Hitler's Social Revolution
Understanding National Socialism
How Hitler Consolidated
Power in Germany and Launched A Social Revolution
The First Years of the
I. Who Would End the
"We have the power. Now our gigantic work begins."
Those were Hitler's words on the night of January 30, 1933, as cheering crowds
surged past him, for five long hours, beneath the windows of the Chancellery in
His political struggle had lasted 14 years. He himself was 43, that is,
physically and intellectually at the peak of his powers. He had won over
millions of Germans and organized them into Germany's largest and most dynamic
political party, a party girded by a human rampart of hundreds of thousands of
storm troopers, three fourths of them members of the working class. He had been
extremely shrewd. All but toying with his adversaries, Hitler had, one after
another, vanquished them all.
Standing there at the window, his arm raised to the delirious throng, he must
have known a feeling of triumph. But he seemed almost torpid, absorbed, as if
lost in another world.
It was a world far removed from the delirium in the street, a world of 65
million citizens who loved him or hated him, but all of whom, from that night
on, had become his responsibility. And as he knew -- as almost all Germans knew
at the of January 1933 -- that this was a crushing, an almost desperate
Half a century later, few people understand the crisis Germany faced at that
time. Today, it's easy to assume that Germans have always been well-fed and even
plump. But the Germans Hitler inherited were virtual skeletons.
During the preceding years, a score of "democratic" governments had come and
gone, often in utter confusion. Instead of alleviating the people's misery, they
had increased it, due to their own instability: it was impossible for them to
pursue any given plan for more than a year or two. Germany had arrived at a dead
end. In just a few years there had been 224,000 suicides - a horrifying figure,
bespeaking a state of misery even more horrifying.
By the beginning of 1933, the misery of the German people was virtually
universal. At least six million unemployed and hungry workers roamed aimlessly
through the streets, receiving a pitiful unemployment benefit of less than 42
marks per month. Many of those out of work had families to feed, so that
altogether some 20 million Germans, a third of the country's population, were
reduced to trying to survive on about 40 pfennigs per person per day.
Unemployment benefits, moreover, were limited to a period of six months. After
that came only the meager misery allowance dispensed by the welfare offices.
Notwithstanding the gross inadequacy of this assistance, by trying to save the
six million unemployed from total destruction, even for just six months, both
the state and local branches of the German government saw themselves brought to
ruin: in 1932 alone such aid had swallowed up four billion marks, 57 percent of
the total tax revenues of the federal government and the regional states. A good
many German municipalities were bankrupt.
Those still lucky enough to have some kind of job were not much better off.
Workers and employees had taken a cut of 25 percent in their wages and salaries.
Twenty-one percent of them were earning between 100 and 250 marks per month;
69.2 percent of them, in January of 1933, were being paid less than 1,200 marks
annually. No more than about 100,000 Germans, it was estimated, were able to
live without financial worries.
During the three years before Hitler came to power, total earnings had fallen by
more than half, from 23 billion marks to 11 billion. The average per capita
income had dropped from 1,187 marks in 1929 to 627 marks, a scarcely tolerable
level, in 1932. By January 1933, when Hitler took office, 90 percent of the
German people were destitute.
No one escaped the strangling effects of the unemployment. The intellectuals
were hit as hard as the working class. Of the 135,000 university graduates, 60
percent were without jobs. Only a tiny minority was receiving unemployment
"The others," wrote one foreign observer, Marcel Laloire (in his book New
Germany), "are dependent on their parents or are sleeping in flophouses. In the
daytime they can be seen on the boulevards of Berlin wearing signs on their
backs to the effect that they will accept any kind of work."
But there was no longer any kind of work.
The same drastic fall-off had hit Germany's cottage industry, which comprised
some four million workers. Its turnover had declined 55 percent, with total
sales plunging from 22 billion to 10 billion marks.
Hardest hit of all were construction workers; 90 percent of them were
Farmers, too, had been ruined, crushed by losses amounting to 12 billion marks.
Many had been forced to mortgage their homes and their land. In 1932 just the
interest on the loans they had incurred due to the crash was equivalent to 20
percent of the value of the agricultural production of the entire country. Those
who were no longer able to meet the interest payments saw their farms auctioned
off in legal proceedings: in the years 1931-1932, 17,157 farms -- with a
combined total area of 462,485 hectares - were liquidated in this way.
The "democracy" of Germany's "Weimar Republic" (1918 -1933) had proven utterly
ineffective in addressing such flagrant wrongs as this impoverishment of
millions of farm workers, even though they were the nation's most stable and
hardest working citizens. Plundered, dispossessed, abandoned: small wonder they
heeded Hitler's call.
Their situation on January 30, 1933, was tragic. Like the rest of Germany's
working class, they had been betrayed by their political leaders, reduced to the
alternatives of miserable wages, paltry and uncertain benefit payments, or the
outright humiliation of begging.
Germany's industries, once renowned everywhere in the world, were no longer
prosperous, despite the millions of marks in gratuities that the financial
magnates felt obliged to pour into the coffers of the parties in power before
each election in order to secure their cooperation. For 14 years the
well-blinkered conservatives and Christian democrats of the political center had
been feeding at the trough just as greedily as their adversaries of the left.
Thus, prior to 1933, the Social Democrats had been generously bribed by
Friedrich Flick, a super-capitalist businessman. With him, as with all his like,
it was a matter of carefully studied tactics. After 1945, his son, true to
tradition, would continue to offer largess to the Bundestag Socialists who had
their hands out, and, in a roundabout way, to similarly minded and equally
greedy political parties abroad as well. The benefactors, to be sure, made
certain that their gifts bore fruit in lucrative contracts and in cancelled
Nothing is given for nothing. In politics, manacles are imposed in the form of
Even though they had thus assured themselves of the willing cooperation of the
politicians of the Weimar system's parties, the titans of German capitalism had
experienced only a succession of catastrophes. The patchwork governments they
backed, formed in the political scramble by claim and compromise, were totally
ineffective. They lurched from one failure to another, with neither time for
long-range planning nor the will to confine themselves somehow to their proper
Time is required for the accomplishment of anything important. It is only with
time that great plans may be brought to maturity and the competent men be found
who are capable of carrying them out. Not surprisingly, therefore, any economic
plans drawn up amid all this shifting for short-term political advantage were
bound to fail.
Nor did the bribing of the political parties make them any more capable of
coping with the exactions ordered by the Treaty of Versailles. France, in 1923,
had effectively seized Germany by the throat with her occupation of the Ruhr
industrial region, and in six months had brought the Weimar government to
pitiable capitulation. But then, disunited, despising one another, how could
these political birds of passage have offered resistance? In just a few months
in 1923, seven German governments came and went in swift succession. They had no
choice but to submit to the humiliation of Allied control, as well as to the
separatist intrigues fomented by Poincaré's paid agents.
The substantial tariffs imposed on the sale of German goods abroad had sharply
curtailed the nation's ability to export her products. Under obligation to pay
gigantic sums to their conquerors, the Germans had paid out billions upon
billions. Then, bled dry, they were forced to seek recourse to enormous loans
from abroad, from the United States in particular.
This indebtedness had completed their destruction and, in 1929, precipitated
Germany into a terrifying financial crisis.
The big industrialists, for all their fat bribes to the politicians, now found
themselves impotent: their factories empty, their workers now living as virtual
vagrants, haggard of face, in the dismal nearby working-class districts.
Thousands of German factories lay silent, their smokestacks like a forest of
dead trees. Many had gone under. Those which survived were operating on a
limited basis. Germany's gross industrial production had fallen by half: from
seven billion marks in 1920 to three and a half billion in 1932.
The automobile industry provides a perfect example. Germany's production in 1932
was proportionately only one twelfth that of the United States, and only one
fourth that of France: 682,376 cars in Germany (one for each 100 inhabitants) as
against 1,855,174 cars in France, even though the latter's population was 20
million less than Germany's.
Germany had experienced a similar collapse in exports. Her trade surplus had
fallen from 2.872 billion marks in 1931 to only 667 millions in 1932 -- nearly a
75 percent drop.
Overwhelmed by the cessation of payments and the number of current accounts in
the red, even Germany's central bank was disintegrating. Harried by demands for
repayment of the foreign loans, on the day of Hitler's accession to power the
Reichsbank had in all only 83 million marks in foreign currency, 64 million of
which had already been committed for disbursement on the following day.
The astronomical foreign debt, an amount exceeding that of the country's total
exports for three years, was like a lead weight on the back of every German. And
there was no possibility of turning to Germany's domestic financial resources
for a solution: banking activities had come virtually to a standstill. That left
Unfortunately, tax revenues had also fallen sharply. From nine billion marks in
1930, total revenue from taxes had fallen to 7.8 billion in 1931, and then to
6.65 billion in 1932 (with unemployment payments alone taking four billion of
The financial debt burden of regional and local authorities, amounting to
billions, had likewise accumulated at a fearful pace. Beset as they were by
millions of citizens in need, the municipalities alone owed 6.542 billion in
1928, an amount that had increased to 11.295 billion by 1932. Of this total,
1.668 billion was owed in short-term loans.
Any hope of paying off these deficits with new taxes was no longer even
imaginable. Taxes had already been increased 45 percent from 1925 to 1931.
During the years 1931-1932, under Chancellor Brüning, a Germany of unemployed
workers and industrialists with half-dead factories had been hit with 23
"emergency" decrees. This multiple overtaxing, moreover, had proven to be
completely useless, as the "International Bank of Payments" had clearly
foreseen. The agency confirmed in a statement that the tax burden in Germany was
already so enormous that it could not be further increased.
And so, in one pan of the financial scales: 19 billion in foreign debt plus the
same amount in domestic debt. In the other, the Reichsbank's 83 million marks in
foreign currency. It was as if the average German, owing his banker a debt of
6,000 marks, had less than 14 marks in his pocket to pay it.
One inevitable consequence of this ever-increasing misery and uncertainty about
the future was an abrupt decline in the birthrate. When your household savings
are wiped out, and when you fear even greater calamities in the days ahead, you
do not risk adding to the number of your dependents.
In those days the birth rate was a reliable barometer of a country's prosperity.
A child is a joy, unless you have nothing but a crust of bread to put in its
little hand. And that's just the way it was with hundreds of thousands of German
families in 1932.
In 1905, during the reign of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the birthrate had been 33.4 per
one thousand. In 1921 it was only 25.9, and in 1924 it was down to 15.1. By the
of 1932, it had fallen to just 14.7 per one thousand.
It reached that figure, moreover, thanks only to the higher birth rate in rural
areas. In the fifty largest cities of the Reich, there were more deaths than
births. In 45 percent of working-class families, there were no births at all in
the latter years. The fall in the birthrate was most pronounced in Berlin, which
had less than one child per family and only 9.1 births per one thousand. Deaths
exceeded the number of new births by 60 percent.
In contrast to the birthrate, politicians were flourishing as never before --
about the only thing in Germany that was in those disastrous times. From 1919 to
1932, Germany had seen no less than 23 governments come and go, averaging a new
one about every seven months. As any sensible person realizes, such constant
upheaval in a country's political leadership negates its power and authority. No
one would imagine that any effective work could be carried out in a typical
industrial enterprise if the board of directors, the management, management
methods, and key personnel were all replaced every eight months. Failure would
Yet the Reich wasn't a factory of 100 or 200 workers, but a nation of 65 million
citizens crushed under the imposed burdens of the Treaty of Versailles, by
industrial stagnation, by frightful unemployment, and by a gut-wrenching misery
shared by the entire people.
The many cabinet ministers who followed each other in swift succession for
thirteen years -- due to petty parliamentary squabbles, partisan demands, and
personal ambitions -- were unable to achieve anything other than the certain
collapse of their chaotic regime of rival parties.
Germany's situation was further aggravated by the unrestrained competition of
the 25 regional states, which split up governmental authority into units often
in direct opposition to Berlin, thereby incessantly sabotaging what limited
power the central Reich government had at that time.
The regional remnants of several centuries of particularism were all fiercely
jealous of their privileges. The Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 had divided
Germany into hundreds of Lilliputian states, most of them musical comedy
kingdoms whose petty monarchs tried to act like King Louis XIV in courts
complete with frills and reverential bows.
Even at the beginning of the First World War (1914-1918), the German Reich
included four distinct kingdoms (Prussia, Bavaria, Wurttemberg and Saxony), each
with its own sovereign, army, flag, titles of nobility, and Great Cross in
particolored enamel. In addition, there were six grand duchies, five duchies,
seven principalities, and three free cities.
The Bavarian clung fiercely to his lederhosen, his steins of beer and his pipe.
He took part in the war to preserve them. The Saxon would gladly have had a
go-around with the haughty Prussian. Each was intent on his rights. And for all
of them, faraway Berlin was a thorn in the side.
Each regional state had its own separate government with parliament, prime
minister and cabinet. Altogether they presented a lineup of 59 ministers who,
added to the eleven Reich ministers and the 42 senators of the Free Cities, gave
the Germans a collection of 112 ministers, each of whom viewed the other with a
jaundiced eye at best.
In addition, there were between two and three thousand deputies - representing
dozens of rival political parties -- in the legislatures of the Reich, the 22
states and the three Free Cities.
In the Reichstag elections of November 1932 -- held just months before Hitler
become Chancellor -- there were no less than 37 different political parties
competing, with a total of 7,000 candidates (14 of them by proxy), all of them
frantically seeking a piece of the parliamentary pie. It was most strange: the
more discredited the party system became, the more democratic champions there
were to be seen gesturing and jostling in their eagerness to climb aboard the
To all appearances, the incumbents who had been elected were there forever. They
received fat salaries (a Reichstag deputy got ten times what the average worker
earned), and permitted themselves generous supplementary incomes in the form of
favors provided by interested clients. A number of Socialist Reichstag deputies
representing Berlin, for example, had arranged for their wives to receive
sumptuous fur coats from certain Jewish financiers.
In a parliamentary democracy, mandates are often very brief, and ministerial
appointments even more so. The temptation is strong to get it while you can.
