The National Socialist German Workers’ Party almost died one morning in
1919. It numbered only a few dozen grumblers’ it had no organization
and no political ideas.
But many among the middle class admired the Nazis’ muscular opposition
to the Social Democrats. And the Nazis themes of patriotism and
militarism drew highly emotional responses from people who could not
forget Germany’s prewar imperial grandeur.
In the national elections of September 1930, the Nazis garnered nearly
6.5 million votes and became second only to the Social Democrats as the
most popular party in Germany. In Northeim, where in 1928 Nazi
candidates had received 123 votes, they now polled 1,742, a respectable
28 percent of the total. The nationwide success drew even faster… in
just three years, party membership would rise from about 100,000 to
almost a million, and the number of local branches would increase
tenfold. The new members included working-class people, farmers, and
middle-class professionals. They were both better educated and younger
then the Old Fighters, who had been the backbone of the party during its
first decade. The Nazis now presented themselves as the party of the
young, the strong, and the pure, in opposition to an establishment
populated by the elderly, the weak, and the dissolute.
Hitler was born in a small town in Austria in 1889. As a young boy, he
showed little ambition. After dropping out of high school, he moved to
Vienna to study art, but he was denied the chance to join Vienna
academy of fine arts.
When WWI broke out, Hitler joined Kaiser Wilhelmer’s army as a
Corporal. He was not a person of great importance. He was a creature
of a Germany created by WWI, and his behavior was shaped by that war and
its consequences. He had emerged from Austria with many prejudices,
including a powerful prejudice against Jews. Again, he was a product of
his times… for many Austrians and Germans were prejudiced against the
In Hitler’s case the prejudice had become maniacal it was a dominant
force in his private and political personalities. Anti-Semitism was not
a policy for Adolf Hitler–it was religion. And in the Germany of the
1920s, stunned by defeat, and the ravages of the Versailles treaty, it
was not hard for a leader to convince millions that one element of the
nation’s society was responsible for most of the evils heaped upon it.
The fact is that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was self-inflicted obstacle to
his political success. The Jews, like other Germans, were shocked by
the discovery that the war had not been fought to a standstill, as they
were led to believe in November 1918, but that Germany had , in fact,
been defeated and was to be treated as a vanquished country. Had Hitler
not embarked on his policy of disestablishing the Jews as Germans, and
later of exterminating them in Europe, he could have counted on their
loyalty. There is no reason to believe anything else.
On the evening of November 8, 1923, Wyuke Vavaruab State Cinnussuiber
Gustav Rutter von Kahr was making a political speech in Munich’s
sprawling B?rgerbr?ukeller, some 600 Nazis and right-wing sympathizers
surrounded the beer hall. Hitler burst into the building and leaped
onto a table, brandishing a revolver and firing a shot into the
ceiling. ?The National Revolution,? he cried, ?has begun!?
At that point, informed that fighting had broken out in another part of
the city, Hitler rushed to that scene. His prisoners were allowed to
leave, and they talked about organizing defenses against the Nazi coup.
Hitler was of course furious. And he was far from finished. At about
11 o’clock on the morning of November 9–the anniversary of the founding
of the German Republic in 1919–3,000 Hitler partisans again gathered
outside the B?rgerbr?ukeller.
To this day, no one knows who fired the first shot. But a shot rang
out, and it was followed by fusillades from both sides. Hermann G?ring
fell wounded in the thigh and both legs. Hitler flattened himself
against the pavement; he was unhurt. General Ludenorff continued to
march stolidly toward the police line, which parted to let him pass
through (he was later arrested, tried and acquitted). Behind him, 16
Nazis and three policemen lay sprawled dead among the many wounded.
The next year, R?hm and his band joined forces with the fledgling
National Socialist Party in Adolf Hitler’s Munich Beer Hall Putsch.
Himmler took part in that uprising, but he played such a minor role that
he escaped arrest. The R?hm-Hitler alliance survived the Putsch, and
?hm’s 1,500-man band grew into the Sturmabteilung, the SA, Hitler’s
brown-shirted private army, that bullied the Communists and Democrats.
