morning in 1919. It numbered only a few dozen grumblers’ it had noorganization and no political ideas. But many among the middle classadmired the Nazis’ muscular opposition to the Social Democrats.
Andthe Nazis themes of patriotism and militarism drew highly emotionalresponses from people who could not forget Germany’s prewar imperialgrandeur. In the national elections of September 1930, the Nazis garnerednearly 6. 5 million votes and became second only to the SocialDemocrats as the most popular party in Germany. In Northeim, where in1928 Nazi candidates had received 123 votes, they now polled 1,742, arespectable 28 percent of the total. The nationwide success drew evenfaster. .
. in just three years, party membership would rise from about100,000 to almost a million, and the number of local branches wouldincrease tenfold. The new members included working-class people,farmers, and middle-class professionals. They were both bettereducated and younger then the Old Fighters, who had been the backboneof the party during its first decade. The Nazis now presentedthemselves as the party of the young, the strong, and the pure, inopposition to an establishment populated by the elderly, the weak, andthe dissolute.Order now
Hitler was born in a small town in Austria in 1889. Asa young boy, he showed little ambition. After dropping out of highschool, he moved to Vienna to study art, but he was denied the chanceto join Vienna academy 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 warand its consequences.
He had emerged from Austria with manyprejudices, including a powerful prejudice against Jews. Again, he wasa product of his times. . . for many Austrians and Germans wereprejudiced against the Jews. In Hitler’s case the prejudice had become maniacal it was adominant force in his private and political personalities.
Anti-Semitism was not a policy for Adolf Hitler–it was religion. Andin the Germany of the 1920s, stunned by defeat, and the ravages of theVersailles treaty, it was not hard for a leader to convince millionsthat one element of the nation’s society was responsible for most ofthe evils heaped upon it. The fact is that Hitler’s anti-Semitism wasself-inflicted obstacle to his political success. The Jews, like otherGermans, were shocked by the discovery that the war had not beenfought 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 asa vanquished country. Had Hitler not embarked on his policy ofdisestablishing the Jews as Germans, and later of exterminating themin Europe, he could have counted on their loyalty. There is no reasonto believe anything else.
On the evening of November 8, 1923, WyukeVavaruab State Cinnussuiber Gustav Rutter von Kahr was making apolitical speech in Munich’s sprawling B?rgerbr?ukeller, some 600Nazis and right-wing sympathizers surrounded the beer hall. Hitlerburst into the building and leaped onto a table, brandishing arevolver and firing a shot into the ceiling. “The NationalRevolution,” he cried, “has begun!” At that point, informed thatfighting had broken out in another part of the city, Hitler rushed tothat scene. His prisoners were allowed to leave, and they talked aboutorganizing defenses against the Nazi coup. Hitler was of coursefurious. And he was far from finished.
At about 11 o’clock on themorning of November 9–the anniversary of the founding of the GermanRepublic in 1919–3,000 Hitler partisans again gathered outside theB?rgerbr?ukeller. To this day, no one knows who fired the first shot. But a shotrang out, and it was followed by fusillades from both sides. HermannG?ring fell wounded in the thigh and both legs. Hitler flattenedhimself against the pavement; he was unhurt.
General Ludenorffcontinued to march stolidly toward the police line, which parted tolet him pass through (he was later arrested, tried and acquitted). Behind him, 16 Nazis and three policemen lay sprawled dead among themany wounded. The next year, R?hm and his band joined forces with thefledgling National Socialist Party in Adolf Hitler’s Munich Beer HallPutsch. Himmler took part in that uprising, but he played such a minorrole that he escaped arrest.
The R?hm-Hitler alliance survived thePutsch, and ?hm’s 1,500-man band grew into the Sturmabteilung, the SA,Hitler’s brown-shirted private army, that bullied the Communists andDemocrats. Hitler recruited a handful of men to act as his bodyguardsand 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 GermanChancellor, the F?hrer could no longer afford to tolerate thedisruptive Brownshirts; under the ambitious R?hm, the SA had grown tobe an organization of three million men, and its unpredictableactivities prevented Hitler from consolidating his shaky control ofthe Reich. He had to dispose of the SA to hold the support of hisindustrial backers, to satisfy party leaders jealous of the SA’spower, and most important, to win the allegiance of the conservativeArmy generals. Under pressure from all sides, and enraged by an SAplot against him that Heydrich had conveniently uncovered, Hitlerturned the SS loose to purge its parent organization. They were too uncontrollable even for Hitler.