Honest, dishonest, or piratical, these 112 cabinet ministers and thousands of
legislative deputies had converted Germany into a country that was ungovernable.
It is incontestable that, by January of 1933, the "system" politicians had
become completely discredited. Their successors would inherit a country in
economic, social and political ruins.
Today, more than half a century later, in an era when so many are living in
abundance, it is hard to believe that the Germany of January 1933 had fallen so
low. But for anyone who studies the archives and the relevant documents of that
time, there can be no doubt. Not a single figure cited here is invented. By
January 1933, Germany was down and bleeding to death.
All the previous chancellors who had undertaken to get Germany back on her feet
-- including Brüning, Papen and Schleicher - had failed. Only a genius or, as
some believed, a madman, could revive a nation that had fallen into such a state
of complete disarray.
When President Franklin Roosevelt was called upon at that same time to resolve a
similar crisis in the United States, he had at his disposal immense reserves of
gold. Hitler, standing silently at the chancellery window on that evening of
January 30, 1933, knew that, on the contrary, his nation's treasury was empty.
No great benefactor would appear to help him out. The elderly Reich President,
Paul von Hindenburg, had given him a work sheet of appalling figures of
Hitler knew that he would be starting from zero. From less than zero. But he was
also confident of his strength of will to create Germany anew -- politically,
socially, financially, and economically. Now legally and officially in power, he
was sure that he could quickly convert that cipher into a Germany more powerful
than ever before.
What support did he have?
For one thing, he could count on the absolute support of millions of fanatical
disciples. And on that January evening, they joyfully shared in the great thrill
of victory. Some thirteen million Germans, many of them former Socialists and
Communists, had voted for his party.
But millions of Germans were still his adversaries, disconcerted adversaries, to
be sure, whom their own political parties had betrayed, but who had still not
been won over to National Socialism.
The two sides -- those for and those against Hitler -- were very nearly equal in
numbers. But whereas those on the left were divided among themselves, Hitler's
disciples were strongly united. And in one thing above all, the National
Socialists had an incomparable advantage: in their convictions and in their
total faith in a leader. Their highly organized and well-disciplined party had
contended with the worst kind of obstacles, and had overcome them.
Hitler poses with close comrades shortly after being named Chancellor on January
While it enjoyed extraordinarily popular support, the National Socialist
movement had grown too fast, and problems deriving from that lay in wait ahead.
Thousands of visionaries with nebulous dreams of domination, not to mention
hotheads dreaming only of brawls and revolution in perpetuity, had found their
way into the National Socialist ranks. The ambitious ones intended to rise to
the top at any cost -- and as quickly as possible. Many of them were
ill-prepared; some simply lacked morals. Many bitter disappointments were in
store for Hitler because of them.
Hitler sensed as much. He had ordered his party to halt recruitment of new
members, and even directed that the SA -- the huge civilian paramilitary force
that had carried him to power -- be reduced in size. Indeed, by 1933 SA
stormtroop membership had grown to the incredible figure of 2,500,000 men, 25
times the size of the regular army, the Reichswehr.
It was due to such pressures that Hitler was sometimes driven to rash action,
contrary to his real desire or intent. Sometimes this meant expulsions, the use
of force or cases of intransigence, even though his larger goal was to reunite
the nation in peace, and accomplish his political and social programs without
Hitler knew that he was playing with dynamite. Still, it was his conviction that
he was being driven not just by his National Socialist movement, but by an
inner, almost supernatural force. Whether one called it Providence or Destiny,
it was this force, he felt, that had carried him to victory. His own force of
character was such that it would yield to nothing. For Hitler, it was a foregone
conclusion that he would forge a new Reich, a new world.
Hitler knew that the task he had set himself would be immense and difficult to
accomplish, that he would have to transform Germany in practically every
respect: the structure of the state, social law, the constitution of society,
the economy, civic spirit, culture, the very nature of men's thinking. To
accomplish his great goal, he would need to reestablish the equilibrium of the
social classes within the context of a regenerated community, free his nation
from foreign hegemony, and restructure its geographic unity.
Task number one: he would have to restore work and honor to the lives of six
million unemployed. This was his immediate goal, a task that everyone else
thought impossible to achieve.
After he had once again closed the windows of the chancellery, Hitler, with
clenched fists and resolute mien, said simply: "The great venture begins. The
day of the Third Reich has come."
In just one year this "great venture" would be in full swing, effecting a
transformation from top to bottom in political, social and economic life --
indeed, in the German way of life itself.
II. The Unification of the
"It will be the pride of my life," Hitler said upon becoming Chancellor, "if I
can say at the end of my days that I won back the German worker and restored him
to his rightful place in the Reich." He meant that he intended not merely to put
men back to work, but to make sure that the worker acquired not just rights, but
prestige as well, within the national community.
The national community had long been the proverbial wicked stepmother in its
relationship with the German working man. Class struggle had not been the
exclusive initiative of the Marxists. It had also been a fact of life for a
privileged class, the capitalists, that sought to dominate the working class.
Thus the German worker, feeling himself treated like a pariah, had often turned
away from a fatherland that often seemed to consider him merely an instrument of
In the eyes of the capitalists, money was the sole active element in the
flourishing of a country's economy. To Hitler's way of thinking, that conception
was radically wrong: capital, on the contrary, was only an instrument. Work was
the essential element: man's endeavor, man's honor, blood, muscles and soul.
Hitler wanted not just to put an to the class struggle, but to reestablish the
priority of the human being, in justice and respect, as the principal factor in
One could dispense with gold, and Hitler would do just that. A dozen other
things could be substituted for gold as a means of stimulating industry, and
Hitler would invent them. But as for work, it was the indispensable foundation.
For the worker's trust in the fatherland to be restored, he had to feel that
from now on he was to be (and to be treated) as an equal, instead of remaining a
social inferior. Under the governments of the so-called democratic parties of
both the left and the right, he had remained an inferior; for none of them had
understood that in the hierarchy of national values, work is the very essence of
life; and matter, be it steel or gold, but a tool.
The objective, then, was far greater than merely sing six million unemployed
back to work. It was to achieve a total revolution.
"The people," Hitler declared, "were not put here on earth for the sake of the
economy, and the economy doesn't exist for the sake of capital. On the contrary,
capital is meant to serve the economy, and the economy in turn to serve the
It would not be enough merely to reopen the thousands of closed factories and
fill them with workers. If the old concepts still ruled, the workers would once
again be nothing more than living machines, faceless and interchangeable.
What was required was to reestablish that moral equilibrium between the workers,
human beings who shape raw materials, and a useful and controlled capitalism,
returned to its proper function as a tool. This would mean changing an entire
world, and it would take time.
As Hitler knew full well, such a revolution could not be achieved while the
central and regional governments continued in a state of anarchy, seldom
accomplishing anything solid, and sometimes running amok. Nor could there be a
revolution in society while dozens of parties and thousands of deputies of every
conceivable stripe pursued their selfish interests under a political system that
had thrashed about incoherently since 1919.
Restoring the effectiveness of Germany's institutions on a nationwide basis was
therefore an indispensable prerequisite to any social rebirth.
"A fish rots from the head down," says a Russian proverb. And it was at the head
that political Germany, prior to Hitler, was going bad. In the end, the
"democratic" parties abdicated without even defending themselves. In 1930, the
aged President Marshall von Hindenburg used his emergency powers under Article
48 of the Weimar constitution to enable a succession of semi-dictators to rule
by decree. But even they could accomplish little.
These last chancellors -- Herr Brüning, Herr von Papen, and General Schleicher
-- were able to maintain rule only by executive decree. Their authority,
artificially sustained by misuse of Article 48, was dependent on von Hindenburg
and the camarilla advising him. Just how slim was their level of popular support
was shown in a particularly humiliating 1932 Reichstag "vote of confidence," in
which more than 90 percent of the deputies voted against him and his government.
Hitler's accession to power abruptly brought an end to government impotence. As
a condition of appointing him, however, Hindenburg had demanded that the new
chancellor be hemmed in like a prisoner in his own government. In his first
government, Hitler was obliged to name four times as many conservative -- or
better, reactionary - ministers as his own men. Just two members of his first
cabinet were National Socialists.
Hindenburg's representatives were given the mission of keeping Hitler on a
leash. At the Reichstag session of March 24, however, Hitler broke that leash,
not with yet another executive decree (like his immediate predecessors), but by
obtaining a two-thirds parliamentary majority for the "Enabling Act" that
legally amended the constitution and gave him sweeping plenary powers for a
period of four years.
Four years in power to plan, create and make decisions. Politically, it was a
revolution: Hitler's first revolution. And completely democratic, as had been
every stage of his rise. His initial triumph had come through the support of the
electorate. Similarly, sweeping authority to govern was granted him through a
vote of more than two-thirds of the Reichtag's deputies, elected by universal
This was in accord with a basic principle of Hitler's: no power without the
freely given approval of the people. He used to say: "If you can win mastery
over the people only by imposing the power of the state, you'd better figure on
a nine o'clock curfew."
Nowhere in twentieth-century Europe had the authority of a head of state ever
been based on such overwhelming and freely given national consent. Prior to
Hitler, from 1919 to 1932, those governments piously styling themselves
democratic had usually come to power by meager majorities, sometimes as low as
51 or 52 percent.
"I am not a dictator," Hitler had often affirmed, "and I never will be.
Democracy will be rigorously enforced by National Socialism."
Authority does not mean tyranny. A tyrant is someone who puts himself in power
without the will of the people or against the will of the people. A democrat is
placed in power by the people. But democracy is not limited to a single formula.
It may be partisan or parliamentary. Or it may be authoritarian. The important
thing is that the people have wished it, chosen it, established it in its given
That was the case with Hitler. He came to power in an essentially democratic
way. Whether one likes it or not, this fact is undeniable. And after coming to
power, his popular support measurably increased from year to year. The more
intelligent and honest of his enemies have been obliged to admit this, men such
as the declared anti-Nazi historian and professor Joachim Fest, who wrote:
For Hitler was never interested in establishing a mere tyranny. Sheer greed for
power will not suffice as explanation for his personality and energy -- He was
not born to be a mere tyrant. He was fixated upon his mission of defending
Europe and the Aryan race ... Never had he felt so dependent upon the masses as
he did at this time, and he watched their reactions with anxious concern.
These lines weren't written by Dr. Goebbels, but by a stern critic of Hitler and
his career. (J. Fest, Hitler, New York: 1974, p. 417.)
By February 28, 1933, less than a month after his appointment as chancellor,
Hitler had already managed to free himself of the conservative ballast by which
Hindenburg had thought to weigh him down. The Reichstag fire of the previous
evening prompted the elderly President to approve a new emergency law "For the
Protection of the People and the State," which considerably increased the powers
of the executive.
Hitler meant, however, to obtain more than just concessions ruefully granted by
a pliable old man: he sought plenary powers legally accorded him by the nation's
supreme democratic institution, the Reichstag. Hitler prepared his coup with the
skill, the patience, and the astuteness for which he is legendary. "He
possessed," historian Fest later wrote, "an intelligence that included above all
a sure sense of the rhythm to be observed in the making of decisions."
Hitler, von Hinderburg, and von Papen, in the Garrison church at the solemn "Day
of Potsdam" ceremony.
At first, Hitler carefully cultivated Hindenburg, the elderly First World War
Feldmarschall who was fond of tradition. Accordingly, Hitler arranged a solemn
ceremony in Hindenburg's honor in Potsdam, historic residence of the Prussian
kings. This masterpiece of majesty, beauty, tradition and piety took place in
Potsdam's Garrison Church on March 21, 1933, just days before the Reichstag was
Hindenburg had served as an army officer for half a century. So that the old
soldier might be reunited with his comrades, Hitler had arranged for veterans
from all the wars in which Hindenburg had served to be present on this solemn
occasion. From all around the country they came: veterans from the
Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 (62 years before), from the war of 1866 against
the Austrian empire (67 years before), and even from the war of 1864 against
Denmark (69 years before!). For someone on the retirement list of 1911, it must
have been a heartwarming occasion to be reunited again with comrades from so
With deference and apparent humility, and attired in formal dress for the
occasion, Hitler bowed his head before the old man. In the stately church where
the ceremony took place, Hitler had arranged that the chair of the former
Kaiser, Wilhelm II, which had been unoccupied for 14 years, remained empty, so
that Hindenburg could halt before it and make his salute, his marshal's baton
raised, as if the monarch were still there.
Hitler also quietly led Hindenburg down into the church crypt, to place wreaths
on the tombs of his old master, Kaiser Wilhelm I, and of Frederick the Great.
The President's old eyes were rimmed with tears.
On that 21st day of March at Potsdam, the octogenarian President relived the
glorious past of the German monarchy. This somber homage was his hour supreme.
Hindenburg had always been a loyal servant of the Emperor, and this reminder of
his former sovereign, and of the great days of his own long career, deeply moved
him. Hitler was the first chancellor since the defeat of 1918 to so honor the
tradition of Prussia and Germany. The young revolutionary chancellor had touched
A month and a half earlier, Hindenburg had commissioned Papen, Hugenberg, and
Neurath and other conservative ministers to pinch in Hitler "until he hollered."
Now that was over. Hitler had won him over: in front of an empty armchair and
before the tombs of Prussia's greatest kings.
A year and a half later, as he lay dying, the old Feldmarschall would believe
that he was back in the time of Hohenzollern dynasty, and in his delirium would
address Hitler as "Majesty."
This "Day of Potsdam" ceremony also won Hitler new support from among the
country's many monarchists, giving them the impression that he has not
altogether insensitive to the idea of restoring the monarchy. But the new
chancellor's temporary prudence was calculated with precision.
"There is no need to destroy the existing institutions," Hitler assured, "until
there is something better to put in their place."
He still had need of men like von Papen and other ruling-class troglodytes. He
kept them at his side as he drove them around Potsdam on that historic day, the
festive city bedecked not only with swastika banners but equally with the
black-white-and-red flags of the Second Reich, resurrected for the occasion.
