Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939 - Volker Ullrich (2016)
Chapter 8. Führer on Standby
“I’m no longer unknown, and that’s the most important springboard for us as we give it another try,” Hitler told Ernst Hanfstaengl after his release from Landsberg. He also reassured Hanfstaengl’s wife Helene: “I promise you one thing…The next time I’m not just going to topple off my perch.”1 Hitler had already decided in prison to reconstitute the NSDAP, and since he refused to take sides among the warring factions, his aura had remained undamaged. Thus he was in an excellent position to unite most of the rival individuals and groups behind him. It was his intention from the very start to transform the NSDAP into an unquestioning instrument for his own will. To further this aim, his power base in Munich had to remain the seat of the party. Hitler attached sacral importance to the birthplace of Nazism: “Rome, Mecca, Moscow—every one of these places embodies a world view!” he proclaimed. “We shall remain in the city that saw the first party comrades shed their blood for our movement. It must become the Moscow of our movement!”2 He added: “The holiest site is the one in which there has been the most suffering.”3
But conditions in Munich had changed since the rise of the NSDAP in the early 1920s. After the post-war political crises and hyperinflation, the Weimar Republic consolidated itself between 1924 and 1928. Once the reichsmark had been stabilised, the German economy recovered surprisingly quickly. In 1927, industrial production again reached pre-war levels. Real wages also grew at a healthy rate, while unemployment, which had stood at 20 per cent in the winter of 1923-4, was receding. The worst was seemingly over, and a cautious optimism was spreading through society.
Germany could also celebrate some progress in foreign policy. With the adoption in 1924 of the Dawes Plan, which tied reparations payments to the state of the economy, Germany received assurances that the military occupation of the Ruhr region would end within a year. Under Gustav Stresemann, who served as Germany’s foreign minister through a succession of governments from 1924 to 1929, relations continually improved with the Entente countries, in particular with France. In the 1925 Treaty of Locarno, Germany recognised its western border laid out in the Treaty of Versailles and guaranteed that the Rhineland would be kept demilitarised. In return, France and Belgium waived demands for further territorial concessions. In 1926, after these agreements had come into force, Germany was ceremoniously inducted into the League of Nations. The event marked the country’s return to the international community.4
When Germans today talk about the “Golden Twenties,” however, they don’t primarily mean economic recovery and political successes, but rather “Weimar culture,” an unusually rich flourishing of creativity and experimentalism.5 Around 1923-4, the ecstatic pathos and social utopianism of expressionism gave way to New Objectivity, a cooler and socially more realistic outlook that set the tone in painting, literature and architecture. The most concrete expression of this attitude was Walter Gropius’s Bauhaus movement in Weimar and later Dessau. Bauhaus was an experimental laboratory for new functional architecture, furniture and home appliances. New media such as vinyl records, radio and sound film facilitated the rise of modern mass culture, whose offerings could be enjoyed by people beyond the privileged upper classes. Sports like football, athletics, boxing and bicycle- and car-racing became increasingly popular. In his autobiography the journalist Sebastian Haffner identified a veritable “sports mania” that took hold of him and many other young people in the mid-1920s.6 The capital of the Golden Twenties was undeniably Berlin, full of cinemas and dance halls where American imports like the Shimmy and the Charleston were all the rage. Women’s fashion was more practical and casual, and the page-boy haircut became a symbol of female emancipation. Attitudes towards sex were unprecedentedly liberal. All these experiences, impulses and distractions worked against the previous trend towards political radicalism—but only as long as Germany’s fragile economic recovery continued.
The times were no longer favourable for Hitler. “Today, inflation no longer nourishes the desperation politics of a putsch,” the Bayerischer Anzeiger newspaper reasoned. “The conditions have changed, and Hitler will have to adjust his policies.”7 Nonetheless, as Hitler’s newly appointed personal secretary Hess noted, the “Tribune” was “in good spirits” and “full of his old energy” as he set about reconstituting the Nazi Party. “The superfluous fat gained at L[andsberg] is gone,” Hess wrote. “Once again he hardly has any free time. The hunt is back on!”8 Hitler had carefully prepared his return to the political stage. The first step was to get the Bavarian government to lift the ban on the NSDAP. In early January 1925, therefore, Hitler paid a visit to the Bavarian state president and chairman of the BVP, Heinrich Held. He expressed regrets for the attempted putsch, requested that his co-conspirators still detained in Landsberg be released, and promised to stay within the bounds of the law in future. At the same time, he distanced himself from attacks made by Ludendorff and other representatives of the far right upon the Catholic Church. Held’s reaction was cool. The Bavarian government, he said, would under no circumstances tolerate conditions like those in the run-up to 9 November 1923 and would use “every means of state authority” to prevent a repeat of the past. But he did ultimately agree to lift the ban on the NSDAP and the Völkischer Beobachter. “The beast is tamed,” Held is said to have remarked. “Now we can loosen the shackles.”9 Hitler was only able to launch his second political career because his adversaries criminally underestimated him.
On 26 February, ten days after the ban was lifted, the Völkischer Beobachter resumed publication. In the first edition’s lead article, “How to Make our Movement Strong Again,” and another piece entitled “Appeal to the Former Members of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party,” Hitler called for an end to the quarrels of the past: “Let us stand as before shoulder to shoulder, loyally as brothers in a great fighting community.”10 In the appended guidelines for a “new founding” of the party, all members had to reapply. However, Hitler made it clear that the most basic goal of the party had not changed in the slightest: “The entire strength of the movement is to be directed at the German people’s most terrible enemy: Jewry, Marxism and the parties that are allied with them or support them—the Centrists and the democrats.”11
A day later Hitler made a public appearance in the Bürgerbräukeller, the place where he had launched the attempted putsch a year and a half earlier. The venue was crammed beyond capacity hours before the start of the event, and when Hitler finally appeared, he was greeted with frenetic applause. Several prominent figures—Ludendorff, Rosenberg, Röhm and Gregor Strasser—were not in attendance, and the party’s original founder Anton Drexler, who had just failed in his attempt to push out Hermann Esser and Julius Streicher, stayed away as well. Publisher Max Amann moderated the event in his stead. By no means did Hitler show any signs of reform. On the contrary, he took up exactly where he had left off in November 1923. The largest part of his two-hour speech consisted of hateful anti-Jewish tirades that whipped the audience into a frenzy. “The Jew,” he proclaimed, was a “tool of the devil” that had plunged Germany into misery, and the battle against this “global plague” could only be won “when the swastika flag flies atop every workshop and factory.” The entire strength of the movement, Hitler demanded, must be focused on achieving this goal.
Only towards the end of his speech did Hitler get around to addressing what was actually the topic of the event—the reconstitution of the party. He repeated his appeal to “all those who have remained National Socialists” to bury the hatchet and unite around him. At no point was there the slightest doubt about Hitler’s claim to leadership: “For nine months I haven’t said a word. Now I lead the movement, and no one has the right to place me under any conditions.” Hitler was assuming complete responsibility for the past, and now, more than a year after the attempted coup, party members could decide his fate: “If I’ve done well, then you should stop condemning me. If I’ve done badly, then I will put my office back in your hands. (Cries of ‘Never!’)”12 This theatrical ending was followed by a prearranged scene of reconciliation between the rival leaders of the NSDAP’s successor organisations. Julius Streicher, Arthur Dinter and Hermann Esser of the Pan-Germanic Ethnic Community publicly shook hands on the podium with Rudolf Buttmann, Gottfried Feder and Wilhelm Frick of the VB. “The reuniting of the two feuding brothers” was a success, Hess noted. That evening, Hitler had himself chauffeured in his new Mercedes to Bayreuth by Winifred Wagner, whom he had invited to the Bürgerbräukeller.13
Yet despite the public pretence of unity, the quarrels continued. The Pan-Germanic Ethnic Community was dissolved in March 1925, and the majority of its members joined the NSDAP, but the membership of the VB had reservations. Of the twenty-three VB deputies in the Bavarian Landtag, only six went over to the new Nazi faction, which had been formed under Buttmann’s leadership. Ludendorff and Gregor Strasser had already stepped down from the Reich leadership of the National Socialist Liberation Movement on 12 February. But many of the people who sympathised with its aims saw Ludendorff, and not Hitler, as the true leader of the ethnic-chauvinist camp. Moreover, in early May, Anton Drexler, who was completely disillusioned with Hitler, founded an organisation of his own, the National-Social People’s League (Nationalsozialer Volksbund, or NSVB), from the remnants of the VB in Munich, although it never seriously rivalled the NSDAP.14
Hitler’s first post-prison appearance had unpleasant consequences. On 7 March, the Bavarian government banned him from speaking in public. The authorities were particularly disconcerted by his statement that “Either the enemy will march over our dead bodies, or we will march over his”—a threat that completely negated Hitler’s promises to stay within the bounds of the law.15 Most of Germany’s other federal states, including Prussia, followed suit and prohibited Hitler from speaking as well. That robbed the party leader of his most effective weapon, his ability to stir audiences with his words. On the other hand, he was still allowed to take the podium at closed party meetings and events, and the Bruckmanns’ salon served as a kind of substitute public forum. There Hitler spoke a number of times in front of specially invited audiences of between forty and sixty guests, most of them influential representatives of business, science and culture. Here Hitler had to make a very different impression than he did in the feverish, intoxicated atmosphere of a mass event. Even in his external appearance, as the historian Karl Alexander von Müller noted, Hitler adapted to the social circumstances by donning a dark-blue jacket or even a tuxedo. This was “an entirely new school of propaganda, dissimulation and seduction,” wrote Müller. The historian was also struck by Hitler’s physiognomic changes: “His thin, pale, sickly, oft empty-seeming face had become pinched, which caused his facial bones, from his forehead to his chin, to emerge more starkly. His enthusiasm had yielded to an unmistakable streak of severity. Essentially he had already become how people would later remember him.”16
If Hitler wanted to realise his ambition of absolute leadership of the NSDAP, he had to get rid of his political rivals, in particular Ludendorff, from whom he had already distanced himself while in Landsberg. It was no accident that Hitler failed to mention Ludendorff once in his speech on 27 February. Only after the staged reconciliation of the rival factions did he pay tribute to the general “who will always be the German people’s military leader.” Conversely, Ludendorff felt disappointed by Hitler. The party chairman suffered from “a psychotic fortress mentality,” Ludendorff complained privately. The general had already announced in early February that he would withdraw from politics if Hitler reconstituted the NSDAP, although Ludendorff retained his Reichstag mandate.17
Hitler was soon gifted an unforeseen chance to deal a blow to Ludendorff’s reputation. On 28 February 1925, worn out by the constant attacks of his enemies, Reich President Friedrich Ebert died at the age of 54. Hitler persuaded Ludendorff to stand as a candidate for the far right in the resulting elections. The other candidates were the Duisburg mayor Karl Jarres for the moderately right-wing DNVP and DVP, the Social Democrat Otto Braun, the Centre Party leader Wilhelm Marx and the Communist Ernst Thälmann. Hitler knew that Ludendorff stood no chance, but on the surface he did everything to suggest that the reconstituted NSDAP was completely behind the general’s candidacy. The Völkischer Beobachter published constant appeals to its readers to vote for Ludendorff with the slogan “He who wants freedom must choose the man with the iron fist.”18
The first round of voting on 24 March was a debacle for Ludendorff, who only received 286,000 votes, or 1.1 per cent of the ballots cast, by far the fewest of any of the candidates. “Bismarck too was not made chancellor of the German people by the result of an election,” Hitler wrote in a disingenuously encouraging article in the Völkischer Beobachter.19 In truth, Hitler was delighted. “Very good so—now we’ve taken care of him,” Hitler allegedly remarked after Ludendorff’s complete defeat became clear.20 Because none of the candidates achieved an absolute majority, however, a run-off election was called for 26 April. Former Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg, representing all the parties on the right, won a narrow victory over Marx, who stood for the SPD, the DDP and the Centre Party. Hindenburg’s election might have been prevented had not Thälmann insisted on running for the KPD. The Communists thus played a role in installing a dyed-in-the-wool monarchist in Germany’s highest political office. “Who would have imagined two years ago that Paul von Hindenburg could become German president?” exulted the right-wing paramilitary leader Georg Escherich. “Now we have an unimpeachable, reasonable man at the head of the Reich.”21 In fact, Hindenburg had a fractured relationship with the democratic institutions of the Weimar Republic, and the fatal consequences would become apparent when German democracy came under attack in the 1930s.
