Political views of Adolf Hitler
The political views of Adolf Hitler have presented historians and biographers with some difficulty. His writings and methods were often adapted to need and circumstance, although there were some steady themes, including antisemitism, anti-communism, anti-parliamentarianism, German Lebensraum ("living space"), belief in the superiority of an "Aryan race" and an extreme form of German nationalism. Hitler personally claimed he was fighting against "Jewish Marxism".
Adolf Hitler's political views were formed during three periods, namely (1) his years as a poverty-stricken young man in Vienna and Munich prior to World War I, during which he turned to nationalist-oriented political pamphlets and antisemitic newspapers out of distrust for mainstream newspapers and political parties; (2) the closing months of World War I when Germany lost the war as Hitler is said to have developed his extreme nationalism during this time, desiring to "save" Germany from both external and internal "enemies" who in his view betrayed it; (3) and the 1920s, during which his early political career began and he wrote Mein Kampf. Hitler formally renounced his Austrian citizenship on 7 April 1925, but did not acquire German citizenship until almost seven years later; thereby allowing him to run for public office. Hitler was influenced by Benito Mussolini, who was appointed Prime Minister of Italy in October 1922 after his "March on Rome". In many ways, Hitler epitomizes "the force of personality in political life" as mentioned by Friedrich Meinecke. He was essential to the very framework of Nazism's political appeal and its manifestation in Germany. So important were Hitler's views that they immediately affected the political policies of Nazi Germany. He asserted the Führerprinzip ("leader principle"). The principle relied on absolute obedience of all subordinates to their superiors. Hitler viewed the party structure and later the government structure as a pyramid, with himself—the infallible leader—at the apex.
Hitler firmly believed that the force of "will" was decisive in determining the political course for a nation and rationalized his actions accordingly. Given that Hitler was appointed "leader of the German Reich for life", he "embodied the supreme power of the state and, as the delegate of the German people", it was his role to determine the "outward form and structure of the Reich". To that end, Hitler's political motivation consisted of an ideology that combined traditional German and Austrian antisemitism with an intellectualized racial doctrine resting on an admixture of bits and pieces of social Darwinism and the ideas—mostly obtained second-hand and only partially understood—of Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer, Richard Wagner, Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Arthur de Gobineau and Alfred Rosenberg as well as Paul de Lagarde, Georges Sorel, Alfred Ploetz and others.
Army intelligence agent
During World War I, Hitler was temporarily blinded in a mustard gas attack on 15 October 1918 for which he was hospitalised in Pasewalk. While there, Hitler learned of Germany's defeat, with the Armistice to take effect on November 11. By his own account—upon receiving this news, he suffered a second bout of blindness. Days after digesting this traumatic news, Hitler later stated his decision: "... my own fate became known to me ... I ... decided to go into politics." On 19 November 1918, Hitler was discharged from the Pasewalk hospital and returned to Munich, which at the time was in a state of socialist upheaval. Arriving on 21 November, he was assigned to 7th Company of the 1st Replacement Battalion of the 2nd Infantry Regiment. In December he was reassigned to a Prisoner of War camp in Traunstein as a guard. There he would stay until the camp dissolved January 1919.
Returning to Munich, Hitler spent a few months in barracks waiting for reassignment. During this time Munich was a part of the People's State of Bavaria, which was still in a state of chaos with a number of assassinations occurring including that of socialist Kurt Eisner who was shot dead in Munich by a German nationalist on 21 February 1919. His rival Erhard Auer was also wounded in an attack. Other acts of violence were the killings of both Major Paul Ritter von Jahreiß and the conservative MP Heinrich Osel. In this political turmoil, Berlin sent in the military – called the "White Guards of Capitalism" by the communists. On 3 April 1919, Hitler was elected as the liaison of his military battalion and again on 15 April. During this time he urged his unit to stay out of the fighting and not join either side. The Bavarian Soviet Republic was officially crushed on 6 May 1919, when Lt. General Burghard von Oven and his military forces declared the city secure. In the aftermath of arrests and executions, Hitler denounced a fellow liaison, Georg Dufter, as a Soviet "radical rabble-rouser." Other testimony he gave to the military board of inquiry allowed them to root out other members of the military that "had been infected with revolutionary fervor." For his anti-communist views he was allowed to avoid discharge when his unit was disbanded in May 1919.
In June 1919 he was moved to the demobilization office of the 2nd Infantry Regiment. Around this time the German military command released an edict that the army's main priority was to "carry out, in conjunction with the police, stricter surveillance of the population ... so that the ignition of any new unrest can be discovered and extinguished." In May 1919 Karl Mayr became commander of the 6th Battalion of the guards regiment in Munich and from 30 May the head of the "Education and Propaganda Department" (Dept Ib/P) of the Bavarian Reichswehr, Headquarters 4. In this capacity as head of the intelligence department, Mayr recruited Hitler as an undercover agent in early June 1919. Under Captain Mayr "national thinking" courses were arranged at the Reichswehrlager Lechfeld near Augsburg, with Hitler attending from 10–19 July 1919. During this time Hitler so impressed Mayr that he assigned him to an anti-bolshevik "educational commando" as 1 of 26 instructors in the summer of 1919.
These courses he taught helped popularize the notion that there was a scapegoat responsible for the outbreak of war and Germany's defeat. Hitler's own bitterness over the collapse of the war effort also began to shape his ideology. Like other German nationalists, he believed the Dolchstoßlegende (stab-in-the-back myth) which claimed that the German Army, "undefeated in the field", had been "stabbed in the back" on the home front by civilian leaders and Marxists, later dubbed the "November criminals". "International Jewry" was described as a scourge composed of communists relentlessly destroying Germany. Such scapegoating was essential to Hitler's political career and it seems that he genuinely believed that Jews were responsible for Germany's post-war troubles.
