. These two and dozens of others quarreled and feuded as only men of unnatural sexual inclinations, with their peculiar jealousies, can.
An organization, however streamlined and efficient, is made up of erring human beings, and in those years when Hitler was shaping his party to take over Germany’s destiny he had his fill of troubles with his chief lieutenants, who constantly quarreled not only among themselves but with him. He, who was so monumentally intolerant by his very nature, was strangely tolerant of one human condition — a man’s morals. No other party in Germany came near to attracting so many shady characters. As we have seen, a conglomeration of pimps, murderers, homosexuals, alcoholics and blackmailers flocked to the party as if to a natural haven. Hitler did not care, as long as they were useful to him. When he emerged from prison he found not only that they were at each other’s throats but that there was a demand from the more prim and respectable leaders such as Rosenberg and Ludendorff that the criminals and especially the perverts be expelled from the movement. This Hitler frankly refused to do. “I do not consider it to be the task of a political leader,” he wrote in his editorial, “A New Beginning,” in the Voelkischer Beobachter of February 26, 1925, “to attempt to improve upon, or even to fuse together, the human material lying ready to his hand.”
Ernst Roehm had broken with Hitler in 1925 and not long afterward gone off to join the Bolivian Army as a lieutenant colonel. Toward the end of 1930 Hitler appealed to him to return and take over again the leadership of the S.A., which was getting out of hand. Its members, even its leaders, apparently believed in a coming Nazi revolution by violence, and with increasing frequency they were taking to the streets to molest and murder their political opponents. No election, national, provincial or municipal, took place without savage battles in the gutters.
Passing notice must here be taken of one of these encounters, for it provided National Socialism with its greatest martyr. One of the neighborhood leaders of the S.A. in Berlin was Horst Wessel, son of a Protestant chaplain, who had forsaken his family and his studies and gone to live in a slum with a former prostitute and devote his life to fighting for Nazism. Many anti-Nazis always held that the youth earned his living as a pimp, though this charge may have been exaggerated. Certainly he consorted with pimps and prostitutes. He was murdered by some Communists in February 1930 and would have passed into oblivion along with hundreds of other victims of both sides in the street wars had it not been for the fact that he left behind a song whose words and tune he had composed. This was the Horst Wessel song, which soon became the official song of the Nazi party and later the second official anthem — after “Deutschland uber Alles” — of the Third Reich. Horst Wessel himself, thanks to Dr. Goebbels’ skillful propaganda, became one of the great hero legends of the movement, hailed as a pure idealist who had given his life for the cause.
Such was the conglomeration of men around the leader of the National Socialists. In a normal society they surely would have stood out as a grotesque assortment of misfits. But in the last chaotic days of the Republic they began to appear to millions of befuddled Germans as saviors. And they had two advantages over their opponents: They were led by a man who knew exactly what he wanted and they were ruthless enough, and opportunist enough, to go to any lengths to help him get it.
As the year of 1931 ran its uneasy course, with five million wage earners out of work, the middle classes facing ruin, the farmers unable to meet their mortgage payments, the Parliament paralyzed, the government floundering, the eighty-four-year-old President fast sinking into the befuddlement of senility, a confidence mounted in the breasts of the Nazi chieftains that they would not have to wait. As Gregor Strasser publicly boasted, “All that serves to precipitate the catastrophe . . . is good, very good for us and our German revolution.”
The Reichstag Fire
The whole truth about the Reichstag fire will probably never be known. Nearly all those who knew it are now dead, most of them slain by Hitler in the months that followed. Even at Nuremberg the mystery could not be entirely unraveled, though there is enough evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that it was the Nazis who planned the arson and carried it out for their own political ends.
The idea for the fire almost certainly originated with Goebbels and Goering. Hans Gisevius, an official in the Prussian Ministry of the Interior at the time, testified at Nuremberg that “it was Goebbels who first thought of setting the Reichstag on fire,” and Rudolf Diels, the Gestapo chief, added in an affidavit that “Goering knew exactly how the fire was to be started” and had ordered him “to prepare, prior to the fire, a list of people who were to be arrested immediately after it.” General Franz Halder, Chief of the German General Staff during the early part of World War II, recalled at Nuremberg how on one occasion Goering had boasted of his deed.
At a luncheon on the birthday of the Fuehrer in 1942 the conversation turned to the topic of the Reichstag building and its artistic value. I heard with my own ears when Goering interrupted the conversation and shouted: “The only one who really knows about the Reichstag is I, because I set it on fire!” With that he slapped his thigh with the palm of his hand.
