On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. That evening, members of the Nazi Party carried fiery torches as they paraded through the streets of Berlin. They were joined by thousands who had gathered to cheer for Paul von Hindenburg, the president of Germany, and Hitler. The two men responded to the crowd from separate windows—Hitler at the chancellery and Hindenburg at a hotel next door. Nearby was the French embassy, where Ambassador André François-Poncet watched from a window, later writing:
The torches . . . formed a river of fire . . . over the very heart of the city. From these brown-shirted, booted men, as they marched in perfect discipline and alignment, their well-pitched voices bawling war-like songs, there rose an enthusiasm and dynamism that were extraordinary.1
Melita Maschmann, then a 15-year-old Nazi supporter, watched the parade that evening. As an adult, she recalled, “Some of the uncanny feeling of that night remains with me even today. The crashing treads of [booted] feet, the somber pomp of the red and black flags, the flickering light from the torches on the faces and the songs with melodies that were at once aggressive and sentimental.”2
Many Germans followed the parade by listening to the radio. Bernt Engelmann was struck by the voice of a new announcer:
[His voice] was entirely different from the ones I was familiar with: no longer calm and objective, but full of fanatic fervor. . . . Many years later, when the Third Reich was a thing of the past, I dug around in the archives of the Cologne broadcasting station and found the very text read by the announcer that evening of January 30. As I perused it, I felt that same amazement and disgust that had filled me as a twelve-year-old boy.
There it was, in black and white, and the announcer had spoken the text as an overwhelmed eyewitness might describe the finish of the Monaco Grand Prix auto race. . . .
“And there, at his window, high above the cheering throngs and the sea of flaming torches stands Reich President von Hindenburg, the venerable field marshal. . . . He stands erect, stirred to the depths by the moment. And next door in the Reich Chancellery, the Führer—yes, it is the Führer! There he stands with his ministers, Adolf Hitler . . . the unknown soldier of the World War, the unyielding warrior, the standard bearer of freedom . . . !”3
Max von der Grün also heard the news over the radio. Two days later, he and his family listened as Hitler spoke to the nation on his first day in office.
Hitler proclaimed his new government officially in power. He did not do so before the Reichstag, the elected Parliament, but over the radio. The meaning was clear enough. . . .
Were the people clearly aware of his contempt for the parliament? I doubt it. In any case, my family considered it quite proper that Hitler had ceased to address . . . the deputies of the Reichstag, and had turned directly to the people.4
- 1 : André François-Poncet, The Fateful Years: Memoirs of a French Ambassador in Berlin, 1931–1938, trans. Jacques LeClercq (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1949), 48.
- 2 : Melita Maschmann, Account Rendered: A Dossier on My Former Self, trans. Geoffrey Strachan (London: Abelard-Schuman, 1965), 9.
- 3 : Bernt Engelmann, In Hitler’s Germany: Everyday Life in the Third Reich (New York: Schocken, 1988), 21–22.
- 4 : Max von der Grün, Howl Like the Wolves: Growing Up in Nazi Germany (New York: William Morrow, 1980), 59.