Brass bands paraded around, blaring heroic marches calculated to make their old
chests swell. Here too, the scarcely camouflaged aversion to the parvenu was
softened. Hitler had tamed the aristocrats, both born and moneyed. They would no
longer stand in his way.
But it was above all Germany's army -- the Reichswehr -- that was the object of
Hitler's most ardent courtship. In 1933, he desperately needed the army's
support. The generals had tolerated his rise to power with reluctance. A
corporal in the chancellery seemed intolerable to the haughty, monocled
generals. Some ambitiously sought to supervise the nation's political machinery.
They had not been consulted when Hitler was named Chancellor on January 30. The
old Feldmarschall had even sternly sent away General von Hammerstein-Equord, who
had come to tell Hindenburg of the General Staff's vote of disapproval. In the
weeks since, the generals had barely tolerated the young outsider.
Keenly aware that a coup d'état by this proud military caste could instantly
sweep him and his party away, along with all his plans for the future, Hitler
knew that he must proceed cleverly against the imperious generals. The
Reichswehr was therefore accorded a position of honor at Potsdam. At the entry
walkway to the royal palace, Reichswehr troops presented arms on one side, while
a line of SA stormtroopers faced them on the other side. Unifying conservative
military traditions of duty and honor with a revolutionary new force, together
they formed the honor guard that symbolized a Germany restored to harmony.
The young Chancellor greets the aging President at the "Day of Potsdam"
ceremony, March 21, 1933.
As for the generals, their tunics gleaming with decorations and their chests
thrown out, they once again marched behind their old commander, a heroic retinue
worthy of a great Germanic chieftain. At last, after fourteen years of disregard
under the democratic Weimar Republic, they once again bathed in the golden light
of martial glory. Corporal Hitler was perhaps not as contemptible as they had
The ex-corporal, standing at attention in top hat and formal dress suit, let
them have their day of glory at Potsdam. He knew enough to let them bask in the
Hitler had won his armistice.
To reach the people, Hitler and Dr. Goebbels had quickly taken control of the
nation's radio, from which they had for so long been barred (and which their
adversaries had put to only mediocre use). Within a few weeks, they had
succeeded in making radio their most effective tool. Each of Hitler's major
speeches was broadcast to the nation with a hitherto unknown power.
Radio also brought the spectacle of Potsdam to the people. Goebbels set up his
microphones everywhere: in front of Hindenburg, behind Hindenburg, in the royal
crypt, close to the military bands, and even on the rooftops of houses (where
the announcers risked their necks to cover the pageantry). One of them was a
young National Socialist Reichstag deputy named Baldur von Schirach, who in 1946
would find himself in the dock before the vengeful Allied judges of the
All of Germany was on the edge of its seat as it listened for hours to the
exciting coverage of the event. Millions of Germans thrilled to once again hear
the stirring old melodies, and to closely follow Hindenburg's every move, almost
as if they were there.
During the dark days of the recent past, the venerated old warrior had
represented tradition and hope. Now, thanks to Hitler's careful planning and
management of this occasion, the ancient soldier embodied the promise of great
national renewal. It was, as historian Fest has observed, "the feast of
reconciliation gorgeously presented ... That day at Potsdam truly proved to be a
turning point in history ... Many government officials, army officers, lawyers
and judges, many members of the nationalistic bourgeoisie who had distrusted
Hitler on rational grounds, abandoned their stand ... " (J. Fest, Hitler, New
York: 1974, p. 405.)
Potsdam was a grandiose theatrical stage on which all had played their parts,
even -- by their very absence -- the lukewarm and Hitler's enemies on the left.
Glued to their radio sets, all Germany had participated in the spectacle, at
first fascinated, and then caught up in the emotion of the event. The next day,
Berlin newspapers declared: "National enthusiasm swept over Germany yesterday
like a great storm."
"A strange mixture of tactician and visionary," Joachim Fest would later write,
sizing up this extraordinary stage manager. For Hitler had led field marshals,
generals, and other dignitaries, none of them fools, through his drill paces as
though they had been so many animated tin soldiers. But Hitler's plans extended
far beyond winning over the Old Guard.
In order to establish his new state in definitive form, Hitler now proposed to
obtain the official ratification of the Reichstag, which would establish his
authority to govern as a virtual dictator for a period of several years.
To gain such plenary powers lawfully, the German constitution had to be amended,
and this would require approval by two thirds of the parliament's members.
Hitler's party, having won 17,300,000 votes in the elections of March 5, 1933,
for the new Reichstag, held a total of 288 seats - making it by far the largest
single party. His conservative ally in the temporary partnership, Hugenberg's
German National People's Party (DNVP), had captured 4,750,000 votes and held
another 52 seats, giving the coalition a total of 340 deputies.
After deducting the 81 "empty" Communist seats, the opposition now mustered just
226 members: 120 Social Democrats, 92 (Catholic) Center and BVP deputies, and 14
Although his coalition held a majority of seats, to alter the constitution
Hitler needed a two thirds majority -- which meant 36 additional votes.
At first sight, this goal seemed almost impossible. For more than a decade, the
Catholic Center and Bavarian People's parties had been outspoken critics of
Hitler and his National Socialist movement, unhesitatingly using religion as a
partisan political weapon, and even denying religious burial to Catholic
National Socialists murdered by Communist killers.
Hitler, with the assistance of Göring (who was now president of the new
Reichstag), would now have to win over that clerical flock. Center party leader
Monsignor Kaas, a squat and pudgy prelate who found the collecting of votes to
be more satisfying than the guidance of souls, was flattered and courted by
Hitler, who dangled before him the promise of a rapprochement between the state
and the Catholic Church, an earnest promise that Hitler would make good on the
following summer. The beguiled prelate may have believed that he was going to
lead errant sheep back to the fold. In any case, Hitler succeeded in persuading
and seducing the Center party. Some deputies of the smaller opposition parties
When it came time to vote, Hitler was granted plenary powers with a sweeping
majority of 441 votes to 94: he had won not just two thirds, but 82.44 percent
of the assembly's votes. This "Enabling Act" granted Hitler for four years
virtually absolute authority over the legislative as well as the executive
affairs of the government.
The five paragraphs of this "Law for the Alleviation of the Misery of the People
and the Nation" were brief and to the point:
Laws may be promulgated by the Reich government apart from the procedures
provided for by the Constitution ...
Laws promulgated by the Reich government may deviate from the Constitution
provided they do not change the position of the Reichstag or of the Reichsrat.
The powers of the Reich President are not changed.
Laws promulgated by the Reich government will be prepared by the Chancellor and
published in the "Official Journal." Unless otherwise specified, they become
effective on the day following publication ...
Treaties concluded by the Reich with foreign states that concern matters of
national legislation do not require ratification by the legislative bodies. The
Reich government is empowered to issue the regulations necessary for their
This law becomes effective on the day of publication, and remains valid until
April 1, 1937. It also becomes invalid if the present government is replaced by
Berlin, March 24, 1933
Von Hindenburg, Hitler, Frick, von Neurath, Krosigk
Thus, a parliamentary democracy, exercising its constitutional powers, had
legally established an authoritarian national state. Next, a solution was needed
to problem of the horde of the competing regional, state and local parliaments,
jurisdictions and authorities. For the most part, these authorities were virtual
nullities, and there was no love lost between them. For fourteen years, though,
they had acted together whenever a opportunity presented itself to thwart the
central government in Berlin.
It was inconceivable that a strong government such as the one Hitler had just
established could function effectively with thousands of second-level
politicians carping and questioning his every move. Anyway, Germans had in fact
become sick and tired of the squandering of authority, the perpetual squabbling,
the pettiness, discord, and the anarchy for which, in the final analysis, it was
the people who paid.
"It is a fact," French historian Bénoist-Méchin later observed, "that the
unification of the states and the Reich answered one of the most profound
aspirations of the German people. They had enough of being torn apart by the
constant threats of secession of the provincial governments. For centuries they
had dreamed of being part of a single community." (Histoire de l'Armée
Allemande, vol. III, p. 117.)
It seemed a simple enough task, because public opinion demanded the abolition of
the administrative mess. But such a reform would necessarily bruise the vanity
of thousands and collide head-on with many local special interests.
A man who is a council president or a minister, even if only of a small state,
does not easily resign himself to being no more than a private citizen, to once
again becoming, let us say, a provincial lawyer scampering to the court house
with coattails flying. The 2,400 legislative deputies would also be bitter about
losing the good life they had come to know and expect. Gone the prestige, the
deference, the awards, the vacation trips at public expense, the discreet
gratuities! Who among us does not make a wry face when swallowing bitter
medicine? But it had to be, for Hitler had his eyes fixed on the national goal:
a unified nation.
That did not mean, of course, that in eliminating the regional administrations
Hitler had any desire to do away with the distinctive identities of the nation's
various provinces. On the contrary, he believed that a nation's life ought never
to be monopolized by its capital city, but should rather be nourished and
constantly renewed by the blooming of dozens of centers of culture in regions
rich in varied manners, mores and legacies of their past.
He believed that the nation was the harmonious conjunction of these profound and
original variations, and that a state conscious of its real powers ought to
promote such variety, not smother it.
The dispersion of political power had not favored such a variety, but had, on
the contrary, diminished it, depriving it of the cohesion a large community
brings. The Reich's 25 separate administrative entities, rivals of the central
government and often of each other, were a source of disorder. A nation must
consist of regions that know and esteem each other, and which gain mutual
enrichment from their interlinking, rather than each withdrawing into a culture
that is strangled by an exclusive and restrictive provincialism. And only a
strong central authority could insure the flowering of all the various regions
within a single collective entity. In sum, what Hitler intended was that each
region should bring its share of original culture to the totality of a German
Reich that had put an to so many fractious administrations.
From 1871 to 1933, Germany's various national governments had come up against
this obstacle of political particularism. Even so gifted a leader as Bismarck
had not been able to overcome this persistent problem. And now, where the
leaders of both the Second Reich and the Weimar Republic had failed, or had not
dared to take the risk, Hitler, in a few months, was going to convert this
long-standing division and discord into potent and effective unity.
Hitler had scarcely moved into his office overlooking the chancellery garden,
where squirrels cracked nuts in the trees and at times even leaped into the
building itself, when he drew up a law to unify the Reich's many lands.
The first of the states that would be made to toe the line was Bavaria, which up
to that point had been a bulwark of belligerent separatism and hidebound
Hitler's intentions were no sooner known than several Bavarian ministers devised
a plan to resurrect from retirement that old fogy, the ex-Prince Ruprecht, heir
to Bavaria's Wittelsbach throne, who in November 1923, then as an ordinary
private citizen, had, with a good deal of boasting, helped block Hitler's
ill-fated putsch. Now the new chancellor responded to their little plot with
sudden and crushing force, bringing the Bavarian state administration to heel in
a single night. The next morning, Lieutenant General von Epp was named Reich
Commissioner in Munich.
Thereafter, almost all the other regional states rapidly collapsed, like a house
The most difficult state to master was Prussia, an enormous bastion (a third of
Germany) stretching across the heart of the country. Prussia truly constituted a
state within the state, a special government. In 1931 its Socialist government
had held Reich Chancellor Brüning completely in check. His humiliating defeat
came notwithstanding their party's crushing defeat in the Prussian elections a
short time earlier at the hands of Hitler's candidates. Chancellor von Papen
found that he, too, had to come to grips with Prussia, which was nearly as
strong as the central government.
After he became Chancellor, Hitler was obliged for a time - because Hindenburg
demanded it -- to let von Papen remain as Reich Commissioner of Prussia; and it
was only with great effort on his part that Hitler managed to have Göring named
as von Papen's Minister of the Interior in Prussia. The autonomy of the Prussian
government, more than any other, had to be liquidated: otherwise, the central
government would remain subject at any moment to embarrassment and hindrance in
the city that was the capital of both Prussia and the Reich. The matter was
particularly delicate because von Papen, the aristocrat, had to remain as Reich
Commissioner of Prussia. To remove him would risk disapproval and even
countermeasures by President von Hindenburg.
Hitler at that point surpassed himself in versatility and guile. By dint of
flattery and persuasion, within a month von Papen let himself be gently shoved
out the door. Hitler all but dictated for him the text of his letter of
resignation of April 7, 1933, in which the Vice Chancellor acknowledged that the
Law on the Unification of the Lands of the Reich "was a legal edifice destined
to be of great historic importance in the development of the German Reich." He
further recognized that "the dualism existing between the Reich and Prussia" had
to come to an. In his letter he even compared Hitler to Prince Otto von
Although von Papen was being nudged out, Hitler soothed his wounded pride by
publicly declaring that he never would have been able to carry out the political
reunification of the Reich alone; that the great architect of the achievement
had been von Papen.
Without turning a hair, Hitler also wrote to Feldmarschall von Hindenburg:
In assuming the functions of Reich Commissioner in Prussia during the difficult
period following the 30th of January, Herr von Papen has deserved very great
credit for contributing so strongly to the working out of a strict coordination
between the policies of the Reich and those of the regional states. His
collaboration with the cabinet of the Reich, to which he will henceforth be able
to devote himself completely, will be of priceless assistance to me. The
feelings I have for him are such that I rejoice in having the benefit of his
cooperation, which will be of inestimable value to me.
For his part the aged field marshal responded to this small masterpiece of
hypocrisy with one of his own, this one addressed to von Papen:
Dear Herr von Papen,
I have just accepted your request that you be relieved of your duties as Reich
commissioner of Prussia. I take this opportunity to thank you, in the name of
the Reich and in my own name, for the eminent service you have rendered the
nation by eliminating the dualism existing between the Reich and Prussia, and by
imposing the idea of a common political direction of the Reich and the regional
states. I have learned with satisfaction that you will henceforth be able to
devote all your energies to the government of the Reich.
With feelings of sincere comradeship, I remain your devoted
von Hindenburg, President of the Reich
Ex-Chancellor von Papen thus lost the only effective power he still held.
Although he remained a member of the inner circle of Hitler's government (but
for how long?), he was now really little more than a willing stooge.
Hitler immediately named himself Statthalter of Prussia, and Göring as Minister
President, thus bringing the greatest German state under firm control.
