Great Books Written in Prison: Essays on Classic Works from Plato to Martin Luther King, Jr. (2015)
Adolf Hitler and the Writing of Mein Kampf
The most disturbing figure in this volume, Hitler is proof that initial obscurity is not necessarily a bar to political victory and historical infamy. His ascension to power is almost a cautionary tale of right-wing politics in a democracy. Mein Kampf, written while Hitler was in prison, was part of this process. While not taken seriously at first, Hitler became the mouthpiece for ideas held in secret by high-ranking political and business officials. He played on long-standing nationalist and racist ideas and identities. He was also able to bring together disparate reactionary political elements. Hitler’s national political career began with the absurd action of jumping onto a table, firing a pistol, and declaring “the revolution” had begun. This failed “revolution” landed him in jail (a very comfortable experience compared to those of others in this book) and gave him the opportunity to write Mein Kampf. Germany’s political circumstances were ripe to give a figure like Hitler prominence, and place him on the national stage. While most are familiar with the history of the Third Reich from 1933 onward, this essay offers insight into the undistinguished, prefamous Hitler. Mein Kampf also exploited the “stabbed in the back” myth of German history that helped fascism to rise in the 1930s.—J.W.R.
A Career Out of Nowhere: 1889–1923
When the doors of the prison fortress of Landsberg-am-Lech, 40 miles west of Munich, closed behind Adolf Hitler on November 11, 1923, it appeared that he had suffered another blow in a long series of failures. Two days earlier he had tried to seize power in the so-called “Bierkeller Putsch.” It had resulted in a fiasco. Sixteen Nazi demonstrators and three policemen had been killed, many were injured and Hitler, who had first fled, was arrested two days later. The future looked bleak, but then life for Adolf Hitler had never looked promising from the start. First he had tried during his student days in Vienna to be admitted to the Academy of Fine Arts and after having been rejected there, he had tried his luck at the School for Architecture. He was turned down there as well, because he did not have the required matriculation certificate. In 1914 he had volunteered to serve in the 16th Bavarian Infantry Regiment (the List-regiment) and during four long years in the trenches of Belgium and France he had never been promoted. Now the attempt to “become a politician” had also suffered a serious setback. It seemed that whatever he set out to do he always ended up on the losing side. Adolf Hitler was born on April 20, 1889 in the Austrian border town of Braunau-am-Inn, where his father, Alois, worked as a customs official. Hitler’s early years are the subject of much speculation, due to the fact that his own book is virtually the only source. Consequently there are all kinds of, sometimes titillating, rumors swirling around his ancestry. Did his paternal grandmother, Anna Maria Schicklgruber, indeed become pregnant, while serving in a Jewish household in Graz? Did she even work in Graz? Or did she work in Vienna in the household of Baron de Rothschild? Was he possibly the grandfather? There is a great number of these speculations, none based on verifiable facts. The only thing we know for certain is that Hitler’s father, Alois, was born in 1837 (d. 1903) and that a certain Johann Georg Hiedler would later admit to being his father. In 1876 Alois therefore changed his name legally from Schicklgruber to Hiedler, which was written as Hitler since 1877. Some sources quote Hitler as saying this name change was the only good thing his father ever did.
Alois Hitler died in 1903, his wife Klara (Pölzl) in 1907, leaving Adolf an orphan at 18. He was not destitute, at least not initially. Until his 21st birthday he received an “orphan allowance” from the state of Austria, which enabled him to share a room in Vienna with a friend from Linz, August Kubizek. In his book about the time they spent together (August Kubizek, The Young Hitler I Knew, Greenhill Books, 2006), Hitler comes across as serious and passionate, not yet thinking about a career in politics, but considering himself an artist. Indeed, he would never abandon the bohemian lifestyle of those early days in Vienna, preferring to stay up late into the night and to sleep late into the day, much to the despair of his staff. After he could no longer afford the rent and he and Kubizek had parted ways, Hitler tried to make ends meet by painting and selling postcards on the streets of Vienna, living in a homeless shelter. Another homeless man, Reinhold Hanisch, also down on his luck, became his associate, until they had the almost inevitable fall-out.
Sometime in 1912 or 1913 Hitler moved from Vienna to Munich. There is some uncertainty about the date. Initially he seems to have tried to escape Austrian military conscription. As an artist he obviously looked down upon the constraints of army life, but when he was arrested in Munich and extradited to the Austrian military authorities, he was rejected as “medically unfit.”
