Keynes predicted the rise of Hitler

Nazi regime : So happened what didn't have to happen

The whole misfortune of January 30, 1933 lies in the one sentence that the ultra-conservative Franz von Papen replied the day before to a confidante who warned about Adolf Hitler's chancellorship: "You are wrong, we hired him."

What a mistake! Nazi propaganda leader Joseph Goebbels knew better what the appointment of his party leader meant. “Hitler is Chancellor. Like in a fairy tale! ”He wrote ecstatically in his diary, one day after the SA torchlight procession through the Brandenburg Gate. The procession of hundreds of thousands, mostly spontaneously marching supporters, is the warning sign of the reign of terror that began 75 years ago. Six and a half years later, the regime set all of Europe on fire.

Especially on January 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it makes sense to see the self-proclaimed “Third Reich” from its terrible end, from terror, the unleashing of war and genocide. But the crimes of the regime, however right-wing and violent, were not registered in its beginnings. That the republic, founded in 1919 by the National Constituent Assembly in the Weimar Theater, had actually come to an end, was to prove in no time at all. It is historical speculation that it did not have to come to an end, and perhaps not even ended with Hitler's appointment by the long-reluctant Reich President Paul von Hindenburg - but in view of the dramatic circumstances of the winter of 1932/33, it cannot be dismissed out of hand .

In any case, it is clear that the contemporaries in Hitler's rise could not find the story mapped out which began after January 30th and whose uncanny consistency is only revealed when the historian looks back. When Ian Kershaw, the author of the most comprehensive biography of Hitler, briefly states that the events of January 1933 came to a head "into an extraordinary political drama, which, however, took place largely out of the sight of the German people", this describes exactly the dilemma of the aftermath Assessment versus those out of the day.

Certainly, even Erich Ludendorff - he of all people, the gambler of the World War from 1916 and later follower of Hitler's miserably failed Munich “March on the Feldherrenhalle” in 1923 - countered Hindenburg with the “prophecy” after Hitler's appointment, “that this unfortunate man would be our empire plunge into the abyss and plunge our nation into unbelievable misery ”. Few were given so much foresight. From Berlin, for example, Betty Scholem wrote on February 7, 1933 to her son, the philosopher Gershom (Gerhard) Scholem, "a flu wave and Heil Hitler rule the market". The casual note from the factory owner's wife, who was accompanied by countless statements from those days, is doubly remarkable, as it reflects the mood of large circles in the economy as well as the fatal misjudgment of the assimilated Jewish Germans.

It wasn't just a wave of flu that swept across Germany in the cold winter months at the beginning of 1933. But it was also not the clockwork-like takeover of power that the events around January 30, 1933 are mostly seen as. It was the happy end of a gamble for Hitler that had driven his party, which was driven solely by hatred of the “system” of parliamentary democracy, into a life-threatening ordeal in the autumn of 1932. What if the NSDAP had split into insignificance at that time?

For contemporaries, the “what if” was extremely real. History never has a single outcome. What she knows, however, is the support, fed by naivety and fatalism alike, which a direction once taken experiences from the breadth of society. The proportion of votes that the NSDAP achieved in the 1932 and 1933 elections speak volumes. But above all the fact that from mid-1932 the Weimar democracy could only be based on a minority of voters. The extremes, right and left, have destroyed Weimar.

It is a whole bundle of circumstances that made Hitler's rise possible and provided him with the breeding ground on which his previously ridiculed slogans could flourish. The global economic crisis and the catastrophically wrong reaction of the German emergency ordinance chancellors without a parliamentary majority, especially Heinrich Brüning, were just as little the main reason as the number of six million registered unemployed in the winter of 1932/33, despite hunger and misery. The fatal split of the workers' movement into a legalistic SPD and a Bolshevik KPD paralyzed resistance against Hitler, who was becoming socially acceptable. The conservative civil servants bore no more main responsibility than the Prussian-monarchist officer corps of the Reichswehr, not to mention the East Elbe Junkers. The payments from big industry did not flow to any appreciable extent until Hitler was already in power, but then in enormous sums.

To what extent the shock that the November Revolution of 1918 had triggered in the conservative bourgeoisie and in the middle class threatened with relegation led to a latent atmosphere of civil war, as Ernst Nolte suspects with a view to the "horror" of Soviet Russia, can hardly be decided. But all of this helped to create that unique situation in which the “Bohemian private” could become the “Führer and Reich Chancellor”.