In July 1919, Hitler was appointed Verbindungsmann (intelligence agent) of an Aufklärungskommando (reconnaissance commando) of the Reichswehr, both to influence other soldiers and to infiltrate the German Workers' Party (DAP). Much like the political activists in the DAP, Hitler blamed the loss of the war on Jewish intrigue at home and abroad, espousing völkisch-nationalist political beliefs with the intention of resurrecting Germany's greatness by smashing the Versailles Treaty. Along those lines, Hitler proclaimed that the "German yoke must be broken by German iron" (Das deutsche Elend muß durch deutsches Eisen zerbrochen werden).
German Workers' Party
In September 1919 Hitler wrote what is often deemed his first antisemitic text, requested by Mayr as a reply to an inquiry by Adolf Gemlich, who had participated in the same "educational courses" as Hitler. In this report, Hitler argued for a "rational anti-Semitism" which would not resort to pogroms, but instead "legally fight and remove the privileges enjoyed by the Jews as opposed to other foreigners living among us. Its final goal, however, must be the irrevocable removal of the Jews themselves". Most people at the time understood this as a call for forced expulsion. Europe has a long history of expelling Jews and the auto-da-fé of the Inquisition.
While he studied the activities of the German Workers' Party (DAP), Hitler became impressed with founder Anton Drexler's antisemitic, nationalist, anti-capitalist and anti-Marxist ideas. Drexler was impressed with Hitler's oratory skills, and invited him to join the DAP on 12 September 1919. On the orders of his army superiors, Hitler applied to join the party and within a week was accepted as party member 555 (the party began counting membership at 500 to give the impression they were a much larger party). In Mein Kampf, Hitler later claimed to be the seventh party member and he was indeed the seventh executive member of the party's central committee.
Hitler was discharged from the army on 31 March 1920 and began working full-time for the party. Displaying his talent for oratory and propaganda skills, with the support of Drexler, Hitler became chief of propaganda for the party in early 1920. When early party members promulgated their 25-point manifesto on 24 February 1920 (co-authored by Hitler, Anton Drexler, Gottfried Feder and Dietrich Eckart), it was Hitler who penned the first point, revealing his intention to unify German-speaking peoples, claiming that the party demanded "all Germans be gathered together in a Greater Germany on the basis of the right of all peoples to self-determination". By the spring of 1920, he engineered the change of name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – NSDAP), commonly known as the Nazi Party. Under his influence, the party adopted a modified swastika, a well-known good luck charm that had previously been used in Germany as a mark of volkishness and "Aryanism", along with the Roman salute used by Italian fascists. At this time, the Nazi Party was one of many small extremist groups in Munich, but Hitler's vitriolic beer hall speeches began attracting regular audiences. He became adept at using populist themes, including the use of scapegoats, who were blamed for his listeners' economic hardships. He gained notoriety for his rowdy polemic speeches against the Treaty of Versailles, rival politicians and especially against Marxists and Jews. Hitler used personal magnetism and an understanding of crowd psychology to advantage while engaged in public speaking.
While Hitler and Eckart were on a fundraising trip to Berlin in June 1921, a mutiny broke out within the Nazi Party in Munich. Members of its executive committee wanted to merge with the rival German Socialist Party (DSP). Hitler returned to Munich on 11 July and angrily tendered his resignation. The committee members realised that the resignation of their leading public figure and speaker would mean the end of the party. Hitler announced he would rejoin on the condition that he would replace Drexler as party chairman and that the party headquarters would remain in Munich. They capitulated to Hitler's demand and on 29 July 1921 a special congress was convened to formalize Hitler as the new chairman (the vote was 543 for Hitler and one against).
Hitler asserted the Führerprinzip ("leader principle"). The principle relied on absolute obedience of all subordinates to their superiors as he viewed the party structure and later the government structure as a pyramid, with himself—the infallible leader—at the apex. Rank in the party was not determined by elections—positions were filled through appointment by those of higher rank, who demanded unquestioning obedience to the will of the leader.
Early followers of the party included Rudolf Hess, Hermann Göring (command of the Sturmabteilung (SA) as Oberster SA-Führer in 1923), Ernst Röhm (later head of the SA), Alfred Rosenberg (prominent racial theorist), Gregor Strasser, Dietrich Eckart (a key founder of the party), Hermann Esser, Ludwig Maximilian Erwin von Scheubner-Richter and Erich Ludendorff (Field-Marshal who was the party's candidate for President of the Republic in 1925).
Beer Hall Putsch
Hitler enlisted the help of World War I General Erich Ludendorff to try to seize power in Munich (the capital of Bavaria) in an attempt later known as the Beer Hall Putsch of 8–9 November 1923. This would be a step in the seizure of power nationwide, overthrowing the Weimar Republic in Berlin. On 8 November, Hitler's forces initially succeeded in occupying the local Reichswehr and police headquarters; however, neither the army nor the state police joined forces with him. The next day, Hitler and his followers marched from the beer hall to the Bavarian War Ministry to overthrow the Bavarian government on their "March on Berlin". Hitler wanted to emulate Benito Mussolini's "March on Rome" (1922) by staging his own coup in Bavaria to be followed by a challenge to the government in Berlin. However, the Bavarian authorities ordered the police to stand their ground. The putschists were dispersed after a short firefight in the streets near the Feldherrnhalle. In all, sixteen Nazi members and four police officers were killed in the failed coup.
Hitler fled to the home of Ernst Hanfstaengl and by some accounts contemplated suicide, although this state of mind has been disputed. Hitler was depressed but calm when he was arrested on 11 November 1923. Fearing "left-wing" members of the Nazi Party might try to seize leadership from him during his incarceration, Hitler quickly appointed Alfred Rosenberg temporary leader.
Beginning in February 1924, Hitler was tried for high treason before the special People's Court in Munich. He used his trial as an opportunity to spread his message throughout Germany. At one point during the trial, Hitler discussed political leadership, during which he stated that leading people was not a matter of political science (Staatswissenschaft) but an innate ability, one of statecraft (Staatskunst). He further elaborated by claiming that out of ten thousand politicians only one Bismarck emerged, subtly implying that he too had been born with this gift. Continuing, he declared that it was not Karl Marx who stirred the masses and ignited the Russian Revolution but Vladimir Lenin, not making his appeal to the mind but to the senses. His rousing speeches during the trial made Hitler famous, but they did not exonerate him. In April 1924, he was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in Landsberg Prison, where he received preferential treatment from sympathetic guards and received substantial quantities of fan mail, including funds and other forms of assistance. During 1923 and 1924 at Landsberg, he dictated the first volume of Mein Kampf (My Struggle) to his deputy Rudolf Hess. Originally entitled Four and a Half Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice, his publisher shortened the title to Mein Kampf.