Both in his interrogations and at his trial at Nuremberg, Goering denied to the last that he had had any part in setting fire to the Reichstag.
Hitler had lost no time in exploiting the Reichstag fire to the limit. On the day following the fire, February 28, he prevailed on President Hindenburg to sign a decree “for the Protection of the People and the State” suspending the seven sections of the constitution which guaranteed individual and civil liberties. Described as a “defensive measure against Communist acts of violence endangering the state,” the decree laid down that:
Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and association; and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications; and warrants for house searchers, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.
In addition, the decree authorized the Reich government to take over complete power in the federal states when necessary and imposed the death sentence for a number of crimes, including “serious disturbances of the peace” by armed persons.
Thus with one stroke Hitler was able not only to legally gag his opponents and arrest them at his will but, by making the trumped-up Communist threat “official,” as it were, to throw millions of the middle class and the peasantry into a frenzy of fear that unless they voted for National Socialism at the elections a week hence, the Bolsheviks might take over. Some four thousand Communist officials and a great many Social Democrat and liberal leaders were arrested, including members of the Reichstag, who, according to the law, were immune from arrest. This was the first experience Germans had had with Nazi terror backed up by the government. Truckloads of storm troopers roared through the streets all over Germany, breaking into homes, rounding up victims and carting them off to S.A. barracks, where they were tortured and beaten. The Communist press and political meetings were suppressed; the Social Democrat newspapers and many liberal journals were suspended and the meetings of the democratic parties were either banned or broken up. Only the Nazis and their Nationalist allies were permitted to campaign unmolested.
With all the resources of the national and Prussian governments at their disposal and with plenty of money from big business in their coffers, the Nazis carried on an election propaganda such as Germany had never seen before. For the first time the State-run radio carried the voices of Hitler, Goering and Goebbels to every corner of the land. The streets, bedecked with swastika flags, echoed to the tramp of the storm troopers. There were mass rallies, torchlight parades, the din of loud-speakers in the squares. The billboards were plastered with flamboyant Nazi posters and at night bonfires lit up the hills. The electorate was in turn cajoled with promises of a German paradise, intimidated by the brown terror in the streets and frightened by the “revelations” about the Communist “revolution.”
Almost unheard was the voice of former Chancellor Bruening, who also spoke out that day, proclaiming that his Center Party would resist any overthrow of the constitution, demanding an investigation of the suspicious Reichstag fire and calling on President Hindenburg “to protect the oppressed against their oppressors.” Vain appeal! The aged President kept his silence. It was now time for the people, in their convulsion, to speak.
On March 5, 1933, the day of the last democratic elections they were to know during Hitler’s life, they spoke with their ballots. Despite all the terror and intimidation, the majority of them rejected Hitler.
Still, the Nationalists’ 52 seats, added to the 288 of the Nazis, gave the government a majority of 16 in the Reichstag. This was enough, perhaps, to carry on the day-to-day business of government but it was far short of the two-thirds majority which Hitler needed to carry out a new, bold plan to establish his dictatorship by consent of Parliament.
The plan was deceptively simple and had the advantage of cloaking the seizure of absolute power in legality. The Reichstag would be asked to pass an “enabling act” conferring on Hitler’s cabinet exclusive legislative powers for four years. Put even more simply, the German Parliament would be requested to turn over its constitutional functions to Hitler and take a long vacation.
Thus was parliamentary democracy finally interred in Germany. Except for the arrests of the Communists and some of the Social Democratic deputies, it was all done quite legally, though accompanied by terror. Parliament had turned over its constitutional authority to Hitler and thereby committed suicide, though its body lingered on in an embalmed state to the very end of the Third Reich, serving infrequently as a sounding board for some of Hitler’s thunderous pronunciamentos, its members henceforth hand-picked by the Nazi Party, for there were to be no more real elections. It was this Enabling Act alone which formed the legal basis for Hitler’s dictatorship. From March 23, 1933, on, Hitler was the dictator of the Reich, freed of any restraint by Parliament of, for all practical purposes, by the weary old President. To be sure, much remained to be done to bring the entire nation and all its institutions completely under the Nazi heel, though, as we shall see, this also was accomplished with breathless speed and with crudeness, trickery and brutality. “The street gangs,” in the words of Alan Bullock, “had seized control of the resources of a great modern State, the gutter had come to power.” But — as Hitler never ceased to boast — “legally,” by an overwhelming vote of Parliament. The Germans had no one to blame but themselves.