Hitler, who had called upon the members of his party to vote for Hindenburg, was satisfied with the election outcome, which saw “the top hat give way to the steel helmet.” Under Hindenburg, Hitler reasoned, “a better future would be coming for Germany.”22 Ludendorff, however, was no longer a suitable figurehead for the far-right, ethnic-chauvinist movement, and he immediately sank into political irrelevance. In September 1925, he founded a group called the Tannenberg League, but under the influence of his second wife, the physician Mathilde von Kemnitz, it was transformed into a sect that spread abstruse conspiracy theories about Freemasons, Jews and Jesuits and preached neopagan religious beliefs.23
The other rival whom Hitler manoeuvred onto the margins was Ernst Röhm. While Hitler was confined in Landsberg, the former army captain had organised members of the disbanded SA and the Fighting Association into a new paramilitary group, the Frontbann. Röhm intended it to be a militia independent from the party, which collided with Hitler’s aim of subjugating the SA to the NSDAP. “The purpose of the new SA,” read Hitler’s guidelines of 26 February 1925, “remains the same as the original one of before February 1923: to steel the bodies of our youth, to teach them discipline and commitment to our great, common ideal and to train them to become a security and propaganda service for the party.”24 Their differences caused Hitler and Röhm to fall out. In late April 1925, Röhm resigned as the head of the SA and the Frontbann and withdrew from the movement; in 1928, he became a military adviser in Bolivia. Hitler named Franz Pfeffer von Salomon as his successor in November 1926.
Before November 1923, the NSDAP had essentially been a home-grown Bavarian product, only weakly represented in northern Germany. Hitler now wanted to change that. Even before the party was officially reconstituted on 27 February 1925, he had charged Gregor Strasser with building up the party in north-western Germany. Strasser, whose storm battalion had taken part in the Beer Hall Putsch, had become one of the far right’s best-known politicians during Hitler’s imprisonment. In April 1924, he was elected a VB deputy to the Bavarian Landtag and had quickly become the chairman of his parliamentary faction. Together with Ludendorff and Albrecht von Graefe, he had been part of the Reich leadership triumvirate of the National Socialist Liberation Movement, and he won a mandate to represent that group in the Reichstag in December 1924. Strasser was not only a good public speaker, but an organisational talent. He valued Hitler as an irreplaceable unifying figure for the movement, and later told an intimate that he had found Hitler’s “tempestuous and winning personality” impossible to resist.25 But unlike most people in the Führer’s entourage, Strasser did not blindly worship him. As Strasser himself once remarked, he was not “one of those proverbial satellites who always revolves around the sun to draw light from it.”26 Hitler’s bohemian habits infuriated Strasser, and although he was a committed anti-Semite himself, he did not share Hitler’s rabid Jew-hatred.
Like that of many war veterans, Strasser’s notion of “national socialism” reflected his experience in the trenches. But Strasser was more a socialist than a nationalist, and he took the anti-capitalist planks in the party programme quite seriously. In a reflection on the new year in the Völkischer Beobachter in early 1926, Strasser wrote: “We National Socialists fight passionately not only for national liberation but with great conviction for social justice, for the nationalisation of the economy.”27 The immunity Strasser enjoyed as a member of the Reichstag and the privilege of free rail travel given to deputies granted him great mobility, which he used tirelessly to promote the NSDAP in northern and western Germany. By the end of 1925, there were already 262 local Nazi chapters in those regions—almost four times as many as there had been at the time of the Beer Hall Putsch.28
Strasser’s most important associate was a young intellectual named Paul Joseph Goebbels. Born in 1897 as the son of a business manager in the western German industrial city of Rheydt (today’s Mönchengladbach), Goebbels suffered from a clubbed right foot—the deformity was the source of a deep-seated inferiority complex for which Goebbels tried to compensate with intellectual achievements. After graduating from high school in 1917, Goebbels studied German literature in Bonn, and he received his doctorate in Heidelberg in 1921 with a dissertation about the Romantic dramatist Wilhelm Schütz. But that did not satisfy Goebbels’s ambitions. He longed to make a name for himself as a writer or a journalist and applied for a job at the liberal Berliner Tageblatt in January 1924. The application was summarily rejected, which was likely one of the roots of Goebbels’s hatred of Jews and the “Jewish press.” For a short time he worked at a branch of Dresdner Bank in Cologne, and his experiences of rampant hyperinflation encouraged his critical attitudes towards capitalism. The frustrated young man first became aware of Hitler in connection with the latter’s trial in Munich in early 1924. The Führer “spoke straight from my soul,” Goebbels would tell Hitler two years later. “God granted you the ability to articulate our suffering. You put our pain into words of deliverance and transformed confidence in the coming miracle into sentences.”29
After visiting the unity conference of right-wing parties in Weimar in August 1924, where he met Gregor Strasser for the first time, Goebbels and a friend from school formed the local Rheydt chapter of the National Socialist Liberation Movement (NSFB). It was at the organisation’s meetings that the physically slight intellectual with the pronounced limp discovered his rhetorical abilities. For several months he took over as the editor of Völkische Freiheit, the weekly “fighting newsletter” of the NSFB in Elberfeld, in Germany’s industrial heartland. When the NSDAP was reconstituted in February 1925, Goebbels immediately joined. On the recommendation of Karl Kaufmann, a Strasser intimate, he was made the secretary of the North Rhineland party district or Gau, whereupon he moved to Elberfeld. Goebbels quickly became known as one of the party’s most effective speakers, and his public appearances constantly provoked fights with Communists in the industrial Ruhr Valley.
