The Nationalsozialistische DeutscheArbeiterpartei (NSDAP), better known as the Nazi Party, is regardedthroughout history as a party of evil. From annexation of countries toannihilation of entire groups of people, the Nazi Party is responsible forheinous acts of violence and countless war crimes throughout World War II. Thisnegative connotation can be largely attributed to the influence of Adolf Hitlerduring his tenure at the head of the political party. Prior to Hitler joiningthe party, it was a fledgling group of German workers intent on nothing morethan having their voices heard in the Reichstag.
The success of the group andof Hitler throughout his political career are codependent, as one could nothave risen to power without the other. The symbiotic relationship shared byHitler and the NSDAP created a legacy that is unmatched by any otherorganization or individual in modern history. Without the NSDAP, Hitlerwould have never gained the platform from which to spew his nationalisticrhetoric. Without Hitler’s electric personality and oration skills, the NSDAPwould have reached more than a few hundred members and a handful of seats inthe Reichstag. Each entity was dependent upon the other to transition from asoldier with no prospects to dictator, and from a small group of men to apolitical powerhouse.
Through his life, Hitler always harbored ananti-Semitic view, which grew as he aged. Even before joining the DAP, Hitlersought like-minded individuals, which resulted in him trying to join the DeutschsozialistischePartei (DSP), or German Socialist Party, in the middle of 1919. Under theguise of a reporter attempting to write a paper on the DSP, Hitler attempted tojoin their ranks, though military personnel were not supposed to have politicalties. Thomas Weber, a professor of history at the University of Aberdeen,recently uncovered a document showing where Hans Georg Grassinger gave hisofficial testimony stating how he turned Hitler away from the DSP. In his work,Weber states:If Hitler would have joined the DSP,history would have been drastically different, and World War II may never havecome to pass. Since he was in fact turned away, Hitler began to look forsomewhere else to belong, attempting to focus on his fledgling military career,rather than leave the service. The “perfect storm” of conditions that led toHitler’s rise, as well as the rise of the NSDAP, can be traced back to the Fallof 1919, when a young Hitler, feeling dejected after being turned away from theDSP, was asked to join the ranks of the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (DAP),or German Worker’s Party by his superiors in the military.
2 Hardly apolitical party, this group was made up of about forty men at its inception,and did not exceed two hundred within its first year. Early in its history, theorganization falsified membership counts, documenting Hitler as member 555,though there were little more than fifty listed members.3 AntonDrexler is credited with founding the DAP and achieving the reach of the partyprior to Hitler’s oratory skills drawing in larger crowds, with help from KarlHarrer shortly after the organization was created in early 1919. Anton Drexler started his adult life working inlabor fields prior to developing an interest in politics. In 1918, Drexlerformed a league called DerFreie Arbeiterausschuss für einen guten Frieden, or Free Workers’ Committee for a Good Peace.
After this failed attempt at establishing a political footing, Drexler went onto create the Politischer Arbeiterzirkel, or Political Workers’ Circle,and later, the DAP. He was anti-Semitic and shared a lot of the same valuesthat Hitler did in regard to a nationalistic government and restructuring thecountry as a whole. Because he developed a strong relationship with Hitler,Drexler mentored Hitler through his early political career.
4Having been ordered to investigate this group byhis superiors, Hitler, a newly appointed Verbindungsmann, orintelligence agent in the army, joined the DAP in an investigative capacity.5Little did his military superiors know, but Hitler joining the DAP would givehim the platform on which to build a career as an orator, leader, andultimately, dictator. Hitler’s first DAP meeting was in a cellar of a beerhall, called Sternecker Brau, in Munich, on September 12, 1919.6Seeing how Drexler commanded a crowd, and appreciating his anti-Semiticrhetoric, Hitler quickly became enamored with the DAP.
Though it was illegalfor an enlisted military member to be involved in a political party, Hitler wasgiven permission by his commanding officer, Karl Mayr, to join as a mole in theorganization. Not long after joining the DAP, Hitler was released from the Reichswehr,or German Army, and began to dedicate himself fully to the political partywith high hopes for the future. Because Hitler had fulfilled his militaryservice in World War I, his release from the Reichswehr is comparable toa discharge in the United States Military.