The Blood Purge Of June 30, 1934
The whole tradition of the military caste would be destroyed if the roughneck Roehm and his brawling Brownshirts should get control of the Army. Moreover, the generals were shocked by the tales, now beginning to receive wide circulation, of the corruption and debauchery of the homosexual clique around the S.A. chief. As General von Brauchitsch would later testify, “rearmament was too serious and difficult a business to permit the participation of peculators, drunkards and homosexuals.”
The Army, then, was pressing for the purge, but it did not want to soil its own hands. That must be done by Hitler, Goering and Himmler, with their black-coated S.S. and Goering’s special police.
Many were killed out of pure vengeance for having opposed Hitler in the past, others were murdered apparently because they knew too much, and at least one because of mistaken identity.
In the first communiques, especially in a blood-curdling eyewitness account given the public by Otto Dietrich, the Fuehrer’s press chief, and even in Hitler’s Reichstag speech, much was made of the depraved morals of Roehm and the other S.A. leaders who were shot. Dietrich asserted that the scene of the arrest of Heines, who was caught in bed at Wiessee with a young man, “defied description,” and Hitler in addressing the surviving storm troop leaders in Munich at noon on June 30, just after the first executions, declared that for their corrupt morals alone these men deserved to die.
And yet Hitler had known all along, from the earliest days of the party, that a large number of his closest and most important followers were sexual perverts and convicted murderers. It was common talk, for instance, that Heines used to send S.A. men scouring all over Germany to find him suitable male lovers. These things Hitler had not only tolerated but defended; more than once he had warned his party comrades against being too squeamish about a man’s personal morals if he were a fanatical fighter for the movement. Now, on June 30, 1934, he professed to be shocked by the moral degeneration of some of his oldest lieutenants.
Life In The Third Reich
The Blood Purge of June 30, 1934, was a warning of how ruthless the new leaders could be. Yet the Nazi terror in the early years affected the lives of relatively few Germans and a newly arrived observer was somewhat surprised to see that the people of this country did not seem to feel that they were being cowed and held down by an unscrupulous and brutal dictatorship. On the contrary, they supported it with genuine enthusiasm. Somehow it imbued them with a new hope and a new confidence and an astonishing faith in the future of their country.
The visitors, especially those from England and America, were greatly impressed by what they saw: apparently a happy, healthy, friendly people united under Hitler – a far different picture, they said, than they had got from reading the newspaper dispatches from Berlin.
And yet underneath the surface, hidden from the tourists during those splendid late-summer (1936) Olympic days in Berlin and indeed overlooked by most Germans or accepted by them with a startling passivity, there seemed to be
– to a foreigner at least – a degrading transformation of German life.
There was nothing hidden, of course, about the laws which Hitler decreed against the Jews or about the government-sponsored persecution of these hapless people. The so-called Nuremberg Laws of September 15, 1935, deprived the Jews of German citizenship, confining them to the status of “subjects.”
In the next few years some thirteen decrees supplementing the Nuremberg Laws would outlaw the Jew completely. But already by the summer of 1936, when the Germany which was host to the Olympic games was enchanting the visitors from the West, the Jews had been excluded either by law or by Nazi terror – the latter often preceded the former – from public and private employment to such an extent that at least one half of them were without means of livelihood.
In the first year of the Third Reich, 1933, they had been excluded from public office, the civil service, journalism, radio, farming, teaching, the theater, the films; in 1934 they were kicked out of the stock exchanges, and though the ban on their practicing the professions of law and medicine or engaging in business did not come legally until 1938 they were in practice removed from these fields by the time the first four-year period of Nazi rule had come to an end.
Moreover, they were denied not only most of the amenities of life but often even the necessities. In many a town the Jew found it difficult if not impossible to purchase food. Over the doors of the grocery and butcher shops, the bakeries and the dairies, were signs, ‘Jews Not Admitted.” In many communities Jews could not procure milk even for their young children. Pharmacies would not sell them drugs or medicine. Hotels would not give them a night’s lodging. And always, wherever they went, were the taunting signs “Jews Strictly Forbidden in This Town” or “Jews Enter This Place at Their Own Risk.” At a sharp bend in the road near Ludwigshafen was a sign, “Drive Carefully! Sharp Curve! Jews 75 Miles an Hour!”
Such was the plight of the Jews at about the time the Festival of the Olympics was held in Germany. It was but the beginning of a road that would soon lead to their extinction by massacre.