In any case he was back in Munich, when the First World War broke out. Through a remarkable coincidence a photograph has been preserved, taken on the 1st of August 1914 in front of the Feldhernnhalle in that city. A proclamation is being read, announcing the outbreak of war. Thousands of people are beside themselves with joy. Similar scenes are also known from Berlin, Vienna, Paris and London. But with the help of a magnifying glass Hitler can be seen in the crowd in Munich. He is not cheering, like so many others, but his face looks happy, almost radiant. Two days later he volunteered for the German (!) army and joined the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment. There is some controversy around Hitler’s citizenship. Some authors maintain that by joining the German army in 1914, he automatically lost his Austrian citizenship, acquired by birth. However, there is no record of this. He officially renounced his Austrian citizenship in 1925, but did not become a German citizen until February 1932. For those seven years he was therefore stateless.
On October 21, 1914, his regiment was moved to the trenches of Flanders, where it immediately took part in the First Battle of Ypres. It was largely annihilated. In December of that year Hitler earned the Iron Cross 2nd Class. In August 1918 he would be decorated again, this time with the Iron Cross 1st Class, an unusual decoration for a soldier, who was not an officer. There is no reason to belittle these decorations, or his bravery, as is sometimes done. To survive four years of trench warfare is remarkable enough, to survive four years of trench warfare as a dispatch runner—the dangerous job of carrying messages from regimental headquarters to battalion headquarters and vice versa—is almost a miracle. To be among the survivors, where so many had died, may have contributed to the idea that he was destined for greater things. In the same way that Mussolini saw himself as “L’Uomo della Providentia” (The Man of Providence), Hitler must likewise have thought he was chosen by Providence to accomplish a higher task.
From accounts of his comrades quite a lot is known about Hitler’s behavior in Flanders. He is seen as a loner, seldom writes or receives letters, doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t talk about women, all of which will not have made him popular. He is sometimes drawn into political conversations, talking about “evil Marxists” or “nefarious Jews,” but not more so than others. All in all, he seemed to have liked his soldier’s life. There is no mention of him having been lazy or a shirker. It may well have been the happiest time of his life. In an unverifiable story, told to this author by the late Andre Bequart of Wytschate in Flanders, Hitler is said to have returned to the area, where he spent four happy years, on his way back from France, after the capitulation in 1940. Bequart was the owner of a small trench museum in Croonaert Wood between Messines and Wytschaete, where Hitler earned his first Military Cross in 1914, and he showed me the places where he had taken Hitler at his request. According to him the Führer had been visibly moved by his own memories. Later, in Mein Kampf, he will call his participation in the war “the greatest and most unforgettable time of my earthly experience,” which boils down to the same thing.
That ambivalence of never having felt so alive and with the constant presence of random death all around might explain the observation that “only by understanding the Fronterlebnis (the front experience) can one understand National Socialism” (Ekstein 307). It is a sentiment that Hitler shared with many others. All too frequently the war had become the most formative period of their lives. Gottfried Feder, another leading Nazi of the early days, remarked: “National Socialism is, in its truest meaning, the domain of the front” (Ekstein 309). In many ways it is similar to what is called in England “the fellowship of the trenches,” in Italy Mussolini would talk about “trincerocrazia” (trenchocracy), and Germany would have its “alte Kämpfer,” a term of endearment for “old soldiers,” except that these “old” soldiers were in their early twenties.
The defeat in November 1918 was hard to accept. There are many contemporary accounts of feelings of betrayal, despair and abandonment. The German army had won the war on the Eastern Front a year earlier, it stood as yet undefeated in France, how could they suddenly have lost the war, without some politicians at home having stabbed the soldiers in the back? Most guilty among these politicians were the socialists and communists, with their dreams of internationalism and pacifism, and many of these were Jews. There are grounds to believe that Hitler’s later virulent anti–Semitism was fed from here on and not earlier, as is sometimes believed. For instance, Hitler received the Iron Cross First Class at the recommendation of a Jewish officer of the List-regiment and some sources even have that same officer, Hugo Gutmann, putting the decoration on his uniform in August 1918. It was the only decoration he would wear at all times.