About one month after his membership becameofficial, on October 16, 1919, Hitler gave a speech at the Hofbräukeller,a small restaurant in Munich. Drexler admired Hitler’s skills as an orator andthe anti-Semitic propaganda that Hitler was able to spread, that Drexleradvanced Hitler to the position of Chief of Propaganda for the DAP. Hitlerliked being in a position where he could promote nationalistic rhetoric, whilealso feeling like he was making a difference, and graciously accepted the titlein early 1920.
He later said: Crowdsflocked to see Hitler give his famous beer hall speeches and party leadershipwas pleased because they were able to add members to the DAP swiftly. ByFebruary, Hitler drew in crowds of over two thousand, and DAP membershipclimbed at a staggering rate. Thanks to Hitler’s ability to captivate anaudience, the political party was able to gain traction with the people anddevelop into a contender within the Reichstag by the next set of elections, andin the years to come. On February 24, 1920, in an effort to draw morepublic support and be more relatable overall, the DAP changed its name to NationalsozialistischeDeutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP), or National Socialist German Worker’sParty. Placing themselves upon this national platform meant a wider base andmore party growth. Thankfully the NSDAP had Adolf Hitler to spread theirmessage, along with his own political views. The NSDAP was wholly dependent onHitler’s ability to speak to crowds as a means to encourage membership, whileHitler needed the stage the NSDAP afforded him to spread his ideas and feellike he was making a change in the political atmosphere of the country he lovedso dearly.
Even so early in the party’s history, the codependent nature betweenHitler and the NSDAP was evident, and it would only continue to grow.By the end of 1920, party membership had reachedover two thousand, with more members being drawn in by Hitler’s personality andspeeches than ever before. He fed on the energy of the crowds, bringing moreelectricity to each speech, and more party members with it. The more he spokein front of ever-growing crowds, the more Hitler would inject his own politicalopinions into his speeches. Even in the formative stages of the NSDAP, Hitler’sspeeches were being monitored by police, because they could already see theeffects they were having on people, while also noticing the somewhatcontroversial nature. Still, Hitler’s speeches appealed to a wide audience, becausehe knew how to command a crowd and play on the struggles that they wereexperiencing, while assuring them that the he, along with the NSDAP, would makea difference in their lives. Though the Nazi Party was still in a delicateplace, they began to propagate Aryan ideals, as well as instituting policiesthat would later become mandatory through the Nuremberg Laws. With Hitler’swords to lead them, the Nazi Party called for “racially pure” members as earlyas 1920.
9 Hitler hadbeen giving speeches for a little over a year, drawing thousands every time hespoke. By June of 1921, a rebellion broke out in the NSDAP while Hitler was ona fundraising mission with Dietrich Eckart in Berlin. A mutiny of sorts, Naziofficials called to vote for a merger between two parties without Hitler at themeeting or to have any real knowledge of the meeting taking place. Though hewas not yet the head of the political party, Hitler had a considerable amountof control within the organization. Angered by his party’s desire to merge withthe DeutschsozialistischePartei (DSP), or German Socialist Party, and the fact that themerger was discussed in secret, Hitler submitted his resignation, leaving theparty to fend for themselves, on July 11, 1921.10He was aware that the party needed his skills as an orator to survive, soHitler used his resignation as a bargaining chip to get the Nazi officials tobow to his demands. Realizing what it would do to the NSDAP ifHitler left them and stopped speaking on their behalf, effectively cripplingand ending the party without him, the senior party officials struck a deal withHitler to rejoin.
His terms to rejoin the party included being given the seatof Party Chairman, replacing Drexler, and keeping the headquarters of the partyin Munich. Of course, the party leadership had no choice but to accept theseterms and grant Hitler a renewed membership, on July 26, if they wanted toretain a political standing at all within the Reichstag.11The effects of the rebellion in June 1921 detail the most obvious dependency ofthe NSDAP on Adolf Hitler as a figurehead, as well as the drastictransformation from Chief of Propaganda to Party Chairman that Hitler underwent.Beginning to have a thirst for power, asChairman, Hitler dissolved the committee and appointed himself the sole leaderof the party, a position he would hold until 1945, at the time of his death.The title of Führer was first used to describe Hitler within the confines ofthe NSDAP in the early 1920s.