The Persecution Of The Christian Churches
The Nazi war on the Christian churches began more moderately. Though Hitler, nominally a Catholic, had inveighed against political Catholicism in ‘Mein Kampf’ and attacked both of the Christian churches for their failure to recognize the racial problem, he had, as we have seen, warned in his book that “a political party must never…lose sight of the fact that in all previous historical experience a purely political party has never succeeded in producing a religious reformation.” Article 24 of the party program had demanded “liberty for all religious denominations in the State so far as they are not a danger to…the moral feelings of the German race. The party stands for positive Christianity.” In his speech of March 23, 1933, to the Reichstag when the legislative body of Germany abandoned its functions to the dictator, Hitler paid tribute to the Christian faiths as “essential elements for safeguarding the soul of the German people,” promised to respect their rights, declared that his government’s “ambition is a peaceful accord between Church and State” and added — with an eye to the votes of the Catholic Center Party, which he received — that “we hope to improve our friendly relations with the Holy See.”
Scarcely four months later, on July 20, the Nazi government concluded a concordat with the Vatican in which it guaranteed the freedom of the Catholic religion and the right of the Church “to regulate her own affairs.” The agreement, signed on behalf of Germany by Papen and of the Holy See by the then Papal Secretary of State, Monsignor Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, was hardly put to paper before it was being broken by the Nazi government. But coming as it did at a moment when the first excesses of the new regime in Germany had provoked world-wide revulsion, the concordat undoubtedly lent the Hitler government much badly needed prestige.
On July 25, five days after the ratification of the concordat, the German government promulgated a sterilization law, which particularly offended the Catholic Church. Five days later the first steps were taken to dissolve the Catholic Youth League. During the next years thousands of Catholic priests, nuns and lay leaders were arrested, many of them on trumped-up charges of ‘immorality’ or of ‘smuggling foreign currency.’ Erich Klausener, leader of Catholic Action, was, as we have seen, murdered in the June 30, 1934 purge. Scores of Catholic publications were suppressed, and even the sanctity of the confessional was violated by Gestapo agents. By the spring of 1937 the Catholic hierarchy in Germany, which, like most of the Protestant clergy, had at first tried to co-operate with the new regime, was thoroughly disillusioned. On March 14, 1937, Pope Pius XI issued an encyclical, ‘Mit Brennender Sorge’ (With Burning Sorrow), charging the Nazi government with “evasion” and “violation” of the concordat and accusing it of sowing “the tares of suspicion, discord, hatred, calumny, of secret and open fundamental hostility to Christ and His Church.” On “the horizon of Germany” the Pope saw “the threatening storm clouds of destructive religious wars…which have no other aim than…of extermination.”
It is difficult to understand the behavior of most German Protestants in the first Nazi years unless one is aware of two things: their history and the influence of Martin Luther. The great founder of Protestantism was both a passionate anti-Semite and a ferocious believer in absolute obedience to political authority. He wanted Germany rid of the Jews and when they were sent away he advised that they be deprived of “all their cash and jewels and silver and gold” and, furthermore, “that their synagogues or schools be set on fire, that their houses be broken up and destroyed… and that they be put under a roof or stable, like the gypsies… in misery and captivity as they incessantly lament and complain to God about us” — advice that was literally followed four centuries later by Hitler, Goering and Himmler.
In what was perhaps the only popular revolt in German history, the peasant uprising of 1525, Luther advised the princes to adopt the most ruthless measures against the “mad dogs,” as he called the desperate, downtrodden peasants. Here, as in his utterances about the Jews, Luther employed a coarseness and brutality of language unequaled in German history until the Nazi time. The influence of this towering figure extended down the generations in Germany, especially among the Protestants. Among other results was the ease with which German Protestantism became the instrument of royal and princely absolutism from the sixteenth century until the kings and princes were overthrown in 1918. The hereditary monarchs and petty rulers became the supreme bishops of the Protestant Church in their lands. Thus in Prussia the Hohenzollern King was the head of the Church. In no country with the exception of Czarist Russia did the clergy become by tradition so completely servile to the political authority of the State. Its members, with few exceptions, stood solidly behind the King, the Junkers and the Army, and during the nineteenth century they dutifully opposed the rising liberal and democratic movements. Even the Weimar Republic was anathema to most Protestant pastors, not only because it had deposed the kings and princes but because it drew its main support from the Catholics and the Socialists. During the Reichstag elections one could not help but notice that the Protestant clergy — Niemoeller was typical — quite openly supported the Nationalist and even the Nazi enemies of the Republic. Like Niemoeller, most of the pastors welcomed the advent of Adolf Hitler to the chancellorship in 1933.
They were soon to become acquainted with the very strong-arm Nazi tactics which had swept Hitler to political power.