The book, dedicated to Thule Society member Dietrich Eckart, was an autobiography and exposition of his ideology. In Mein Kampf, Hitler speaks at length about his youth, his early days in the Nazi Party and general ideas on politics, including the transformation of German society into one based on race, with some passages implying genocide. Published in two volumes in 1925 and 1926, it sold 228,000 copies between 1925 and 1932. In 1933, Hitler's first year in office, 1,000,000 copies were sold. The book acts as a reference, giving insight into the world view from which Hitler never wavered throughout his life.
It states that during his childhood, Hitler had little interest in politics as he had ambitions to become a painter. Like other boys in his part of Austria, he was attracted to pan-Germanism, but his intellectual pursuits were generally those of a dilettante. Hitler portrays himself as a born leader interested in knightly adventures, exploration. By the time he was 11, Hitler was a nationalist interested in history.
Ultimately, Hitler never finished his primary schooling since he quit by the time he was 16, devoting his attention instead to his artistic pursuits which led him to Vienna in 1905. It was in Vienna where Hitler was later to proclaim he learned some hard lessons, namely that life was a critical struggle between the weak and the strong where principles of humanity mattered not at all since everything simply boiled down to "victory and defeat".
While Hitler was incarcerated at the Landsberg prison writing Mein Kampf, he had routine visits from the respected First World War veteran, Major General Dr. Karl Haushofer, who was the chair of the military science and geography department at the University of Munich. These meetings consisted of lectures and academic briefings on geopolitics, most certainly covering the Nazi ideal of Lebensraum and which likely influenced the views Hitler laid out in Mein Kampf. Perhaps confirming Hitler's assertions, Haushofer espoused the theory that Germany was defeated in the Great War by her lack of sufficient space and autarchy. Continental space and the necessity of abundant arable soil formed an important distinction between the way the British Empire extended its reach through sea-power and economics and the manner in which Hitler intended on obtaining ascendancy through territorial expansion at the expense of conquered peoples. Hitler believed it was Germany's right to seize the cultivatable land in Russia since the earth belongs to those people willing to till it "industriously" as opposed to the slothful, incompetent people unworthy to possess it. Describing the Russians in the harshest of terms while intimating that the German people were more deserving by virtue of their alleged superior intellect, Hitler stated: "It is criminal to ask an intelligent people to limit its children in order that a lazy and stupid people next door can literally abuse a gigantic surface of the earth". Presaging this Nazi goal, Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf: "Without consideration of traditions and prejudices, Germany must find the courage to gather our people and their strength for an advance along the road that will lead this people from its present restricted living space to new land and soil, and hence also free it from the danger of vanishing from the earth or of serving others as a slave nation". In this sense, social Darwinism and geography were merged in Hitler's mind.
Many historians contend that Hitler's essential character and political philosophy can be discovered in Mein Kampf. Historian James Joll once claimed that Mein Kampf constituted "all of Hitler's beliefs, most of his programme and much of his character". According to Andreas Hillgruber, evident within the text of Mein Kampf is nothing less than the very crux of Hitler's program. One of Hitler's foremost goals was that Germany should become "a World Power" on the geopolitical stage, or as he stated, "it will not continue to exist at all". Biographer Joachim Fest asserted that Mein Kampf contained a "remarkably faithful portrait of its author".
In his infamous tome, Hitler categorized human beings by their physical attributes, claiming German or Nordic Aryans were at the top of the hierarchy while assigning the bottom orders to Jews and Romani. Hitler claimed that dominated people benefit by learning from superior Aryans and said the Jews were conspiring to keep this "master race" from rightfully ruling the world by diluting its racial and cultural purity and exhorting Aryans to believe in equality rather than superiority and inferiority. Within Mein Kampf, Hitler describes a struggle for world domination, an ongoing racial, cultural and political battle between Aryans and Jews, the necessary racial purification of the German people and the need for German imperial expansion and colonisation eastwards. According to Hitler and other pan-German thinkers, Germany needed to obtain additional living space or Lebensraum which would properly nurture the "historic destiny" of the German people. This was a key idea he made central in his foreign policy. Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf of his hatred towards what he believed were the world's twin evils, namely communism and Judaism. He said his aim was to eradicate both from Germany and moreover stressed his intention to unite all Germans in the process of destroying them.
Hitler was a pan-Germanic nationalist whose ideology was built around a philosophically authoritarian, anti-Marxist, antisemitic and anti-democratic worldview. Such views of the world in the wake of the fledgling Weimar government were not uncommon in Germany since democratic/parliamentary governance seemed ineffectual to solve Germany's problems. Correspondingly, veterans of the First World War and like-minded nationalists formed the Vaterlandspartei which promoted expansionism, soldierly camaraderie and heroic leadership, all under the guise of völkisch traditions like ethnic and linguistic nationalism, but which also included obedience to authority as well as the belief in political salvation through decisive leadership. The völkisch parties began to fractionalize during Hitler's absence from the revolutionary scene in Germany after the failed "Beer Hall Putsch" of November 1923. When he re-emerged upon release from Landsberg Prison, his importance to the movement was obvious and he came to believe that he was the realization of völkisch nationalistic ideals in a sort of near messianic narcissism which included his conviction to shake off the restrictive Treaty of Versailles and to "restore Germany's might and power", creating a reborn German nation as the chosen leader of the Nazi Party.
