Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Finis: Konrad Heiden's Der Fuhrer

On November 29, 2016, I started reading through Konrad Heiden's 1944 book, Der Fuehrer. I have finally finished this 774 tome. It ends more or less on June 30, 1934, the day of the "blood purge" during which Hitler and his core of leaders killed hundreds of his opponents, mostly individuals within the Nazi party itself. From this point on, Hitler's control and course was more or less sealed, even though it would not be till 1938 that his campaign to acquire territory began.

Other names for this event are "The Night of the Long Knives" and the Röhm Putsch. For previous posts, see the bottom.

Chapter 28: The Blood Purge
1. The key counterpoint to Hitler in this chapter is Ernst Röhm, who had been a compatriot of Hitler since the early days. Indeed, without Röhm, Hitler probably could never had come to power in the first place. Röhm was the leader of the S.A., the "storm troopers," the "brown shirts." This was a collection of some three million men who struck fear into the hearts of ordinary Germans.

Other military and quasi-military groups included the Reichswehr, which was the limited, official military/police of Germany during the period after WW1. But they only numbered about 300,000. Under Heinrich Himmler, the SS or "Protection Squadron" had arisen, who would eventually become responsible for the Holocaust and spying on the German people. The Gestapo would eventually be run by the SS as well.

Hitler apparently wavered quite a bit in relation to Röhm. In some ways, he was dear to Hitler's heart. But he did not fully submit to Hitler. He almost acted as an equal. A showdown seemed to be inevitable. Whether the SA were planning to kill a lot of Hitler's men is not clear to me. As the SA were being sent on vacation, the SS, Gestapo, and Hitler moved to kill Röhm and a number of their political enemies.

Interestingly, Röhm and those who surrounded him were openly homosexual and were known for orgiastic activity. Hitler and others for a long time considered this a small fault, not worth addressing. However, it would become a major part of the argument for bringing about Röhm's demise. The real reasons, however, had to do with the threat he posed to Hitler's absolute power.

2. Heiden begins the chapter with musing that those who dominate the world cannot really enjoy it. "None of the great world rulers has been happy." They fear their downfall. They have the icy burden of responsibility.

While Göring and Goebbels lived the high life of near absolute power, "Hitler, who indulged himself in everything, was fortunate enough not to be plagued with conspicuous desires" (717). On the whole, however, "the corruption of the Third Reich is connected with the worship of 'great men'" (729).

In 1934 Hitler shifted in his talk of the Aryan, Germans all being equal. They might still be superior to all other peoples, but now all Germans aren't equal but "It is the better man who commands, the inferior who obeys" (721). Hitler's group were superior to the rest of the German people. "The independence of the new leader class from special economic interests is what Hitler calls 'socialism.'"

This was not Röhm's position, by the way. He still looked for a truly socialist state. The tension between Hitler and his old friend Röhm continued to grow. It was "a conflict between the state [Hitler] and the party [Röhm] over the right to practice terrorism" (724). There was a "chaos of cross-currents," an excess of power in multiple entities. It would lead to the blood purge, where Hitler's men eliminated some of the affiliated but less focalized Nazi affiliated groups.

3. Hitler slowly took over the legal system. The rules changed. Soon judges did not dare to enforce the laws in court. The on-the-ground injustices soon became official injustices. "Law should not protect the weakling, but make the strong even stronger" (727). After the blood purge, all the killings were deemed appropriate by the German justice system.

Hitler had made countless promises, but they were worthless. "A statesman can always find an adequate excuse for breaking his word under compelling circumstances" (751).

The youth were now in full brainwashing. Imagine what the Nazis were able to do in the five years from Hitler becoming chancellor and the beginning of his invasions, let alone in the twelve years to the end of WW2. He was able to shape the minds of a whole generation of young people to his way of thinking.

4. Meanwhile, Hitler had trouble controlling the excesses of the storm troopers in the year he was consolidating his power. They had set up "artificial hells" at Dachau, Oranienburg, Duerrgoy, and Boergermoor to punish their enemies, especially Social Democrats. It would not end there.

But "a curious thing happened: the S.A. began to feel afraid in the Germany they dominated" (733). There was a moment of doubt when the tide might have turned against the current reign. Hitler stepped back for a moment, tried to get the S.A. to moderate, to stop talking about a second revolution. Some began to speak of a return of the monarchy. As Hindenburg approached his death, some spoke of a new president and then a new chancellor. Unemployment was down, but the people were getting used to it.

Von Papen made a key speech at this point. "Propaganda does not create great men, nor is propaganda alone sufficient to maintain the confidence of the people."

Hitler did not seize the moment to reign in the S.A. politically. His hesitancy to assert himself at this moment inevitably let Röhm's power increase. "It lies in the nature of things human that unused power passes imperceptibly from idle hands into more active ones" (740). Hitler was not fully using his potential power. Röhm used it.

5. The critical turning point was when Röhm demanded that the S.A. be part of the official German army. His insistence against the will of Hitler sealed his fate. He considered himself an equal. He would have to be eliminated.

June 30, 1934 was the day. "A great usurper must trample even upon his friends" (751). Hitler flew to Munich and oversaw the murder of Röhm himself. Every tenth man of the S.A. needed to be killed to show that the state under Hitler was in control. Former political opponents in the state were killed, especially leaders of cross-currents of power. Many considered themselves loyal to Hitler and felt betrayed.

"The Fuhrer had trampled on the bodies of his best friends; along with his enemies he murdered these friends in the most criminal and the most frivolous fashion; and for that reason he was admired by the people - including those of his victims who escaped death" (772). He said, "There won't be another revolution in Germany for the next thousand years."

"The belief in the necessity of evil, which slumbers in the lowest depths of the human soul, had been awakened in Hitler as by no other man in the history of Europe."

"Each horror wipes out its predecessor in the minds of the people."


Previously on Hitler:

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