In reality the struggle between the Nazi government and the churches was the age-old one of what to render unto Caesar and what to God. So far as the Protestants were concerned, Hitler was insistent that if the Nazi “German Christians” could not bring the evangelical churches into line under Reich Bishop Mueller then the government itself would have to take over the direction of the churches. He had always had a certain contempt for the Protestants, who, though a tiny minority in his native Catholic Austria, comprised two thirds of the citizens of Germany. “You can do anything you want with them,” he once confided to his aides. “They will submit…they are insignificant little people, submissive as dogs, and they sweat with embarrassment when you talk to them.” He was well aware that the resistance to the Nazification of the Protestant churches came from a minority of pastors and an even smaller minority of worshipers.
It would be misleading to give the impression that the persecution of Protestants and Catholics by the Nazi state tore the German people asunder or even greatly aroused the vast majority of them. It did not. A people who had so lightly given up their political and cultural and economic freedoms were not, except for a relatively few, going to die or even risk imprisonment to preserve freedom of worship. What really aroused the Germans in the Thirties were the glittering successes of Hitler in providing jobs, creating prosperity, restoring Germany’s military might, and moving from one triumph to another in his foreign policy. Not many Germans lost much sleep over the arrests of a few thousand pastors and priests or over the quarreling of the various Protestant sects. And even fewer paused to reflect that under the leadership of Rosenberg, Bormann and Himmler, who were backed by Hitler, the Nazi regime intended eventually to destroy Christianity in Germany, if it could, and substitute the old paganism of the early tribal Germanic gods and the new paganism of the Nazi extremists. As Bormann, one of the men closest to Hitler, said publicly in 1941, “National Socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable.”
What the Hitler government envisioned for Germany was clearly set out in a thirty-point program for the “National Reich Church” drawn up during the war by Rosenberg, an outspoken pagan, who among his other offices held that of “the Fuehrer’s Delegate for the Entire Intellectual and Philosophical Education and Instruction for the National Socialist Party.” A few of its thirty articles convey the essentials:
1. The National Reich Church of Germany categorically claims the exclusive right and the exclusive power to control all churches within the borders of the Reich: it declares these to be national churches of the German Reich.
5. The National Church is determined to exterminate irrevocably…the strange and foreign Christian faiths imported into Germany in the ill-omened year 800.
7. The National Church has no scribes, pastors, chaplains or priests, but National Reich orators are to speak in them.
13. The National Church demands immediate cessation of the publishing and dissemination of the Bible in Germany…
14. The National Church declares that to it, and therefore to the German nation, it has been decided that the Fuehrer’s ‘Mein Kampf’ is the greatest of all documents. It…not only contains the greatest but it embodies the purest and truest ethics for the present and future life of our nation.
18. The National Church will clear away from its altars all crucifixes, Bibles and pictures of saints.
19. On the altars there must be nothing but ‘Mein Kampf’ (to the German nation and therefore to God the most sacred book) and to the left of the altar a sword.
30. On the day of its foundation, the Christian Cross must be removed from all churches, cathedrals and chapels…and it must be superseded by the only unconquerable symbol, the swastika.
The Nazification Of Culture
On the evening of May 10, 1933, some four and a half months after Hitler became Chancellor, there occurred in Berlin a scene which had not been witnessed in the Western world since the late Middle Ages. At about midnight a torchlight parade of thousands of students ended at a square on Unter den Linden opposite the University of Berlin. Torches were put to a huge pile of books that had been gathered there, and as the flames enveloped them more books were thrown on the fire until some twenty thousand had been consumed. Similar scenes took place in several other cities. The book burning had begun.
Many of the books tossed into the flames in Berlin that night by the joyous students under the approving eye of Dr. Goebbels had been written by authors of world reputation.
In the words of a student proclamation, any book was condemned to the flames “which acts subversively on our future or strikes at the root of German thought, the German home and the driving forces of our people.”
Dr. Goebbels, the new Propaganda Minister, who from now on was to put German culture into a Nazi strait jacket, addressed the students as the burning books turned to ashes. “The soul of the German people can again express itself. These flames not only illuminate the final end of an old era; they also light up the new.”
The new Nazi era of German culture was illuminated not only by the bonfires of books and the more effective, if less symbolic, measures of proscribing the sale or library circulation of hundreds of volumes and the publishing of many new ones, but by the regimentation of culture on a scale which no modern Western nation had ever experienced.
No one who lived in Germany in the Thirties, and who cared about such matters, can ever forget the sickening decline of the cultural standards of a people who had had such high ones for so long a time. This was inevitable, of course, the moment the Nazi leaders decided that the arts, literature, the press, radio and the films must serve exclusively the propaganda purposes of the new regime and its outlandish philosophy.
