During the Great War of 1914-19, Hitler was a soldier in the Germany army. In October 1916, after two years at the Front, Hitler was wounded in the leg by a shell fragment (at the Battle of the Somme). He recovered in a hospital in Germany, visited Berlin and then was assigned to light duty in Munich. He was appalled by the apathy and anti-war sentiment. In March (1917) he was happy to be back with his comrades at the Front. In August 1918, he was awarded the Iron Cross 1st Class. On October 18, he was wounded by a British gas attack (mustard gas). He was recovering from this in November when the armistice was declared. In Hitler's hospital ward a weeping elderly local priest announced that the war had been lost. Corporal Hitler was to write in his memoirs, Mein Kampf:
I staggered and stumbled back to my ward and buried my aching head between the blankets and pillow.... So all had been in vain. In vain all the sacrifices and privations, in vain the hunger and thirst for endless months, in vain those hours that we stuck to our posts though the fear of death gripped our souls, and in vain the deaths of two million who fell in discharging this duty.
Hitler was from Munich, and he was there when the Bavarian Soviet Republic (with Munich as its capital) was crushed in early May 1919. Hitler, it is said, was in danger of being branded a leftist collaborator, but he volunteered to serve the army as an informer. Hitler's politics was influenced by the belief that the German army had not been defeated, that it had been stabbed in the back on the home front by people on the home front who had been unwilling to fight – people he was to describe as the "November criminals" — November being the month of the armistice.
Hostility to traitors became the essence of his politics. In the 1920s he was describing Social Democrats as traitors. And among the traitors, according to Hitler, were Germany's Jews. Hitler saw Jews as driving the Marxist revolution that had occurred in Russia in late 1917, and he saw Jews as behind the Leftist uprisings just after the war in Germany. Hitler blurred the Communists, Jews and Social Democrats together as one evil. The Jews, he believed, were insufficiently patriotic because (like Marxists) they were internationalists, traditionally wanderers without a love for Germany as their homeland.
Hitler was one of Germany's angry voices. He had an intensity that made him a speaker who attracted attention. He became leader of a small political party of less than thirty people that could be described as populist — the German Workers' Party — a party both patriotically German and interested eliminating capitalism. It became the National Socialist Workers' Party, "National Socialist" to be compressed into "Nazi".
Party membership soared after French troops, in January 1923, occupied Germany's Ruhr area regarding Germany's obligation to pay France reparations. That was the year of Germany's great inflation. To pay its debts Germany's government was printing more and more money until by November 4,210,500,000,000 German Marks were ranked as equal to one US dollar. The savings of middle-class Germans had vanished. Unrest and dissatisfaction with the federal government (the new Weimar Republic) was high.
In Munich in November, Hitler and around 2,000 of his National Socialists joined with Germany's wartime leader Eric von Ludendorff to organize a march on Berlin — copying Mussolini's fascists marching on Rome the year before (in October 1922). The Ludendorff-Hitler enterprise was poorly planned, amateurish and an utter failure. Sixteen Nazis were killed and Hitler imprisoned, charged with treason and rescued by leniency. The court was to be described as in sympathy with Hitler's patriotism. Hitler received national attention and became an admired celebrity. Ludendorff was and Hitler was living in comfortable circumstances in prison, writing his book Mein Kampf (My Struggle). On 20 December 1924, having served only nine months, Hitler was a free man again. (Germany's judicial system was lenient with those having "patriotic" motives, including light sentences for those who beat Rosa Luxemburg to death and the killing of Karl Liebknecht while he was "trying to escape".)
The year 1925 was good for Germany economically. But by 1930 there would be the Great Depression, most intense for Germany. Hitler had given up on coup strategies in favor of electoral politics. Hitler appealed to the new misery being suffered by Germans and blamed the depression on Jewish capitalism. Jewish capitalism as the problem suggesting that without the Jews there would be a capitalism that would work well for the German people. He portrayed himself and his party as the anti-Communist alternative, employing a simple message easily understood. His posters read:
If you want your country to go Bolshevik, vote Communist. If you want to remain free Germans, vote for the National Socialists.
In the 1932 elections for seats in Parliament (the Reichstag) the National Socialists won 230 seats, the Social Democratic Party 133 seats, the Communist Party 89 seats, and the Center Party (lay Catholic) 75 seats.
It was the duty of Germany's president to appoint a chancellor (prime minister) who represented a majority in Parliament. This was Paul von Hindenburg, head of German army during the Great War and devious stab-in-the-back theorist. Hindenburg, an old aristocrat, disliked Hitler the former army corporal, but he disliked a coalition led by the Social Democratas more. There was to be no unity between the Social Democrats and the Communists. There was still hostility between the two, and the Communist Party was against it.
Hitler said he would accept entering a coalition but only if appointed chancellor. Franz von Papen, a nobleman and right-wing politician, had support from various nationalist members of Parliament and went to Hindenburg and proposed a government with Hitler as chancellor and himself as vice-chancellor, a government with the majority of the cabinet to be conservatives. Von Papen assured his personal friend, Hindenburg, that with this arrangement he, von Papen, could control Hitler.
Hitler met with some right-wing industrialists, reassuring them of his respect for private property. He told them that democracy led to socialism and that he would curb socialism and the socialist-led labor unions. The industrialists liked what Hitler told them, and Hindenburg made Hitler chancellor. It was a great day for the Nazi Party — January 30, 1933. The National Socialists had never received more than 37 percent of the popular vote, but here they were in power. There were torchlight parades with flags and rah-rah.
CONTINUE READING: Hitler, from Chanellor to Fuhrer
Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.