Hitler stressed the völkisch ideology, claiming Germanic/Aryan superiority in Mein Kampf:
- Every manifestation of human culture, every product of art, science and technical skill, which we see before our eyes today, is almost exclusively the product of the Aryan creative power. This very fact fully justifies the conclusion that it was the Aryan alone who founded a superior type of humanity; therefore he represents the archetype of what we understand by the term: MAN. He is the Prometheus of mankind, from whose shining brow the divine spark of genius has at all times flashed forth, always kindling anew that fire which, in the form of knowledge, illuminated the dark night by drawing aside the veil of mystery and thus showing man how to rise and become master over all the other beings on the earth. Should he be forced to disappear, a profound darkness will descend on the earth; within a few thousand years human culture will vanish and the world will become a desert.
The völkisch nationalism of Hitler and Nazis encompassed the notion that the German Volk was epitomized by German farmers and peasants, people who remained uncorrupted by modern ideals and whose greatest attribute was their "cheerful subservience" and their capacity to respond to their "monarchical calling". Hitler was their new monarch in a manner of speaking. Völkisch nationalism also forged into its ideals, the importance of nature, the centrality of a knightly savior (Hitler in this case) and the belief in the superior Aryan. Antisemitism remained a key component of the völkisch movement and a permanent undercurrent throughout conservative parties in German history and after many years culminated with the view that the Jews were the only thing standing in the way of the ideal society. As Germany's newfound völkisch nationalist leader, Hitler instantiated a policy of ethnic nationalism replete with directives to exterminate Jews and other identified enemies as Nazism ultimately became the religion of the movement and the "irrational became concrete" under the terms of its "ideological framework".
Hitler and the Nazis promoted a socially conservative view concerning many aspects of life, supported by harsh discipline and a militaristic point of view. Conservative opinions about sexuality amid the Nazis led to extreme homophobia which resulted in the systematic persecution of homosexuals. Hitler and his paladins also controlled what constituted acceptable artistic expression in Nazi Germany, abolishing what they considered to be "degenerate art". The Nazis strongly discouraged and in some cases outright rejected the following behaviors, namely the use of cosmetics, premarital sex, prostitution, pornography, sexual vices, smoking and excessive drinking. In many ways, there was a distinct anti-intellectualism present within Nazi philosophy. Hearkening back to a simpler time, Hitler and the Nazis attempted to vindicate the glorious past as the key to a more promising future.
Evidence of Hitler's disdain for Weimar's cultural and social decadence appears on multiple occasions in Mein Kampf. In his seminal tome, he expresses an ultraconservatism:
If we study the course of our cultural life during the last twenty-five years we shall be astonished to note how far we have already gone in this process of retrogression. Everywhere we find the presence of those germs which give rise to protuberant growths that must sooner or later bring about the ruin of our culture. Here we find undoubted symptoms of slow corruption; and woe to the nations that are no longer able to bring that morbid process to a halt.
Hitler raved against what he considered to be tasteless and morally destructive art on display throughout Germany in Mein Kampf, calling some of it morbid and declaring that "people would have benefited by not visiting them at all". Convinced that it was necessary to show the German people what comprised, "degenerate art" so as to protect them in the future, Hitler arranged for a formally commissioned exhibit in July 1937 of specially selected carvings, sculptures, and paintings. Once the exhibit was at an end, selected artists' works were banned from Nazi Germany.
Well known was Hitler's vehement opposition to racial-mixing. He was also a natalist as he believed as did other pan-Germans that Germans had an obligation to procreate:
That such a mentality [racial purity] may be possible cannot be denied in a world where hundreds and thousands accept the principle of celibacy from their own choice, without being obliged or pledged to do so by anything except an ecclesiastical precept. Why should it not be possible to induce people to make this sacrifice if, instead of such a precept, they were simply told that they ought to put an end to this truly original sin of racial corruption which is steadily being passed on from one generation to another. And, further, they ought to be brought to realize that it is their bounden duty to give to the Almighty Creator beings such as He himself made to His own image.
Another area of concern for Hitler and which was mentioned by his childhood companion in Vienna August Kubizek was prostitution. Hitler associated it with venereal disease and cultural decline. Moreover, Hitler found the practice counter to proper family development and displayed a puritanical view in Mein Kampf, writing:
Prostitution is a disgrace to humanity and cannot be removed simply by charitable or academic methods. Its restriction and final extermination presupposes the removal of a whole series of contributory circumstances. The first remedy must always be to establish such conditions as will make early marriages possible, especially for young men...
He goes on asserting that prostitution was dangerous and intimated much more significant, destructive socio-political implications. Once Hitler came to power, his regime moved against all forms of sexual deviations and sexual crimes, especially homosexuality, a 'crime' which was prosecuted as many as 30,000 times between 1934 and 1939. Hitler's social conservatism was so extreme towards homosexuals that he deemed them "enemies of the State" and grouped them in the same category as Jews and communists; a special department of the Gestapo was formed to deal with the matter.
Hitler's general perception about women was ultra-conservative and patriarchal, with their foremost task being a domestic one as a mother of children who worked contentedly at home, ensuring it remained clean and orderly. Meanwhile, it was the woman's role to educate her children to be conscious of their importance as Aryans and instill within them a commitment to their ethnic community. Consequently, Hitler believed women had no place in public or political life due to their differing nature from men. Like many Romantic artists, musicians, and writers, the Nazis valued strength, passion, frank declarations of feelings and deep devotion to family and community (with women being seen as the center of the family in Nazi Germany). So great was Hitler's influence in all political aspects of social life that even education for children was subordinate to his opinion. Profoundly anti-intellectual and against conventional education for children, Hitler determined instead that training and education should be designed to create young German "national comrades" who were utterly convinced of their "superiority to others". Moreover, Hitler wanted to create young German soldiers who were willing to fight for their convictions so they were accordingly indoctrinated by Nazi propaganda, trained in military discipline and taught obedience to authority in the Hitler Youth. Ultimate obedience was then transferred directly to their Führer and his political cause.
Contempt for democracy
Hitler blamed Germany's parliamentary government for many of the nation's ills. The Nazis and especially Hitler associated democracy with the failed Weimar government and the punitive Treaty of Versailles. Hitler often denounced democracy, equating it with internationalism. Since democratic ideals espoused equality for all men, it represented to Hitler and his Nazi ideologues the notion of mob rule and the hatred of excellence. Not only was democracy antithetical to their social-Darwinist abstractions, but its international-capitalist framework was considered an exclusively Jewish-derived conception. Hitler also thought democracy was nothing more than a preliminary stage of Bolshevism.