Music fared best, if only because it was the least political of the arts and because the Germans had such a rich store of it from Bach through Beethoven and Mozart to Brahms. But the playing of Mendelssohn was banned because he was a Jew (the works of all Jewish composers were verboten) as was the music of Germany’s leading modern composer, Paul Hindemith. Jews were quickly weeded out of the great symphony orchestras and the opera.
The theater, it must be said, retained much of its excellence as long as it stuck to classical plays. Max Reinhardt, of course, was gone, along with all the other Jewish producers, directors and actors. The Nazi playwrights were so ludicrously bad that the public stayed away from their offerings, which invariably had short runs. The president of the Reich Theater Chamber was one Hans Johst, an unsuccessful playwright who once had publicly boasted that whenever someone mentioned the word “culture” to him he wanted to reach for his revolver. But even Johst and Goebbels, who determined what was played on the stage and who played and directed it, were unable to prevent the German theater from giving commendable and often moving performances of Goethe, Schiller and Shakespeare.
Strangely enough, some of Shaw’s plays were permitted to be performed in Nazi Germany – perhaps because he poked fun at Englishmen and lampooned democracy and perhaps too because his wit and left-wing political views escaped the Nazi mind.
Strangest of all was the case of Germany’s great playwright, Gerhart Hauptmann. Because he had been an ardent Socialist his plays had been banned from the imperial theaters during Kaiser Wilhelm II’s time. During the Republic he had been the most popular playwright in Germany, and indeed he retained that position in the Third Reich. His plays continued to be produced. I shall never forget the scene at the close of the first night of his last play, The Daughter of the Cathedral, when Hauptmann, a venerable figure with his flowing white hair tumbling down over his black cape, strode out of the theater arm in arm with Dr. Goebbels and Johst. He, like so many other eminent Germans, had made his peace with Hitler, and Goebbels, a shrewd man, had made much effective propaganda out of it, tirelessly reminding the German people and the outside world that Germany’s greatest living playwright, a former Socialist and the champion of the common man, had not only remained in the Third Reich but had continued to write and to have his plays produced.
How sincere or opportunistic or merely changeable this aging playwright was may be gathered from what happened after the war. The American authorities, believing that Hauptmann had served the Nazis too well, banned his plays from the theaters in their sector in West Berlin. Whereupon the Russians invited him to Berlin, welcomed him as a hero and staged a gala cycle of his plays in East Berlin. And on October 6, 1945, Hauptmann sent a message to the Communist-dominated “Kulturbund for the Democratic Revival of Germany” wishing it well and expressing the hope that it would succeed in bring about a “spiritual rebirth” of the German people.
The Control Of The Press, Radio, Films
I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich, which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources, a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it.
No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda. Often in a German home of office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a cafe, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were.
Education In The Third Reich
Hitler’s contempt for “professors” and the intellectual academic life had peppered the pages of ‘Mein Kampf’, in which he had set down some of his ideas on education. “The whole education by a national state,” he had written, “must aim primarily not at the stuffing with mere knowledge but at building bodies which are physically healthy to the core.” But, even more important, he had stressed in his book the importance of winning over and then training the youth in the service “of a new national state” — a subject he returned to often after he became the German dictator. “When an opponent declares, ‘I will not come over to your side,'” he said in a speech on November 6, 1933, “I calmly say, ‘Your child belongs to us already…What are you? You will pass on. Your descendants, however, now stand in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing else but this new community.'” And on May 1, 1937, he declared, “This new Reich will give its youth to no one, but will itself take youth and give to youth its own education and its own upbringing.” It was not an idle boast; that was precisely what was happening.
The German schools, from first grade through the universities, were quickly Nazified. Textbooks were hastily rewritten, curricula were changed, Mein Kampf was made – in the words of Der Deutsche Erzieher, official organ of the educators – “our infallible pedagogical guiding star” and teachers who failed to see the new light were cast out. Most instructors had been more or less Nazi in sentiment when not outright party members. To strengthen their ideology they were dispatched to special schools for intensive training in National Socialist principles, emphasis being put on Hitler’s racial doctrines.
The result of so much Nazification was catastrophic for German education and for German learning. History was so falsified in the new textbooks and by the teachers in their lectures that it became ludicrous.
Most professors were fanatical nationalists who wished the return of a conservative, monarchical Germany. And though to many of them, before 1933, the Nazis were too rowdy and violent to attract their allegiance, their preachments helped prepare the ground for the coming of Nazism. By 1932 the majority of students appeared to be enthusiastic for Hitler.
