Tuesday, June 27, 2017

18. Hitler Becomes Chancellor

This week I read chapter 21 of Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer. This is the turning point. This is the beginning of the end.

1. A few things impressed me about this chapter. I suppose the biggest one is what Camus called the "theater of the absurd." Hitler coming to power was not inevitable. In fact, it seems to come on almost unexpectedly. It is as if he has tried and tried and tried and tried to come to power. Finally, the vastly more prudent powers around him give in. They make him promise he won't do all the things they know deep down he will do.

Hindenburg doesn't want him as Chancellor. But the guy he had as Chancellor, Schleicher, offended Hindenburg with straight talk. "The fickle old man felt the weight of Schleicher's domination and shook it off when it became just a fraction of an ounce too much" (534). Hindenburg refuses to see Hitler unless he comes with someone else. Hitler swears he will submit to every conceivable restriction Hindenburg comes up with.

Schleicher himself could have taken the reigns of government and ruled as a dictator until things settled down. But he didn't want to go against the constitution, and he didn't want to rule as a dictator with so little support from the people. He had some honor, so hands the chancellorship over to Hitler in effect, because Hitler does represent a substantial part of the people. Hitler would have him murdered a year later.

Hitler has been teetering on the edge of bankruptcy now for some time but he is bailed out by industry that think he won't impose socialism.

Hitler sides with the Communists to oust Schleicher. These same people that he will soon kill vote with him because of stubbornness and the expediency of the moment. Two weeks earlier Schleicher thought Hitler was through. "The game which the National Socialists played with the Communists in the last months of their fight for power will always be remembered as a masterpiece of political strategy" (526).

2. There were forces causing unrest among the populace. A mild winter in early 1933 meant that the coal miners were in trouble. A mammoth harvest meant that the farmers were in trouble because it would drive the price of grain down. Danish butter was forced out of England and poured into Germany, causing butter prices to fall because of too much supply.

At the same time that the Nazis were partnering with the Communist in the Reichstag, they were destroying the peace on the streets. Schleicher's final fatal decision was to stop the Communists from marching in Berlin while not stopping the Nazis. The show of strength made Hitler seem the clear person with authority over the people.

The various forces in the Reichstag seem exhausted. "The misery of the nation, the disintegration of society, destroyed the confidence and energy of most men; cynicism, herald of all world twilights, had a greater share in the political commissions and omissions of the day than any calculation or lust for power.

3. Hitler promised everyone everything. His people told Jewish businessmen that Hitler had outgrown the anti-Semitism of his earlier days. "The party has become more realistic," they told the powers that be (520). Hitler renounced the blood baths (that were still taking place). He will let others work with industry policy. "I won't take emergency powers," he assures them.

Again, they think that because he is brainless he can be controlled. "Over and over again the idea that National Socialism was rich in demonic force, but poor in brains, beguiled this upper-class type into the arrogant experiment of 'curbing' and 'sifting.'" Those around Hitler act as if, "We don't trust you, but say something satisfactory and you shall have a satisfactory answer" (541).

The Nazis do maneuver well in the second half of January 1933. Hitler acknowledges to his people that he has made some mistakes in the past. "I too can go wrong and make mistakes. But what counts is who makes the most mistakes" (525).

The leaders of lesser parties work with Hitler because they think they can save the constitution. Schleicher won't take dictatorship power because that would destroy the constitution. They appoint a cabinet with only three Nazis on it, with Hitler as chancellor. They think they have the right people in place to keep him from going crazy or destroying the whole thing.

So you have a Reichstag that is functioning. You have a leader as Chancellor, Hitler, who commands significant popularity among the people. You have Hindenburg as ultimate authority. And you have a cabinet with good representation. It looks like a tenuous solution to Germany's instability.

4. Now Hitler is Chancellor. What will he do? He calls an election and dissolves the Reichstag. He is currently popular. Those who have compromised on him to form a cabinet may not find themselves with as many seats. "Don't worry," Hitler assures them. "I'll make sure everyone is back in the cabinet."

Yeah right.

We can see the mistakes in hindsight:
  • Never underestimate an idiot.
  • Someone with the heart of a dictator will always end up ruling like a dictator because that is who they are.
  • Liars will promise everyone everything, but don't get upset when they break every promise.
  • You can't control the winds. A feather can turn the tide. You can only be paranoid well in advance.
Previously on Hitler:

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