Hitler believed in the leader principle (hence his title, the Leader, der Führer) and considered it ludicrous that an idea of governance or morality could be held by the people above the power of the leader. Joachim Fest described a 1930 confrontation between Hitler and Otto Strasser as such: "Now Hitler took Strasser to task for placing 'the idea' above the Führer and wanting 'to give every party comrade the right to decide the nature of the idea, even to decide whether or not the Führer is true to the so-called idea.' That, he cried angrily, was the worst kind of democracy, for which there was no place in their movement. 'With us the Führer and the idea are one and the same, and every party comrade has to do what the Führer commands, for he embodies the idea and he alone knows its ultimate goal'".
Although Hitler realized that his ascension to power required the use of the Weimar Republic's parliamentary system (founded on democratic principles), he never intended for the continuation of democratic governance once in control. Contrarily, Hitler proclaimed that he would "destroy democracy with the weapons of democracy". The rapid transition made by the Nazis once they assumed control clearly reveals that Hitler succeeded in this regard. For the most part, democratic governance was never embraced by the German masses or by the elite. The ill-fated Weimar democracy's inability to provide economic relief to the German people during the Great Depression further enhanced its image as an ineffectual system of government amid the masses. Hitler offered people the prospect of a "new and better society". He exploited the conditions in Germany in the ultimate expression of political opportunism when he brought his dictatorial and totalitarian government to power and thereafter attempting to impose himself and his system upon the world in the process.
In Hitler's mind, communism was a major enemy of Germany, an enemy he often mentions in Mein Kampf. During the trial for his involvement in the Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler claimed that his singular goal was to assist the German government in "fighting Marxism". Marxism, Bolshevism, and communism were interchangeable terms for Hitler as evidenced by their use in Mein Kampf:
In the years 1913 and 1914 I expressed my opinion for the first time in various circles, some of which are now members of the National Socialist Movement, that the problem of how the future of the German nation can be secured is the problem of how Marxism can be exterminated.
Later in his seminal tome, Hitler advocated for "the destruction of Marxism in all its shapes and forms". According to Hitler, Marxism was a Jewish strategy to subjugate Germany and the world and saw Marxism as a mental and political form of slavery. From Hitler's vantage point, Bolsheviks existed to serve "Jewish international finance". When the British tried negotiating with Hitler in 1935 by including Germany in the extension of the Locarno Pact, he rejected their offer and instead assured them that German rearmament was important in safeguarding Europe against communism, a move which clearly showed his anti-communist proclivities.
In 1939, Hitler told the Swiss Commissioner to the League of Nations Carl Burckhardt that everything he was undertaking was "directed against Russia" and that "if those in the West are too stupid or too blind to understand this, then I shall be forced to come to an understanding with the Russians to beat the West, and then, after its defeat, turn with all my concerted force against the Soviet Union". When Hitler finally ordered the attack against the Soviet Union, it was the fulfillment of his ultimate goal and the most important campaign in his estimation, as it comprised a struggle of "the chosen Aryan people against Jewish Bolsheviks".
Biographer Alan Bullock avows Hitler "laid great stress" on the need to concentrate on a single enemy, an enemy he lumps together as "Marxism and the Jew". Shortly in the wake of the Commissar Order, a directive pursuant to the German invasion of the Soviet Union, SS Deputy Reinhard Heydrich informed the SS of Hitler's geopolitical philosophy which conflated Bolshevism and Jews, writing that "eastern Jewry is the intellectual reservoir of Bolshevism and in the Führer's view must therefore be annihilated". Considering the eventual Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa), no additional inducements are really requisite concerning Hitler's hatred of communism, particularly since the Nazi persecution and extermination of these groups was not only systematic, but it was extensive both within Germany and only intensified in the occupied zones during the war under Hitler's leadership.
Because Nazism co-opted the popular success of communism among working people while simultaneously promising to destroy communism and offer an alternative to it, Hitler's anti-communist program allowed industrialists with traditional conservative views (tending toward monarchism, aristocracy and laissez-faire capitalism) to cast their lot with and help underwrite the Nazi rise to power.
Lebensraum and the invasion of the Soviet Union
Historian Roderick Stackelberg contends that Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union was the result of "mutually reinforcing ideological, racial, and geopolitical assumptions" that Hitler had plainly laid out in Mein Kampf. Noted German historian Andreas Hillgruber shares this view. In fact, Hillgruber encapsulates Hitler's political views (which drove German policy throughout his rule) in summary through the invasion of the Soviet Union. He places it within the context of Hitler's intent to create a continental Reich which included the destruction of the Jews. According to Hillgruber, Hitler had the following objectives in mind when he invaded the former Soviet Union:
- 1. The total eradication of all forms of "Judeo-Bolshevik" leadership, which encompassed its perceived biological roots, namely the millions of Jews occupying central and eastern Europe.
- 2. The requisite acquisition of Lebensraum or colonial space necessary for German settlement in the finest and most arable territories within Russia, or in those parts of Russia which provided political or strategic advantages in Hitler's mind.
- 3. The subjugation and decimation of the Slavic people, which was to be divided into four German territories or "Reich Commissariats" entitled Ostland, Ukraine, Moskovia and Caucasus, with each subordinated to German "viceroys" and ruled much the same way the British ruled their colonial dominion India. One of the principal aims of German leadership in these Reich Commissariats would be the cancellation of any semblance or memory of Russian statehood and the conditioning of these subordinated "states" to German mastery.
- 4. Ultimately, a "great space" autarchy in continental Europe under German suzerainty would result, one capable of defeating any possible Allied blockade and for whom the vanquished eastern territories could provide a theoretically inexhaustible source of raw materials and food necessary for any protracted war against the Anglo-Saxon powers. The establishment of this "German Reich of the Germanic nation" also included in its planning to feed its soldiers off the Russian land, although that meant that "many millions of people will be starved to death", a directive already contemplated by the Economic Staff East no later than 2 May 1941.