It is surprising to some how many members of the university faculties knuckled under to the Nazification of higher learning after 1933.
“It was a scene of prostitution,” Professor (Wilhelm) Roepke later wrote, “that has stained the honorable history of German learning.” And as Professor Julius Ebbinghaus, looking back over the shambles in 1945, said, “The German universities failed, while there was still time, to oppose publicly with all their power the destruction of knowledge and of the democratic state. They failed to keep the beacon of freedom and right burning during the night of tyranny.”
The cost of such failure was great.
Academic standards fell dizzily. By 1937 there was not only a shortage of young men in the sciences and engineering but a decline in their qualifications.
Nazi Germany’s loss, as it turned out, was the free world’s gain, especially in the race to be the first with the atom bomb.
It was one of the ironies of fate that the development of the bomb in the United States owed so much to two men who had been exiled because of race from the Nazi and Fascist dictatorships: Einstein from Germany and Fermi from Italy.
The Serfdom Of Labor
As with medieval serfs, the workers in Hitler’s Germany found themselves being more and more bound to their place of labor, though here it was not the employer who bound them but the state.
The “workbook” was introduced in February 1935, and eventually no worker could be hired unless he possessed one. In it was kept a record of his skills and employment. The workbook not only provided the State and the employer with up-to-date data on every single employee in the nation but was used to tie a worker to his bench. If he desired to leave for other employment his employer could retain his workbook, which meant that he could not legally be employed elsewhere. Finally, on June 22, 1938, a special decree issued by the Office of the Four-Year Plan instituted labor conscription. It obliged every German to work where the State assigned him. Workers who absented themselves from their jobs without a very good excuse were subject to fine and imprisonment.
No one — if he were not foolish — said or did anything that might be interpreted as “anti-Nazi” without first taking precautions that it was not being recorded by hidden S.D. microphones or overheard by an S.D. agent. Your son or your father or your wife or your cousin or your best friend or your boss or your secretary might be an informer for Heydrich’s organization; you never knew, and if you were wise nothing was ever taken for granted.
In London at six minutes past noon, Chamberlain addressed the House of Commons and informed it that Britain was now at war with Germany. Though Hitler, on September 1, had forbidden listening to foreign broadcasts on pain of death, we picked up in Berlin the words of the Prime Minister as quoted over the BBC. To those of us who had seen him risking his political life at Godesberg and Munich to appease Hitler, his words were poignant.
“This is a sad day for all of us, and to none is it sadder than to me. Everything that I have worked for , everything that I have believed in during my public life, has crashed into ruins. There is only one thing left for me to do: that is, to devote what strength and powers I have to forwarding the victory of the cause for which we have to sacrifice so much…I trust I may live to see the day when Hitlerism has been destroyed and a liberated Europe has been re-established.”
Chamberlain was fated not to live to see that day. He died, a broken man — though still a member of the cabinet — on November 9, 1940. In view of all that has been written about him in these pages it seems only fitting to quote what was said of him by Churchill, whom he had excluded from the affairs of the British nation for so long and who on May 10, 1940, succeeded him as Prime Minister. Paying tribute to his memory in the Commons on November 12, 1940, Churchill said:
“…It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart–the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril and certainly in utter disdain of popularity or clamor.”
The Battle Of Britain
A deliverance Dunkirk was to the British. But Churchill reminded them in the House on June 4 that “wars are not won by evacuations.” The predicament of Great Britain was indeed grim, more dangerous than it had been since the Norman landings nearly a millennium before. It had no army to defend the islands. The Air Force had been greatly weakened in France. Only the Navy remained, and the Norwegian campaign had shown how vulnerable the big fighting ships were to land-based aircraft. Now the Luftwaffe bombers were based but five or ten minutes away across the narrow Channel. France, to be sure, still held out below the Somme and the Aisne. But its best troops and armament had been lost in Belgium and in northern France, its small and obsolescent Air Force had been largely destroyed, and its two most illustrious generals, Marshal Petain and General Weygand, who now began to dominate the shaky government, had no more stomach for battle against such a superior foe.
These dismal facts were very much on the mind of Winston Churchill when he rose in the House of Commons on June 4, 1940, while the last transports from Dunkirk were being unloaded, determined, as he wrote later, to show not only his own people but the world — and especially the U.S.A. — “that our resolve to fight on was based on serious grounds.” It was on this occasion that he uttered his famous peroration, which will be long remembered and will surely rank with the greatest ever made down the ages:
“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight in the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and liberation of the Old.”