In his own bombastic way he would later describe the sense of futility the Armistice had left him with:
And so it had all been in vain. In vain all the sacrifices and privations; in vain the hunger and thirst of months which were often endless; in vain the hours in which, with mortal fear clutching at our hearts, we nevertheless did our duty; and in vain the deaths of two million who died. Would not the graves of all the hundreds of thousands open, the graves of those who with faith in the fatherland had marched forth never to return? Would they not open and send the silent mud- and blood-covered heroes back as spirits of vengeance to the homeland which had cheated them with such mockery of the highest sacrifice which a man can make to his people in this world? Had they died for this, the soldiers of August and September, 1914? Was it for this that in the autumn of the same year the volunteer regiments marched after their old comrades? Was it for this that these boys of seventeen sank into the earth of Flanders? Was this the meaning of the sacrifice which the German mother made to the fatherland when with sore heart she let her best-loved boys march off, never to see them again? Did all this happen only so that a gang of wretched criminals could lay hands on the fatherland [Hitler 205].
An analysis of this short fragment leads to a number of interesting observations: apart from the narcissistic, quasi-literary style, there is in the first place the reference to the “silent mud-and blood-covered heroes,” whose graves are about to open. German military lore is full of references to fallen comrades. One of the most revealing is the popular soldier song: “Ich hatt’ einen Kameraden” (I had a comrade-in-arms), written in 1809 (!) by Ludwig Uhland, in which a dead comrade is addressed as “ein Stück von mir” (a part of me). The SS slogan “Die toten Kameraden marschieren mit” (Our dead comrades are marching along) should be seen in the same light of soldier bonding.
But the most interesting part of the quote is in the last sentence, where he talks about “a gang of wretched criminals.” Also sometimes referred to as ‘November criminals’ he is pointing to those politicians he considered responsible for signing the humiliating cease-fire agreement of November 11, 1918. The last emperor of Germany, Wilhelm II, had fled to The Netherlands a few days earlier, leaving the country virtually without a government. The Social-democrat Kurt Ebert was appointed chancellor, but his government was far from generally recognized. Germany was in turmoil and in no position to continue the war. The military High Command, with generals von Hindenburg and Ludendorff at the top, recognized that only too clearly, but they were reluctant to shoulder the blame. Leftist politicians played straight into their hands by taking the position that the military had lost all credibility. It had not been particularly helpful that the Allies (France, Britain and the U.S) had widely publicized the condition that they would only negotiate with ‘true representatives’ of the German people. National-liberals and Zentrum Catholics were largely tainted because of their support for the war effort, so it was left to the socialist party (SPD) and other left-wing groups to enter into talks with the Allies. It is true that the leader of the German delegation during the armistice talks was the (Catholic) Center Party politician, Matthias Erzberger, but he was on the left wing of that party. Maybe more significant is that he was killed in 1921 by a member of a right-wing organization for his role during these negotiations.
So it was left to a civilian delegation to seek the best terms for an armistice. The negotiations took place at a remote artillery railway emplacement, in the forest of Rethondes, near the village of Compiègnes, which could accommodate two trains side by side. It would be hard to illustrate the potency of symbols more clearly than by the fate of the railway car the Armistice was signed in. This car, Wagon-Lits 2419 D, went back into regular service for a few years after 1918, but from 1921 to 1927 it was exhibited in Paris. In 1927 it became the centerpiece of a small memorial on the very same spot in the forest, where the Armistice was signed. On June 22, 1940, Adolf Hitler, accompanied by Hermann Göring, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Wilhelm Keitel and other high-ranking Nazis returned to the forest and there, instead of in Paris, he dictated the terms of surrender to France. After that ceremony the railway car was brought to Berlin and exhibited there. The memorial in the forest was destroyed. When at the of end of 1944 and the beginning of 1945 American and British bombardments on Berlin intensified, Hitler ordered the car to be taken to a secret place (Crawinkel in Thuringia). SS troops were ordered to destroy it late March or early April 1945. However, the original site in the forest of Compiègnes was rededicated in 1950, by order of the French authorities, an exact replica of Wagon-Lits 2419 D was found, Wagon-Lits 2439, also built in 1913, and renumbered 2419 D. That’s where it is today, fully refurbished. A potent example of reconstructed history.
The German delegation was led by Matthias Erzberger, a left of center member of the catholic—Zentrum—party, who became the symbol of what was seen as backstabbing politicians. His assassination in August 1921, followed by the murder of Walther Rathenau in June 1922, should be interpreted as a clear sign that the right wing was gaining in strength and confidence.
In two successive paragraphs of Mein Kampf, Hitler refers to the Armistice three times in a row: he calls it “the greatest villainy of the century,” “something repulsive,” and “the calamity” (204–05). For him the war would indeed never end.