They went abouttheir business of terrorizing Jews with no mercy. But that is not whatbothered Hitler, since the SA was so big, (3 million in 1933) and soout 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 ofperhaps 200 “enemies o the state. ” It was quite enough to reduce theSA to impotence, and it brought the F?hrer immediate returns. Thedying President of the Reich, Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg,congratulated Hitler on crushing the troublesome SA, and the Armygenerals concluding that Hitler was now their pawn–swore personalloyalty to him. In April 1933, scarcely three months after AdolfHitler took power in Germany, the Nazis issued a degree, ordering thecompulsory retirement of “non-Aryans” from the civil service.
Thisedict, petty in itself, was the first spark in what was to become theHolocaust, one of the most ghastly episodes in the modern history ofmankind. Before he campaign against the Jews was halted by the defeatof Germany, something like 11 million people had been slaughtered inthe 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 Nazissome time to work up to the full fury of their endeavor.
In the yearsfollowing 1933, the Jews were systematically deprived by law of theircivil rights, of their jobs and property. Violence and brutalitybecame a part of their everyday lives. Their places of worship weredefiled, their windows smashed, their stores ransacked. Old men andyoung were pummeled and clubbed and stomped to death by Nazi jackboots. Jewish women were accosted and ravaged, in broad daylight, onmain thoroughfares.
Some Jews fled Germany. But most, with a kind of stubborn beliefin God and Fatherland, sought to weather the Nazi terror. It wasforlorn hope. In 1939, after Hitler’s conquest of Poland, the Naziscast aside all 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 asholding pens until the Nazis got around to disposing of them. The mass killings began in 1941, with the German invasion of theSoviet Union. 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 theirintentions until the last moment. At others, the arriving Jews sawscenes 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 outtheir last breath. ” What had begun as a mean little edict againstJewish civil servants was now ending the death six million Jews,Poles, gypsies, Russians, and other “sub-humans” Uncounted thousandsof Jews and other hapless concentration-camp inmates were used asguinea pigs in a wide range of medical and scientific experiments,most of them of little value.
Victims were infected with typhus to seehow different geographical groups reacted; to no one’s surprise, allgroups perished swiftly. Fluids from diseased animals were injectedinto humans to observe the effect. Prisoners were forced to exist onsea water to see how long castaways might survive. Gynecology was anarea of interest.
Various methods of sterilization were practiced–bymassive X-ray, by irritants and drugs, by surgery without benefit ofanesthetic. As techniques were perfected, it was determined that adoctor with 10 assistants could sterilize 1,000 women per day. The “experimental people” were also used by Nazi doctors whoneeded practice 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 fewJews who had studied medicine were allowed to live if they assistedthe SS doctors. “I cut the flesh of healthy young girls,” recalled aJewish physician who survived at terrible cost. “I immersed the bodiesof dwarfs and cripples in calcium chloride (to preserve them), or hadthem boiled so the carefully prepared skeletons might safely reach theThird Reich’s museums to justify, for future generations, thedestruction of an entire race. I could never erase these memories frommy 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 todie at once were told that they were to have a shower. Filthy by theirlong, miserable journey, they sometimes applauded the announcement. Countless Jews and other victims went peacefully to the showerrooms–which were gas chambers in disguise. In the anterooms to the gas chambers, many of the doomed peoplefound nothing amiss.
At Auschwitz, signs in several languages said,“Bath and Disinfectant,” and inside the chambers other signsadmonished, “Don’t forget your soap and towel. ” Unsuspecting victimscooperated 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 fromthe shock of the July 20 bombing when he was faced with the loss ofFrance and Belgium and of great conquests in the East. Enemy troops inoverwhelming numbers were converging on the Reich. By the middle ofAugust 1944, the Russian summer offensives, beginning June 10 andunrolling one after another, had brought the Red Army to theborder of East Prussia, bottled up fifty German divisions in theBaltic region, penetrated to Vyborg in Finland, destroyed Army GroupCenter and brought an advance on this front of four hundred miles insix weeks to the Vistula opposite Warsaw, while in the south a newattack which began on August 20 resulted in the conquest of Rumania bythe end of the month and with it the Ploesti oil fields, the onlymajor source of natural oil for the German armies.
On August 26Bulgaria formally withdrew from the war and the Germans began tohastily clear out of that country. In September Finland gave up andturned on the German troops which refused to 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 founda tank 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.