12As the Führer, or leader, of the NSDAP, the party members followed theprinciple of Führerprinzip, or theleader principle, which dictates that they follow the Führer’s word even moreclosely than the word of God. With this control over the NSDAP, Hitler wouldspread his views throughout the party and the nation, using the NSDAP tofurther his political desires while the party used Hitler to build theirmembership and continue to gain seats in the Reichstag.Through 1921 and 1922, party membershipcontinued to climb ever higher. Hitler was able to appeal to anyone, from theout of work young man to the war veteran with a hunger for meaning after hisservice. Hitler had been both of these men in his life, and spoke with acertainty that drew people in. He convinced incoming NSDAP members that theissues in Germany stemmed directly from the liberal government after World WarI, and insisted that a more rigid and far reaching government was necessary forthe success of the country.
The beer halls where the speeches were held helpedto recruit members as well. Men were drawn in by the free beer and stayed tolisten to Hitler’s speeches, which struck a chord with them. Two notablemembers that joined during this formative era were Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler.13These men went on to have a personal relationship with Hitler and become highranking officials in the Nazi government. Both theHitler Youth and the early version of the Schutzstaffel (SS)were formed in 1922, which developed a means to indoctrinate youth and policethe population, respectively. The Nazi Party used both organizations to furthertheir ideologies of nationalism and a pure society, with intimidation as aprimary tactic. The Jugendbund, ayouth-based organization, was founded to train the para-military forcesinitially, but grew into the Hitlerjugend,or Hitler Youth.
The SS was the para-military force that Hitler and the NSDAPdeveloped in an effort to create a police state within the party. Interestingly, the Hitler Youth was similar tothe Boy Scouts organization, though the ideologies were completely differently.Members of the Hitler Youth dressed in uniforms, had their own flag, andparticipated in group training exercises similar to that of basic trainingexercises. One of the primary tenets of the Hitler Youth was the indoctrinationof racism. The Nazi Party was able to enforce their ideologies on the youngermembers of society through schools, likened to preparatory academies. By 1923,over 1000 boys between the ages of 14 and 18 had joined the Hitler Youth, withmore to come in the future.15With so many young men joining the organization, Hitler and the NSDAP hadseemingly secured a position in the future of German political movements.
With beginnings as a volunteer militia called the Saal-Schutz, theSchutzstaffel was a para-militaryforce started by the NSDAP to provide security during party meetings and events.With only eight members at the beginning of 1923, the SS was small, yeteffective in policing the Nazi events. Having grown through 1923 and undergoingsome name changes, the SS still was not exactly what Hitler or the NSDAP hadhoped to create in their twisted sense of a military.
The early versions of theSS crumbled immediately after the Beer Hall Putsch in the winter of 1923, butwould eventually rebuild and become stronger than ever before in the years tocome.The Beer Hall Putsch proved to be one of thegreatest developments for both Hitler and the NSDAP. On the night of November8, 1923, the NSDAP attempted to seize power in Munich and Bavaria.17 Withparty membership totaling over 50,000, Hitler felt as though the Nazi Party hadthe strength to take their place in government through force. This coup d’étatwas unsuccessful, but showed the size and strength of the Nazi Party,intimidating the German government. The headlines alone were reason enough toattempt the seizure of power, but Hitler and Nazi leadership saw more than justthe spread of their ideas. Though Hitler was able to retreat and avoid beingarrested immediately after the coup was squashed, he was still apprehended onNovember 11, 1923, and sent to Landsberg Prison to serve his sentence fortreason.
While incarcerated, Hitler went on to modify the tactics of the partyafter seeing what was and was not effective during the putsch.Sentenced to five years for his transgressions,Hitler was only in Landsberg Prison from April 1, 1924 to December 20, 1924.18His sentence was shortened due to an impending parole date, his good behaviorwhile imprisoned, and pressure from Nazi leaders on the Weimar government.