The “Drummer to Germanism”
Part of his anger may have been inspired by questions about his future: he was thirty years old and apart from his four years in the army he had never had a job. For four years he had incessantly been in the front line, but the end of the war he experienced in a hospital near Stettin, temporarily blinded by an English mustard gas attack. The rumors about an armistice he picked up there, he described as “sinister.”
At the end of Chapter VII he would write that the shameful events of the Armistice made him decide to become a politician, but he had no idea how to go about it. Instead of staying in Munich, which was in a state of virtual civil war, offering many opportunities for budding politicians, he became a guard in a camp for prisoners-of-war in the small Bavarian village of Traunstein and would only return, after the camp was disbanded, in early April 1919. Munich was in the throes of a chaotic and bloody period of confusion, in which, it seemed, everybody was arresting everybody, but again Hitler abstained from any political action. Living in army barracks he was no more than a spectator. But in the summer of that year the private who never got promoted received an order to become a “liaison man.” He had to follow a course in “civic thinking”; among his teachers were captain Ernst Röhm, later leader of the SA (Sturm Abteilung), and Gottfried Feder, a man with a chaotic and undisciplined mind, but his ideas about breaking the “interest slavery” made a deep impression on Hitler. It was becoming clear to him that both capitalism and communism seemed enemies of the “true” Germany, something he would later refer to as his “great discovery.”
In his new capacity—collecting information about radical movements—he went to a meeting of a group, calling itself the “German Workers Party,” and he met the chairman, called Anton Drexler, a railway machinist. It was a small and rather unimpressive collection of disgruntled men, but Hitler liked what he heard and decided to join. In his Adolf Hitler (1976) John Toland argues that Hitler joined the DAP at the instigation of general Ludendorff, which would explain why a soldier, let alone an “intelligence officer,” would be allowed to join a political party. Toland writes: “So, in a sense, Hitler was ordered to do what he had already decided to do” (94). His membership number was 55. Actually he was given number 555: in order to make enrollment appear more than it was, membership registration started at 500.
At the next meeting he was asked to join the Board as Board Member number 7, with as special duties: “propaganda and recruitment.” The man without a future had stumbled upon his niche. He found he had a way with words, or better that he had an intuitive knowledge for what his audiences wanted to hear. Increasingly he spoke for more and more receptive audiences, his reputation as somebody who said what everybody else was thinking spread rapidly. Membership of the DAP grew exponentially and before long Hitler felt confident enough to issue the hapless chairman Anton Drexler an ultimatum: he wanted to take over the party and the leadership. The Board saw no other solution and appointed Drexler vice-chairman. On March 31,1920, Hitler resigned from the Army.
One of his first official deeds in his new function as “Führer” (Leader) of the party was to suggest a name change: the DAP would become the NSDAP (National-Socialist), a prefix that in itself was not very significant, but it would quickly become abbreviated to Nazi party (from National, the first four letters in German are pronounced Nazi). In this way he made clear that unlike Bolshevism with its vaguely international ring, the only true socialism was “national” socialism. In his public speeches an image of a new enemy began popping up more and more: “International Jewry.” He also designed a flag for the movement: bright red with a white circle in the middle, in the circle a black swastika. After having written the program for the new party, the so-called “25 Points,” Hitler would from now on refer to himself as an “author,” using language to drum up support for the national reawakening of Germany and German “values.”
In his speeches for larger and larger audiences Hitler would always come back to these two topics: Germany needed to be woken up. The stamp of shame and national humiliation embodied by the Weimar Republic and in particular by left-wing parties like the SPD (Socialists) and the KPD (Communists), had to be eradicated. The other theme that he would increasingly turn to was the threat of what he called “international Jewry.” International Jewry was seen as the antithesis of national German values. There is no doubt that both subjects resonated well with his audiences, they kept turning up in bigger and bigger numbers.
During 1920 and 1921 he spent much time building up the party, surrounding himself with dubious characters like Ernst Röhm, Dietrich Eckhart, Hermann Göring and Rudolf Hess. Eckhart, a mediocre Bavarian poet, is often considered one of the main influences on Hitler’s career. Robert Wistrich refers to him as the “spiritual godfather” of National-Socialism. The second volume of Mein Kampf has a dedication to him on the last page.
These men had very little in common, except a hatred of Marxism and strong nationalist sympathies. The parliamentary methods of the Weimar Republic created nothing but scorn in them, but it was unclear what political results the party hoped to achieve. Hitler often spoke about the use of force and of an overthrow of the Jewish-Marxist cabal in Berlin, but he never made clear how he was going to accomplish that.
