The Making of Adolf Hitler
Eugene Davidson, current Chairman of the Conference on European Problems, has written several books on German history, including two studies on the Nuremberg Trials, The Trial of the Germans and The Nuremberg Fallacy. His latest book, The Making of Adolf Hitler, represents yet another contribution to the growing body of literature on Hitler and his National Socialist movement. Davidson’s purpose in writing the book is to explain how conditions in Germany after World War I enabled Hitler to come to power in that country by 1933. In view of the fact that his theme has been explored in countless other works, the author does not break too much new ground. Thus, in analyzing the reasons for Hitler’s ultimate success, Davidson focuses, as have others, on the problems inherent in the Weimar Republic from its inception in 1918. These include its association with Germany’s defeat in World War I; its inability to throw off completely the worst shackles of the Versailles Treaty, especially the heavy burden of reparations and the war-guilt clause; and, above all, the inability of its leaders to cope with the disruption of society brought on by the Great Depression. All of these calamities produced what Davidson terms a “psychic malfunction” of German society, a small majority of which by 1932 demanded a revolution. It was this part of the society which threw its support behind Hitler in 1933, when the President of the Republic, Paul von Hindenburg, appointed him chancellor of the Reich.
In The Making of Adolf Hitler, Davidson interweaves a portrait of Hitler’s life with an analysis of the milieus provided by Austria-Hungary, his place of birth; the German Empire, which he served as a soldier in World War I; and the postwar Weimar Republic, which he sought to destroy. The author devotes about two-thirds of the book to showing how the level of Hitler’s success was inversely related to the level of strength of the Weimar Republic during what may be defined as the three major periods of its existence. Thus, Hitler’s movement tended to fare well in the immediate postwar era when the Republic was buffeted by political revolutionary movements on the extreme Left and Right. A temporary, though protracted, decline in Hitler’s fortunes ensued in 1923, with his unsuccessful attempt to seize control of the Bavarian state government. From that time to the onset of the Great Depression in 1930, the division and discord within the National Socialist Party contrasted sharply with an era of stability in Germany’s internal affairs. This domestic tranquillity was, in part, the result of the successful foreign policy of Gustav Stresemann. During his tenure as foreign minister from 1923 to 1929, Stresemann negotiated an end to at least some of the restrictions imposed on German sovereignty by the Treaty of Versailles. He also reestablished improved relations with France by securing, in 1925, the termination of the two-year French occupation of the Ruhr Valley industrial complex. The impact, however, of the Great Depression swept away all of these achievements and in the process undermined the foundations of the Republic itself, thus paving the way for the Nazi resurgence and Hitler’s ascent to power.
Davidson devotes much of the first part of his book to a discussion of the early life of Adolf Hitler up to the beginning of World War I, and to the forces which shaped his character. Like other authors, he deals with Hitler’s complex family background, his early youth in the Austrian crownland of Upper Austria, his anti-Semitism, and his frustrated efforts to gain recognition as an artist during the years he lived in Vienna just prior to the outbreak of World War I. Hitler would later assert in his political testament, Mein Kampf, that his years in Vienna were ones of abject poverty. But it is now known, as the author points out, that Hitler received an inheritance from both his mother and an aunt which allowed him to lead a fairly comfortable artist’s life, albeit on the fringes of society. Indeed, Davidson’s comment that “Hitler was an outsider at every level of society” sheds considerable light on his personality in his early years as well as later in life. Thus, the attention which he lavished upon himself as the leader of the emerging National Socialist movement could well have been an unconscious attempt on his part to compensate for the banality and frustration of his Vienna years. Because Hitler fitted in nowhere in Vienna, he came to hate all the classes and non-German peoples of that multinational capital with whom he came in contact, especially the Jews.
At various points in the book, Davidson studies the character of Hitler’s animosity toward the Jews, both its inception and development in his formative years in Austria-Hungary and its use by the Nazis as a means of gaining a following among the German people in the 1920’s. Hitler’s story in Mein Kampf that he became a confirmed anti-Semite only after he came to Vienna and rubbed shoulders with the Jews there is without foundation. Davidson traces Hitler’s anti-Semitic roots back...
(The entire section is 2096 words.)