Not alone in this interpretation of Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union as a move of continental expansion and one with an antisemitic eliminationist political intent, Hillgruber is joined by the likes of historian Karl Dietrich Bracher, among others. In his work The German Dictatorship, Bracher called the invasion the consequence of Hitler's "ideological obsession" and stated that "Hitler's drive for territorial expansion and the relentless expansion of the SS state ushered in the final phase of National Socialist rule". That final phase proved disastrous for the Jews, Slavs, Roma-Sinti and countless others, atop the reality that it also brought untold suffering to Hitler's beloved German Volksgenossen as the British and American bomber forces unleashed their wrath turning the Reich to rubble. Meanwhile, the Red Army laid waste to the German army and once-occupied German land as they counter-attacked.
Antisemitism and the Holocaust
Among scholars of the Nazi era, Hitler's role and relationship to the regime and the Holocaust has been a source of consternation and acrimonious historiographical debate. Biographer Ian Kershaw wrote that for historians Hitler was "unreachable" and that he was "cocooned in the silence of the sources". What Kershaw was referencing was the absence of any clear political directives accompanied by Hitler's signed authorization (primary source documents) regarding the atrocities carried out by his Nazi underlings. Given the abounding circumstantial evidence in Hitler's speeches, writing in Mein Kampf, administrative meeting notes taken by subordinates and the recollections of those in or near his inner-circle, it seems that his political intention was for Jews, Slavs and other "enemies" of the Nazi state to be persecuted without mercy in lieu of how gradual the process actually developed. A debate between two primary schools of thought emerged about Hitler's political role in Nazi policy and the Holocaust. One is termed intentionalist, represented by scholars who contend that virtually all Nazi policies (including the extermination of the Jews) were resultant from Hitler's desires; whereas the other school, entitled functionalist/structuralist, consists of scholars who see the intensification of Nazi persecution policies due to power struggles within the Nazi government as his minions attempted to "interpret" their master's wishes, often acting autonomously.
Either way, antisemitism always constituted one of the most important aspects of Hitler's political views. Historian Peter Longerich writes: "There can be no doubt that Hitler's behaviour during his entire political career... was characterised by radical antisemitism". Correspondingly, Germanic cultural and racial purity remained paramount in his understanding of the world, having once exclaimed: "The greatest danger is and remains for us, the alien racial poison in our body. All other dangers are transitory".
Hitler wrote his first antisemitic letter to Adolf Gemlich on 16 September 1919 stating that Jews were a race and not a religious group and that the aim for the government "must unshakably be the removal of the Jews altogether". Throughout Mein Kampf, Hitler employs biological crudity by describing the Jews as "parasites" or "vermin". Reflecting back on the beginning of the First World War, Hitler makes the eerily prescient statement that had "twelve or fifteen thousand of these Hebrew corrupters of the people had been held under poison gas, as happened to hundreds of thousands of our very best German workers in the field, the sacrifice of millions at the front would not have been in vain."
Underlining the argument that Hitler had overt eliminationist intentions for the Jews is the quote from the 30 January 1939 Reichstag speech:
Today I want to be a prophet once more: Should the international Jewry of finance (Finanzjudentum) succeed, both within and beyond Europe, in plunging mankind into yet another world war, then the result will not be Bolshevization of the earth and the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation (Vernichtung) of the Jewish race in Europe.
German historian Klaus Hildebrand insisted that Hitler's moral responsibility for the Holocaust was the culmination of his pathological hatred of the Jews and his ideology of "racial dogma" formed the basis of Nazi genocide. Historian David Welch asserts that even if Hitler never gave the direct order for the implementation of the Final Solution, this is nothing more than a "red herring" as it fails to recognize his "leadership style" where Hitler's simple verbal statements were sufficient to launch initiatives "from below". Those "working towards the Führer" would often implement "his totalitarian vision without written authority". Throughout his work Hitler and the Final Solution, historian Gerald Fleming demonstrates that on multiple occasions Heinrich Himmler referenced a Führer-Order concerning the destruction of the Jews, making it abundantly clear that Hitler had at the very least verbally issued a command on the matter. The diary entries of Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels allude to Hitler being the driving force behind the Nazi genocide, that he followed the subject closely and that Goebbels even described Hitler as "uncompromising" about eliminating the Jews. Taking the scale of the logistical operations that the Holocaust comprised in the middle of a war into consideration alone, it is highly unlikely, if not impossible, that the extermination of so many people and the coordination of such an extensive effort could have occurred in the absence of Hitler's authorization. As Welch relates, if Himmler was the "architect of genocide", he was merely "an instrument of Hitler's will". In the final analysis, Hitler was essentially omnipotent as the Führer of Nazi Germany with all encompassing power as the "supreme legislator, supreme administrator, and supreme judge" along with being the "leader of the Party, the Army, and the people". Every major political decision and move in Nazi Germany was made at his discretion to include the wholesale extermination of millions of people.
- Hitler believed the Jewish people were “the plague of the world.” See: Georg Lukács, Die Zerstörung der Vernunft, p. 565.
- An insightful book as to Hitler’s outlook on the world, including his political philosophy, is Eberhard Jäckel’s work, Hitler’s Worldview: A Blueprint for Power. Jäckel details the sophisticated and contradictory nature of Hitler’s views, which he fashioned according to need on his path to power. According to Jäckel, the one thing that remained consistent throughout Hitler’s life was his single-mindedness, even if it was derived from a lengthy synthesis "haphazardly" brought together; there can be no denying that Hitler possessed an "unusual programmatic mind", which was also "an unusual political force". See: Jäckel (1981). Hitler’s Worldview: A Blueprint for Power, pp. 108–121.
- Guard duty at a POW camp to the East, near the Austrian border. The prisoners were Russian, and Hitler had volunteered for the posting. Shirer 1960, p. 34; Toland 1976, p. xx.
- As a socialist journalist, Eisner organised the Socialist Revolution that overthrew the Wittelsbach monarchy in Bavaria in November 1918, which led to his being described as "the symbol of the Bavarian revolution".
