Thousands of men returned home from the war bitter and angry. Many blamed military leaders and politicians for wasting so many lives in the name of national pride. Others, believing in the “stab in the back” myth, were outraged over the nation’s defeat, the terms of the armistice, and the Treaty of Versailles (see reading, Rumors of Betrayal).
Adolf Hitler, a corporal originally from Austria, was among those angry veterans. Like many of his comrades, he felt that fighting in the war had given him a sense of purpose and a way of distinguishing himself. Bitterly disappointed by the outcome of the war, many men like him vowed to continue the fight for Germany by entering politics. Some joined the Communists, while others, including Hitler, turned to various extreme nationalist parties. (Nationalists believe that their nation and its people are superior to all others and deserving of their undying devotion.) Hitler joined the German Workers’ Party.
By February 1920, the party had a new name and a platform. The new name was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei—or Nazi, for short). The name was meant to convey nationalism and socialism at the same time, although the socialism in the Nazi platform benefited only the members of an ever-narrowing definition of the German nation. The platform, proclaimed by Hitler at the first large party gathering in Munich that month, included the following provisions:
National Socialist German Workers' Party Platform
- We demand the unification of all Germans in a Greater Germany on the basis of the right of national self-determination.
- We demand equality of rights for the German people in its dealings with other nations, and the revocation of the peace treaty of Versailles. . .
- We demand land and territory (colonies) to feed our people and to settle our surplus population.
- Only members of the nation may be citizens of the state. Only those of German blood, whatever their creed, may be members of the nation. Accordingly, no Jew may be a member of the nation.
- Non-citizens may only live in Germany as guests and must be subject to laws for aliens.
- The right to vote on the State’s government and legislation shall be enjoyed by the citizens of the State alone. We demand therefore that all official appointments, of whatever kind, whether in the Reich, in the states or in the smaller localities, shall be held by none but citizens.
- We demand that the State shall make its primary duty to provide a livelihood for its citizens. If it should prove impossible to feed the entire population, foreign nationals (non-citizens) must be deported from the Reich.
- All non-German immigration must be prevented. We demand that all non-Germans who entered Germany after 2 November 1914 shall be required to leave the Reich forthwith.
- All citizens shall have equal rights and duties.
- In view of the enormous sacrifices of life and property demanded by a nation by any war, personal enrichment from war must be regarded as a crime against the nation. We demand therefore the ruthless confiscation of all war profits.
- We demand profit-sharing in large industrial enterprises.
- We demand the extensive development of insurance for old age.
- The state must consider a thorough reconstruction of our national system of education (with the aim of opening up to every able and hard-working German the possibility of higher education and of thus obtaining advancement). The curricula of all education establishments must be brought into line with the requirements of practical life. The aim of school must be to give the pupil, beginning with the first sign of intelligence, a grasp of the notion of the State. . .
- The State must ensure that the nation’s health standards are raised by protecting mothers and infants, by prohibiting child labor, by promoting physical strength through legislation providing for compulsory gymnastics and sports, and by extensive support of clubs engaged in the physical training of youth.
- . . .To facilitate the creation of a German national press we demand:
- that all editors of, and contributors to newspapers appearing in the German language must be members of the nation;
- that no non-German newspapers may appear without express permission of the State. They must not be printed in the German language;
- that non-Germans shall be prohibited by law from participating financially in or influencing German newspapers. . .
- We demand freedom for all religious denominations in the State, provided they do not threaten the existence nor offend the moral feelings of the German race.
The Party, as such, stands for positive Christianity, but does not commit itself to any particular denomination. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit within and without us, and is convinced that our nation can achieve permanent health only from within on the basis of the principle: The common interest before self-interest. . .
The Nazi Party platform was just one of many programs advanced by one political group or another. Yet by 1921, Hitler was attracting thousands of new members. One early member—who also belonged to the Nazis’ paramilitary group, known as the SA (officially the Sturmabteilung or storm troopers)—explained the attraction:
We, oldtime National Socialists, did not join the S.A. for reasons of self-interest. Our feelings led us to Hitler. There was a tremendous surge in our hearts, a something that said: “Hitler, you are our man. You speak as a soldier of the front and as a man; you know the grind, you have yourself been a working man. You have lain in the mud, even as we—no big shot, but an unknown soldier. You have given your whole being, all your warm heart, to German manhood, for the wellbeing of Germany rather than your personal advancement or self-seeking. For your innermost being will not let you do otherwise.” No one who has ever looked Hitler in the eye and heard him speak can ever break away from him.
- Summarize the points of the Nazi political platform. What does the party platform indicate about the Nazi universe of obligation? What parts of the document may have seemed the most reasonable? What parts of the document might have been most popular?
- What elements of Hitler’s biography and personality were attractive to people in Weimar Germany?
- Do you agree or disagree that when a person supports a political party, he or she must agree with all of the party’s beliefs? Why might someone support a political party even if he or she is uncomfortable with some of its proposals?
- While the SA member’s statement that “no one who has ever looked Hitler in the eye and heard him speak can ever break away from him” is not literally true, Hitler’s personality played an important role in generating support for the Nazi Party. What is charisma? How does the power of a leader’s personality shape the response to his or her message?