Goebbels and Strasser both emotionally rejected capitalism and rapturously embraced socialism: “National and socialist!” Goebbels wrote in his diary. “What has priority and what comes second? There’s no doubt about the answer among us here in the west. First socialist redemption, and then national liberation will arrive like a powerful storm wind.”30 Goebbels also shared Strasser’s antipathy for the “dirty, whorish dealings” within the Nazi Party’s Munich headquarters.31 They particularly despised Hermann Esser, who they thought exerted a bad influence on Hitler; and they considered it their main goal to free the party chairman from the putative clutches of the Munich clique and tie him to the “socialist” line of the Strasser wing of the NSDAP. As a means of creating an opposite pole to the “decadent Munich direction,” a “Working Association North-west” was founded at a meeting in Hagen on 10 September 1925.32 The organisation, based in Elberfeld, was a loose association of the Gaue in northern and western Germany, with Strasser as its director and Goebbels as its secretary. Goebbels also edited the fortnightly newsletter, the Nationalsozialistische Briefe. The working association was not directed against Hitler: on the contrary, it explicitly recognised his right to lead the party. In its statutes, adopted on 9 October, all the regional party leaders, the Gauleiter, pledged “to put aside all selfish aims and serve in the spirit of camaraderie the National Socialist idea under the Führer Adolf Hitler.”33
At this point, Goebbels still had his doubts whether Hitler, whom he met for the first time in person at a Gauleiter convention in Weimar in July 1925, would in fact be able to fulfil the role of the much-longed-for political messiah. When Goebbels finished reading the first volume of Mein Kampf in mid-October, he asked himself: “Who is this man? Half plebian, half deity! Is he in fact Christ or only John the Baptist?”34But by the time Goebbels encountered Hitler for a second time, at a Gau conference in Braunschweig on 6 November, his doubts were resolved. Hitler had greeted him “like an old friend,” Goebbels rejoiced in his diary. “Those large, blue eyes. Like stars…This man has everything he needs to become king. He is a born popular Tribune. The coming dictator.”35
At the first meeting of the working association on 22 November in Hanover, Strasser unveiled the draft of a “comprehensive manifesto of national socialism.” It was intended to make the NSDAP party programme more specific on a number of points, not replace it. The general thrust was most clear in Strasser’s demand that key industries be nationalised, by “transferring ownership of most of the means of production to the general public.” On the foreign-policy front, Strasser envisioned all Germans being united in a “greater German empire” that would be the basis for a Central European customs union and a “United States of Europe.”36 The new Reich should try to conclude an alliance with Bolshevik Russia, Strasser argued in an article in the Völkischer Beobachter, and the deal should be concluded in the spirit of mutual German and Russian opposition to the capitalist West and to the order imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.37
On 24 January 1926, the north-western Gauleiter came together for a second time to discuss the revised party programme. In attendance also was Gottfried Feder from Munich, who had vigorously protested in the name of the NSDAP against any changes to the earlier twenty-five-point manifesto. Feder took copious notes during the debates—much to the dismay of many conference participants, who feared that Hitler would be informed about any critical remarks they made. The decision about whether to write a new programme was postponed, while Strasser’s draft and all other suggestions were passed along to a committee. The conference did, however, vote to support a popular referendum, sponsored by the SPD and the Communists, calling for the expropriation of German princes without compensation.38
Initially, Hitler had not paid much attention to the doings of the Working Association North-west. As was his wont with internal party conflicts, he let things take their course. In July 1925 he attended the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth for the first time. Accompanied by his Munich patroness, Elsa Bruckmann, he resided with the Bechsteins and enjoyed the luxury. It was not until the seventh day of the festival that Hitler met Winifred Wagner. The two called one another “Winnie” and “Wolf,” and Wagner was soon one of the few people allowed to address Hitler with the informal second-person pronoun “du.” “Those were sunny days,” Hitler recalled in February 1942. “I was 36 years old and had not a care in the world. The sky was hung with violins. I was popular enough that everyone treated me well without wanting anything from me. People left me in peace. During the day I walked around in my lederhosen, to the festival I wore a tuxedo or tails.”39
After the festival, Hitler retreated for several weeks to a guest house in Berchtesgaden to resume work with Max Amann on the second volume of Mein Kampf.40 He only returned to Munich at the end of September. With the party leader nearly invisible for two months, Gregor Strasser was ambitiously making a name for himself in north-western Germany. Hitler did not yet see Strasser as a rival. On the contrary, at the NSDAP leadership conference in Landshut in October 1925, Hitler praised Strasser “for opening up large sections of Germany to National Socialism.”41
Hitler only began to see the activities of the working association as a threat to his own leadership in January 1926, when, probably at Feder’s behest, he was given Strasser’s draft party programme.42 “Hitler is furious about the manifesto,” Goebbels noted.43 Only then did Hitler feel compelled to intervene, and as he had in previous crisis situations, he now could not engineer the decisive test of strength quickly enough. At short notice, he called a leadership conference for 14 February in Bamberg. Goebbels was confident that the spokesmen for the working association would be successful in advocating their suggestions for the party programme. “In Bamberg we’ll play the role of the standoffish beauty and win Hitler over to our side,” Goebbels predicted. “In every city, I see with great joy that our spirit, i.e. the socialist one, is on the march. No one puts their faith any more in Munich. Elberfeld shall become the mecca of German socialism.”44
The conference, however, did not go at all as Goebbels anticipated. The representatives from northern and western Germany were in a clear minority among the approximately sixty participants, and from the very start, Hitler was intent on confronting them. In a speech that went on for hours, he dismissed the ideas of the working association point by point. When it came to foreign policy, Hitler advocated alliances with Britain and Italy, both of which made for potential partners owing to shared differences with Germany’s “mortal enemy” France. Hitler categorically rejected any agreement with Russia, which, he said, would lead to the “immediate political Bolshevisation” of Germany. As he had outlined in Mein Kampf, he made the acquisition of “territory and soil” the centrepiece of his foreign policy, demanding that Germany “reorient itself towards the east and colonise the area as it had in the Middle Ages.” He also ruled about the expropriation of the German princes, declaring that aristocrats were, in the first instance, Germans. “We will not tolerate that what belongs to them is being taken from them,” Hitler thundered. “We believe in the law and will not give a Jewish system of exploitation any legal justification for completely plundering our people.” Finally, Hitler forbade any discussions about the party programme. It was “the movement’s article of faith” and thus “sacrosanct.”45
Goebbels felt as though he had been slapped in the face. “Was this the real Hitler?” he asked. “A reactionary?…The Russian question: completely off the mark. Italy and England: Germany’s natural allies. How horrible! Our main task is to smash Bolshevism. Bolshevism is a Jewish instrument! We must inherit Russia!” Goebbels was also shocked by Hitler’s attitude towards the expropriation issue. “The law must remain the law for aristocrats as well,” he noted in horror. “No questioning of private property! How terrible!”46 Yet despite his profound disappointment, the otherwise so loquacious secretary of the Elberfeld faction did not dare oppose Hitler openly. While Goebbels stubbornly remained silent, it was left to Gregor Strasser to defend their positions, and he was apparently so shocked by Hitler’s fury that he failed miserably. “Hesitant, tremulous and clumsy” was how Goebbels described Strasser’s reply. Feder characterised Strasser as “a beaten dog.”47 The triumph of the Munich faction was absolute. In the wake of the Bamberg conference, the Working Association North-west was finished politically, even if it did not immediately disband. In early March 1926, Strasser wrote to the Gauleiter asking them to send back all the copies of his draft manifesto, saying that he had “promised Herr Hitler to bring about the total recall of the programme.”48 It was the last time there would be any debate about the party’s main political orientation.
Hitler was clever enough not to revel in his victory. Instead of humiliating his rivals he sought to win them over with conciliatory gestures. When Gregor Strasser was injured in a car accident in Landshut, Hitler made a point of visiting him in his sickbed.49 The following September, Strasser was called to join the party leadership in Munich as propaganda director; he succeeded Hermann Esser, the very object of the initial attacks by the working association.50 Hitler was particularly eager to court Goebbels, whose political talent he had recognised early on and whose need for praise and acknowledgement were equally obvious. The way he massaged the bruised ego of the “little doctor” demonstrated his instinctive understanding of people. “Once he’s here, I’ll win him over to our side,” Hitler told his intimates in Munich. “I’ll take care of him myself. The rest of you keep your hands off.”51 In late March, Hitler invited Goebbels to come to Munich and give a speech at the prestigious Bürgerbräukeller. The man from the Rhineland was courted as soon as he arrived in Munich on the evening of 7 April. Hitler sent his personal Mercedes to pick him up. “What a reception!” Goebbels crowed.52 During the drive to his hotel, he saw giant posters advertising his speech the following evening.
“My heart was beating so hard it almost burst,” Goebbels noted about his two-and-a-half-hour address. “I was giving everything I had. There were cheers and commotion. At the end, Hitler embraced me, tears in his eyes. I’m so overjoyed.” The next day, Hitler gave Goebbels a personal tour of the party headquarters. The two men met several times, and Hitler employed his full power of persuasion to quell Goebbels’s doubts. In the end, Goebbels was converted: “I am relieved on all counts. He is a man who only sees the big picture. Such an effervescent mind can be my leader. I bow before my superior, the political genius!”
On 19 April, Goebbels spoke alongside Hitler in Stuttgart, and the two celebrated Hitler’s thirty-seventh birthday when the clock struck midnight. “Adolf Hitler, I love you, because you are simultaneously great and simple,” Goebbels gushed in his diary.53 In mid-June Hitler spoke in Essen. “A wonderful triad of gestures, facial expressions and words,” Goebbels noted. “A born motivator! One could conquer the world with this man.”54 In July, Goebbels was permitted to spend a few days with Hitler on the Obersalzberg, and he requited that honour with a pledge of absolute loyalty: “Yes, this is a man I can serve. This is what the creator of the Third Reich looks like…I am knocked sideways. This is how he is: as sweet-natured, good-hearted and mild as a child; as sly, clever and adroit as a cat; as roaringly great and gigantic as a lion. A capital fellow, a true man.”55 Goebbels’s conversion was complete. In late October 1926, Hitler named him Gauleiter of Greater Berlin, one of the most significant posts in the party’s struggle for political power.