Whilein prison, Hitler did not live a life of a traditional inmate. He was givenspecial treatment including visitors and mail from Nazi supporters. Manyhistorians credit the time in Landsberg to Hitler’s success as a politicalleader, because he was able to dictate Mein Kampf, his autobiography, to Rudolph Hess, andtake the time to develop is political ideology. The time in Landsberg allowedhim to reflect on the shortcomings of the party and the failed putsch.Because of the coup the Nazi Party executed,and the resulting imprisonment of several Nazi leaders, trails went on throughthe early portion of 1924.20Hitler’s trial, as the head of the Nazi Party, was highly publicized and lastedwell over a month.
Because he was afforded this platform, Hitler used theopportunity to spread his nationalistic rhetoric, managing to draw in moresupport each time he spoke. The transcripts and newspaper articles showedHitler as a concerned citizen and the pro-Aryan language was absent from hisspeech. While Hitler could have faced deportation to Austria, he was sparedthanks to the Austrian government saying that his service in the German Armyvoided his citizenship, which he renounced officially in April 1925.21 DuringHitler’s imprisonment, the German government dissolved the Nazi Party andbanned it reforming. Still, Nazi members operated under the Deutsche Partei (DP), or German Party through 1924 and 1925with little success keeping the party organized without the leadership in place.
22Hitler’s main realization during his stay atLandsberg was that the Nazi Party benefitted from seeking power legitimatelyrather than through sheer force. Since the party had been banned, Hitlerpersonally went to the government and asked that the party be given the rightto reform on February 16, 1925. Ten days later, on February 16, 1925, the NaziParty was given permission to reform, with certain restrictions imposed uponthem. The Nazi Party could not form, endorse, or otherwise be associated withany para-military or police organization, such as the Schutzstaffel.
23Hitler went on to have his “bodyguard” reform soon after, but this was just aruse to rebuild the SS without the German government finding issue with hispolitical movements.Throughout the later portion of the 1920s, theNazi Party was focused on gaining seats in the Reichstag and building theirpolitical party through legitimate means. They attempted to challenge electionsin the Reichstag and Landtage, or legislature, in 1924 and 1928, but they werenot successful in this. While the Nazi Party did not hold many seats in theReichstag, they had members joining constantly and a strong base built. Whilethe economy was strong and Germany was rather prosperous in the late 1920s,Hitler was still able to recruit new members with the tactics he had usedbefore. These tactics being promising a better and stronger Germany.By 1929, with a strong political baseestablished and seats in the Reichstag, the Nazi Party was thriving.
The GreatDepression struck the world as a whole in 1929, which essentially provedHitler’s point of needing a stronger country, with the government needing tolead by example. Though it is not known whether Hitler was able to predict thechanges in the global economy, German citizens felt as though he could when theGreat Depression settled in. In their minds, the other shoe finally dropped,and they had to focus on rebuilding Germany and attempting to get out of thefinancial struggles the Great Depression landed every country in. Unemploymentand businesses being forced to close down caused more members to join the party.
They did not have anything better to do than go drink the free beer, and whenHitler spoke, his words resonated with them. Hitler and the Nazi Party officers held adeep-seated hatred for the Jewish people, and Hitler finally found anopportunity to place blame on them after the onset of the Great Depression.Historically, Jewish people have been accused of usury, or lending money atastonishingly high interest rates.24Because of this, Hitler blamed the financial crisis and business closures onthe Jewish people residing in Germany and surrounding countries, as well asblaming them for the Great Depression around the world. His plan to start anattack on the Jewish people, and others of non-Aryan blood, was in the worksalready, though the country was not yet aware, nor did they know what wouldresult from Hitler’s hatred. Hitler had used anti-Semitic rhetoric in the pastduring speeches, which drew many in, but the Nazi Party as a whole, and theincoming members, developed this utter and complete hatred for the JewishPeople, as Hitler had.Propaganda played a large part in the successof the Nazi Party and Hitler.