- Toland suggests that Hitler's assignment to this department was partially a reward for his "exemplary" service in the front lines, and partially because the responsible officer felt sorry for Hitler as having no friends, but being very willing to do whatever the army required. Toland 1976, p. xx.
- Apparently someone in an army "educational session" had made a remark that Hitler deemed "pro-Jewish" and Hitler reacted with characteristic ferocity. Shirer states that Hitler had attracted the attention of a right-wing university professor who was engaged to educate enlisted men in "proper" political belief, and that the professor's recommendation to an officer resulted in Hitler's advancement. Shirer 1960, p. 35. "I was offered the opportunity of speaking before a larger audience; and ... it was now corroborated: I could 'speak.' No task could make me happier than this; ... I was able to perform useful services to ... the army. ... [I]n ... my lectures I led many hundreds ... of comrades back to their people and fatherland." Hitler 1999, pp. 215–216.
- More than that, Hitler thought the Jews were a problem for the entire world and their elimination essential to survival. See Jäckel (1981). Hitler's World View: A Blueprint for Power, pp.47–66.
- For more on European conceptions about the Jews, see the two chapters, "The Jews: Myth and Counter-Myth", and "Infected Christianity" in Toward the Final Solution: A History of European Racism by George Mosse (1980)., pp. 113–149.
- Historian Sebastian Haffner claims that at the basest or lowest of levels, Hitler's philosophical "bedrock" was a fusion of "nationalism and anti-Semitism." See: Haffner (2004). The Meaning of Hitler, pp. 8–9.
- Not shown on the map as maritime borders are not displayed Hitler had very clear ideas about the woman's role in the Nazi state - she was the centre of family life, a housewife and mother.
- Democracy or more specifically “Germanic democracy”, according to Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess, consisted of “unconditional authority downwards, and responsibility upwards.” This hierarchical image of democracy was anything but democratic in nomenclature and was most likely an ironic remark.
- Later when the Nazi–Soviet agreement was made, otherwise known as the Molotov–Robbentrop Pact, the British were stunned. This surprising (and temporary) treaty was signed by the Nazis for the sake of geopolitical convenience. Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union dissolved its contents.
- In the 1920s and 1930s, there was a fear among German industrialists, not wholly unfounded, that Germany would likely suffer an October-style Bolshevik revolution at some point and become a Soviet republic of the "World Soviet Federation" envisioned by international communists, unless drastic anti-communist measures were taken. For example, Fritz Thyssen, who had been arrested by German "Reds" in 1918, did not trust that the Weimar Republic would indefinitely succeed in fending off a Bolshevist-type revolution.
- For a better understanding of this debate, see:Functionalism versus intentionalism. According to historian Richard Bessel, most academics studying Hitler and the Nazi regime have embraced and synthesized these once divergent schools of thought and now see the merit in both. Richard Bessel, "Functionalists vs. Intentionalists: The Debate Twenty Years on or Whatever Happened to Functionalism and Intentionalism?" German Studies Review 26, no. 1 (2003): p. 16.
- Hinrichs 2007
- Meinecke 1950, p. 96
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 170, 172, 181.
- Nicholls 2000, pp. 153–154.
- Stern 1975, pp. 45–53.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 59, 60.
- Kershaw 1999, pp. 97, 102.
- Hitler 1999, p. 206.
- Ullrich 2016, p. 73.
- Ullrich 2016, p. 75.
- Ullrich 2016, p. 79.
- Ullrich 2016, p. 80.
- Mitchell 2013, p. 37.
- Shirer 1960, p. 34.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 72–74.
- Rees 2012, pp. 17–18.
- Ullrich 2016, p. 82.
- Shirer 1960, p. 35.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 61, 62.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 61–63.
- Jäckel (1981). Hitler’s Worldview: A Blueprint for Power, pp. 51–57.
- Kershaw 2008, p. 82.
- Ernst Deuerlein, "Hitlers Eintritt in die Politik und die Reichswehr," Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 7. Jahrg., 2. H. (Apr., 1959): 207. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag GmbH (and its subsidiary Akademie Verlag GmbH). JSTOR 30197163
- Hitler, Adolf. "Adolf Hitler - Gutachten über den Antisemitismus: 1919 erstellt im Auftrag seiner militärischen Vorgesetzten (Adolf Hitler - Report on antisemitism: 1919 prepared on behalf of his military superiors)". ns-archive.de (in German). NS-Archiv, Dokumente zum Nationalsozialismus (N.S. [National Socialist] Archive, Documents on Antisemitism). Retrieved 20 March 2015.
- Ed Pilkington (8 June 2011). "Hitler's first draft of the Holocaust: unique letter goes on show". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 June 2011.
- Evans 2003, p. 170.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 75, 76.
- Mitcham 1996, p. 67.
- Werner Maser, Der Sturm auf die Republik – Frühgeschichte der NSDAP, ECON Verlag, Düsseldorf, Vienna, New York, Moscow, Special Edition 1994, ISBN 3-430-16373-0
- Kershaw 2008, p. 93.
- Heiden (2002). The Führer, p. 80.
- Toland, Adolf Hitler, chapter 4.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 89–92.
- Bullock 1999, p. 376.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 105–106.
- Bullock 1999, p. 377.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 100, 101.
- Kershaw 2008, p. 102.
- Kershaw 2008, p. 103.
- Toland, Adolf Hitler, pp. 111–112.
- Kershaw 2008, p. 112.
- Kershaw 2000, pp. 268–269.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 126, 129, 130–131.
- Kershaw 2008, p. 129.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 130–131.
- Shirer 1960, pp. 73–74.
- Kershaw 2008, p. 132.
- Kershaw 2008, p. 131.
- In any case, Rosenberg was so disliked that he would be an unlikely threat to take over Hitler's leadership.
- Spotts (2009). Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, p. 43.
- Spotts (2009). Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, pp. 43–44.
- Bullock 1962, p. 121.
- McNab 2011, p. 16.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 148–149.
- Shirer 1960, pp. 80–81.