One after another, the regional states were shorn of their sovereignty. The
process was staged like a ballet.
Act One: Regional parliamentary power is transferred smoothly to men who had
Act Two: Each man announces acceptance of the "Law of Unification."
Act Three: Each regional parliament proclaims the of its own state autonomy and
Act Four: In each region, Hitler appoints Reich Commissioner (or Statthalter),
who is charged with carrying out the Chancellor's political directives.
In the Grand Duchies of Baden and Saxony there were a few verbal skirmishes, but
these were quickly squelched. In the Free City of Hamburg (population a million
and a half), its leaders grumbled a bit for form's sake, but only a few hours of
negotiations were required to make them see the light. In just a few weeks, the
entire process was accomplished.
Making use of the sweeping powers granted him by the Reichstag's overwhelming
vote of approval on March 23, 1933, within a few months Hitler succeeded in
transforming the faltering Reich government into a formidable instrument of
action. Thanks to that mandate, and several special decrees signed by the
President, he was thus able constitutionally to eliminate the rival authorities
of numerous state governments and parliaments.
"It all went much faster than we had dared hope," Goebbels commented with
delight, and a shade of sarcasm.
Precisely one year after Hitler had become Chancellor, a "Law for the Rebuilding
of the Reich" spelled out the full extent of the change:
Representation of the regional states is abolished.
(a) The sovereign rights of the regional states are transferred to the
government of the Reich.
(b) The governments of the regional states are subject to the government of the
The governors [Statthalter] are subject to the authority of the Reich Minister
of the Interior.
The government of the Reich may modify the constitutional rights of the regional
The Minister of the Interior will issue the legal and administrative decrees
necessary for the implementation of this law.
This law will become effective on the day of its official publication.
Berlin, January 30, 1934
Von Hindenburg, Hitler, Frick
Bismarck, the "Iron Chancellor," could never have dreamed of political
reunification on such an authoritarian and hierarchical basis. But Hitler had
tried, and succeeded. Germany had now attained a level of concentrated power and
authority more profound than any ever achieved in her history. And it had all
been accomplished, moreover, by democratic means.
After 1945 the explanation that was routinely offered for all this was that the
Germans had lost their heads. Whatever the case, it is a historical fact that
they acted of their own free will. Far from being resigned, they were
enthusiastic. "For the first time since the last days of the monarchy,"
historian Joachim Fest has conceded, "the majority of the Germans now had the
feeling that they could identify with the state."
But what of the political parties?
Although Hitler had succeeded in transforming the tens of millions of Bavarians,
Saxons, Prussians and residents of Hamburg into citizens of one and the same
Reich, under a single national administration, and even though the anthill of
petty and more or less separatist states had been leveled, there still remained
in Germany the contentious and divisive political parties. They had been
discredited, to be sure, but the hearty ambitions of impenitent politicians
could reawaken to erode the foundations of the new state.
The party leaders were scarcely in a position to protest. On the preceding 23rd
of March they themselves had overwhelmingly approved the fateful "Enabling Act."
Now, with their wings clipped and their prerogatives taken away, they no longer
served any useful purpose. They were not merely superfluous, they had become an
How would Hitler get rid of them?
III. Liquidation of the
On the day in March when the deputies of the Weimar Republic voted to relinquish
their power, Hitler, standing before them in their own parliamentary bailiwick,
utterly poised in his brown shirt, did not spare them. "It is for you, gentlemen
of the Reichstag," he declared, "to decide between war and peace."
But how, one might ask, could they take up the fight now, when they had in fact
already given up the fight years earlier?
At this point, Hitler was no longer even willing to let the last recalcitrant
Reichstag deputies, the Social Democrats -- by now reduced to representing a
mere 17.55 percent of the nation's voters -- assume the martyred pose of a
persecuted fringe group.
"You talk about persecution!" he thundered in an impromptu response to an
address by the Social Democratic speaker. "I think that there are only a few of
us [in our party] here who did not have to suffer persecutions in prison from
your side ... You seem to have totally forgotten that for years our shirts were
ripped off our backs because you did not like the color . . . We have outgrown
"In those days," he scathingly continued, "our newspapers were banned and banned
and again banned, our meetings were forbidden, and we were forbidden to speak, I
was forbidden to speak, for years on. And now you say that criticism is
The shoe was now on the other foot.
"From now on we National Socialists will make it possible for the German worker
to attain what he is able to demand and insist on. We National Socialists will
be his intercessors. You, gentlemen, are no longer needed ... And don't confound
us with the bourgeois world. You think that your star may rise again. Gentlemen,
Germany's star will rise and yours will sink ... In the life of nations, that
which is rotten, old and feeble passes and does not return."
Finally, Hitler dismissed these bankrupt Socialists with the words: "I can only
tell you: I do not want your votes! Germany shall be free, but not through you!"
(Quoted in: J. Fest, Hitler, New York: 1974, p. 408 f.)
Within just half a year, Hitler would succeed in liquidating all these now passé
and essentially irrelevant political parties. Not just the Socialist Party,
already rejected by the people themselves, but all the other conniving party
politicians as well: the conservatives, a century behind the times, the myopic
nationalists, and the boastful Catholic centrists -- all of them agents and
collaborators in Germany's road to ruin between 1919 to 1933.
All of these parties had clearly lost their drive. That some voters still
supported them in early 1933, even after Hitler had become Chancellor, was
largely out of habit. Their impetus was gone. The parties of the Weimar system
had botched everything and let the nation go to ruin. Germany's collapse, her
six million unemployed, the widespread hunger, the demoralization of an entire
people: all this was their doing. Now that a strong leader with broad national
support had taken their place, what could they do? As Joachim Fest would later
write, they were "like a spider web with which one hoped to catch eagles."
Hitler's millions of followers had rediscovered the primal strength of rough,
uncitified man, of a time when men still had backbone. Theirs was a Dionysian
power, one that they would conserve for the great challenges to come: it
wouldn't be needed against the political parties. A mere shrug of the shoulders,
and those would fall apart.
It was fitting that the first to crumble was the Social Democratic party (SPD).
It went out with a whimper.
It had still shown some guts on March 23, when its Reichstag deputies refused to
vote Hitler plenary powers. After 1945 the Socialist party would glory in that
deed, while at the same time taking care not to add that less than two months
later, on May 17, the Social Democratic deputies decided to approve Hitler's
major address to the Reichstag on foreign policy. It was as if they felt
themselves swept along by the surge of popular support for Hitler, even within
the ranks of their own party. Along with the National Socialist deputies, they
voiced their approval for Hitler's policy.
From his perch as Reichstag president, Göring turned to glance at the turncoats,
and commented: "The world has seen that the German people are united where their
destiny is at stake."
Now that the Social Democratic leadership, which for so long had railed against
Hitler, decided to back him in the Reichstag, the party's rank and file could
hardly be expected to oppose him. That day marked the of the Social Democratic
party's credibility. Following the example of their own party leadership, the
large SPD electorate would, understandably, now also vote for Hitler.
After this act of capitulation, it was now child's play for Hitler to liquidate
the Social Democratic party. Four weeks later, on June 22, it was officially
dissolved. "No one," Fest has observed, "expected any show of resistance on the
part of the SPD." The party's initials could more fittingly have been RIP:
requiescat in pace.
The peace would be total. Apart from a few leftist members of the Reichstag who
went into exile and led isolated and unproductive lives abroad, the now former
Socialist deputies continued, each month, to pocket the pensions that Hitler had
allowed them. They walked about unmolested on the streets of Berlin. A number of
them, some with great success, even threw in their lot with the National
Gustav Noske, the lumberjack who became defense minister - and the most valiant
defender of the embattled republic in the tumultuous months immediately
following the collapse of 1918 - acknowledged honestly in 1944, when the Third
Reich was already rapidly breaking down, that the great majority of the German
people still remained true to Hitler because of the social renewal he had
brought to the working class.
After the "Reds," the "Whites" had their turn. Of the two dozen or so political
parties that existed in Germany in 1932-1933, a number of the smaller ones
quietly dissolved themselves without anyone even noticing their demise. They had
been created for no reason other than to aid the political ambitions of their
founders. But now, with no more Reichstag seats in sight, there was no further
point in trying to recruit voters.
The parties of the right, formerly important but now abandoned by their voters,
were conscious of the futility of expecting any further effort or money to
subsist artificially. Now lacking any popular support, one after another they,
too, voluntarily disbanded. The "German National People's Party," abandoned by
its bourgeois supporters, was the first to give up the ghost. A few days later,
on June 28, the "State Party" did the same. The "Bavarian People's Party" and
the "German People's Party" took the same step on July 4.
Of all the conservative mossbacks, the most difficult to get rid of was Alfred
Hugenberg, the media titan who was still a minister in Hitler's cabinet. Nazis
rather disrespectfully called him "the old porker in the beet patch." Hugenberg
ultimately lost his cabinet post because he overplayed the role of zealous
nationalist at a conference in London in June 1933, making a claim, premature to
say the least, for the return to Germany of her colonies, and calling for German
economic expansion into the Ukraine! Hitler regarded this as totally
inopportune, particularly at a time when he was making every effort to reassure
his skeptics and critics abroad. After this diplomatic blunder, Hugenberg had no
choice but to resign. Thus departed the once powerful capitalist who had vowed,
on January 30, to politically muzzle the newly named Chancellor.
His dismissal was a double success for Hitler: by disavowing an international
troublemaker, he reassured those outside the Germany who had been alarmed by
Hugenberg's ill-chosen statements; and he rid himself of a political liability
whose diplomatic gaffe had cost him whatever standing he had in von Hindenburg's
The last political factor to go was the clerico-bourgeois "Center" party.
Following its vote on March 23 to give Hitler plenary powers, the Center had
forfeited all credibility as an opposition party. Its following dwindled away in
indifference. After all, if Center leader Monsignor Kaas decided to side with
the Führer in the Reichstag, why shouldn't the party's rank and file do
Meanwhile, diplomatic negotiations with the Vatican on a concordat to regulate
relations between the German state and the Catholic church were close to a
favorable conclusion. In this effort, perhaps more than any other, Hitler
manifested patience, cunning, and tact. He needed political peace with the
Church, at least until, with the help of the hierarchy, he could count
completely on the support of Germany's many Catholics.
By voting for Hitler in the Reichstag, Center leader Kaas and his pious clerics
had unsuspectingly fallen into a trap. On July 5, 1933, they declared themselves
politically neutral and dissolved themselves as a party.
As a contemporary observer noted: "All the things being abolished no longer
concerned people very much." With regard to the rapid demise of the political
parties and the other political forces of both the right and left, Joachim Fest
aptly commented: "If anything could have demonstrated the sapped vitality of the
Weimar Republic, it was the ease with which the institutions that had sustained
it let themselves be overwhelmed." (Quoted in: J. Fest, Hitler, New York: 1974,
To abolish the political parties and swallow up their once vast networks of
voters took only a scant half year, and with little damage to life or limb.
Hitler had succeeded in winning over or at least neutralizing those who had so
recently reviled and jeered him. No one was more astonished at the rapidity with
which the political parties had succumbed than Hitler himself. "One would never
have thought so miserable a collapse possible," he remarked in July 1933, after
having thrown the last shovelful of dirt on the graves of the Weimar Republic's
once mighty parties.
(J. Fest, Hitler, p. 415.)
IV. Unification of the
Only one significant political factor still remained: the Marxist trade unions.
For many years they had represented one of the country's most potent forces.
Although nominally only an economic factor, they had also been a major political
factor, furnishing the Communists with their militants and the Social Democrats
with the bulk of their voters.
For fifteen years they had been a constant and fanatical pressure group,
stirring up turmoil in the streets and formulating ever greater demands. The
unions had long provided the Left with large amounts of money, funds that were
continually replenished by the contributions of millions of union members.
Here again, well before the collapse of party-ridden Weimar Republic,
disillusion with the unions had become widespread among the working masses. They
were starving. The hundreds of Socialist and Communist deputies stood idly by,
impotent to provide any meaningful help to the desperate proletariat.
Their leaders had no proposals to remedy, even partially, the great distress of
the people; no plans for large-scale public works, no industrial restructuring,
no search for markets abroad.
Moreover, they offered no energetic resistance to the pillaging by foreign
countries of the Reich's last financial resources: this a consequence of the
Treaty of Versailles that the German Socialists had voted to ratify in June of
1919, and which they had never since had the courage effectively to oppose.
The few palliative modifications that had been won, wrested with great
difficulty from the rapacious Allies, had been achieved by Gustav Stresemann,
the conservative foreign affairs minister. Although he enjoyed little or no
support, even from the politicians, Stresemann fought stubbornly, in spite of
faltering health, to liberate the Reich. Enduring fainting fits, and with a
goiter, growing ever more enormous, knotted around his neck like a boa
constrictor, Stresemann, even as he was dying, was the only Weimar leader who
had seriously attempted to pry away the foreign talons from the flesh of the
In 1930, 1931 and 1932, German workers had watched the disaster grow: the number
of unemployed rose from two million to three, to four, to five, then to six
million. At the same time, unemployment benefits fell lower and lower, finally
to disappear completely. Everywhere one saw dejection and privation: emaciated
mothers, children wasting away in sordid lodgings, and thousands of beggars in
long sad lines.
The failure, or incapacity, of the leftist leaders to act, not to mention their
insensitivity, had stupefied the working class. Of what use were such leaders
with their empty heads and empty hearts -- and, often enough, full pockets?
Well before January 30, thousands of workers had already joined up with Hitler's
dynamic formations, which were always hard at it where they were most needed.
Many joined the National Socialists when they went on strike. Hitler, himself a
former worker and a plain man like themselves, was determined to eliminate
unemployment root and branch. He wanted not merely to defend the laborer's right
to work, but to make his calling one of honor, to insure him respect and to
integrate him fully into a living community of all the Germans, who had been
divided class against class.
In January 1933, Hitler's victorious troops were already largely proletarian in
character, including numerous hard-fisted street brawlers, many unemployed, who
no longer counted economically or socially.