Hitler’s triumph over the Strasser faction consolidated his position within the party, and at the party conference in Munich on 22 May 1926, he had his leadership confirmed by the rank and file. His re-election as party chairman was a foregone conclusion: the delegates burst out laughing when Max Amann asked if “someone other than Adolf Hitler should lead the party in the future.” The newly ratified constitution of the NSDAP declared the party programme of 24 February 1920 as “immutable” and decreed that the party chairman be given “the most generous leeway…and independence from majority decisions of committees.” In his state-of-the-party address, Hitler stressed that the organisation was in a “better than previous” position one year after its reconstitution. The NSDAP, Hitler said, had gained a foothold throughout Germany and recruited a number of “first-rate speakers.” He specifically mentioned “our friend from Elberfeld, Goebbels,” which the latter noted with great satisfaction in his diary.56
At the first post-ban NSDAP rally, on 3 and 4 July 1926 in Weimar, the once-fractious party was the picture of harmony. Weimar was chosen because Thuringia was one of the few German states where Hitler was still allowed to speak publicly. All petitions that could have been the source of conflict were sent in advance to “special commissions” so that the impression of internal unity would not be disrupted. In his speech at the German National Theatre on the afternoon of 4 July, Hitler summoned party members’ faith and readiness for sacrifice. “Deep and mystical—almost like a Gospel,” Goebbels noted. “I thank destiny for giving us this man!”57 After his speech, Hitler, dressed in an overcoat and puttees and with raised right arm, stood in an open-top car and inspected a parade of several thousand SA men. The Weimar rally was a milestone in the NSDAP’s transition to a “Führer party.” There had been no objections to Hitler’s claim of absolute leadership, and the reconciliation of rival factions seemed to have succeeded. Summing up the proceedings in the Völkischer Beobachter, Rosenberg wrote: “Longing became strength. That is one of the major results from Weimar. And it has its flag. And its Führer.”58
In truth, the Nazi Party’s development in 1926 and 1927 was far less impressive than party propaganda made it out to be. Growth in membership was slow. In late 1925, the party had little more than 27,000 members, and in late 1926 that figure was still only 50,000. It was not until March 1927 that enrolment reached 57,477—the number of members the NSDAP had had in November 1923. By the end of 1927, the number had reached 72,590 people.59 Even in Munich, where the party had its headquarters, the signs of stagnation were unmistakable. Little remained of the party’s dynamism, its near-constant presence on the streets from the early 1920s. Between 1926 and the spring of 1928, the Munich chapter never counted more than 2,500 members and thus failed to match its strength of 1923.60 Local meetings were, as a rule, poorly attended, and only a small percentage of members were actively involved in party life. The declining willingness of members to pay their dues also indicated that interest was waning.61
Moreover, the rivalries of 1924 persisted even after the carefully staged reconciliation. The everyday life of the party was full of feuding and resentment. In Munich, Goebbels’s rise in Hitler’s favour was viewed with envy. In February 1927 an essay by the Berlin Gauleiter in the Nationalsozialistische Blätter (National Socialist Newsletter) caused a furore. “This ever more intolerable youth has been insolent enough…to rebuke Frick so that even this level-headed man is upset,” Rudolf Buttmann wrote to his wife. “H[itler] will no doubt put the upstart scribbler back in his place in writing.”62 In fact, Hitler merely had Gottfried Feder give Goebbels a mild scolding. Just as he had in Landsberg, the Führer declined to involve himself or take sides in quarrels between his underlings.
As reflected in their election results, in the first few years after the party was reconstituted, the NSDAP played only a marginal role in German politics. The party got a scant 4,607 votes (1.7 per cent) in the Landtag election in Mecklenburg-Schwerin on 6 June 1926 and only 37,725 (1.6 per cent) in a state poll in Saxony on 31 October 1926. The NSDAP did slightly better in Thuringia on 30 January 1927, taking 27,946 votes (3.5 per cent).63 Hitler may have been convinced, as Hess reported in early 1927, that the party was headed for an imminent “upturn” but that was not the case.64 In March 1927, the Reich commissioner for public order, who was charged with monitoring the NSDAP, deemed that overall the party had made no progress: “It has not been able to bring its membership anywhere near the level it had in 1923.”65 By the summer of 1927, the liberal Reichstag deputy and lecturer at the German Academy of Politics in Berlin, Theodor Heuss, opined that the NSDAP was merely “a reminder of the period of inflation.”66 Foreign observers felt likewise. In a memorandum in late 1927, the British Foreign Office’s Germany expert John Perowne suggested that Hitler’s star was declining: “His figure and that of Ludendorff fade into insignificance.”67
With the NSDAP’s popularity fading, Bavarian Interior Minister Karl Stützel saw no reason to extend the ban on Hitler appearing publicly. On 5 March 1927, after considerable dithering, the prohibition was lifted, and Hitler was free to speak again. The following day, he took to the stage in the town of Vilsbiburg, and on 9 March he celebrated a triumphant comeback in Zirkus Krone. Some 7,000 people packed the venue, among them “members of the better classes, ladies in fur coats and representatives of the intelligentsia.” “Lust for the sensational lay in the hot, sickly-sweet air,” noted a Munich police observer. At around 9 p.m., Hitler finally appeared with his entourage. “The people acted happy and excited, waving, constantly crying ‘Heil,’ standing on the benches and stamping their feet. Then a fanfare as in the theatre. Immediate silence.” The dramaturgy of Hitler’s appearances had not changed since 1923. Hitler marched into the auditorium, followed by two rows of drummers and some 200 SA men in rank and file. “The people greeted him in the Fascist way with outstretched arms…” the police observer wrote. “Music blared. Flags were paraded, and spit-polished standards with wreathed swastikas and eagles copied from Ancient Roman insignia.”
The observer seems to have been less than impressed by Hitler’s rhetorical skills. Hitler began slowly, but then the words came tumbling out, barely comprehensible: “He gesticulated with his hands and arms, jumped about this way and that and sought to keep his audience captivated. Whenever he was interrupted by applause, he theatrically extended his arms.” Nor was the police observer, obviously no Nazi sympathiser, captivated by what Hitler had to say:
In his speech, Hitler used vulgar comparisons, tailor-made to the intellectual capacities of his listeners, and he did not shy away from even the cheapest allusions…His words and opinions were simply hurled out with dictatorial certainty as if they were unquestionable principles and facts. All this manifests itself in his language as well, which is like something merely expulsed.68
At Hitler’s second appearance in Zirkus Krone in late March, however, the hall was only two-thirds full. In early April, around 3,000 people showed up, and on 6 April Hitler was only drawing half that number. “Hitler back in front of empty seats,” the Social Democratic Münchener Post newspaper gleefully reported.69 After his involuntary two-year hiatus, Hitler no longer possessed the appeal as a speaker he once had. That had less to do with fatigue, even among his Munich followers, than with his refusal to take account of all the recent changes in his speeches, which still relied upon the crisis rhetoric of 1923. Hitler stodgily ignored all signs of economic recovery. “The German collapse continues,” he asserted in December 1925, declaring a few months later: “Today we are a pitiable people, plagued by misery and poverty…Seven years on from 1918, we can say that we have sunk lower and lower.”70 Hitler liked to use comparisons with Italy under Mussolini to portray conditions in Germany in the worst possible light. “There they have a flourishing economy, while here we have a decrepit industrial sector with twelve million unemployed,” he declared at a rally in Stuttgart in April 1926.71 In reality, an average of only two million Germans were unemployed that year.
