NazismNAZISMThe National Socialist German Workers’ Party almost died one morning in1919. It numbered only a few dozen grumblers’ it had no organizationand no political ideas. But many among the middle class admired the Nazis’ muscular oppositionto the Social Democrats. And the Nazis themes of patriotism andmilitarism drew highly emotional responses from people who could notforget Germany’s prewar imperial grandeur.
In the national elections of September 1930, the Nazis garnered nearly6. 5 million votes and became second only to the Social Democrats as themost popular party in Germany. In Northeim, where in 1928 Nazicandidates had received 123 votes, they now polled 1,742, a respectable28 percent of the total. The nationwide success drew even faster.
. . injust three years, party membership would rise from about 100,000 toalmost a million, and the number of local branches would increasetenfold. The new members included working-class people, farmers, andmiddle-class professionals. They were both better educated and youngerthen the Old Fighters, who had been the backbone of the party during itsfirst decade. The Nazis now presented themselves as the party of theyoung, the strong, and the pure, in opposition to an establishmentpopulated by the elderly, the weak, and the dissolute.Order now
Hitler was born in a small town in Austria in 1889. As a young boy, heshowed little ambition. After dropping out of high school, he moved toVienna to study art, but he was denied the chance to join Viennaacademy of fine arts. When WWI broke out, Hitler joined Kaiser Wilhelmer’s army as aCorporal.
He was not a person of great importance. He was a creatureof a Germany created by WWI, and his behavior was shaped by that war andits consequences. He had emerged from Austria with many prejudices,including a powerful prejudice against Jews. Again, he was a product ofhis times.
. . for many Austrians and Germans were prejudiced against theJews. In Hitler’s case the prejudice had become maniacal it was a dominantforce in his private and political personalities. Anti-Semitism was nota policy for Adolf Hitler–it was religion.
And in the Germany of the1920s, stunned by defeat, and the ravages of the Versailles treaty, itwas not hard for a leader to convince millions that one element of thenation’s society was responsible for most of the evils heaped upon it. The fact is that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was self-inflicted obstacle tohis political success. The Jews, like other Germans, were shocked bythe discovery that the war had not been fought to a standstill, as theywere led to believe in November 1918, but that Germany had , in fact,been defeated and was to be treated as a vanquished country. Had Hitlernot embarked on his policy of disestablishing the Jews as Germans, andlater of exterminating them in Europe, he could have counted on theirloyalty. There is no reason to believe anything else.
On the evening of November 8, 1923, Wyuke Vavaruab State CinnussuiberGustav Rutter von Kahr was making a political speech in Munich’ssprawling B?rgerbr?ukeller, some 600 Nazis and right-wing sympathizerssurrounded the beer hall. Hitler burst into the building and leapedonto a table, brandishing a revolver and firing a shot into theceiling. ?The National Revolution,? he cried, ?has begun!?At that point, informed that fighting had broken out in another part ofthe city, Hitler rushed to that scene. His prisoners were allowed toleave, and they talked about organizing defenses against the Nazi coup.
Hitler was of course furious. And he was far from finished. At about11 o’clock on the morning of November 9–the anniversary of the foundingof the German Republic in 1919–3,000 Hitler partisans again gatheredoutside the B?rgerbr?ukeller. To this day, no one knows who fired the first shot. But a shot rangout, and it was followed by fusillades from both sides. Hermann G?ringfell wounded in the thigh and both legs.
Hitler flattened himselfagainst the pavement; he was unhurt. General Ludenorff continued tomarch stolidly toward the police line, which parted to let him passthrough (he was later arrested, tried and acquitted). Behind him, 16Nazis and three policemen lay sprawled dead among the many wounded. The next year, R?hm and his band joined forces with the fledglingNational Socialist Party in Adolf Hitler’s Munich Beer Hall Putsch.
Himmler took part in that uprising, but he played such a minor role thathe escaped arrest. The R?hm-Hitler alliance survived the Putsch, and?hm’s 1,500-man band grew into the Sturmabteilung, the SA, Hitler’sbrown-shirted private army, that bullied the Communists and Democrats. Hitler recruited a handful of men to act as his bodyguards and protecthim from Communist toughs, other rivals, and even the S. A.
if it got outof hand. This tiny group was the embryonic SS. In 1933, after the Nazi Party had taken power in Germany, increasingtrouble with the SA made a showdown inevitable. As German Chancellor,the F?hrer could no longer afford to tolerate the disruptiveBrownshirts; under the ambitious R?hm, the SA had grown to be anorganization of three million men, and its unpredictable activitiesprevented Hitler from consolidating his shaky control of the Reich. Hehad 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 pressurefrom all sides, and enraged by an SA plot against him that Heydrich hadconveniently uncovered, Hitler turned the SS loose to purge its parentorganization.
They were too uncontrollable even for Hitler. They went about theirbusiness of terrorizing Jews with no mercy. But that is not whatbothered Hitler, since the SA was so big, (3 million in 1933) and so outof control, Hitler sent his trusty comrade Josef Dietrich, commander ofa SS bodyguard regiment to murder the leaders of the SA. The killings went on for two days and nights and took a tool of perhaps200 ?enemies o the state. ? It was quite enough to reduce the SA toimpotence, and it brought the F?hrer immediate returns. The dyingPresident of the Reich, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, congratulatedHitler on crushing the troublesome SA, and the Army generals concludingthat Hitler was now their pawn–swore personal loyalty to him.
In April 1933, scarcely three months after Adolf Hitler took power inGermany, the Nazis issued a degree, ordering the compulsory retirementof ?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 mostghastly episodes in the modern history of mankind. Before he campaignagainst the Jews was halted by the defeat of Germany, something like 11million people had been slaughtered in the name of Nazi racial purity. The Jews were not the only victims of the Holocaust. Millions ofRussians, Poles, gypsies and other ?subhumans? were also murdered.
