A Decline in Public Enthusiasm | Facing History & Ourselves

A Decline in Public Enthusiasm

Gain insight into a growing wariness of Hitler in the mid-1930s through a German police report and a letter from a US diplomat.
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At a Glance

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English — US


  • History
  • The Holocaust

The remilitarizing of the Rhineland, the Berlin Olympics, and German participation in the Spanish Civil War all kept Adolf Hitler in the international news. While some praised Hitler for re-energizing Germany, many diplomats and reporters who were stationed in Germany had a very different view of the man and his party. Among those diplomats was Raymond H. Geist. His letters to his superiors at the US State Department described what he believed were Germany’s foreign policy goals. As early as 1934, he saw a nation unified in its preparation for war.

Geist believed that most Germans supported efforts to once again make their nation a world power. He noted that many young Nazis were enthusiastic about the idea and the militarization it involved: “They speak of gas war, of bacteriological war, of the use of death-dealing rays. They boast that airplanes will not pass the German frontiers. Their ideas of Germany’s invincibility and Germany’s power in ‘the next war’ are really fantastical.” 1

Geist also expressed concern over the way the German government was promoting militarism: “It is one of the amazing things of modern history that the Government of a great power should definitely teach its children to cherish ideas of valor, heroism, self-sacrifice, unrelieved by any of the virtues which modern civilization has come to place above brute force. . . . [War] may not be imminent, but it is very difficult to foresee how the [warlike] spirit here can be restrained and directed into permanent channels of peace towards the end of this present decade.” 2

Yet by 1937, some Germans were not as enthusiastic about the Nazi government as they had been just a few years before. Apart from the members of the Nazi Party, who increasingly included the youth of the nation, most Germans simply went on with their daily lives. Though they went along with Nazi programs, many began to grow indifferent toward and even tired of the constant propaganda, parades, and other public Nazi displays. Historian David Bankier found evidence of this in the reports by local Nazi officials that were sent from all over Germany to party headquarters in Berlin. He described one such report:

A Nazi official in Berlin had stated that the contributions in his district to Hitler’s birthday present were very bad. “Of over 4,000 potential subscribers, only half had contributed anything; of course the remainder would be forced to pay up, but the fact that they had not done so voluntarily revealed a bad spirit.” The Italian ambassador went so far as to claim that Hitler had little genuine popularity in Berlin, a judgment which seemed to be confirmed by the lukewarm crowds at Hitler’s birthday celebrations. This public mood expressed itself in reluctance to take part in party ceremonies and parades, even in the party conference celebrations, which were naturally of a political nature. Whereas in the early years of Nazi rule the participants in party celebrations were received with applause when marching through the streets, in 1937 the enthusiasm virtually disappeared. People claimed that the ceremonies were boring and the speeches too familiar; the party was no longer seen as a redeeming force. It proved difficult to recruit people to travel to the Nuremberg rally. The only ones whose faith was still strengthened by these rallies were the fanatics. 3

Connection Questions

  1. How does Raymond H. Geist’s description of Germany differ from that of the Lindberghs (see reading, The "New Germany" on the Olympic Stage)?
  2. From their experience during World War I, Germans knew how devastating war could be. Why might they have supported a leader who seemed to be preparing for another war?
  3. Why do you think both Geist and David Lloyd George (see reading, "The George Washington of Germany") commented on Hitler’s effect on young people? Why might that have been surprising to both observers? What might it have signaled to them?
  4. What does the police report reveal about the mood in Germany in 1937? How might such feelings have affected Nazi leaders’ decisions about the next steps in expanding their rule?
  • 1Quoted in J. Robert Moskin, American Statecraft: The Story of the U.S. Foreign Service (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2013), 371.
  • 2Quoted in Robert H. Gillette, The Virginia Plan: William B. Thalhimer and a Rescue from Nazi Germany (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2011), 32.
  • 3David Bankier, The Germans and the Final Solution: Public Opinion Under Nazism (Oxford: B. Blackwell, 1992), 57.

How to Cite This Reading

Facing History & Ourselves, "A Decline in Public Enthusiasm," last updated August 2, 2016.

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