Hitler Comes to Power

“The fight for government is ended. Now begins the government’s struggle, a bigger one, for the German people. We know we will be victorious.”

  • Adolf Hitler, quoted in The Times-Picayune on January 31, 1933

The end of World War I devastated Hitler. He was twenty-nine years old and laid in a hospital at Pasewalk, north of Berlin, blinded by British tear gas only weeks before the war ended. Other soldiers received letters from home. Hitler received letters from his former landlord in Munich. The war had given him purpose, and a salary. Historian Joachim Fest has written, “In no man’s land he felt at home.”

Hitler returned to Munich and witnessed the street fighting (a war of extermination) between communists and right-wing troops, whom Hitler favored but did not join. In his job as an observer (a spy) for the local army command, Hitler reported on an obscure political party named the German Worker’s Party. It was reactionary and anti-Semitic like many parties of that time. Hitler interrupted the meeting and unleashed his hatred of the Hapsburgs. His torrent of words impressed the participants. Hitler received an invitation to attend the next meeting, which he thought beneath him. He went anyway and became the seventh member of the NSDAP.

Hitler gave his first public speech in October 1919 and demonstrated his ability to interpret the grievances of a dispirited people. He was not the exception but the mirror of his age. His anti-Semitic language drew loud applause. The Jews were responsible for Germany’s defeat, demoralizing the home front with their negative comments and black market activities. Germany was “stabbed in the back” by (Hitler said) these “Hebrew corrupters.” Jews were communists, capitalists, and “Christ killers.” A link between Jews and communism was particularly strong in the popular mind. Jews had “snatched” (Hitler’s word) the leading positions in all walks of life. He adroitly combined two important movements of the 20th Century: nationalism and socialism. Historian Joachim Fest has written, “Socialism meant the responsibility of the whole for the individual, whereas nationalism was the devotion of the individual to the whole, thus the two elements could be combined in National Socialism.”

The world depression in 1929 rescued the Nazis. Prior to that catastrophe the party seemed on the brink of collapse, controlling only seven seats in the Reichstag (parliament) before the collapse and 107 seats after the elections in September 1930. Economic hardship intensified the willingness of people to relinquish individual rights in favor of order and security. Germans had experienced a lost war, lost territories, heavy reparations, a near communist revolution, a punishing blockade, mass starvation, and two severe bouts of inflation (1918 and 1923) that had already wiped out people’s savings, left them unemployed, and shattered their self-esteem. There was street fighting between the communists and the Nazis. Fear gripped the nation. Many felt that Germany’s experiment with democracy had failed, and that authoritarian rule was the wave of the future.

Our survivor Eva Galler, in her small town in eastern Poland, celebrated her tenth birthday on January 1, 1933. This was four weeks before Hitler was appointed chancellor, but Eva was too young to understand what was happening in Germany. She was immensely popular and her life was a happy one.

At noon on January 30, 1933, the elderly and failing President von Hindenburg, fearing a communist uprising and weary of the chaos sweeping Germany, took a chance: he appointed Adolf Hitler chancellor of Germany. That night SA and army veterans held a torch lit parade that passed by the Reich chancellery. Hitler stood at a window, acknowledging the crowd. Von Hindenburg stood at another window, impressed with the “militant pageantry” of the occasion. Many German Jews did not appreciate the danger that had befallen them. They were proud Germans and did not believe that their fellow citizens would countenance Hitler for long. “This won’t last one hundred days,” people told one another (and themselves).

The Times-Picayune published two articles by The International News Service on the day after Hitler’s appointment, one in the upper left hand column on the front page, the other on page 5.

The reporter seemed impressed by the new chancellor “who bore his mantle of prestige with dignity.” He further noted that “the fiery Nazi chieftan” promised to respect the republican constitution. Hitler’s adviser Dr. Frick informed the press that Hitler (in the words of the newspaper) “intends to undertake no experiments in regard to foreign policy…” And there was no intention to suppress the communist party “for the present, as had been reported.” Hitler was quoted several times: “The vanguard of the Nazi movement has succeeded in entering this government. This is the first step towards a Nazi Germany.” And “The fight for government is ended. Now begins the government’s struggle, a bigger one, for the German people. We know we will be victorious.”

In all the reporting on this occasion there was only one reference to Hitler’s anti-Semitism, which was the basis of his “world view.” That reference is found on page 5 in an article with the headline: “Hitler, Once Without a Country, Now Idol of Millions in Germany.” The reporter suggested that Hitler’s popularity was partly based on “injecting a strong tinge of anti-Semitism in his campaign.”

The Times-Picayune published an editorial weighing in on Hitler’s assumption of power.

Hitler was described as “this amazing ex-Austrian.” Very sensibly the editorial didn’t put much stock in the belief that several “conservatives” in the cabinet were in a position to restrain Hitler. This was because “two of his chief lieutenants are named with him, and unless Hitler changes his tone and his tactics, his encirclement by ‘conservative’ cabinet colleagues may prove disappointing if it is designed to hold him check. The responsibility attaching with his high office may, however, prove sobering and more effective influence.”

Almost laughably, the editorial offered some advice to the new chancellor: “As the government head, he must be more circumspect.”