Meanwhile, membership in the Marxist labor unions had fallen off enormously:
among thirteen million socialist and Communist voters in 1932, no more than five
million were union members. Indifference and discouragement had reached such
levels that many members no longer paid their union dues. Many increasingly
dispirited Marxist leaders began to wonder if perhaps the millions of deserters
were the ones who saw things clearly. Soon they wouldn't wonder any longer.
Even before Hitler won Reichstag backing for his "Enabling Act," Germany's giant
labor union federation, the ADGB, had begun to rally to the National Socialist
cause. As historian Joachim Fest acknowledged: "On March 20, the labor
federation's executive committee addressed a kind of declaration of loyalty to
Hitler." (J. Fest, Hitler, p. 413.)
Hitler than took a bold and clever step. The unions had always clamored to have
the First of May recognized as a worker's holiday, but the Weimar Republic had
never acceded to their request. Hitler, never missing an opportunity, grasped
this one with both hands. He did more than grant this reasonable demand: he
proclaimed the First of May a national holiday.
Just as the Socialist party had gone from a vote in the Reichstag against Hitler
(March 23, 1933) to a vote of support (May 17, 1933), so did the union leaders
make a 180-degree turn within weeks. At one stroke, Hitler granted to the union
what they had vainly asked of every previous government: a holiday celebrated by
the entire nation. He announced that in order to honor Labor, he would organize
the biggest meeting in Germany's history on the First of May at Tempelhof
airfield in Berlin. Caught unprepared, but on the whole very pleased to take
advantage of the situation by throwing in their lot with National Socialism and,
what is more, to take part in a mass demonstration the like of which even
Marxist workers could scarcely imagine, the union leadership called upon their
leftist rank and file to join, with banners flying, the mass meetings held that
May Day across Germany, and to acclaim Hitler.
I myself attended the memorable meeting at the Tempelhof field in 1933. By nine
o'clock that morning, giant columns, some of workers, others of youth groups,
marching in cadence down the pavement of Berlin's great avenues, had started off
towards the airfield to which Hitler had called together all Germans. All
Germany would follow the rally as it was transmitted nationwide by radio.
By noon hundreds of thousands of workers -- Hitlerites and non-Hitlerites - were
massed on the vast field. The demonstrators observed impeccable order. Hundreds
of tables, quickly set up by the Party, provided the ever-increasing throngs
with sandwiches, sausages, and mugs of beer at cost, to refresh the new arrivals
after their march.
Everyone, of course, was standing, and would remain so for up to fourteen hours.
A fabulous speaker's platform stood out against the sky, three stories high,
flamboyant with huge flags, as impressive as a naval shipyard. As the hours went
by, thousands of prominent figures took their seats, including many members of
the foreign diplomatic corps. By the close of the day, a million and a half
spectators stretched to the outermost edges of the immense plain. Soldiers and
civilians mingled together. Fanfares sounded repeatedly. A political meeting no
longer, it had become a festival, a sort of fantastic Bruegelian kermess, where
middle-class burghers, generals and workers all met and fraternized as Germans
and as equals.
Night fell and Hitler appeared. His speaker's rostrum was indeed like the prow
of a giant ship. The hundreds of beacons which had illuminated the great sea of
humanity were now extinguished. Suddenly, Hitler burst forth from the dark, a
solitary figure, high in the air, lit by the dazzling glare of spotlights.
In the dark, a group of determined opponents could easily have heckled Hitler or
otherwise sabotaged the meeting. Perhaps a third of the onlookers had been
Socialists or Communists only three months previously. But not a single hostile
voice was raised during the entire ceremony. There was only universal
Ceremony is the right word for it. It was an almost magical rite. Hitler and
Goebbels had no equals in the arranging of dedicatory ceremonies of this sort.
First there were popular songs, then great Wagnerian hymns to grip the audience.
Germany has a passion for orchestral music, and Wagner taps the deepest and most
secret vein of the German soul, its romanticism, its inborn sense of the
powerful and the grand.
Meanwhile the hundreds of flags floated above the rostrum, redeemed from the
darkness by arrows of light.
Now Hitler strode to the rostrum. For those standing at the of the field, his
face must have appeared vanishingly small, but his words flooded instantaneously
across the acres of people in his audience.
A Latin audience would have preferred a voice less harsh, more delicately
expressive. But there was no doubt that Hitler spoke to the psyche of the German
Germans have rarely had the good fortune to experience the enchantment of the
spoken word. In Germany, the tone has always been set by ponderous speakers,
more fond of elephantine pedantry than oratorical passion. Hitler, as a speaker,
was a prodigy, the greatest orator of his century. He possessed, above all, what
the ordinary speaker lacks: a mysterious ability to project power.
A bit like a medium or sorcerer, he was seized, even transfixed, as he addressed
a crowd. It responded to Hitler's projection of power, radiating it back,
establishing, in the course of myriad exchanges, a current that both orator and
audience gave to and drew from equally. One had to personally experience him
speaking to understand this phenomenon.
This special gift is what lay at the basis of Hitler's ability to win over the
masses. His high-voltage, lightning-like projection transported and transformed
all who experienced it. Tens of millions were enlightened, riveted and inflamed
by the fire of his anger, irony, and passion.
By the time the cheering died away that May first evening, hundreds of thousands
of previously indifferent or even hostile workers who had come to Tempelhof at
the urging of their labor federation leaders were now won over. They had become
followers, like the SA stormtroopers whom so many there that evening had brawled
with in recent years.
The great human sea surged back from Tempelhof to Berlin. A million and a half
people had arrived in perfect order, and their departure was just as orderly. No
bottlenecks halted the cars and busses. For those of us who witnessed it, this
rigorous, yet joyful, discipline of a contented people was in itself a source of
wonder. Everything about the May Day mass meeting had come off as smoothly
The memory of that fabulous crowd thronging back to the center of Berlin will
never leave me. A great many were on foot. Their faces were now different faces,
as though they had been imbued with a strange and totally new spirit. The
non-Germans in the crowd were as if stunned, and no less impressed than Hitler's
The French ambassador, André François-Poncet, noted:
The foreigners on the speaker's platform as guests of honor were not alone in
carrying away the impression of a truly beautiful and wonderful public festival,
an impression that was created by the regime's genius for organization, by the
night time display of uniforms, by the play of lights, the rhythm of the music,
by the flags and the colorful fireworks; and they were not alone in thinking
that a breath of reconciliation and unity was passing over the Third Reich.
"It is our wish," Hitler had exclaimed, as though taking heaven as his witness,
"to get along together and to struggle together as brothers, so that at the hour
when we shall come before God, we might say to him: 'See, Lord, we have changed.
The German people are no longer a people ashamed, a people mean and cowardly and
divided. No, Lord! The German people have become strong in their spirit, in
their will, in their perseverance, in their acceptance of any sacrifice. Lord,
we remain faithful to Thee! Bless our struggle!" (A. François-Poncet, Souvenirs
d'une ambassade à Berlin, p. 128.)
Who else could have made such an incantatory appeal without making himself look
No politician had ever spoken of the rights of workers with such faith and such
force, or had laid out in such clear terms the social plan he pledged to carry
out on behalf of the common people.
The next day, the newspaper of the proletarian left, the "Union Journal,"
reported on this mass meeting at which at least two thirds -- a million -- of
those attending were workers. "This May First was victory day," the paper summed
With the workers thus won over, what further need was there for the thousands of
labor union locals that for so long had poisoned the social life of the Reich
and which, in any case, had accomplished nothing of a lasting, positive nature?
Within hours of the conclusion of that "victory" meeting at the Tempelhof field,
the National Socialists were able to peacefully take complete control of
Germany's entire labor union organization, including all its buildings,
enterprises and banks. An era of Marxist obstruction abruptly came to an : from
now on, a single national organization would embody the collective will and
interests of all of Germany's workers.
Although he was now well on his way to creating what he pledged would be a true
"government of the people," Hitler also realized that great obstacles remained.
For one thing, the Communist rulers in Moscow had not dropped their guard -- or
their guns. Restoring the nation would take more than words and promises, it
would take solid achievements. Only then would the enthusiasm shown by the
working class at the May First mass meeting be an expression of lasting victory.
How could Hitler solve the great problem that had defied solution by everyone
else (both in Germany and abroad): putting millions of unemployed back to work?
What would Hitler do about wages? Working hours? Leisure time? Housing? How
would he succeed in winning, at long last, respect for the rights and dignity of
How could men's lives be improved -- materially, morally, and, one might even
say, spiritually? How would he proceed to build a new society fit for human
beings, free of the inertia, injustices and prejudices of the past?
"National Socialism," Hitler had declared at the outset, "has its mission and
its hour; it is not just a passing movement but a phase of history."
The instruments of real power now in his hands -- an authoritarian state, its
provinces subordinate but nonetheless organic parts of the national whole --
Hitler had acted quickly to shake himself free of the last constraints of the
impotent sectarian political parties. Moreover, he was now able to direct a
cohesive labor force that was no longer split into a thousand rivulets but
flowed as a single, mighty current.
Hitler was self-confident, sure of the power of his own conviction. He had no
intention, or need, to resort to the use of physical force. Instead, he intended
to win over, one by one, the millions of Germans who were still his adversaries,
and even those who still hated him.
His conquest of Germany had taken years of careful planning and hard work.
Similarly, he would now realize his carefully worked out plans for transforming
the state and society. This meant not merely changes in administrative or
governmental structures, but far-reaching social programs.
He had once vowed: "The hour will come when the 15 million people who now hate
us will be solidly behind us and will acclaim with us the new revival we shall
create together." Eventually he would succeed in winning over even many of his
most refractory skeptics and adversaries.
His army of converts was already forming ranks. In a remarkable tribute,
historian Joachim Fest felt obliged to acknowledge unequivocally:
Hitler had moved rapidly from the status of a demagogue to that of a respected
statesman. The craving to join the ranks of the victors was spreading like an
epidemic, and the shrunken minority of those who resisted the urge were being
visibly pushed into isolation -- The past was dead. The future, it seemed,
belonged to the regime, which had more and more followers, which was being
hailed everywhere and suddenly had sound reasons on its side.
And even the prominent leftist writer Kurt Tucholsky, sensing the direction of
the inexorable tide that was sweeping Germany, vividly commented: "You don't go
railing against the ocean." (J. Fest, Hitler, pp. 415 f.)
"Our power," Hitler was now able to declare, "no longer belongs to any
territorial fraction of the Reich, nor to any single class of the nation, but to
the people in its totality."
Much still remained to be done, however. So far, Hitler had succeeded in
clearing the way of obstacles to his program. Now the time to build had arrived.
So many others had failed to tackle the many daunting problems that were now his
responsibility. Above all, the nation demanded a solution to the great problem
of unemployment. Could Hitler now succeed where others had so dismally failed?
V. Where To Find The
As he stood, silent and preoccupied, at his chancellery window on that January
evening, receiving the acclaim of the crowd, Hitler was seized with anxiety --
and not without reason.
In his memoirs, Dr. Hjalmar Schacht recalled: "I had the impression that he was
a man fairly crushed by the weight of the responsibility he was taking on --
That profound emotional upheaval of which I was a witness could not possibly
have been mere playacting: it betrayed true feelings." (H. Schacht, Mémoires
d'un magicien, vol. II, p. 52.)
Hitler, however, was a man capable of overcoming such anxieties. Although he
faced an agonizing national tragedy -- immense unemployment, general misery,
almost total industrial stagnation -- which no other politician had been able
even to ameliorate, this youthful leader would take on this challenge with an
extraordinary sense of purpose and will.
Hitler had no sooner been voted plenary powers than he rolled up his
shirt-sleeves, and begun to carry out his well-laid plans.
Unlike the other responsible -- or irresponsible -- politicians of
twentieth-century Europe, Hitler did not believe that fighting for his country's
economic health meant having to impassively accept one setback after another,
stand idly by while industries died, or look on as millions of unemployed
workers tramped the streets.
In those days, the only solution to these problems that was accepted by
politicians and economists in the democracies was to drastically cut spending,
both governmental and private. Belt-tightening was the agreed-upon remedy.
Thus, Germany's leaders prior to Hitler had cut salaries by 25 percent, limited
payment of unemployment benefits to six months, and reduced total private
investment by five sixths. The country's standard of living had collapsed like a
deflated balloon. At the end of six months the unemployed obviously had not
found new jobs. To the contrary, they were joined by long lines of new
unemployed. Deprived of all means of subsistence, they gravitated to the welfare
People spent less and less, with the inevitable consequence that industries
producing consumer goods closed their doors, one after another, for lack of
orders, thereby sending thousands more unemployed into the streets. In 1932,
Germany's industries were languishing, their production reduced by half.
Yearly private investment had fallen from three billion marks to barely 500
million. No new blood had been injected into the industrial system, no
workplaces modernized. The economy stagnated.
The government not only lacked any new initiatives, it was almost bankrupt.
Fiscal receipts had fallen to ten billion marks, of which the meager and
short-term unemployment benefits alone absorbed two thirds.
Germany couldn't wait for a business upswing to get the economy moving again. As
Hitler had long understood, the government had to bring economic renewal by bold
action and imaginative enterprise.
Unemployment could be combated and eliminated only by giving industry the
financial means to start up anew, to modernize, thus creating millions of new
The normal rate of consumption would not be restored, let alone increased,
unless one first raised the starvation-level allowances that were making
purchases of any kind a virtual impossibility. On the contrary, production and
sales would have to be restored before the six million unemployed could once
again become purchasers.
The great economic depression could be overcome only by re-stimulating industry,
by bringing industry into step with the times, and by promoting the development
of new products.
Because Germany had no petroleum, for example, the production of synthetic
gasoline (from coal) should be encouraged as much as possible. The technique was
already known, but it needed to be applied. Similarly, Germany was able to
produce an artificial substitute for rubber, "Buna." But the plans for its
development and production were still stored away in file cabinets. Only a small
percentage of practical new inventions ever left the records files.