Hitler's seizure of power 75 years ago was the deepest turning point in German history. Never before has a society broken the bridges to its origins in such a way, unaffected by external war. A barbaric dictatorship, guided by vague and bloodthirsty phrases such as the “annihilation of the World Jewry ”, which a brown uniformed mob shouted through the beer cellar in the short form“ Juda verrecke! ”.

But there was no plan to turn the “land of poets and thinkers” into the land of “judges and executioners”. The "cumulative radicalization" of the system - with the term Hans Mommsen - paved the way; Admittedly, and this must be noted with Ian Kershaw, not without Hitler's central agency and his omnipresent presence. The more radical the demands of the “Führer” and his satraps, the more docile the answers of the well-functioning state apparatus; the lower the resistance from abroad, the more brazen the Nazi war policy. With the growth of the NSDAP as the core force of the “völkisch Weltanschauung”, the influence of crude thoughts grew, which earlier not even a fraction of the electorate could mobilize. At the end of 1932 the party already had 1.4 million members and gathered 400,000 uniformed men in the SA - numbers that multiplied with the number of those who fell in March, the masses of fellow travelers after the consolidation of the regime through the Enabling Act of 23 March. And yet it was far more the constantly invoked "extermination of Bolshevism" that intoxicated the masses than the "racial doctrine", the murderous consequences of which Hitler had in mind from the start.

Moreover, recent research shows how fragile Hitler's rule, so self-assured from the outside, was in the early years. Götz Aly's thesis of the Nazis' “dictatorship of convenience” aimed at social equilibrium and Adam Tooze's investigation into the financial acrobatics of the “economy of destruction” are not mutually exclusive. The regime, no longer dependent on formal legitimation, with its often confused and cross-linked decision-making, was able to postpone the decisive answers to the economic and social problems until the conduct of the war with the ludicrous hope of the "final victory" made rational justification for political actions superfluous. In the early years, the regime was able to refer propagandistically to the agony years of Weimar democracy in order to highlight its successes in economic stabilization all the more brilliantly. The Germans were blinded not so much that the construction of the autobahn left several hundred thousand unemployed people on meager wages, but rather the message, masterfully staged by the propaganda, that something is happening at all.

“The consolidation of the Hitler regime”, writes Hans-Ulrich Wehler in his “German History of Society”, “can only be captured convincingly if one considers the interplay between an increasingly resilient, well-founded charismatic rule on the one hand and an ever more unconditionally consenting society on the other as a key phenomenon ". Only the dynamism of the development of power as an interplay between rulers and the ruled can explain how the terrible radicalization of an authoritarian regime, which was by no means unusual in the European context of 1933/37, could come about.

In 1936 John Maynard Keynes published his "General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money". It appeared immediately afterwards in a German translation. The economic theoretical analysis of the crisis of 1929 leads to instructions for action that were already practiced in rudimentary form by the Nazis. Hitler and Göring carried out the state economic stimulus program, which Briining had previously rejected, in their own way. The “incessant desire for legitimation by the masses” - as Richard J. Evans, who teaches at Cambridge, put it with a view to the propaganda machine - was, according to Aly, primarily produced through socio-political favors. Goebbels' diary entry, "We have to join the people in an even more socialist way than before," dates back to 1943, but has been the main feature of labor and social policy since 1933. The fact that, according to Tooze, at the same time armaments expenditures increased twenty-fold in real terms by the time the war was unleashed, illuminates the multi-track nature of Nazi policy, which at least until the state of emergency during the war was not based solely on terror, which of course was becoming more and more commonplace.

“How did it happen” is the remaining question about German history between 1933 and 1945. It is explained with the description of the seizure of power in 1933 - in its stages from Hitler's appointment over the Reichstag fire and emergency decree “to protect people and state” at the end of February until the Enabling Act of March 23rd - not answered. On January 30, 1933, the way was paved, but by no means mapped out to Auschwitz.

The founders of the Federal Republic of Germany tried to learn the lessons. The stability of parliamentary democracy and its constitutional organs, but at the same time that of social conditions under the banner of the “social market economy”, is the immediate response of the Federal Republic to the self-abandonment of the Weimar Republic and to the collapse of society in the massive misery of the economic crisis. The fact that Germany, which was reunified in 1990, absorbed the millions of unemployed at an unimaginably high level of prosperity - seen from the starvation winter of 1933 - proves the successful conclusion drawn from the mistakes made at the time.

The one regarding the drifting apart of society is still on the agenda. There will be no second Hitler in Germany; history does not repeat itself in this way. But that radicalization and division of a society with all conceivable, devastating consequences can never be ruled out and must be considered as a potential danger, is the lasting lesson from January 30, 1933 and the seizure of power by Adolf Hitler.

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