Hitler paired his extreme exaggeration of Germany’s economic plight with extremist polemics against Gustav Stresemann’s policy of international reconciliation. For Hitler, the 1924 Dawes Plan was nothing but a grandiose way of sapping the German people’s energy. The 1925 Treaty of Locarno represented “boundless subordination and the deepest dishonour.”72 As he had previously with Walther Rathenau, Hitler did not shy away from ad hominem attacks on Stresemann, accusing him of being a traitor. For Hitler, reaching any agreements with Germany’s “irreconcilable enemy” France was like “trying to form a coalition between the goose and the fox.” The German foreign minister owed his office to “the grace of France,” Hitler sneered, and thus was more concerned about the interests of his French colleague Aristide Briand than those of the German people.73
Hitler took the same view that conservatives in general did of “Weimar culture,” seeing it only as a symptom of decadence and decline. In Hitler’s mind, German literature and art had been “made obscene and dirty.” Even in the birthplace of German classicism itself, Weimar, Hitler raged in one of his speeches, “the poisoners of the German soul are leading their filthy existence and defiling the sites of the most elevated art with nigger and jazz music.” One task of National Socialism was to “clean out this manure.”74 Hitler blamed the “degeneration” of German culture on the “corrosive” influence of Jews. Not only did Jews control the economy via the banks and the stock exchanges, Hitler thundered in August 1925, they also dominated German journalism, literature, art, theatre and cinema: “Today, they are in almost complete control culturally just as they are in total control economically over the entire world.”75 Incarceration had done nothing to dampen Hitler’s fanatic anti-Semitism, which he put on display not only at closed party meetings, but in public mass events. No other speaker in the NSDAP—not even Goebbels or Julius Streicher—raged more furiously against the “Galician riff-raff and criminal gangs…the international Jewish stranglers of blood…[and] the drones of international high finance.”76 The people of the world, he promised in June 1927, would “breathe easier” once they were liberated from the Jews. On 24 February 1928, the eighth anniversary of the announcement of the party programme, Hitler may have proclaimed: “If [the Jew] behaves, he can stay—if not, out with him!” But in the same breath he insisted that “We are the masters of our house” and issued an unmistakably murderous threat: “One cannot compete with parasites, one can only remove them.”77
Hitler could, of course, moderate his anti-Semitism when he was speaking before smaller, select audiences. One example is the speech he gave on 28 February 1926 in front of an exclusive conservative-nationalist club in Hamburg, in the great hall of the luxury Atlantic Hotel. Here Hitler’s talk avoided any mention of the “Jewish question,” focusing instead on the “danger of the Marxist movement.” His understanding of the term “Marxist” was very broad, however, and included both the Social Democrats and the Communists. But because the moderate Hamburg SPD, which cooperated with bourgeois liberals, was not a suitable target for attack, Hitler concentrated his bile on the KPD, whose leader, Ernst Thälmann, came from the northern German port city. Hitler deliberately called upon the fears of his audience, which included leading Hamburg merchants, of the Communists coming to power. “If Communism were to triumph today, two million people would be making their way to the gallows,” he prophesied. But there was a way of “smashing and eradicating the Marxist world view,” which was the aim of his own movement. The NSDAP, Hitler proclaimed, knew “that toxins could only be combated with anti-toxins,” and the party would not rest “until the last Marxist has either been converted or eliminated.” The initially reserved audience greeted these words with frenetic applause, and at the end of the speech, when Hitler proclaimed his vision of a “Germany of freedom and power,” he was showered with ovations and shouts of “Heil.”78
For Hitler the categories “Jewish” and “Marxist” were interchangeable. Depending on the situation, his warnings for the future could oscillate between “the international Jewish world enemy” and “the international Marxist poisoning of peoples.” On occasion he would combine the two objects of hatred. “The Jew is and remains the world’s enemy, and his greatest weapon, Marxism, is and remains a plague for humanity,” he wrote in February 1927 in the Völkischer Beobachter.79 By destroying Marxism, Hitler believed that he could eradicate class conflict and create a “genuine ethnic-popular community.” He was also constantly coming up with new phrases to describe the marriage of nationalism and socialism, the unification of “workers of the mind and workers of the fist.” National Socialism knew neither bourgeois nor proletarian, only “the German working for his people.”80 Sometimes Hitler recalled his experiences at the Western Front as a harbinger of the sort of national community he envisioned. “There once was a place in Germany without class divisions,” he declared in a speech. “That was among the companies of soldiers at the front. There were no recognisable bourgeois and proletarian characteristics there. There was the company and only the company.”81
One of the few new topics Hitler adopted after 1924 was the necessity, first advanced in December 1925, of acquiring “living space” to secure adequate food supplies for the German people. His speech at the Weimar rally in 1926 made a special point of emphasising the demand that population size and available territory be calibrated—by force if necessary. “We have to solve this question with a rough hand and a sharp sword,” Hitler proclaimed.82 After finishing the second volume of Mein Kampf in the autumn of 1926, he had repeatedly included the “space question” in his speeches. Hitler made no bones of the fact that he intended to resolve this issue with violence as soon as Germany’s military position was strong enough. In his first public speech after the Bavarian ban was lifted, in Vilsbiburg, he had cited the example of eastern colonisation in the Middle Ages. Back then, Hitler claimed, “the territory east of the Elbe River had been conquered with the sword and handed over to the fist of the German farmer.” In early April 1927 in Zirkus Krone, he addressed an imaginary enemy: “And should you not give us space in the world, then we will take that space ourselves.”83 Later in 1927, Hitler took to citing the title of a popular novel of the previous year: Hans Grimm’s Volk ohne Raum—“A People without Space.” Then, in early February 1928, he first publicly used the term Lebensraum—“living space.”84 Hitler rarely made it explicitly clear that the territory in question would come at the expense of the Soviet Union, but his audience could hardly have been under any illusions about the direction in which his expansionism was aimed.
Hitler’s full-throated proclamations must have appeared rather delusional at a time when the NSDAP was still only a marginal player within German politics. To dispel doubts among his followers, Hitler seized every occasion to stress how crucial “blind, fanatical belief” was to the ultimate triumph of the movement. If one had “the holiest of faiths,” he reassured them, “even what is most impossible becomes possible.”85That prompted Hess to write to their former fellow Landsberg inmate Walter Hewel in late March 1937:
This is where the great popular leader coincides with the great founder of a religion. An apodictic belief has to be installed in listeners. Only then can the mass of followers be led where they are supposed to be led. They will follow their leader even in the face of setbacks, but only if they have been instilled with absolute faith in the absolute rectitude of their own will, of the Führer’s mission and the mission of their people.86
National Socialism depicted itself as a political religion. “What does Christianity mean for us today?” Goebbels scoffed. “National Socialism is a religion.”87 This view corresponded to the party’s inflation of itself to a “community of faith” and its programme to an “ideological creed.” Like the biblical apostles, the task of the Führer’s disciples was to spread Nazi principles “like a gospel among our people.”88 This was one reason why Hitler staunchly refused to consider any amendment of the original twenty-five-point NSDAP manifesto. “Absolutely not,” he told Hanfstaengl. “It’s staying as it is. The New Testament, too, is full of contradictions, but that did nothing to hinder the spread of Christianity.”89 At the Nazi Party’s 1925 Christmas celebrations, Hitler drew a revealing parallel between early Christianity and the “movement.” Christ had also been initially mocked, and yet the Christian faith had become a massive global movement. “We want to achieve the same thing in the arena of politics,” Hitler stated. A year later he was explicitly casting himself as Jesus’s successor, who would complete his work. “National Socialism,” Hitler proclaimed, “is nothing other than compliance with Christ’s teachings.”90
In his public speeches, especially in their final crescendos, Hitler often utilised religious vocabulary. He would conclude with a final “Amen!” or invoke his “faith in a new Holy German Empire” or call upon “Our Lord to give me the strength to continue my work in the face of all the demons.”91 He constantly warned his followers that there would be no shortage of sacrifices along the way. Here, too, he drew parallels with early Christianity: “We have a path of thorns to go down and are proud of it.” The “blood witnesses” who had lost their lives for the Nazi movement, Hitler promised, would enjoy the sort of reverence once reserved for the Christian martyrs.92 To reinforce this idea, the annual party rally rituals included the reverent handing over of the “bloody banner” carried during the putsch of 1923, combined with a personal oath of loyalty to the Führer.
Yet although the Nazis had no scruples about appropriating religious sentiments and customs for political purposes, they also maintained strict neutrality towards the Christian confessions. In his lead article concerning the reconstitution of the party in February 1925, Hitler had opposed any attempt to “drag religious quarrels into the movement,” insisting that the “members of both confessions must be able to peacefully coexist” in the NSDAP.93 Hitler was thus enraged when the Gauleiter of Thuringia and author of the anti-Semitic bestseller Sin against Blood, Arthur Dinter, began promoting the “pure gospel of the saviour” and advocated dismantling the Protestant and Catholic Churches. In late September 1927, Hitler removed Dinter from office,94 informing him the following July: “As the leader of the National Socialist movement and as a person who has a blind faith in belonging one day to the ranks of those who make history, I see your activity as damaging the National Socialist movement by connecting the party with your reformist goals.” Dinter was subsequently kicked out of the NSDAP.95
The party made little headway from the mid-1920s, as the period of relative stability for the Weimar Republic continued. Nonetheless, those years were crucial to its internal development. It was then that the foundations were laid for the movement’s later dramatic rise. “It may not be visible from the outside and it may be more in silent preparation for future triumphs,” Hess wrote to Walter Hewel in late November 1927, “but gradually the predictions for the year 1927, and our cause, are coming to pass.”96 Between 1925 and 1928, the NSDAP was irrevocably transformed into a “Führer party,” focused around a single leader at its head. “There can be no doubt who the leader and commander is,” Hess wrote. In that letter to Hewel, Hess expanded upon the importance for the movement of the so-called “Führer principle,” based on “absolute authority directed downwards and absolute duty directed upwards.” As Hess explained, Hitler “issues commands to the Gauleiter, the Gauleiter issue commands to the Ortsgruppenführer [local leaders] and the Ortsgruppenführer issue commands to the broad masses of supporters directly under them. Duty…follows the reverse path.” This, for Hess, represented “Germanic democracy.”97
The system relied on party members’ sense of personal connection to their Führer and their unquestioning subordination. Anyone who violated this principle was sure to be sanctioned. When a local Nazi leader from the Munich district of Schwabing, Ernst Woltereck, complained about Hitler’s unsatisfactory public image and threatened to resign, Hitler called a meeting of the Schwabing chapter in June 1926, at which he made clear that the party was built on authority and subordination. He as Führer would not tolerate a minor chapter leader criticising his superiors. “Were this to be tolerated,” Hitler asserted, “the party would be dead and buried.”98 In May 1927, frustrated by the lack of progress the party was making, the Munich SA under Edmund Heines rebelled. Once again Hitler took a hard line, ordering that “those who refuse to subordinate themselves have no place in the party and especially not in the SA.”99 By the end of the month, Heines had been expelled from both the party and the SA. When internal disagreements did not call his leadership into question, however, Hitler refused to get involved. Indeed, his leadership style encouraged rivalries between his subordinates. In his crudely Darwinist world view, such feuds were part of a process of natural selection that would favour the strongest and most capable of his followers. “He keeps considerable distance from minor everyday questions,” Hess wrote approvingly. That contributed to his aura as a “coolly superior…born politician of stature—a statesman.”100
Before the Beer Hall Putsch, individual party members worshipped their leader to varying degrees, but between 1926 and 1928 devotion was institutionalised. The “Heil Hitler” greeting was made mandatory for all NSDAP members “in recognition of Hitler’s position of unlimited leadership and as a kind of canonisation during his lifetime,” as Hanfstaengl described it.101 Nazi propaganda became obsessed with popularising the Führer cult and ensuring that it spread to the smallest party chapter. Among the most effective pieces of propaganda were Heinrich Hoffmann’s first photographic brochures, “Germany’s Awakening in Word and Image,” from 1924 and 1926. They reinforced Hitler’s quasi-religious aura as a man who had emerged from the people and who was preaching the gospel of love for the fatherland.102Goebbels, who after his “conversion” had become a fervent admirer of the party chairman, emerged as one of the active propagators of Hitler’s larger-than-life status. Only those in the know, wrote Goebbels in July 1926 in the Völkischer Beobachter, could judge “what Adolf Hitler’s personality had meant for the solidarity of the movement in the past few years of struggle.” In Goebbels’s view, Hitler alone had prevented the movement from being “scattered in a thousand winds.”103
Here, too, we can see how Hitler’s sense of mission and the expectations of those who saw him as the coming messiah, the saviour of Germans, reinforced each other. As Hess wrote in November 1927: “For me, being constantly in his presence, it is astonishing to see how he grows day by day, continually acquiring new fundamental wisdom, developing new ways of dealing with problems, gushing with ideas and constantly excelling himself in his speeches.”104 The Nazi Party rally in August 1927, the first one to take place in Nuremberg, became an extended celebration of the Führer. Hitler himself was deeply involved in the preparations, calling upon his “German ethnic comrades to join the coalescing army of a young Germany in which the faith in the Führer and not the weakness of the majority is decisive.”105 Between 15,000 and 20,000 of his supporters showed up in Nuremberg. On 21 August, after the “consecration of standards” in Luitpoldshain Park, Hitler—dressed in a brown SA shirt—inspected the columns of his subordinates on the main market square. There, as one report had it, he was “enthusiastically greeted and given flowers.”106 The young Berliner Horst Wessel, who took part, later recalled: “Flags, enthusiasm, Hitler, all of Nuremberg a brown army camp. It made an enormous impression.”107
As the cult of the Führer was established, the party also became more organised. In March 1925, Philipp Bouhler took over the post of the secretary of the Munich party, with Franz Xaver Schwarz as treasurer. Other key figures included Hess, who acted as an intermediate between Hitler and the Reich leadership, and Max Amann, the head of the party’s publishing house. In September 1926, Gregor Strasser succeeded Hermann Esser as Reich director of propaganda. In January 1928, the retired major Walter Buch became chairman of an investigatory and mediating committee which had been set up in December 1925 to settle internal party conflicts. It was an “essential institution”108 and Buch understood that the main purpose of the body was to keep disagreements under wraps. One of his major aides was Hans Frank, later Governor General of occupied Poland.109 In June 1925, the party headquarters had relocated from its provisional home at the offices of Eher Verlag in Thierschstrasse 15, to Schellingstrasse 50, where Hitler’s photographer Hoffmann had provided the use of several rooms. “We are establishing our new offices,” Hess reported. “At the moment it is still provisional. The Tribune hopes to build our own headquarters soon, with all the modern furnishings.”110 Here the pride of the party was a handwritten central card catalogue of all members. On 2 January 1928, Hitler appointed Gregor Strasser as Reich organisational director, with the party chairman himself now assuming responsibility for the propaganda division.111 Strasser unified party organisation throughout the Reich. Among other things, the Gaue were redrawn to reflect Germany’s electoral districts. The result was an efficient bureaucratic apparatus that provided the framework for later mass mobilisation.