All that changed in 1922. In Italy Mussolini’s March on Rome at the end of October of that year had given him and his party virtually dictatorial powers. His success made a deep impression on Hitler and his paladins. The idea of a “March on Berlin” became a hotly discussed topic, especially when the central government appeared weak and irresolute in the wake of the French occupation of the Ruhr in January 1923.
Bavaria was not like other German states. Or maybe I should say there were more German states like Bavaria, but Bavaria was the most extreme. Until 1918 it had had its own army, with its own uniforms and its own General Staff, Bavarian officers swore an oath of loyalty to their own Bavarian king. The republican government in Berlin was viewed with suspicion and hardly concealed hostility. If anywhere, a movement to topple the Weimar Republic had the best chance in Bavaria. Mussolini’s act of bravura of October 1922 had made a deep impression on many here. Hitler and his Nazi party were probably the most outspoken, but there were others who felt the same, some even in positions of high authority. First among these was the Bavarian prime minister, Gustav von Kahr. He was generally seen as the man who would pave the way for the return of the old monarchy in Bavaria, embodied in the person of Crown Prince Rupprecht. Together with General Otto Hermann von Lossow and Chief of Police Hans von Seisser he successfully undermined and even sabotaged directives from the government in Berlin. They had a large following. It has been said of the Weimar Republic that it was “a democracy without democrats,” and that was certainly even more true of Bavaria. All this is to say that Hitler’s attempt to seize power in November 1923 must have met with the tacit approval of many, not only Nazis.
The actual events have a slightly operatic air to them. On the night before—November 8, 1923—the march to the center of Munich was planned to take place, Hitler and a large entourage infiltrated a nationalist meeting in an establishment called the Bürgerbräukeller, where all three men were to speak. Hitler acted in a most dramatic fashion, jumping on a table, producing a pistol, firing into the ceiling, and declaring: “The National Revolution has begun, the government in Berlin must abdicate.” The triumvirate of von Kahr, von Lossow and von Seisser were sufficiently intimidated by the roar of approval from the crowd to go along with the momentum of that evening. It was agreed that the next morning there would be a march to the seat of government in Munich. They would be joined by the very symbol of Imperial Germany, Field-Marshall Erich von Ludendorff.
The next day, November 9, 1923, the three aristocrats had changed their minds, having had sufficient time to think things over. Prince Rupprecht had made it clear he thought the Putsch foolish, von Lossow had ordered—in the middle of the night—loyal army battalions in Augsburg and Regensburg and other nearby army barracks to be ready to come to Munich by rail immediately.
The “March on Berlin” quickly turned into a farce and should have been the end of Hitler’s ambitions to do in Germany what Mussolini had done in Italy. In despite of having been warned that an armed police cordon was waiting in front of the Town Hall, about two thousand marchers began their demonstration: on the Odeonsplatz in the center of town shots were fired and chaos erupted. When people to the left and right of Hitler began to fall away, either being hit or—like Hitler himself—forced to take cover, only von Ludendorff continued to march forward. Folly or heroism, he believed nobody would dare to shoot at him. And nobody did. Once he had marched straight through the ranks of firing policemen and had arrived at the back of their line, a police officer arrested him. Nineteen people were killed, many more injured, and most of the leaders were arrested either there or in the days after.
A Memoir at 34
Initially Hitler had fled the scene in an ambulance; his left arm and shoulder were slightly injured. On November 11 he was arrested and taken to the prison fortress of Landsberg. The party was in disarray: with the exception of Hess and Göring, who had managed to flee to Austria, all Putsch leaders had been taken into custody. The future seemed bleak. The “treason” trial began on February 24, 1924, and would last until April 1. In those five weeks of court proceedings Hitler went from obscure local politician, hardly known in Munich, let alone outside, to national celebrity. But now all his practice in long monologues, his hours of public speeches and his tried and trusted way of turning arguments of his opponents to his own advantage were finally paying off. The accusation of high treason he rejected with contempt. High treason was what the Marxist and Jewish politicians had committed, in 1918, when they stabbed the soldiers at the front in the back. If he was guilty of high treason, then certainly von Kahr, von Lossow and von Seisser—all three had turned witnesses for the prosecution—should be standing next to him. The problem was not whether Hitler was wrong or right, the problem was that most people in the courtroom, including the judges and the jury, actually agreed with him. The verdict therefore was not surprising: a five-year prison sentence, with the possibility of parole after six months. The Times of London commented drily: “The trial has at any rate proved that a plot against the Constitution of the Reich is not considered a serious crime in Bavaria.” Of course, Landsberg-am-Lech was not an ordinary prison, as Hitler was not an ordinary prisoner. Apart from cells for convicted criminals, it also had a ‘protective custody’ section. As political prisoner Hitler enjoyed certain privileges: his accommodation was spare, but consisted of two reasonably comfortable rooms, he could receive visitors at all times and he could work on his book. He could not leave, though. After the 2nd World War Landsberg was in use for awhile to house Nazi War Criminals.