Great public works projects were another way to create new jobs, stimulate
industrial activity, and revive the economy. For one thing, Germany's mediocre
roads needed vast improvement. Moreover, the demands of the time called for the
construction of a national network of modern highways. Radiating thousands of
kilometers, these great concrete lifelines would encourage increased commerce
and communication among the Reich's many regions.
New highways would also encourage increased automobile production. Considering
the potential, Germany was still quite backward in automobile production. It
manufactured only one-fifth as many cars as France.
Nearly ten years earlier, while in his prison cell, Hitler had already
envisioned a formidable system of national highways. He had also conceived of a
small, easily affordable automobile (later known as the "Volkswagen"), and had
even suggested its outline. It should have the shape of a June bug, he proposed.
Nature itself suggested the car's aerodynamic line.
Until Hitler came to power, a car was the privilege of the rich. It was not
financially within the reach of the middle class, much less of the worker. The
"Volkswagen," costing one-tenth as much as the standard automobile of earlier
years, would eventually become a popular work vehicle and a source of pleasure
after work: a way to unwind and get some fresh air, and of discovering, thanks
to the new Autobahn highway network, a magnificent country that then, in its
totality, was virtually unknown to the German worker.
From the beginning, Hitler wanted this economical new car to be built for the
millions. The production works would also become one of Germany's most important
industrial centers and employers.
During his imprisonment, Hitler had also drawn up plans for the construction of
popular housing developments and majestic public buildings.
Some of Hitler's rough sketches still survive. They include groups of individual
worker's houses with their own gardens (which were to be built in the hundreds
of thousands), a plan for a covered stadium in Berlin, and a vast congress hall,
unlike any other in the world, that would symbolize the grandeur of the National
"A building with a monumental dome," historian Werner Maser has explained, "the
plan of which he drew while he was writing Mein Kampf, would have a span of 46
meters, a height of 220 meters, a diameter of 250 meters, and a capacity of 150
to 190 thousand people standing. The interior of the building would have been 17
times larger than Saint Peter's Cathedral in Rome." (W. Maser, Hitler, Adolf, p.
"That hall," architect Albert Speer has pointed out, "was not just an idle dream
impossible of achievement."
Hitler's imagination, therefore, had long been teeming with a number of
ambitious projects, many of which would eventually be realized.
Fortunately, the needed entrepreneurs, managers and technicians were on hand.
Hitler would not have to improvise.
Historian Werner Maser, although quite anti-Hitler -- like nearly all of his
colleagues (how else would they have found publishers?) - has acknowledged:
"From the beginning of his political career, he [Hitler] took great pains
systematically to arrange for whatever he was going to need in order to carry
out his plans."
"Hitler was distinguished," Maser has also noted, "by an exceptional
intelligence in technical matters." Hitler had acquired his knowledge by
devoting many thousands of hours to technical studies from the time of his
"Hitler read an endless number of books," explained Dr. Schacht. "He acquired a
very considerable amount of knowledge and made masterful use of it in
discussions and speeches. In certain respects he was a man endowed with genius.
He had ideas that no one else would ever have thought of, ideas that resulted in
the ending of great difficulties, sometimes by measures of an astonishing
simplicity or brutality."
Many billions of marks would be needed to begin the great socioeconomic
revolution that was destined, as Hitler had always intended, to make Germany
once again the European leader in industry and commerce and, most urgently, to
rapidly wipe out unemployment in Germany. Where would the money be found? And,
once obtained, how would these funds be allotted to ensure maximum effectiveness
in their investment?
Hitler was by no means a dictator in matters of the economy. He was, rather, a
stimulator. His government would undertake to do only that which private
initiative could not.
Hitler believed in the importance of individual creative imagination and
dynamism, in the need for every person of superior ability and skill to assume
He also recognized the importance of the profit motive. Deprived of the prospect
of having his efforts rewarded, the person of ability often refrains from
running risks. The economic failure of Communism has demonstrated this. In the
absence of personal incentives and the opportunity for real individual
initiative, the Soviet "command economy" lagged in all but a few fields, its
industry years behind its competitors.
State monopoly tolls the death of all initiative, and hence of all progress.
For all men selflessly to pool their wealth might be marvelous, but it is also
contrary to human nature. Nearly every man desires that his labor shall improve
his own condition and that of his family, and feels that his brain, creative
imagination, and persistence well deserve their reward.
Because it disregarded these basic psychological truths, Soviet Communism, right
to the end, wallowed in economic mediocrity, in spite of its immense reservoir
of manpower, its technical expertise, and its abundant natural resources, all of
which ought to have made it an industrial and technological giant.
Hitler was always adverse to the idea of state management of the economy. He
believed in elites. "A single idea of genius," he used to say, "has more value
than a lifetime of conscientious labor in an office."
Just as there are political or intellectual elites, so also is there an
industrial elite. A manufacturer of great ability should not be restrained,
hunted down by the internal revenue services like a criminal, or be
unappreciated by the public. On the contrary, it is important for economic
development that the industrialist be encouraged morally and materially, as much
The most fruitful initiatives Hitler would take from 1933 on would be on behalf
of private enterprise. He would keep an eye on the quality of their directors,
to be sure, and would shunt aside incompetents, quite a few of them at times,
but he also supported the best ones, those with the keenest minds, the most
imaginative and bold, even if their political opinions did not always agree with
"There is no question," he stated very firmly, "of dismissing a factory owner or
director under the pretext that he is not a National Socialist."
Hitler would exercise the same moderation, the same pragmatism, in the
administrative as well as in the industrial sphere.
What he demanded of his co-workers, above all, was competence and effectiveness.
The great majority of Third Reich functionaries - some 80 percent -- were never
enrolled in the National Socialist party. Several of Hitler's ministers, like
Konstantin von Neurath and Schwerin von Krosigk, and ambassadors to such key
posts as Prague, Vienna and Ankara, were not members of the party. But they were
While Hitler kept a close eye on opportunists (such as Franz von Papen, who was
both intelligent and clever) he knew how to make the best use of such men, and
to honor them and recognize their achievements.
Similarly, he did not hesitate to keep on competent bureaucrats chosen by his
predecessors. A good example was Dr. Otto Meissner, who had headed the
presidential chancellery under the socialist Ebert and the conservative von
Hindenburg, and who had done everything in his power, up to the last minute, to
torpedo Hitler's accession to power. But Meissner knew his work, and Hitler
wisely kept him on the job. Hitler treated him with respect and confidence, and
Meissner served the the Föhrer faithfully and efficiently for twelve years.
Perhaps the most remarkable such case is that of Dr. Hjalmar Schacht, the most
discerning and competent of Germany's financiers in 1933. A Hitler supporter? By
no means! Schacht never was and never would be a supporter of anyone but
himself. But he was the best in the business: for getting the Reich's economy
moving again, he had no equal.
Ten years earlier, at the of 1923, Schacht had financially rescued the Weimar
Republic by helping to invent the "Rentenmark." He was shrewd and imaginative,
and thus capable of understanding and implementing the boldest of Hitler's
Schacht's personal ambition was immense, but this was yet another reason for
Hitler to give him every possibility to rise as high as he could. Within weeks
of taking power, Hitler appointed him President of the Reichsbank, and then, a
year later, as Economics Minister as well. Schacht couldn't be happier.
Dangerous? Of course! Doubly so, inasmuch as Schacht was a capitalist to the
core, with close ties to major foreign banking interests, not excluding Jewish
financiers in London and New York. Moreover, Schacht cared little for Hitler's
revolutionary program, which regarded labor as the true source of national
Hitler called on the brilliant Dr. Schacht to devise new ways of acquiring the
funds necessary for what he intended to accomplish. That was a great deal, but
it was all. The collaboration went no further: Schacht was never permitted to
intervene in political matters. When Schacht's financial formulas had served
their purpose, the collaboration would. Until he was dismissed as Reichsbank
president in 1939, Hitler made good use of his extraordinary talents. But
Schacht never forgave his dismissal, and would nurse a seething resentment.
Determined to conjure up billions of marks as quickly as possible, and by any
means available, in early February 1933 Hitler summoned Schacht's predecessor as
Reichsbank president, Dr. Hans Luther, to his office. Luther, who had been
appointed to his post in 1930 by a previous administration, had old-fashioned
views of extreme prudence in the management of state funds. Since the state's
coffers were nearly empty, he was all the more prudent. His detachable collar,
stiff as a calling card, proclaimed the rigidity of his principles. He belonged
to the old school of accountants who spend a dollar only when they have a
Hitler was well aware that this capable man was not happy to be presiding over a
central bank that lacked funds. It was not, however, to have Luther empty the
state treasury that Hitler had summoned him, but to ask him to devise new means
of financing Germany's recovery.
It was a question of imagination, but Luther's brain was not a volcano of new
ideas; it was a calculator.
"How much money," Hitler asked him, "can you put at my disposal for creating
jobs?" Luther Hesitated to respond immediately; his mental calculator began
functioning. After working out the calculations in his mind, he responded as
though speaking to the director of a large financial firm: "One hundred and
An eloquent answer, it showed just how completely Hitler's predecessors and
their colleagues were lacking in their understanding of the scope of the
resources that would be needed to save the Reich. One hundred and fifty million,
at a time when the German government was pouring a billion marks every three
months into unemployment benefits alone!
With a budget of 150 million marks, the German treasury would have been hard put
to spare even three or four marks a day to the five or six or seven million
unemployed over one short week.
Clearly, this question had never been put to Dr. Luther, and no Reich leader
before Hitler had ever troubled to learn how to go about raising the funds that
would be indispensable for carrying out a serious program to put Germany back to
Obviously, then, Dr. Luther was not the person to put Hitler's program into
effect. The new Chancellor then thought of Schacht, the sly old fox. He was
always good for a trick, and now Hitler needed some of his magic.
"Herr Schacht," he said, "we are assuredly in agreement on one point: no other
single task facing the government at the moment can be so truly urgent as
conquering unemployment. That will take a lot of money. Do you see any
possibility of finding it apart from the Reichsbank?" And after a moment, he
added: "How much would it take? Do you have any idea?"
Wishing to win Schacht over by appealing to his ambition, Hitler smiled and then
asked: "Would you be willing to once again assume presidency of the Reichsbank?"
Schacht let on that he had a sentimental concern for Dr. Luther, and did not
want to hurt the incumbent's feelings. Playing along, Hitler reassured Schacht
that he would find an appropriate new job elsewhere for Luther.
Schacht then pricked up his ears, drew himself up, and focused his big round
eyes on Hitler: "Well, if that's the way it is," he said, "then I am ready to
assume the presidency of the Reichsbank again."
His great dream was being realized. Schacht had been president of the Reichsbank
between 1923 and 1930, but had been dismissed. Now he would return in triumph.
He felt vindicated. Within weeks, the ingenious solution to Germany's pressing
financial woes would burst forth from his inventive brain.
"It was necessary," Schacht later explained, "to discover a method that would
avoid inflating the investment holdings of the Reichsbank immoderately and
consequently increasing the circulation of money excessively."
"Therefore," he went on, "I had to find some means of getting the sums that were
lying idle in pockets and banks, without meaning for it to be long term and
without having it undergo the risk of depreciation. That was the reasoning
behind the Mefo bonds."
What were these "Mefo" bonds? Mefo was a contraction of the Metallurgische
Forschungs-GmbH (Metallurgic Research Company). With a startup capitalization of
one billion marks - which Hitler and Schacht arranged to be provided by the four
giant firms of Krupp, Siemens, Deutsche Werke and Rheinmetall -- this company
would eventually promote many billions of marks worth of investment.
Enterprises, old and new, that filled government orders had only to draw drafts
on Mefo for the amounts due. These drafts, when presented to the Reichsbank,
were immediately convertible into cash. The success of the Mefo program depended
entirely on public acceptance of the Mefo bonds. But the wily Schacht had
planned well. Since Mefo bonds were short-term bonds that could be cashed in at
any time, there was no real risk in buying, accepting or holding them. They bore
an interest of four percent -- a quite acceptable figure in those days --
whereas banknotes hidden under the mattress earned nothing. The public quickly
took all this into consideration and eagerly accepted the bonds.
While the Reichsbank was able to offer from its own treasury a relatively
insignificant 150 million marks for Hitler's war on unemployment, in just four
years the German public subscribed more than 12 billion marks worth of Mefo
These billions, the fruit of the combined imagination, ingenuity and astuteness
of Hitler and Schacht, swept away the temporizing and fearful conservatism of
the bankers. Over the next four years, this enormous credit reserve would make
Soon after the initial billion-mark credit, Schacht added another credit of 600
million in order to finance the start of Hitler's grand program for highway
construction. This Autobahn program provided immediate work for 100,000 of the
unemployed, and eventually assured wages for some 500,000 workers.
As large as this outlay was, it was immediately offset by a corresponding
cutback in government unemployment benefits, and by the additional tax revenue
generated as a result of the increase in living standard (sping) of the newly
Within a few months, thanks to the credit created by the Mefo bonds, private
industry once again dared to assume risks and expand. Germans returned to work
by the hundreds of thousands.
Was Schacht solely responsible for this extraordinary turnaround? After the war,
he answered for himself as a Nuremberg Tribunal defendant, where he was charged
with having made possible the Reich's economic revival:
I don't think Hitler was reduced to begging for my help. If I had not served
him, he would have found other methods, other means. He was not a man to give
up. It's easy enough for you to say, Mr. Prosecutor, that I should have watched
Hitler die and not lifted a finger. But the entire working class would have died
Even Marxists recognized Hitler's success, and their own failure. In the June
1934 issue of the Zeitschrift für Sozialismus, the journal of the German Social
Democrats in exile, this acknowledgement appears:
Faced with the despair of proletarians reduced to joblessness, of young people
with diplomas and no future, of the middle classes of merchants and artisans
condemned to bankruptcy, and of farmers terribly threatened by the collapse in
agricultural prices, we all failed. We weren't capable of offering the masses
anything but speeches about the glory of socialism.
VI. The Social Revolution
Hitler's tremendous social achievement in putting Germany's six million
unemployed back to work is seldom acknowledged today. Although it was much more
than a transitory achievement, "democratic" historians routinely dismiss it in
just a few lines. Since 1945, not a single objective scholarly study has been
devoted to this highly significant, indeed unprecedented, historical phenomenon.