“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour.'”
And so on the late afternoon of September 7 the great air attack on London began. The Germans threw in 625 bombers and 648 fighters. At about 5 P.M. that Saturday the first wave of 320 bombers, protected by every fighter the Germans had, flew up the Thames and began to drop their bombs on Woolwich Arsenal, various gas works, power stations, depots and mile upon mile of docks. The whole vast area was soon a mass of flames. At one locality, Silvertown, the population was surrounded by fire and had to be evacuated by water. At 8:10 P.M., after dark, a second wave of 250 bombers arrived and resumed the attack, which was kept up by successive waves until dawn at 4:30 on Sunday morning. The next evening at 7:30, the attack was renewed by two hundred bombers and continued throughout the night. Some 842 persons were killed and 2,347 wounded, according to the official British historian, during these first two nights, and vast damage was inflicted on the sprawling city. The assault went on all the following week, night after night. At this time night defenses had not yet been perfected and the German losses were negligible.
And then, stimulated by its successes, or what it thought were such, the Luftwaffe decided to carry out a great daylight assault on the battered, burning capital. This led on Sunday, September 15, to one of the decisive battles of the war.
Some two hundred German bombers, escorted by three times as many fighters, appeared over the Channel about midday, headed for London. Fighter Command had watched the assembling of the attackers on its radar screens and was ready. The Germans were intercepted before they approached the capital, and though some planes got through, many were dispersed and others shot down before they could deliver their bomb load. Two hours later an even stronger German formation returned and was routed. Though the British claimed to have shot down 185 Luftwaffe planes, the actual figure, as learned after the war from the Berlin archives, was much lower — fifty-six, but thirty-four of these were bombers. The R.A.F. lost only twenty-six aircraft.
The day had shown that the Luftwaffe could not for the moment, anyway, now that it had given Fighter Command a week to recover, carry out a successful major daylight attack on Britain. That being so, the prospect of an effective landing was dim. September 15 therefore was a turning point, “the crux,” as Churchill later judged, of the Battle of Britain. Though Goering the next day, in ordering a change of tactics that provided for the use of bombers in daylight no longer to bomb but merely to serve as decoys for British fighters, boasted that the enemy’s fighters “ought to be finished off within four or five days,” Hitler and the Army and Navy commanders knew better and two days after the decisive air battle, on September 17, as has been noted, the Fuehrer called off Sea Lion indefinitely.
Although London was to take a terrible pounding for fifty-seven consecutive nights from September 7 to November 3 from a daily average of two hundred bombers, so that it seemed certain to Churchill, as he later revealed, that the city would soon be reduced to a rubble heap, and though most of Britain’s other cities, Coventry above all, were to suffer great damage throughout that grim fall and winter, British morale did not collapse nor armament production fall off, as Hitler had so confidently expected. Just the opposite. Aircraft factories in England, one of the prime targets of the Luftwaffe bombers, actually outproduced the Germans in 1940 by 9,924 to 8,070 planes. Hitler’s bomber losses over England had been so severe that they could never be made up, and in fact the Luftwaffe, as the German confidential records make clear, never fully recovered from the blow it received in the skies over Britain that late summer and fall.
The German Navy, crippled by the losses off Norway in the early spring, was unable, as its chiefs admitted all along, to provide the sea power for an invasion of Britain. Without this, and without air supremacy, the German Army was helpless to move across the narrow Channel waters. For the first time in the war Hitler had been stopped, his plans of further conquest frustrated, and just at the moment, as we have seen, when he was certain that final victory had been achieved.
Britain was saved. For nearly a thousand years it had successfully defended itself by sea power. Just in time, its leaders, a very few of them, despite all the bungling in the interwar years, had recognized that air power had become decisive in the mid-twentieth century and the little fighter plane and its pilot the chief shield for defense. As Churchill told the Commons in another memorable peroration on August 20, when the battle in the skies still raged and its outcome was in doubt, “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Adolf Hitler is probably the last of the great adventurer-conquerors in the tradition of Alexander, Caesar and Napoleon, and the Third Reich the last of the empires which set out on the path taken earlier by France, Rome and Macedonia. The curtain was rung down on that phase of history, at least, by the sudden invention of the hydrogen bomb, of the ballistic missile and of rockets that can be aimed to hit the moon.
Perhaps it will help too if the erring governments and the wondering people of this world will remember the dark ight of Nazi terror and genocide that almost engulfed our world and that is the subject of this book. Remembrance of the past helps us to understand the present.