ButJews were the favored targets–first and foremost. It took the Nazis some time to work up to the full fury of theirendeavor. In the years following 1933, the Jews were systematicallydeprived by law of their civil rights, of their jobs and property. Violence and brutality became a part of their everyday lives.
Theirplaces of worship were defiled, their windows smashed, their storesransacked. Old men and young were pummeled and clubbed and stomped todeath by Nazi jack boots. Jewish women were accosted and ravaged, inbroad daylight, on main thoroughfares. Some Jews fled Germany. But most, with a kind of stubborn belief inGod and Fatherland, sought to weather the Nazi terror. It was forlornhope.
In 1939, after Hitler’s conquest of Poland, the Nazis cast asideall restraint. Jews in their millions were now herded intoconcentration camps, there to starve and perish as slave laborers. Other millions were driven into dismal ghettos, which served as holdingpens until the Nazis got around to disposing of them. The mass killings began in 1941, with the German invasion of the SovietUnion. Nazi murder squads followed behind the Wehrmachtenthusiastically slaying Jews and other conquered peoples. Month bymonth the horrors escalated.
First tens of thousands, then hundreds ofthousands of people were led off to remote fields and forest to beslaughtered by SS guns. Assembly-line death camps were established inPoland and train loads of Jews were collected from all over occupiedEurope and sent to their doom. At some of the camps, the Nazis took pains to disguise their intentionsuntil the last moment. At others, the arriving Jews saw scenes beyondcomprehension. ?Corpses were strewn all over the road,? recalled onesurvivor.
?Starving human skeletons stumbled toward us. They fellright down in front of our eyes and lay there gasping out their lastbreath. ? What had begun as a mean little edict against Jewish civilservants was now ending the death six million Jews, Poles, gypsies,Russians, and other ?sub-humans?Uncounted thousands of Jews and other hapless concentration-campinmates were used as guinea pigs in a wide range of medical andscientific experiments, most of them of little value. Victims were infected with typhus to see how different geographicalgroups reacted; to no one’s surprise, all groups perished swiftly.
Fluids from diseased animals were injected into humans to observe theeffect. Prisoners were forced to exist on sea water to see how longcastaways might survive. Gynecology was an area of interest. Variousmethods of sterilization were practiced–by massive X-ray, by irritantsand drugs, by surgery without benefit of anesthetic.
As techniques wereperfected, it was determined that a doctor with 10 assistants couldsterilize 1,000 women per day. The ?experimental people? were also used by Nazi doctors who neededpractice performing various operations. One doctor at Auschwitzperfected his amputation technique on live prisoners. After he hadfinished, his maimed patients were sent off to the gas chamber. A few Jews who had studied medicine were allowed to live if theyassisted the SS doctors.
?I cut the flesh of healthy young girls,?recalled a Jewish physician who survived at terrible cost. ?I immersedthe bodies of dwarfs and cripples in calcium chloride (to preservethem), or had them boiled so the carefully prepared skeletons mightsafely reach the Third Reich’s museums to justify, for futuregenerations, the destruction of an entire race. I could never erasethese memories from my mind. ? But the best killing machine were the ?shower baths? of death. Aftertheir arrival at a death camp, the Jews who had been chosen to die atonce were told that they were to have a shower.
Filthy by their long,miserable journey, they sometimes applauded the announcement. CountlessJews and other victims went peacefully to the shower rooms–which weregas chambers in disguise. In the anterooms to the gas chambers, many of the doomed people foundnothing amiss. At Auschwitz, signs in several languages said, ?Bath andDisinfectant,? and inside the chambers other signs admonished, ?Don’tforget 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 undergroundnewspapers in the Warsaw ghetto even ran reports that told of the gaschambers and the crematoriums. But many people did not believe thestoried, and those who did were helpless in any case. Facing the gunsof the SS guards, they could only hope and pray to survive. As oneJewish leader put it, ?We must be patient and a miracle will occur. ?There were no miracles.
The victims, naked and bewildered, were shovedinto a line. Their guards ordered them forward, and flogged those whohung back. The doors to the gas chambers were locked behind them. Itwas all over quickly. The war came home to Germany. Scarcely had Hitler recovered from theshock of the July 20 bombing when he was faced with the loss of Franceand Belgium and of great conquests in the East.
Enemy troops inoverwhelming numbers were converging on the Reich. By the middle of August 1944, the Russian summer offensives, beginningJune 10 and unrolling one after another, had brought the Red Army to theborder of East Prussia, bottled up fifty German divisions in the Balticregion, penetrated to Vyborg in Finland, destroyed Army Group Center andbrought an advance on this front of four hundred miles in six weeks tothe Vistula opposite Warsaw, while in the south a new attack which beganon August 20 resulted in the conquest of Rumania by the end of the monthand with it the Ploesti oil fields, the only major source of natural oilfor the German armies. On August 26 Bulgaria formally withdrew from thewar and the Germans began to hastily clear out of that country. InSeptember Finland gave up and turned on the German troops which refusedto evacuate its territory. In the West, France was liberated quickly.
In General Patton, thecommander of the newly formed U. S. Third Army, the Americans had found atank general with the dash and flair of Rommel in Africa. After thecapture of Avranches on July 30, he had left Brittany to wither on thevine and begun a great sweep around the German armies in Normandy,moving southeast to Orleans on the Loire and then due east toward theSeine south of Paris. By August 23 the Seine was reached southeast andnorthwest of the capital, and two days later the great city, the gloryof France, was liberated after four years of German occupation whenGeneral Jacques Leclerc’s French 2nd Armored Division and the U. S.
4thInfantry Division broke into it and found that French resistance unitswere largely in control.History Reports