Similarly neglected is the body of sweeping reforms that dramatically changed
the condition of the worker in Germany. Factories were transformed from gloomy
caverns to spacious and healthy work centers, with natural lighting, surrounded
by gardens and playing fields. Hundreds of thousands of attractive houses were
built for working class families. A policy of several weeks of paid vacation was
introduced, along with week and holiday trips by land and sea. A wide-ranging
program of physical and cultural education for young workers was established,
with the world's best system of technical training. The Third Reich's social
security and workers' health insurance system was the world's most modern and
This remarkable record of social achievement is routinely hushed up today
because it is embarrasses those who uphold the orthodox view of the Third Reich.
Otherwise, readers might begin to think that perhaps Hitler was the greatest
social builder of the twentieth century.
Because Hitler's program of social reform was a crucially important - indeed,
essential -- part of his life work, a realization of this fact might induce
people to view Hitler with new eyes. Not surprisingly, therefore, all this is
passed over in silence. Most historians insist on treating Hitler and the Third
Reich simplistically, as part of a Manichaean morality play of good versus evil.
Nevertheless, restoring work and bread to millions of unemployed who had been
living in misery for years; restructuring industrial life; conceiving and
establishing an organization for the effective defense and betterment of the
nation's millions of wage earners; creating a new bureaucracy and judicial
system that guaranteed the civic rights of each member of the national
community, while simultaneously holding each person to his or her
responsibilities as a German citizen: this organic body of reforms was part of a
single, comprehensive plan, which Hitler had conceived and worked out years
Without this plan, the nation would have collapsed into anarchy.
All-encompassing, this program included broad industrial recovery as well as
detailed attention to even construction of comfortable inns along the new
It took several years for a stable social structure to emerge from the French
Revolution. The Soviets needed even more time: five years after the Bolshevik
revolution of 1917, hundreds of thousands of Russians were still dying of hunger
and disease. In Germany, by contrast, the great machinery was in motion within
months, with organization and accomplishment quickly meshing together.
The single task of constructing a national highway system that was without
parallel in the world might have occupied a government for years. First, the
problem had to be studied and assessed. Then, with due consideration for the
needs of the population and the economy, the highway system had to be carefully
planned it all its particulars.
As usual, Hitler had been remarkably farsighted. The concrete highways would be
24 meters in width. They would be spanned by hundreds of bridges and overpasses.
To make sure that the entire Autobahn network would be in harmony with the
landscape, a great deal of natural rock would be utilized. The artistically
planned roadways would come together and diverge as if they were large-scale
works of art. The necessary service stations and motor inns would be
thoughtfully integrated into the overall scheme, each facility built in harmony
with the local landscape and architectural style.
The original plan called for 7,000 kilometers of roadway. This projection would
later be increased to 10,000, and then, after Austria was reunited with Germany,
to 11,000 kilometers.
The financial boldness equaled the technical vision. These expressways were toll
free, which seemed foolhardy to conservative financiers. But the savings in time
and labor, and the dramatic increase in traffic, brought increased tax revenues,
notably from gasoline.
Germany was thus building for herself not only a vast highway network, but an
avenue to economic prosperity.
These greatly expanded transport facilities encouraged the development of
hundreds of new business enterprises along the new expressways. By eliminating
congestion on secondary roads, the new highways stimulated travel by hundreds of
thousands of tourists, and with it increased tourism commerce.
Even the wages paid out to the men who built the Reichsautobahn network brought
considerable indirect benefits. First, they allowed a drastic cut in payments of
unemployment benefits, or 25 percent of the total paid in wages. Second, the
many workers employed in constructing the expressways -- 100,000, and later
150,000 - spent much of the additional 75 percent, which in turn generated
increased tax revenues.
Imagine the problems, even before the first road was opened for traffic, posed
by the mobilization of so many tens of thousands set to work in often
uninhabited regions, in marshy areas, or in the shadows of Alpine peaks! It's
hard enough for 150,000 men to leave their homes and camp out in often rough
terrain. But in addition, it was necessary, from the outset, to insure tolerable
living conditions for the columns of men who had agreed to work by the sweat of
their brows under the open sky.
In France, it was all but unthinkable in those days for a man out of work to
move even 20 kilometers away to search for a new job. He was practically glued
to his native village, his garden, and the corner cafe. The Germans were
fundamentally no different, but by 1933 they were fed up with their enforced
idleness. By pouring concrete, using a pick, or whatever it took, this
hard-pressed people would bring dignity back in their lives.
No one balked at the inconvenience, the absence from home, or the long journey.
The will to live a productive and meaningful life outweighed all other
To keep up the worker's morale and spirit, lest he feel isolated or that he was
merely being exploited, no effort was spared to provide material comfort,
entertainment and instruction. The world had never before seen its like in any
great construction project. At last, workers felt they were being treated like
respected human beings who had bodies to be satisfied, hearts to be comforted,
and brains to be enlightened.
Camp sites, supply bases, and recreation facilities were systematically set up,
with everything moving forward methodically as the construction advanced.
Fourteen mobile crews that provided motion picture entertainment traveled along,
moving from one construction site to the next. And always and everywhere, labor
was honored and celebrated.
Hitler personally dug the first spade-full of earth for the first Autobahn
highway, linking Frankfurt-am-Main with Darmstadt. For the occasion, he brought
along Dr. Schacht, the man whose visionary credit wizardry had made the project
possible. The official procession moved ahead, three cars abreast in front, then
six across, spanning the entire width of the autobahn.
The Second World War would abruptly halt work on this great construction
undertaking. But what was envisioned and created remains as a deathless
testimony to a man and an era.
Hitler's plan to build
thousands of low-cost homes also demanded a vast mobilization of manpower. He
had envisioned housing that would be attractive, cozy, and affordable for
millions of ordinary German working-class families. He had no intention of
continuing to tolerate, as his predecessors had, cramped, ugly "rabbit warren"
housing for the German people. The great barracks-like housing projects on the
outskirts of factory towns, packed with cramped families, disgusted him.
The greater part of the houses he would build were single story, detached
dwellings, with small yards where children could romp, wives could grow
vegetable and flower gardens, while the bread-winners could read their
newspapers in peace after the day's work. These single-family homes were built
to conform to the architectural styles of the various German regions, retaining
as much as possible the charming local variants.
Wherever there was no practical alternative to building large apartment
complexes, Hitler saw to it that the individual apartments were spacious, airy
and enhanced by surrounding lawns and gardens where the children could play
The new housing was, of course, built in conformity with the highest standards
of public health, a consideration notoriously neglected in previous
Generous loans, amortizable in ten years, were granted to newly married couples
so they could buy their own homes. At the birth of each child, a fourth of the
debt was cancelled. Four children, at the normal rate of a new arrival every two
and a half years, sufficed to cancel the entire loan debt.
Once, during a conversation with Hitler, I expressed my astonishment at this
policy. "But then, you never get back the total amount of your loans?," I asked.
"How so?" he replied, smiling. "Over a period of ten years, a family with four
children brings in much more than our loans, through the taxes levied on a
hundred different items of consumption."
As it happened, tax revenues increased every year, in proportion to the rise in
expenditures for Hitler's social programs. In just a few years, revenue from
taxes tripled. Hitler's Germany never experienced a financial crisis.
To stimulate the moribund economy demanded the nerve, which Hitler had, to
invest money that the government didn't yet have, rather than passively waiting
-- in accordance with "sound" financial principles -- for the economy to revive
Today, our whole era is dying economically because we have succumbed to fearful
hesitation. Enrichment follows investment, not the other way around.
Since Hitler, only Ronald Reagan has seemed to understand this. As President, he
realized that to restore prosperity in the United States meant boldly
stimulating the economy with credits and a drastic reduction in taxes, instead
of waiting for the country to emerge from economic stagnation on its own.
Even before the year 1933 had ended, Hitler had succeeded in building 202,119
housing units. Within four years he would provide the German people with nearly
a million and a half (1,458,128) new dwellings!
Moreover, workers would no longer be exploited as they had been. A month's rent
for a worker could not exceed 26 marks, or about an eighth of the average wage
then. Employees with more substantial salaries paid monthly rents of up to 45
Equally effective social measures were taken in behalf of farmers, who had the
lowest incomes. In 1933 alone 17,611 new farm houses were built, each of them
surrounded by a parcel of land one thousand square meters in size. Within three
years, Hitler would build 91,000 such farmhouses. The rental for such dwellings
could not legally exceed a modest share of the farmer's income. This
unprecedented endowment of land and housing was only one feature of a revolution
that soon dramatically improved the living standards of the Reich's rural
The great work of national construction rolled along. An additional 100,000
workers quickly found employment in repairing the nation's secondary roads. Many
more were hired to work on canals, dams, drainage and irrigation projects,
helping to make fertile some of nation's most barren regions.
Everywhere industry was hiring again, with some firms -- like Krupp, IG Farben
and the large automobile manufacturers -- taking on new workers on a very large
scale. As the country became more prosperous, car sales increased by more than
80,000 units in 1933 alone. Employment in the auto industry doubled. Germany was
gearing up for full production, with private industry leading the way.
The new government lavished every assistance on the private sector, the chief
factor in employment as well as production. Hitler almost immediately made
available 500 million marks in credits to private business.
This start-up assistance given to German industry would repay itself many times
over. Soon enough, another two billion marks would be loaned to the most
enterprising companies. Nearly half would go into new wages and salaries, saving
the treasury an estimated three hundred million marks in unemployment benefits.
Added to the hundreds of millions in tax receipts spurred by the business
recovery, the state quickly recovered its investment, and more.
Hitler's entire economic policy would be based on the following equation: risk
large sums to undertake great public works and to spur the renewal and
modernization of industry, then later recover the billions invested through
invisible and painless tax revenues. It didn't take long for Germany to see the
results of Hitler's recovery formula.
Economic recovery, as important as it was, nevertheless wasn't Hitler's only
objective. As he strived to restore full employment, Hitler never lost sight of
his goal of creating a organization powerful enough to stand up to capitalist
owners and managers, who had shown little concern for the health and welfare of
the entire national community.
Hitler would impose on everyone -- powerful boss and lowly wage earner alike --
his own concept of the organic social community. Only the loyal collaboration of
everyone could assure the prosperity of all classes and social groups.
Consistent with their doctrine, Germany's Marxist leaders had set class against
class, helping to bring the country to the brink of economic collapse. Deserting
their Marxist unions and political parties in droves, most workers had come to
realize that the less strikes and grievances their leaders incited only crippled
production, and thus the workers as well.
By the of 1932, in any case, the discredited labor unions were drowning in
massive debt that realistically could never be repaid. Some of the less
scrupulous union officials, sensing the oncoming catastrophe, had begun stealing
hundreds of thousands of marks from the workers they represented. The Marxist
leaders had failed: socially, financially and morally.
Every joint human activity requires a leader. The head of a factory or business
is also the person naturally responsible for it. He oversees every aspect of
production and work. In Hitler's Germany, the head of a business had to be both
a capable director and a person concerned for the social justice and welfare of
his employees. Under Hitler, many owners and managers who had proven to be
unjust, incompetent or recalcitrant lost their jobs, or their businesses.
A considerable number of legal guarantees protected the worker against any abuse
of authority at the workplace. Their purpose was to insure that the rights of
workers were respected, and that workers were treated as worthy collaborators,
not just as animated tools. Each industrialist was legally obliged to
collaborate with worker delegates in drafting shop regulations that were not
imposed from above but instead adapted to each business enterprise and its
particular working conditions. These regulations had to specify "the length of
the working day, the time and method of paying wages, and the safety rules, and
to be posted throughout the factory," within easy access of both the worker
whose interests might be angered and the owner or manager whose orders might be
The thousands of different, individual versions of such regulations served to
create a healthy rivalry, with every factory group vying to outdo the others in
efficiency and justice.
One of the first reforms to benefit German workers was the establishment of paid
vacations. In France, the leftist Popular Front government would noisily claim,
in 1936, to have originated legally mandated paid vacations -- and stingy ones
at that, only one week per year. But it was actually Hitler who first
established them, in 1933 -- and they were two or three times more generous.
Under Hitler, every factory employee had the legal right to paid vacation.
Previously, paid vacations had not normally exceed four or five days, and nearly
half of the younger workers had no vacation time at all. If anything, Hitler
favored younger workers; the youngest workers received more generous vacations.
This was humane and made sense: a young person has more need of rest and fresh
air to develop his maturing strength and vigor. Thus, they enjoyed a full 18
days of paid vacation per year.
Today, more than half a century later, these figures have been surpassed, but in
1933 they far exceeded European norms.
The standard vacation was twelve days. Then, from the age of 25 on, it went up
to 18 days. After ten years with the company, workers got a still longer
vacation: 21 days, or three times what the French socialists would grant the
workers of their country in 1936.
Hitler introduced the standard forty-hour work week in Europe. As for overtime
work, it was now compensated, as nowhere else in the continent at the time, at
an increased pay rate. And with the eight-hour work day now the norm, overtime
work became more readily available.
In another innovation, work breaks were made longer: two hours each day,
allowing greater opportunity for workers to relax, and to make use of the
playing fields that large industries were now required to provide.
Whereas a worker's right to job security had been virtually non-existent, now an
employee could no longer be dismissed at the sole discretion of the employer.
Hitler saw to it that workers' rights were spelled out and enforced. Henceforth,
an employer had to give four weeks notice before firing an employee, who then
had up to two months to appeal the dismissal. Dismissals could also be annulled
by the "Courts of Social Honor" (Ehrengerichte).
This Court was one of three great institutions that were established to protect
German workers. The others were the "Labor Commissions" and the "Council of
The "Council of Trust" (Vertrauensrat) was responsible for establishing and
developing a real spirit of community between management and labor. "In every
business enterprise," the 1934 "Labor Charter" law stipulated, "the employer and
head of the enterprise (Führer), the employees and workers, personnel of the
enterprise, shall work jointly toward the goal of the enterprise and the common
good of the nation."
