World War II/Hitler and the German Third Reich
Rise to Power
In September 1919 the German army assigned a soldier named Adolf Hitler, in his new position as investigative officer, to a meeting of the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (German Workers' Party, abbreviated DAP). During the meeting Hitler took umbrage with Gottfried Feder, the speaker, arguing that Bavaria should be wholly independent from Germany, and two days later on September 14, Hitler joined the party.
Hitler began to transform the party, renaming its militia from the Rollkommandos to the Ordnertruppen. On February 20, the party added National Socialist (Nationalsozialistische) to form the initials NSDAP, or Nazi Party. Four days later Dr. Gottfried Feder and Hitler announced the 25-point programme of the party. Throughout the year Hitler began to lecture at Munich's beer halls, with the police monitoring him. Hitler delivered lectures with titles such as Political Phenomenon, Jews and the Treaty of Versailles.
On July 11, 1921, Hitler resigned from the party after Anton Drexler, the party's leader, proposed dissolving the party into a larger Kampfbund coalition. Hitler rejoined once the policy was abandoned as a result of his withdrawal and on July 28 assumed control of the party by outcasting Drexler.
Inspired by Benito Mussolini's March on Rome Hitler decided that a coup d'état had to be instigated in order to seize control of the country. In May, elements loyal to Hitler within the army helped the SA to procure a barracks and its weaponry but the order to march never came. When the beer hall putsch failed, Hitler was sentenced to five years imprisonment. He served only a little over eight months and used the time in jail to dictate the first volume of Mein Kampf. After the putsch the party was banned, but contested 1924's two elections by proxy as the National Socialist Freedom Movement. In the German election, May 1924 the party gained 32. In Bavaria the NSDAP took 15.9% and in Thuringen 10.5% of the vote. The lowest vote tally was in Schaumburg-Lippe with just 2.48% of the total vote. Overall 6.55% (1,918,329) voted for the Movement.
Hitler was released from Landsberg Prison on December 20, 1924 and less than three months later on February 16, 1925 – prompted by Hitler’s promise to aim at attaining power only through legal means – the ban on the Nazi party was lifted.
In the German election, May 1928 the Party achieved just 12 seats (2.8% of the vote) in the Reichstag. The highest provincial gain was again in Bavaria (5.11%) though in three areas the NSDAP fail to gain even 1% of the vote. Overall the NSDAP gained 2.63% (810,127) of the vote.
Violence and Success
During this time, the party's tactics moved to violence. After the Rotfront interrupted a speech by Hitler the SA marched into the streets of Nuremberg and killed two bystanders. In September Goebbels led his men into Neukölln, a KPD stronghold, and the two warring parties exchanged pistol and revolver fire. On January 14, 1930, Horst Wessel got into an argument with his landlady – the Nazis said it was about rent, but the Communists alleged it was over Wessel’s soliciting of prostitution on her premises – which would have fatal consequences. The landlady happened to be a member of the KPD, and contacted one of her Rotfront friends, Albert Hochter, who shot Wessel in the head at point-blank range. Wessel had penned a song months before his death which would become Germany’s national anthem for 12 years as the Horst-Wessel-Lied). Goebbels also seized upon the attack and the two weeks Wessel spent on his deathbed to premier the song. The funeral was designed to be a propaganda opportunity for the Nazis; however, the Rotfront stole Wessel’s wreath and wrote ‘pimp’ onto it. Along with Horst Wessel, 1930 resulted in more deaths due to political struggles than the previous two years combined.
On April 1 Hannover enacted a law banning the Hitlerjugend (the Hitler Youth), and Goebbels was convicted of high treason at the end of May. Bavaria banned all political uniforms on June 2 and on June 11 Prussia prohibited the wearing of SA brown shirts and associated insignia. The next month Prussia passed a law against its officials holding membership of either the NSDAP or KPD. Later in July Goebbels was again tried, this time for ‘public insult’, and fined. The government also placed army officers on trial for "forming national socialist cells".
Hitler sent shockwaves through the Reichstag obtaining 107 seats (18.3%, 6,406,397 votes) and becoming the second-largest party. In Bavaria the party gained 17.9% of the vote though for the first time this total is outnumbered by most other provinces. An unprecedented amount of money was thrown behind the campaign. Well over one million pamphlets were produced and distributed; sixty trucks were commandeered for usage in Berlin alone. Furthermore in areas where NSDAP campaigning was less rigorous the total was as low as 9%. The Great Depression was also a factor in Hitler's electoral success. Yet against this legal backdrop the SA began its first major anti-Jewish action when, on October 13, 1930 groups of brownshirts smashed the windows of Jewish-owned stores at Potsdamer Platz.
Hitler Comes to Power
In March 10 1931, with street violence between the Rotfront and SA spiralling out of control, breaking all previous barriers and expectations, Prussia re-enacted its ban on brown shirts. Days after the ban SA-men shot dead two communists in a street fight, which led to a ban being placed on the public speaking of Goebbels, who side-stepped the prohibition by recording speeches and playing them to an audience in his absence.
Ernst Röhm, in charge of the SA, put Count Micah von Helldorff, a convicted murderer and vehement antisemite, in charge of the Berlin SA. The deaths mounted up, with many more on the Rotfront side, and by the end of 1931 the SA had 47 men killed, and the Rotfront recorded losses of approximately 80. Street fights and beer hall battles resulting in deaths occurred throughout February and April 1932, all against the backdrop of Adolf Hitler’s competition in the presidential election which pitted him against the monumentally popular Hindenburg. In the first round on March 13 Hitler had polled over 11 million votes but was still behind Hindenburg. The second and final round took place on April 10: Hitler (36.8% 13,418,547) lost out narrowly to Paul von Hindenburg (40% 19,359,983) whilst KPD candidate Thälmann gained a meagre percentage of the vote (10.2% 3,706,759).
The attacks continued, and reached fever pitch when SA storm leader Axel Schaffeld was assassinated. At the end of July the Nazi party gained almost 14,000,000 votes securing 230 seats in the Reichstag. Energised by the incredible results Hitler asked to be made Chancellor. Papen offered the position of Vice Chancellor but Hitler refused.
In November 1932, Papen left office and two months later secretly told Hitler that he still held considerable sway with Hindenburg and that he would make Hitler chancellor as long as he could be the vice chancellor. On January 30 Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of a coalition government of the NSDAP-DNVP-Centre Party. The SA and to a lesser extent the SS lead torchlight parades throughout Berlin. In the coalition government three members of the cabinet including Hitler and also Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick and Hermann Göring as Minister Without Portfolio were Nazis.