Hitler recruited a handful of men to act as his bodyguards and protect
him from Communist toughs, other rivals, and even the S.A. if it got out
of hand. This tiny group was the embryonic SS.
In 1933, after the Nazi Party had taken power in Germany, increasing
trouble with the SA made a showdown inevitable. As German Chancellor,
the F?hrer could no longer afford to tolerate the disruptive
Brownshirts; under the ambitious R?hm, the SA had grown to be an
organization of three million men, and its unpredictable activities
prevented Hitler from consolidating his shaky control of the Reich. He
had to dispose of the SA to hold the support of his industrial backers,
to satisfy party leaders jealous of the SA’s power, and most important,
to win the allegiance of the conservative Army generals. Under pressure
from all sides, and enraged by an SA plot against him that Heydrich had
conveniently uncovered, Hitler turned the SS loose to purge its parent
They were too uncontrollable even for Hitler. They went about their
business of terrorizing Jews with no mercy. But that is not what
bothered Hitler, since the SA was so big, (3 million in 1933) and so out
of control, Hitler sent his trusty comrade Josef Dietrich, commander of
a SS bodyguard regiment to murder the leaders of the SA.
The killings went on for two days and nights and took a tool of perhaps
200 ?enemies o the state.? It was quite enough to reduce the SA to
impotence, and it brought the F?hrer immediate returns. The dying
President of the Reich, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, congratulated
Hitler on crushing the troublesome SA, and the Army generals concluding
that Hitler was now their pawn–swore personal loyalty to him.
In April 1933, scarcely three months after Adolf Hitler took power in
Germany, the Nazis issued a degree, ordering the compulsory retirement
of ?non-Aryans? from the civil service. This edict, petty in itself,
was the first spark in what was to become the Holocaust, one of the most
ghastly episodes in the modern history of mankind. Before he campaign
against the Jews was halted by the defeat of Germany, something like 11
million people had been slaughtered in the name of Nazi racial purity.
The Jews were not the only victims of the Holocaust. Millions of
Russians, Poles, gypsies and other ?subhumans? were also murdered. But
Jews were the favored targets–first and foremost.
It took the Nazis some time to work up to the full fury of their
endeavor. In the years following 1933, the Jews were systematically
deprived by law of their civil rights, of their jobs and property.
Violence and brutality became a part of their everyday lives. Their
places of worship were defiled, their windows smashed, their stores
ransacked. Old men and young were pummeled and clubbed and stomped to
death by Nazi jack boots. Jewish women were accosted and ravaged, in
broad daylight, on main thoroughfares.
Some Jews fled Germany. But most, with a kind of stubborn belief in
God and Fatherland, sought to weather the Nazi terror. It was forlorn
hope. In 1939, after Hitler’s conquest of Poland, the Nazis cast aside
all restraint. Jews in their millions were now herded into
concentration camps, there to starve and perish as slave laborers.
Other millions were driven into dismal ghettos, which served as holding
pens until the Nazis got around to disposing of them.
The mass killings began in 1941, with the German invasion of the Soviet
Union. Nazi murder squads followed behind the Wehrmacht
enthusiastically slaying Jews and other conquered peoples. Month by
month the horrors escalated. First tens of thousands, then hundreds of
thousands of people were led off to remote fields and forest to be
slaughtered by SS guns. Assembly-line death camps were established in
Poland and train loads of Jews were collected from all over occupied
Europe and sent to their doom.
At some of the camps, the Nazis took pains to disguise their intentions
until the last moment. At others, the arriving Jews saw scenes beyond
comprehension. ?Corpses were strewn all over the road,? recalled one
survivor. ?Starving human skeletons stumbled toward us. They fell
right down in front of our eyes and lay there gasping out their last
breath.? What had begun as a mean little edict against Jewish civil
servants was now ending the death six million Jews, Poles, gypsies,
Russians, and other ?sub-humans?