In addition, a network of special bodies and associations was formed to attract various groups and professions. In February 1926, the National Socialist German Students’ League came into being, and a German literature student from a highly respected Weimar family, Baldur von Schirach, took over the organisation in July 1928. In August 1927, Alfred Rosenberg initiated the founding of the Fighting League for German Culture, whose aim was to oppose the “corrosive” influence of artistic modernism; its supporters included the Bruckmanns, Hitler’s influential Munich patrons. In January 1928 the German Women’s Order was subsumed as the “Red Swastika” by the NSDAP: it would become the National Socialist Women’s League in 1931. In September 1928, Hans Frank founded the League of National Socialist Lawyers, and 1929 would see the establishment of the National Socialist League of German Teachers, the National Socialist League of School Pupils and the National Socialist League of Doctors. As of 1926, the Hitler Youth was appealing to 14- to 18-year-old boys; in 1929 it was joined by the League of German Girls.112
In the spring of 1925, Hitler had told his old associate and occasional bodyguard Julius Schreck to form a “Staff Guard” along the lines of the Stosstrupp Hitler. It was soon renamed the Schutzstaffel, or SS. Its membership initially consisted of a few hundred men responsible for the personal safety of the Führer. They considered themselves an elite body that united the best and most active forces within the party. Their leader received the somewhat pompous title of Reichsführer-SS, but as of 1926 the SS was subordinated to the reconstituted SA under Pfeffer von Salomon. Heinrich Himmler became deputy Reichsführer-SS in September 1927, eventually taking over the organisation in January 1929.
Born in 1900 as the son of a Gymnasium teacher in Munich, Himmler grew up in a sheltered, well-educated Catholic environment and, like his two brothers, enjoyed an excellent humanist education. He was a typical representative of what Germans called the “war youth generation”: he was too young to have served at the front but old enough for the First World War to be one of the defining experiences of his life. Even after defeat and revolution had put an end to his dream of becoming a military officer, the physically frail Himmler still worshipped the ideal of the soldier. Noticeably self-conscious in his dealings with others, he learned to conceal his insecurities behind a shield of coldness, severity and sobriety.113 He studied agricultural sciences at Munich University in the early 1920s, when he became involved in paramilitary associations. After the Beer Hall Putsch, the unemployed university graduate put his future in the hands of Hitler’s party, earning his spurs as a rural agitator for the NSDAP in northern Bavaria. In 1926, Gregor Strasser named him deputy propaganda director at Munich party headquarters. In contrast to other Nazi leaders, Himmler does not seem to have undergone an epiphany that drew him into Hitler’s charismatic orbit. Hitler himself maintained his distance from the externally nondescript, pedantic Himmler, but valued him as a skilled organiser. Upon becoming Reichsführer-SS, Himmler devoted all his attention to liberating the organisation from subordination to the SA leadership and to establishing its reputation as a disciplined, elite formation utterly loyal to Hitler. He encouraged solidarity within his “order” with a number of cult rituals, and instituted a strict code of behaviour to which SS men were expected to conform.114
With the party’s progress beginning to stagnate again, Hitler increased his efforts to elicit support from the business community. In June 1926 he spoke for the first time to fifty or sixty representatives of Ruhr Valley industry. As he had talked to the nationalist club in Hamburg, Hitler did not engage in any of his customary tirades against Jews, focusing instead on “dealing with Marxism.” He also tried to assuage industrialists’ fears about his economic and political aims, assuring them that he would stand up for the inviolability of private property. “The free market will be protected as the most sensible or only possible economic order,” the Rheinisch-Westfälische Zeitung newspaper, a mouthpiece of heavy industry, wrote in summing up Hitler’s speech. The paper’s publisher, Theodor Reismann-Grone, had supported the NSDAP since the early 1920s.115
In late April in Essen, Hitler spoke again to a large circle of invited guests from the realms of business and politics. This time he sought support for his idea of symbiotically merging nationalism and socialism and reinstituting “the authority of personality.” Hess, who accompanied him, described the effect of Hitler’s speech: “I seldom heard him like that. Irritated by the icy silence [of the audience] during the first hour, he increased his intensity so much that by the end the audience of around 400 broke out in hurricanes of applause in ever-decreasing intervals!” According to Hess, Emil Kirdorf—the 80-year-old patriarch of Rhineland and Westphalian industry and long-time director of the Gelsenkirchner Bergwerk mining company—“stood up, visibly moved, at the end and shook the Tribune’s hand.”116
On 4 July 1927, Elsa Bruckmann arranged a meeting between Kirdorf and Hitler at her home in Munich. The leader of the NSDAP and the industrialist talked for four hours, after which the latter was so impressed that he asked Hitler to put his thoughts down in a pamphlet that Kirdorf would distribute to the most important business figures in the Ruhr Valley. Hugo Bruckmann had it printed up as a brochure entitled “The Road to Resurgence.” Hitler sent it to Kirdorf in August with the request that “the honourable Privy Councillor” help spread the thoughts therein among his circles. In this brochure, Hitler again made it clear that he did not intend to attack private industry. On the contrary, he wrote, “only a strong nationalist state can provide industry with the protection and the freedom to continue to exist and develop.” Hitler also played down his anti-Semitism, although in one passage he mentioned “the international Jew” disparagingly as the “most active propagator of the theory of pacifism, reconciliation between peoples and eternal world peace.”117
The pamphlet does not seem to have created much of a stir. Leading industrialists in the Ruhr Valley kept their distance from the NSDAP, which at the time was regarded as barely more than a marginal party. “Hitler won’t bring much joy either to us or the region,” magnate Paul Reusch wrote to Albert Vögler, the chairman of the United Steelworks, in December 1927.118 Hess’s report that month, that “excellent progress” was being made in the Ruhr Valley—“the important people simply follow the Tribune”—was clearly wishful thinking.119 Even Kirdorf, who joined the NSDAP on 1 August 1927 and attended the party rally in Nuremberg as an honorary guest, turned his back on the party a year later, dismayed at its constant anti-capitalist agitation in the Ruhr Valley. He did, however, remain a supporter of Hitler personally. After the 1929 Nuremberg rally, the industrialist wrote to the party chairman: “Anyone who had the privilege of taking part in the rally…even though he may be sceptical or opposed to specific points in the party programme, has to acknowledge the significance of your movement for the recovery of our German fatherland and hope that it is a success.”120 Hitler’s courting of Ruhr industrialists may not have yielded many concrete results, and it certainly did not land him massive donations, as was speculated in the contemporary press; nonetheless, it was not a total failure since it established Hitler as an economic moderate. This reputation would serve him very well after 1930, when the NSDAP’s electoral breakthrough had made the party far more interesting to businessmen and entrepreneurs.