No longer would either be exploited by the other -- neither the worker by
arbitrary whim of the employer, nor the employer through the blackmail of
strikes for political ends.
Article 35 of the "Labor Charter" law stated: "Every member of an enterprise
community shall assume the responsibility required by his position in said
common enterprise." In short, each enterprise would be headed by a dynamic
executive, charged with a sense of the greater community -- no longer a selfish
capitalist with unconditional, arbitrary power.
"The interest of the community may require that an incapable or unworthy
employer be relieved of his duties," the "Labor Charter" stipulated. The
employer was no longer unassailable, an all-powerful boss with the last word on
hiring and firing his staff. He, too, would be subject to the workplace
regulations, which he was now obliged to respect no less than the least of his
employees. The law conferred the honor and responsibility of authority on the
employer only insofar as he merited it.
Every business enterprise of twenty or more persons now acquired a "Council of
Trust" (Vertrauensrat), two to ten members of which were chosen from among the
staff by the chief executive. The law's implementation ordinance of March 10,
1934, further stated:
The staff shall be called upon to decide for or against the proposed list in a
secret vote, and all salaried employees, including apprentices of twenty-one
years of age or older, will take part in the vote. Voting is done by putting a
number before the names of the candidates in order of preference, or by striking
out certain names.
Unlike the enterprise councils (Betriebsräte) of pre-Hitler Germany, the Council
of Trust was no longer a tool of one class. Comprising members from all levels
of the enterprise, it was now an instrument of teamwork between classes. Obliged
to coordinate their interests, former adversaries in the workplace now
cooperated in establishing, by mutual consent, the regulations which determined
The Council has the duty to develop mutual trust within the enterprise. It will
advise on all measures serving to improve carrying out the work of the
enterprise, and on standards relating to general work conditions, in particular
those that concern measures ting to reinforce feelings of solidarity between the
members themselves and between the members and the enterprise, or ting to
improve the personal situation of the members of the enterprise community. The
Council also has the obligation to intervene to settle disputes. It must be
heard before the imposition of fines based on workshop regulations.
The law further required that, before assuming their duties, members of the Work
Council had to take an oath before all their fellow workers to "carry out their
duties only for the good of the enterprise and of all citizens, setting aside
any personal interest, and in their behavior and manner of living to serve as
model representatives of the enterprise."
Every 30th of April, on the eve of the great national holiday of labor, Council
terms ended and new elections were held. This helped to weed out incompetence,
overcome stagnation, and prevent arrogance or careerism on the part of Council
The business enterprise paid a salary to each Council member, just as if he were
employed in the office or on the shop floor, and had to "assume all costs
resulting from the regular fulfillment of the duties of the Council."
The second institution established to insure the orderly development of the new
German social system was the "Labor Commission" (Reichstreuhänder der Arbeit),
the members of which were essentially conciliators and arbitrators. They were
charged with dealing with and overcoming the inevitable frictions of the
workplace. It was their function to see to it that the Councils of Trust
functioned harmoniously and efficiently, and to ensure that a given business
enterprise's regulations were carried out to the letter.
Each of the thirteen Labor Commissions operated in its own district of the
Reich. As arbitrators, they were independent of owners and employees. Appointed
by the state, they represented rather the interests of everyone in the
enterprise, and the interests of the national community. To minimize arbitrary
or unfounded rulings, the Labor Commissions relied on the advice of a
"Consultative Council of Experts," consisting of 18 members selected from a
cross section of the economy in each territorial district. As a further
safeguard of impartiality, a third agency was superimposed on the Councils of
Trust and the thirteen Commissions: the Tribunals of Social Honor.
Through these institutions, the German worker, from 1933 on, could count on a
system of justice created especially for him, empowered to "adjudicate all grave
infractions of the social duties based on the enterprise community." Examples of
such "violations of social honor" were cases in which an employer, abusing his
power, mistreated his staff, or impugned the honor of his subordinates; in which
a staff member threatened the harmony of the workplace by spiteful agitation; or
in which a Council member misused or published confidential business information
discovered in the course of his work.
Thirteen "Courts of Social Honor," corresponding to the 13 Commissions, were
established. The presiding judge was not a party hack or ideologue; he was a
career jurist, above narrow interest. The enterprise concerned played a role in
the Tribunal's proceedings: two assistant judges, one representing management,
the other a member of the Council of Trust, assisted the presiding judge.
Each Court of Social Honor (Ehrengericht), like any other court of law, had the
means to enforce its decisions. There were nuances, though. In mild cases,
decisions might be limited to a reprimand. In more serious cases, the guilty
party could be fined up to 10,000 marks. Special sanctions, precisely adapted to
the circumstances, were provided for. These included mandatory change of
employment and dismissal of a chief executive, or his agent, who was found
delinquent in his duty. In the event of a contested decision, the finding could
be appealed to a Supreme Court in Berlin -- yet another level of protection.
In the Third Reich, the worker knew that "exploitation of his physical strength
in bad faith or in violation of his honor" was no longer tolerated. He had
obligations to the community, but he shared these obligations with every other
member of the enterprise, from the chief executive to the messenger boy.
Finally, the German worker had clearly defined social rights, which were
arbitrated and enforced by independent agencies. And while all this had been
achieved in an atmosphere of justice and moderation, it nevertheless constituted
a genuine social revolution.
By the of 1933, the first effects of Hitler's revolution in the workplace were
being felt. Germany had already come a long way from the time when grimy
bathrooms and squalid courtyards were the sole sanitary and recreational
facilities available to workers.
Factories and shops, large and small, were altered or transformed to conform to
the strictest standards of cleanliness and hygiene: interiors, so often dark and
stifling, were opened up to light; playing fields were constructed; rest areas
where workers could unbend during break, were set aside; employee cafeterias and
respectable locker rooms were opened. The larger industrial establishments, in
addition to providing the normally required conventional sports facilities, were
obliged to put in swimming pools!
In just three years, these achievements would reach unimagined heights: more
than two thousand factories refitted and beautified; 23,000 work premises
modernized; 800 buildings designed exclusively for meetings; 1,200 playing
fields; 13,000 sanitary facilities; 17,000 cafeterias.
To assure the healthy development of the working class, physical education
courses were instituted for younger workers. Some 8,000 were eventually
organized. Technical training was equally emphasized. Hundreds of work schools,
and thousands of technical courses were created. There were examinations for
professional competence, and competitions in which generous prizes were awarded
to outstanding masters of their craft.
Eight hundred departmental inspectors and 17,300 local inspectors were employed
to conscientiously monitor and promote these improvements.
To provide affordable vacations for German workers on a hitherto unprecedented
scale, Hitler established the "Strength through Joy" program. As a result,
hundreds of thousands of workers were now able to make relaxing vacation trips
on land and sea each summer. Magnificent cruise ships were built, and special
trains brought vacationers to the mountains and the seashore. In just a few
years, Germany's working-class tourists would log a distance equivalent to 54
times the circumference of the earth! And thanks to generous state subsidies,
the cost to workers of these popular vacation excursions was nearly
Were Hitler's reforms perfect? Doubtless there were flaws, blunders and
drawbacks. But what were a few inevitable mistakes beside the immense
Was Hitler's transformation of the lot of the working class authoritarian?
Without a doubt. And yet, for a people that had grown sick and tired of anarchy,
this new authoritarianism wasn't regarded as an imposition. In fact, people have
always accepted a strong man's leadership.
In any case, there is no doubt that the attitude of the German working class,
which was still two-thirds non-Nazi at the start of 1933, soon changed
completely. As Belgian author Marcel Laloire noted at the time:
When you make your way through the cities of Germany and go into the
working-class districts, go through the factories, the construction yards, you
are astonished to find so many workers on the job sporting the Hitler insignia,
to see so many flags with the swastika, black on a bright red background, in the
most densely populated districts.
Hitler's "German Labor Front" (Deutsche Arbeitsfront), which incorporated all
workers and employers, was for the most part eagerly accepted. The steel spades
of the sturdy young lads of the "National Labor Service" (Reichsarbeitsdienst)
could also be seen gleaming along the highways.
Hitler created the National Labor Service not only to alleviate unemployment,
but to bring together, in absolute equality, and in the same uniform, both the
sons of millionaires and the sons of the poorest families for several months'
common labor and living.
All performed the same work, all were subject to the same discipline; they
enjoyed the same pleasures and benefited from the same physical and moral
development. At the same construction sites and in the same barracks, Germans
became conscious of what they had in common, grew to understand one another, and
discarded their old prejudices of class and caste.
After a hitch in the National Labor Service, a young worker knew that the rich
man's son was not a pampered monster, while the young lad of wealthy family knew
that the worker's son had no less honor than a nobleman or an heir to riches;
they had lived and worked together as comrades. Social hatred was vanishing, and
a socially united people was being born.
Hitler could go into factories -- something few men of the so-called Right would
have risked in the past -- and hold forth to crowds of workers, at times in the
thousands, as at the huge Siemens works. "In contrast to the von Papens and
other country gentlemen," he might tell them, "in my youth I was a worker like
you. And in my heart of hearts, I have remained what I was then."
During his twelve years in power, no untoward incident ever occurred at any
factory he visited. Hitler was at home when he went among the people, and he was
received like a member of the family returning home after making a success of
But the Chancellor of the Third Reich wanted more than popular approval. He
wanted that approval to be freely, widely, and repeatedly expressed by popular
vote. No people was ever be more frequently asked for their electoral opinion
than the German people of that era -- five times in five years.
For Hitler, it was not enough that the people voted from time to time, as in the
previous democratic system. In those days, voters were rarely appealed to, and
when they expressed an opinion, they were often ill-informed and apathetic.
After an election, years might go by, during which the politicians were heedless
and inaccessible, the electorate powerless to vote on their actions.
To enable the German public to express its opinion on the occasion of important
events of social, national, or international significance, Hitler provided the
people a new means of approving or rejecting his own actions as Chancellor: the
Hitler recognized the right of all the people, men and women alike, to vote by
secret ballot: to voice their opinion of his policies, or to make a
well-grounded judgment on this or that great decision in domestic or foreign
affairs. Rather than a formalistic routine, democracy became a vital, active
program of supervision that was renewed annually.
The articles of the "Plebiscite Law" were brief and clear:
The Reich government may ask the people whether or not it approves of a measure
planned by or taken by the government. This may also apply to a law.
A measure submitted to plebiscite will be considered as established when it
receives a simple majority of the votes. This will apply as well to a law
modifying the Constitution.
If the people approves the measure in question, it will be applied in conformity
with article III of the Law for Overcoming the Distress of the People and the
The Reich Interior Ministry is authorized to take all legal and administrative
measures necessary to carry out this law.
Berlin, July 14, 1933.
The electoral pledge given by Hitler that day was not vain rhetoric. One
national referendum followed another: in 1933, in 1934, in 1936, and in 1938,
not to mention the Saar plebiscite of 1935, which was held under international
The ballot was secret, and the voter was not constrained. No one could have
prevented a German from voting no if he wished. And, in fact, a certain number
did vote no in every plebiscite. Millions of others could just as easily have
done the same. However, the percentage of "No" votes remained remarkably low -
usually under ten percent. In the Saar region, where the plebiscite of January
1935 was supervised from start to finish by the Allies, the result was the same
as in the rest of the Reich: more than 90 percent voted "Yes" to unification
with Hitler's Germany! Hitler had no fear of such secret ballot plebiscites
because the German people invariably supported him.
From the first months of 1933, his accomplishments were public fact, for all to
see. Before end of the year, unemployment in Germany had fallen from more than
6,000,000 to 3,374,000. Thus, 2,627,000 jobs had been created since the previous
February, when Hitler began his "gigantic task!" A simple question: Who in
Europe ever achieved similar results in so short a time?
More than two and a half million working-class homes once again knew bread and
joy; more than ten million men, women and children of the working class, after
years of want, had regained their vigor, and had been returned to the national
Hitler's popularity took on some astonishing, indeed comical, aspects. "A brand
of canned herring," Joachim Fest relates, "was called 'Good Adolf.' Coin banks
were made in the form of SA caps. Bicarbonate of soda was recommended with the
advertising slogan 'My Struggle (Mein Kampf) against flatulence'! Pictures of
Hitler appeared on neckties, handkerchiefs, pocket mirrors, and the swastika
decorated ash trays and beer mugs, or served as an advertisement for a brand of
margarine." Annoyed by such fawning (and exploitative) use of his name, and the
emblem of his party, Hitler ordered that it be discontinued immediately.
The economic and social transformation of the Reich impressed observers no less
than the political transformation wrought by the leader of National Socialism.
Gottfried Benn, Germany's greatest poet of that era -- and a man of the Left --
wrote to an expatriate friend, Klaus Mann:
I personally declare myself in favor of the new State, because it is my people
that is making its way now. Who am I to exclude myself; do I know anything
better? No! Within the limits of my powers I can try to guide the people to
where I would like to see it -- My intellectual and economic existence, my
language, my life, my human relationships, the entire sum of my brain, I owe
primarily to this nation. My ancestors came from it; my children return to it --
There are moments in which this whole tormented life falls away and nothing
exists but the plains, expanses, seasons, soil, simple words: my people. (See:
J. Fest, Hitler, New York: 1974, p. 428.)
In his detailed and critical biography of Hitler, Joachim Fest limited his
treatment of Hitler's extraordinary social achievements in 1933 to a few
paragraphs. All the same, Fest did not refrain from acknowledging:
The regime insisted that it was not the rule of one social class above all
others, and by granting everyone opportunities to rise, it in fact demonstrated
class neutrality -- These measures did indeed break through the old, petrified
social structures. They tangibly improved the material condition of much of the
population. (J. Fest, Hitler, pp. 434-435.)
Not without reason were the swastika banners waving proudly throughout the
working-class districts where, just a year ago, they had been unceremoniously
From The Journal of Historical Review, Fall 1992 (Vol. 12, No. 3), pp. 299-370.
Reproduced gratefully from
Institute of Historical Review
Pictures added by Gnostic