- McNab 2011, p. 15.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 148–150.
- Hitler (1943) Mein Kampf, pp. 8–10.
- Fest (2002). Hitler, pp. 18–23.
- Lukacs (1997). The Hitler of History, p. 71.
- Kaplan (2012). The Revenge of Geography, pp. 82–83.
- Toland (1976). Adolf Hitler, p. 124.
- Heiden (2002). The Führer, p. 255.
- Hitler (1971). Mein Kampf, p. 646.
- Joll (1978). Europe since 1870, p. 332.
- Hillgruber (1981). Germany and the Two World Wars, p. 50.
- Hitler (1939). Mein Kampf, p. 500.
- Fest (2002). Hitler, p. 203.
- Williamson (2002). The Third Reich, p. 15.
- McDonough (1999). Hitler and Nazi Germany, p. 15.
- McDonough (1999). Hitler and Nazi Germany, pp. 14–15.
- Kershaw (1989). The “Hitler Myth”: Image and Reality in the Third Reich, pp. 18–21.
- Kershaw 2000, pp. 223–225.
- Hitler (1939). Mein Kampf, p. 226.
- Stern (1974). The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology, pp. 147–149.
- Mosse (1964). The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich, pp. 204–207.
- Mosse (1964). The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich, p. 243.
- Mosse (1964). The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich, pp. 312–317.
- Bessel (2006). Nazism and War, pp. 35–38, 41–43, 50–56.
- Koonz (2005). The Nazi Conscience, pp. 10, 106.
- Grunberger (1971). The 12–Year Reich: A Social History of Nazi Germany, 1933–1945, pp. 423–426.
- Grunberger (1971). The 12–Year Reich: A Social History of Nazi Germany, 1933–1945, pp. 15, 30, 208, 234, 239, 245–249, 262–264, 273.
- Evans 2005, p. 299.
- Mosse (1964). The Crisis of German Ideology: Intellectual Origins of the Third Reich, pp. 67–87.
- Hitler (1939). Mein Kampf, p. 204.
- Evans 2005, pp. 171–177.
- Hitler (1939). Mein Kampf, p. 316.
- Kershaw 2000, p. 45.
- Hitler (1939). Mein Kampf, p. 198.
- Hitler (1939). Mein Kampf, p. 201.
- Wolfgang Harthauser, Die Verfolgung der Homosexualen im Dritten Reich, cited in Grunberger (1971). The Twelve-Year Reich: A Social History of Nazi Germany, p. 121.
- Bracher (1970). The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure, and Effects of National Socialism, p. 353.
- Stephenson (2001). Women in Nazi Germany, pp. 16–18.
- Evans 2005, pp. 331–332.
- BBC 2019
- Pine (2010). Education in Nazi Germany, p. 13.
- Kater (2004) Hitler Youth, p. 69.
- Stern (1992). Hitler: The Führer and the People, p. 14.
- Stern (1992). Hitler: The Führer and the People, p. 88.
- Gellately (2007). Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe, p. 13.
- Hillgruber (1981). Germany and the Two World Wars, p. 51.
- Fest (2002). Hitler, p. 279.
- Kershaw 2000, p. 294.
- Grunfeld (1974). The Hitler File: A Social History of Germany and the Nazis, 1918–45, p. 109.
- Kershaw 2008, p. 258.
- Kershaw 2008, pp. 258, 259.
- Bullock (1962). Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, p. 128.
- Hitler (1941). Mein Kampf, p. 203.
- Hitler (1939). Mein Kampf, p. 419.
- McNab 2011, p. 17.
- Hitler (1939). Mein Kampf, p. 475.
- Bullock (1962). Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, p. 334.
- Hildebrand (1973). The Foreign Policy of the Third Reich, p. 88.
- Victor (2007). Hitler: The Pathology of Evil. , p. 198.
- Bullock (1962). Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, p. 130.
- [DNA Nuremberg NO-4145/2 (deposition of Walter Blume 29 VI 47)]. Cited from: Binion (1991). Hitler among the Germans, p. 61.
- Hildebrand (1984). The Third Reich, pp. 61–62, 70–71.
- Turner (1985). German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler, pp. 340–359.
- Stackelberg (1999). Hitler's Germany: Origins, Interpretations, Legacies, p. 188.
- Andreas Hillgruber, "Die "Endlösung" und das deutsche Ostimperium als Kernstück des rassenideologischen Programms des Nationalsozialismus," Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 20. Jahrg., 2. H. (Apr., 1972): 140. JSTOR 30197201
- Stackelberg claims Hitler's "attack on the Soviet Union was the fulfillment of the mission of his life." See: Stackelberg (1999). Hitler's Germany: Origins, Interpretations, Legacies, p. 189.
- Bracher (1970). The German Dictatorship: The Origins, Structure, and Effects of National Socialism, p. 403.
- Kershaw (1993). The Nazi Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives of Interpretation, p. 4.
- Longerich, Peter. "Hitler's Role in the Persecution of the Jews by the Nazi Regime". Holocaust Denial on Trial. Emory University. Retrieved 24 December 2015.
- Klöss, ed. (1967). Reden des Führers. Politik und Propaganda Adolf Hitlers, 1922–1945, p. 49.
- Kershaw 2000, pp. 125–126.
- Hitler (1969). Mein Kampf, p. 155.
- Hitler (1969). Mein Kampf, p. 620.
- Domarus (1990). Hitler Speeches and Proclamations, 1932–1945. [Vols. 1–4], p. 1449.
- Hildebrand (1984). The Third Reich, p. 149.
- Welch 2001, pp. 88–89.
- Fleming (1994). Hitler and the Final Solution, pp. 8n, 20–21, 53–54, 112, 148, 174, 177, 185.
- Wistrich (2001). Hitler and the Holocaust, p. 113.
- Welch 2001, pp. 89–90.
- Welch 2001, p. 90.
- Neumann (1967). Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism, p. 74.
- BBC (2019). "Life in Nazi Germany 1933-1939: Women in the Nazi state". GCSE Bitesize. BBC. Retrieved 20 June 2019.
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