As 1927 came to an end, Hitler was confident. “I know again that Providence will lead me where I had hoped to arrive four years ago,” he wrote to Winifred Wagner on 30 December 1927. “A time will come when pride in your friend will be your reward for many things for which at present I cannot repay you.”121 Hitler pinned his hopes on the Reichstag election scheduled for 20 May 1928. In January of that year, Hitler reckoned the party could win fifteen seats, although he also said, “If we get twenty-five, we’ll enter into a government coalition, only to leave it with aplomb, the first time circumstances permit.”122 The NSDAP began campaigning intensively. On the evening of 14 May, Hitler appeared alongside the leading candidate, General Franz von Epp, at twelve large-scale Munich events. “We feel like soldiers,” Hitler proclaimed on one occasion, “soldiers of a coming German army, of a new Reich and of the ideas that shall forge this Reich.”123 Goebbels noted that Hitler had never looked forward to an election as much as this one, hoping that “the results will be commensurate to the willingness for sacrifice we have shown thus far.”124
The outcome was a major setback for the NSDAP. The clear winners of the election were the left-wing parties. The SPD’s share of the vote rose from 26 to 29.8 per cent, and the KPD’s from 9 to 10.6 per cent. The Social Democrat Hermann Müller formed a grand coalition consisting of the SPD, the Centre Party, the BVP, the DDP and the DVP. The big loser was the conservative German National People’s Party (DNVP), which saw its share of the vote decline from 20.5 to 14.2 per cent. The NSDAP only polled 2.6 per cent, slightly down from their last election results in December 1924.125 Instead of fourteen, the party now had only twelve Reichstag deputies. They included Epp, Goebbels, Frick, Gregor Strasser, Feder and Göring, who had returned from Sweden to Germany in the autumn of 1927 under a general amnesty declared by Reich President von Hindenburg. Hitler put a positive spin on the election, which also saw the VB take a catastrophic 0.9 per cent. That caused Hitler to crow that in future there would be “only one ethnic-popular movement”—the NSDAP.126 But his followers were bitterly disappointed. Gregor Strasser complained that 20 May had given National Socialists “no cause for satisfaction,” while Goebbels merely noted, “Depression in me.”127
The NSDAP had not performed poorly everywhere, but its weakness in urban industrial centres was marked. The party had polled only 1.6 per cent in Berlin, despite Gauleiter Goebbels using every trick in the book after the temporary ban on the NSDAP in the Prussian capital was lifted.128 By contrast, the party had made notable gains in rural parts of Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony, taking 5.2 per cent in the Weser-Ems electoral district of north-western Germany. Still, the best results were limited to the traditional Nazi strongholds of Franconia (8.1 per cent), Upper Bavaria/Swabia (6.23 per cent) and the Palatinate (5.7 per cent). In Munich, they took almost 8 per cent of the vote and remained the third most popular party behind the SPD (24 per cent) and the BVP (17 per cent). Fearing that the NSDAP might once more be banned, Hitler swore that he would sacrifice everything to prevent a grand coalition of conservatives and Social Democrats. “Munich is the headquarters of the party and must be protected,” he declared. To that end, he refused to rule out participating in a Bavarian government, but insisted that in any coalition the party must control the Justice Ministry so as to ensure there were no future prohibitions of the movement.129
For the party leadership, one lesson of the election was to shift their propaganda focus to rural Germany. “There better results can be achieved with lower costs in terms of time, energy and money than in the big cities,” the Völkischer Beobachter wrote in late May.130 By the autumn of 1927, the party had already stepped up its efforts to appeal to the rural population of northern Germany. On 10 December, Hitler spoke for the first time to several thousand farmers from Schleswig-Holstein, assuring them that the NSDAP was particularly keen to represent their interests.131 In April 1928, to head off potential criticism, he amended Point 17 of the party programme, which called for a “law on the confiscation of property without compensation for public purposes.” The amendment stipulated that this demand only concerned “illicitly acquired property” and was aimed “primarily at Jewish firms that speculated in property.”132
After the election, Hitler retreated for a few weeks to Berchtesgaden. In October 1928, he rented Haus Wachenfeld for 100 marks. It was a simple holiday home in the Alpine style, owned by Margarete Winter, the widow of a northern German businessman. Hitler was accompanied by his half-sister Angela Raubal. “I immediately called my sister in Vienna,” Hitler recalled in 1942. “I told her, I’ve rented a house. ‘Do you want to come run the household?’ She came, and we moved in without delay. It was wonderful. My first Christmas up there was marvellous!” In 1933 he would convince the widow to sell him the house, which he later expanded into his “Berghof.”133
In June and July 1928, Hitler used a trip to the Obersalzberg to tackle a new book project, having given up his original idea of writing his war memoirs for Bruckmann Verlag publishers. Apparently he had hit upon the latter idea after receiving a copy of Ernst Jünger’s 1926 book Fire and Blood, which the author had inscribed with the dedication “For the national leader Adolf Hitler.” After Storm and Steel, Battle as Internal Experience and Copse 125, it was Jünger’s fourth book about his time as a soldier. Hitler, who made copious pencil notes in his copy of Fire and Blood, sent a thank-you letter to Jünger. “I’ve read all your works,” he wrote. “I’ve learned to appreciate you as one of the few powerful shapers of his experiences at the front. So my joy at receiving a copy of Fire and Blood from you personally, with your friendly dedication, was all the greater.”134 In September 1926, Elsa Bruckmann had told her husband that Hitler “is considering composing a war book and believes that everything is growing more vivid and is ripening within him; images are crystallising around the core which he had conceived, and are now crying out for completion.”135 In fact, Hitler never seems to have committed a word to paper; at least, no manuscript fragments have ever been discovered.
What did survive were 234 typed manuscript pages from the summer of 1928, which the American historian Gerhard L. Weinberg published as Hitler’s Second Book in 1961.136 Apparently Hitler dictated this text to his secretary over the course of a few weeks. In late June 1928, Hess described the content of the book in a letter to his parents: “Saturday-Sunday we’re going to Berchtesgaden, where I have an appointment…with the Tribune who is writing a new and apparently quite fine book about foreign policy.”137 Hitler had indeed formed a plan to present his foreign-policy views in a larger context. His interest had been sparked by the problematic status of southern Tyrol, which he had already discussed in a brochure in February 1926, a preview from the second volume of Mein Kampf.138 There he had announced his willingness to renounce German claims on southern Tyrol in favour of pursuing an alliance with Italy, which made him the target of nationalist attacks in the 1928 elections.139
But southern Tyrol was not the focus of the Second Book. In fact, the draft work recorded the basic principles that he had been promoting in his speeches since 1926. One was that “the battle for survival of a people” resided in bringing about a balance between population and territory, so that foreign policy was “the art of securing a people its necessary living space.” He also made it clear that eastern Europe was the only part of the continent where Germany could pursue its “territorial policies”—a view that ruled out any alliances with Russia and meant that Germany would have to court Italy and Britain as allies. In the afterword, Hitler stressed that the book was not an “essay on the Jewish question,” but he could not resist putting his paranoid anti-Semitic world view on display yet again: “Because they have no productive capabilities of their own, the Jewish people is not able to build a territorially manifested state. It relies on the labour and creative activity of other people as the basis for its own existence. The Jew thus leads a parasitic existence among the lives of other people. The ultimate goal of the Jewish struggle for survival is the enslavement of all productively active peoples.”140
On 13 July 1928, Hitler gave a speech to 5,000 people in Berlin about “German foreign policy,” in which he summarised the core points of the Second Book.141 After the event, he took off with Goebbels for a week’s holiday on the North Sea island of Norderney. He did not continue working on his book manuscript, and over the course of 1929, he seems to have decided against publishing it.142 We can only speculate about the reasons behind his decision. Possibly Max Amann was concerned that the book would be a commercial failure. The sales figures for Mein Kampf had declined dramatically in 1927 and 1928, and the demand for another Hitler book may have appeared slight. Probably more significant, however, was the chance that opened up in early 1929 for the Nazi Party to work together with right-wing nationalists who were demanding a popular referendum on the Young Plan. Hitler’s wild attacks on mainstream politicians in the Second Book would have hardly served to further that cause.143 Scruples about how the book would be received outside Germany probably did not play a role, even if Hitler later used that argument to explain why he had not published it. In the mid-1930s he told Albert Speer that he was glad he had suppressed the Second Book: “What political difficulties would it cause me now!”144
With his movement in the doldrums, Hitler cancelled the 1928 party rally and instead called a “Führer conference” in Munich in late August to run parallel to a general party conference. In his role as party chairman, Hitler was at pains to elevate the mood of his supporters, which was visibly depressed. Those who make history are always in the minority, Hitler told his followers. The fact alone that both the other parties and the general public now opposed the NSDAP was “almost mathematical reason for the eventual, certain triumph of our movement.”145 But he was unable to completely dispel party members’ scepticism. Even Goebbels found Hitler’s comments “Somewhat tired—Munich level—I’m sick of that.”146 Discontent was not limited to the grass roots but was also beginning to be felt in the NSDAP headquarters. In response to a complaint from a Franconian Landtag deputy that some people had erected a protective wall around Hitler, denying others access to him, Walter Buch shot back that department heads in the party headquarters also had “to wait for days for contact with Herr Hitler.”147 However, the chairman of the investigatory and mediation committee himself became increasingly concerned about the Führer’s unreliability as well as his contemptuous treatment of his fellow party officials. In October 1928, he drafted a letter raising an issue that had been “weighing on my soul” for many weeks, namely that “you, Herr Hitler, are gradually developing a contempt for people that fills me with frightful concern.”148
Hitler could belittle loyal followers in the most hurtful fashion. The Gauleiter of Lower Bavaria, Otto Erbersdobler, witnessed one typical scene in March 1929. Hitler had ordered local SA men to drive in trucks to a Nazi event in Upper Bavaria, but in order to save money, Pfeffer von Salomon had them take the train. The following day, at the party’s Munich headquarters, Hitler gave Salomon “a real going-over…screaming at him for a good ten minutes and punctuating his already unequivocal remarks by lashing the table with his riding crop.” Hitler forbade anyone in future from “deviating from his original orders even in the slightest.” The party chairman concluded his sermon with the words: “Do we understand one another, party comrade von Pfeffer [sic]?” Salomon maintained his bearing, and Hitler shook his hand in the end.149
Hitler’s behaviour towards his subordinates was governed by how useful he thought them to be.150 “I never heard any praise or positive off-the-cuff remarks about party comrades,” recalled Albert Krebs, who was the leader of the party’s Hamburg chapter from 1926 to 1928 and briefly the city’s Gauleiter. With the “sharp sense of scent of an animal,” Hitler was able to distinguish between people “who invested him with boundless trust and quasi-religious faith” and those “who saw and judged him with critical distance and according to rational criteria.” Hitler did not much care for the latter category, although he only showed it to those concerned when he felt they could no longer be of any use to him.151
Creating dissatisfaction was Hitler’s habit at public events by immediately withdrawing and ignoring local party members after bathing in mass adulation. Hitler kept his distance, ever concerned with maintaining his aura of inapproachability. In the spring of 1928, when Krebs gave him a tour of the newly refurbished headquarters of the Hamburg NSDAP, Hitler barely acknowledged the party comrades working there, although they were buoyant and clearly eager to get close to their hero. Hitler allowed Krebs to introduce them only with “visible reluctance” and later made a “number of sarcastic remarks” that Hamburg was to blame for his “inability to fulfil his hopes more quickly.”152
The NSDAP’s prospects palpably improved in the spring of 1929, however, and the critical voices faded. In the winter of 1928-9, the German economy went again into decline. In February, the number of people registered as unemployed once more broke the three-million mark.153 Prices for agricultural produce were falling, meaning that many farmers could no longer keep up with their interest payments. Many went bankrupt, and their property was auctioned off. In the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, a rural movement formed in opposition to the central government. Farmers took to the streets for demonstrations under black flags. A radical group led by a farmer named Claus Heim even carried out bomb attacks against local tax and government offices.154 The relatively stable period of the Weimar Republic was over.
