Germans Into Nazis

Historians have usually explained the rise of Adolf Hitler as a response to the unpopularity of the Versailles Treaty and the impact of the Great Depression; occasionally, they have added Anti-Semitism. Author Peter Fritzsche notes that every party denounced Versailles and was somewhat anti-Jewish; moreover, the decline of the traditional parties began in 1924, with the well-organized grassroots campaign of the Nazis picking up most defectors. Nazi support was not deep, but it was broad.

In July of 1914 Germans crossed party and class lines to support the war. Hitler revived this feeling of national unity in a program that reflect his party’s entire name: the Nationalist Socialist German Workers Party.

Competing parties did not provide such an umbrella approach to politics—Socialists were internationalists, nationalists were conservative, and Catholics repelled Protestants. Hitler alone provided a “Volksgemeinschaft” or community that cut across the lines of occupation, class, and region. National Socialism felt more democratic than Weimar, more nationalist than the late monarchy, more activist than traditional organizations. It was a revolutionary movement that responded to popular demands and affirmed beliefs in prosperity, technological advance, and Germany’s role in the future.

Voters chose to ignore the ugly side of Nazism, especially Anti-Semitism, which they could assume was traditional campaign rhetoric. By choosing Hitler, they could displace traditional elites with a dynamic national feeling similar to that of 1914.

Had there been no Hitler, the Weimar Republic would have been in fatal danger from the appearance of some military figure with a program similar to that of the NSDAP. Hitler was not inevitable, but he should have been predictable.