In a twisted sense of innovation, the Nazi Partyused speeches, written works, paintings, and even Advent calendars as a meansof indoctrination. The propaganda worked to strengthen the image of the NaziParty, as well as push their ideologies on the public.25 Perhapsthe first example of Nazi propaganda was Hitler’s own work, Mein Kampf. It took time for book salesto grow, but by 1933, Hitler had sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
Propaganda in Nazi Germany attacked the Treaty of Versailles, further persecutedthe Jewish people, and even called for euthanasia of the disabled.The year 1930 brought success to the NaziParty, even though the German populous was struggling. Because they were ableto garner so much support from Germany’s citizens, the Nazi Party won over 18%of the Reichstag in the September elections.27This made them the second largest party, with only the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, or Social Democrats, abovethem. With other political parties weakened, the Nazi Party stood out more, andwould continue to gain support in the coming years. With the financial andpolitical crisis becoming worse daily, more people looked to the Nazi Party fora solution. The obvious support prompted Hitler to run for President in Marchof 1932, but he lost to the incumbent President, Paul von Hindenburg.Hindenburg, after being pressured by severalpoliticians and members of the press, appointed Hitler as Chancellor on January30, 1933.
Hitler accepted, and shortly after being appointed Chancellor, OnFebruary 27, 1933, the Reichstag caught fire after an act of arson. Though therewas speculation about who caused the fire, there was no denying that protectiveactions must be taken, at least in the eyes of the Nazi Party. Hitler struggled to get approval from the otherparties to obtain more power, so he essentially tricked the Reichstag into the”Law to Remedy the Distress of the People andthe Reich,” also known as theEnabling Acts, which granted him what were basically dictatorial power to”help” Germany after this tragedy, and were enacted on March 24, 1933.28He told them that giving him more power would allow him to protect Germany andthe Reichstag from more issues. This was supposed to be a temporary measure,lasting only four years unless the Reichstag voted to extend it, but Hitlermanaged to retain dictatorial power for over a decade after the Enabling Actshad passed, by making sure the act was renewed two more times.Hitler and Hindenburg had grown close workingtogether, and Hindenburg had started to trust Hitler having power within theReichstag. With Hindenburg’s support, Hitler and the Nazi Party worked todemolish the Weimar Republic, telling Hindenburg the monarchy would return.
Instead,the Reichstag was full of Nazi pomp and circumstance. When the Reichstagopened, the Nazi Party put on a show for the rest of the parties, making theirpresence and position known.29During this transitional period, Hitler did convince Hindenburg to makeimprovements through Germany that would benefit the country as a whole.
Roadsand other infrastructure was improved and creating jobs for those affected bythe Great Depression. Post-appointment to the seat of Chancellor,Hitler could stand on his own politically. He no longer needed the NSDAP as afooting, but still maintained a relationship with the party.
The NSDAP hadtransitioned from a political party to so much more. Hitler turned the partyinto a government, police force, created a youth organization within the party(Hitler Youth), and changed Germany completely. Because the Nazi Party changedinto an entire government, along with everything else, Hitler and the NaziParty had become less dependent on one another, but more connected than everbefore. With the death of Hindenburg on August 2, 1934,Hitler gained control of the government through a plebiscite naming him thehead of the German government and officially granting him the title of Führer.31 TheThird Reich was alive and well, and went on to govern Germany for twelve years.Other political parties were outlawed, effectively making the entire ReichstagNazi members.
Even though Hitler and the Nazi Party were no longer inherentlydependent upon one another, both entities continued to bolster one anotherthrough the Third Reich. In a way, they stayed dependent on one another throughthe period, because Hitler needed the SS and other organizations within theNazi Party and the party needed Hitler to be a strong leader. From 1919 to 1933, the Nazi Party and Hitlerwere almost entirely dependent on one another for success.
If one minute factorwould have been different, history as we know it would have changed forever. Ina matter of fourteen years, Hitler and the Nazi Party rose faster and higherthan anyone could have predicted, all because they had the support of eachother and had twelve years of cooperation following the ascent. Therelationship between Hitler and the NSDAP was entirely codependent, yetsuccessful in its own way. Because they depended so heavily on one another, andachieved their goals in the process, fascist governments were squashed and theworld as we know it was forever changed.