Hitler felt his prognoses were being confirmed. “Everything is happening exactly as we predicted,” he crowed in late March 1929. “The German economy is on its deathbed.”155 Once again, the NSDAP was the party to profit most from the incipient crisis. Between October 1928 and October 1929, the number of party members increased from around 100,000 to 150,000.156 The Nazis also achieved spectacular results in the elections to Germany’s student parliaments in 1928 and 1929.157 In November 1928, Hitler spoke to an audience of 2,500 Munich University students in the Löwenbräukeller and was greeted with rapturous applause.158
The popularity of the NSDAP also grew by leaps and bounds among the rural population. “Happily, progress is being made everywhere,” Hess reported in October 1928 about a tour by Hitler of northern Germany. “The best…was the farmers of Dithmarschen to whom the Tribune spoke in Heide in Schleswig-Holstein: fine specimens of men, giant in stature, gnarled…They sat there like blocks of ice for the first hour, but gradually they were drawn in, and the applause at the end was so furious it shocked all those who thought they knew this taciturn coast-dwelling folk.”159 In the district of Dithmarschen support for the NSDAP grew after the so-called “Blood Night” in the small village of Wöhrden on 7 March 1929. Here a brawl broke out between SA men and adherents of the KPD, which left two SA men dead and a number of people injured. That provided the NSDAP with an excuse to stage a political rally, and Hitler attended the funeral for the deceased. A police observer noted that Hitler’s appearance “made a huge impression on the populace.” Afterwards farmers’ wives wore swastikas on their aprons, and some villagers began greeting one another with “Heil.” Many farmers were “extraordinarily bitter and prepared to commit all sorts of violent acts,” the police observer noted, adding that some saw the National Socialists as their “rescuers.”160
The NSDAP registered significant increases in votes in the local state and district elections in the spring and summer of 1929. In elections in Saxony on 12 May, for instance, their share of the vote rose from 1.6 to 5 per cent. It was, Goebbels wrote, “a triumph that exceeded all our expectations.”161 The following month, in the northern German state of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Hitler’s party polled twice as well as it had in the previous election, drawing 4.1 per cent of the vote. And in the elections for the city council in Coburg in southern Germany in late June, the NSDAP achieved the first district majority in its history.162
At its rally in Nuremberg in early August 1929, the party abundantly displayed their new self-confidence. Its political leadership touted the event as “not just the largest rally of the movement, but the largest rally of politically active, nationalist Germany itself.”163 Somewhere between 40,000 (so the police estimated) and 100,000 Nazi supporters arrived by train from all over Germany and transformed the Bavarian city once again into “a brown army camp.” Hitler kept a “Nuremberg diary” for the Illustrierter Beobachter, a party newspaper that had been founded in 1926, in which he described the concluding event on Nuremberg’s central market square: “Showered again and again with flowers, the brown warriors of the Third Reich march by with quick steps for three and a half hours.”164 Hitler neglected to mention that SA troops had committed numerous acts of violence. The ancient capital of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was forced to endure a four-day state of emergency.165
The places of honour in the grandstand were occupied by Hitler’s admirers Winifred Wagner and Emil Kirdorf as well as the vice-chairman of the paramilitary veterans’ organisation, the Stahlhelm, Theodor Duesterberg, and one of the sons of former German emperor Wilhelm II, Prince August Wilhelm, who would apply to join the NSDAP in December.166 Goebbels was none too pleased: “I’m getting to know Prince August Wilhelm. Fairly senile. All these Stahlhelm reactionaries who are propped up on the grandstand are not at all what I’d like to see.”167 Hitler, however, had decided to make common cause with conservative nationalists to shoot down the Young Plan. It stipulated that France evacuate the Rhineland in 1930 and, in contrast to the heavy monetary burdens under the Dawes Plan, brought Germany financial relief but expanded the duration of German reparations payments for the First World War to 1988. For the entire German right wing, agreeing to it was tantamount to accepting the Treaty of Versailles with its “war guilt” clause.168
The hostility towards the plan was led by the media mogul Alfred Hugenberg, who had been elected chairman of the DNVP in October 1928 and was steering the party on a course of uncompromising opposition to what he called “the Weimar system.” Hugenberg’s empire included the Scherl publishing house in Berlin, the news agency Telegraphen-Union, the advertising company Allgemeine Anzeigen and the film studio Universum Film AG (Ufa). Hugenberg also provided provincial newspapers with syndicated articles and thus had enormous influence even over periodicals that he did not own. On his initiative, a “Reich Committee for the German Referendum” was formed. Its members included the leaders of the DNVP, the Stahlhelm, the Pan-Germanic League, the Reichslandbund and the Vaterland Leagues. Hitler also signed on, after it was agreed that the campaign would be directed not just against the Young Plan but the “lie” of Germany’s culpability for the First World War.169 But Hitler’s decision to participate did not meet with the universal approval of his underlings. “Some of the signatories of this call [for a referendum]!” Goebbels carped to his diary. “Dear God! With regard to Hitler I can only say: ‘I’m sorry to see you in company like this!’ ”170 Ultimately Hitler succeeded in reassuring the Berlin Gauleiter that he had no intention of being manipulated by conservative nationalists. On the contrary, he was using the referendum to advance his own aims. The National Socialists, Hitler promised, “would force their way to the forefront and unmask the DNVP.”171
The referendum, which aimed to institute a Law against the Enslavement of the German People, was a failure. While its backers did succeed, just barely, in getting enough signatures to force a vote, only 13.8 per cent of the electorate turned out for the plebiscite on 22 December 1929—far below the 50 per cent participation needed to pass the referendum. Nonetheless, the NSDAP’s involvement in the initiative paid dividends. Hitler was now an accepted figure in traditional conservative and nationalist circles, and with the help of Hugenberg’s press empire, he had been in the public eye for months. At the conclusion of the campaign, Hitler and Hugenberg made a joint appearance in the packed Zirkus Krone, at which it was clear that the press mogul was no match for the Nazi chairman as a public speaker.172 The NSDAP in general looked like a dynamic young movement, far superior to its conservative allies in terms of organisation and will-power. The Landtag elections in the autumn of 1929 also suggested that Hitler’s party benefited from their opposition to the Young Plan. On 27 October in Baden, the NSDAP polled 7 per cent, and in Thuringia on 8 December, it took 11.3 per cent of the vote. The party also did well in district elections that November.173
On the morning of 3 October 1929, Reich Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann died after suffering two strokes. One of the most important advocates of Weimar democracy was gone. “It is an irreparable loss whose consequences cannot be foreseen,” wrote Count Harry Kessler, who was in Paris at the time. “Everyone here is talking about it—the hairdressers, the waiters, the chauffeurs and the newspaper sellers…All of Paris is treating his death almost like a national tragedy.” A similar mood prevailed among the pro-democracy camp in Germany. In Berlin 200,000 people turned out to accompany Stresemann to his final resting place on 6 October. “It was a popular funeral, not a state function,” Kessler wrote.174
Three weeks later, on 24 October 1929, Black Friday plunged the global economy into turmoil. The crisis Hitler had waited for was now at hand. It was no coincidence that at precisely that moment Hitler exchanged his humble lodgings in Thierschstrasse for a nine-room apartment on the second floor of Prinzregentenstrasse 16 in the upper-class district of Bogenhausen.175 The breakthrough to power seemed to be in reach, and Hitler needed a new domicile that would reflect his new status within German politics.