Uncounted thousands of Jews and other hapless concentration-camp
inmates were used as guinea pigs in a wide range of medical and
scientific experiments, most of them of little value.
Victims were infected with typhus to see how different geographical
groups reacted; to no one’s surprise, all groups perished swiftly.
Fluids from diseased animals were injected into humans to observe the
effect. Prisoners were forced to exist on sea water to see how long
castaways might survive. Gynecology was an area of interest. Various
methods of sterilization were practiced–by massive X-ray, by irritants
and drugs, by surgery without benefit of anesthetic. As techniques were
perfected, it was determined that a doctor with 10 assistants could
sterilize 1,000 women per day.
The ?experimental people? were also used by Nazi doctors who needed
practice performing various operations. One doctor at Auschwitz
perfected his amputation technique on live prisoners. After he had
finished, his maimed patients were sent off to the gas chamber.
A few Jews who had studied medicine were allowed to live if they
assisted the SS doctors. ?I cut the flesh of healthy young girls,?
recalled a Jewish physician who survived at terrible cost. ?I immersed
the bodies of dwarfs and cripples in calcium chloride (to preserve
them), or had them boiled so the carefully prepared skeletons might
safely reach the Third Reich’s museums to justify, for future
generations, the destruction of an entire race. I could never erase
these memories from my mind.?
But the best killing machine were the ?shower baths? of death. After
their arrival at a death camp, the Jews who had been chosen to die at
once were told that they were to have a shower. Filthy by their long,
miserable journey, they sometimes applauded the announcement. Countless
Jews and other victims went peacefully to the shower rooms–which were
gas chambers in disguise.
In the anterooms to the gas chambers, many of the doomed people found
nothing amiss. At Auschwitz, signs in several languages said, ?Bath and
Disinfectant,? and inside the chambers other signs admonished, ?Don’t
forget your soap and towel.? Unsuspecting victims cooperated willingly.
?They got out of their clothes so routinely,? Said a Sobibor survivor.
?What could be more natural??
In time, rumors about the death camps spread, and underground
newspapers in the Warsaw ghetto even ran reports that told of the gas
chambers and the crematoriums. But many people did not believe the
storied, and those who did were helpless in any case. Facing the guns
of the SS guards, they could only hope and pray to survive. As one
Jewish leader put it, ?We must be patient and a miracle will occur.?
There were no miracles. The victims, naked and bewildered, were shoved
into a line. Their guards ordered them forward, and flogged those who
hung back. The doors to the gas chambers were locked behind them. It
was all over quickly.
The war came home to Germany. Scarcely had Hitler recovered from the
shock of the July 20 bombing when he was faced with the loss of France
and Belgium and of great conquests in the East. Enemy troops in
overwhelming numbers were converging on the Reich.
By the middle of August 1944, the Russian summer offensives, beginning
June 10 and unrolling one after another, had brought the Red Army to the
border of East Prussia, bottled up fifty German divisions in the Baltic
region, penetrated to Vyborg in Finland, destroyed Army Group Center and
brought an advance on this front of four hundred miles in six weeks to
the Vistula opposite Warsaw, while in the south a new attack which began
on August 20 resulted in the conquest of Rumania by the end of the month
and with it the Ploesti oil fields, the only major source of natural oil
for the German armies. On August 26 Bulgaria formally withdrew from the
war and the Germans began to hastily clear out of that country. In
September Finland gave up and turned on the German troops which refused
to evacuate its territory.
In the West, France was liberated quickly. In General Patton, the
commander of the newly formed U.S. Third Army, the Americans had found a
tank general with the dash and flair of Rommel in Africa. After the
capture of Avranches on July 30, he had left Brittany to wither on the
vine and begun a great sweep around the German armies in Normandy,
moving southeast to Orleans on the Loire and then due east toward the
Seine south of Paris. By August 23 the Seine was reached southeast and
northwest of the capital, and two days later the great city, the glory
of France, was liberated after four years of German occupation when
General Jacques Leclerc’s French 2nd Armored Division and the U.S. 4th
Infantry Division broke into it and found that French resistance units
were largely in control.