It seems that he came up with the idea of writing a book about his life, soon after the beginning of his sentence. After having written the 25 Points Program of the NSDAP, he considered himself an author. Now he had the time for a more expansive work. His publisher, one of his earliest admirers and his former company sergeant major, Max Amann, expected a work about the intricacies of the failed ‘Putsch.’ He based those expectations on the working title he was given: “A Four and One-half Year Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice: Settling Accounts with the Destroyers of the National Socialist Movement.” Initially Hitler meant the book to be a support for the party members, while he was in prison. He wanted to give details about the program and about why the attempt to seize power had failed. But soon he was thinking in broader terms, nothing less than his life and his struggles would be the topic. He therefore wanted “Mein Leben” (My Life) as the title, which Amann later changed to “Mein Kampf” (My Struggle). The subtitle of the first volume, “Eine Abrechnung” (Settling Accounts) still referred to the original idea, but by now had lost its meaning.
Mein Kampf is a strange book. This may partly be due to the fact that Hitler didn’t actually write it by hand himself, but dictated it to two or three of his devoted scribes. Among these Rudolf Hess was probably the most dedicated. It had also been Hess, who had introduced Hitler at a party meeting in 1922 as “Der Führer.” It was published in two volumes: the first volume in the fall of 1925, the second came out in December 1926. Part autobiography, part political pamphlet, part rant and part hysteria, Mein Kampf is never entertaining. Maybe due to its incoherent and chaotic structure it was not an instant success, not even among the party faithful. Its almost 900 pages proved too much for many.
Of course, later, after Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, it would become an almost required present at weddings, birthdays, work anniversaries and graduations, and it would make him a millionaire. But even then it remained doubtful how many people actually read it. Due to the density of very much of it most readers will have restricted themselves to the more pragmatic parts of the book, partly because it is easier to see what the author means. One example: writing about Marxism, Hitler describes this “doctrine of destruction”: “I again immersed myself in the theoretical literature of this new world, attempting to achieve clarity concerning its possible effects, and then compared it with the actual phenomena and events it brings about in political, cultural, and economic life” (154). Joachim Fest concludes: “Behind the front of bold words lurks the anxiety of the half-educated author that his readers may question his intellectual competence” (Fest 202).
Konrad Heiden, who wrote the introduction to the English translation and author of a well-received biography of Hitler, remarked: “The essential parts of the book do not concern questions of foreign policy or military geography, but of race, propaganda, and political education” (Heiden xviii). It is not easy to summarize such a book, but two main topics can be seen to run through the many chapters: First there is his rabid hatred of Jews and his eulogization of its counterpart, the “Aryan race.” Anti-Semitism was not a new phenomenon: the end of the 19th century had seen a surge of Russian, French and German outbursts of anti–Semitic racial hatred. Hitler went a step further, when he writes that in the end there will only be two races left, which are engaged in a fight to the finish. Proudly he speaks of “meine groβe Entdeckung” (my major discovery), when he states that capitalism and communism only appear to be each others enemies, but that in reality they both conspire together to destroy Germany. Behind Wall Street and the Kremlin he sees a conspiracy of “international Jewry” to climb to world domination. Only the Germans stand between the Jews and the realization of that objective. In the final conflict Germany has to win or go under.
The second large theme is the need for “Lebensraum im Osten” (living space in the East). Writing about “the East” he means Eastern Europe: Poland, Ukraine, Russia, the Baltic States, traditionally seen as ‘the bread basket of Europe.’ Hitler believed that the growing Aryan nation would need more space to provide for its surplus population. War with that part of Europe is therefore inevitable. The people living there would either become laborers for the Germans or be destroyed. It is true, Slavs were not Jews, but they were just as inferior to the Aryan race, and therefore expendable.
After Hitler’s suicide and Germany’s collapse in 1945, the book would be banned in many countries. In some cases this ban continues, often in the form of a ban on publishing as opposed to possessing it. That is the case in Germany, for instance. Towards the end of 1924 the possibility of early parole came up. The state prosecutor requested a report on Hitler’s behavior in prison. It was written by prison warden Leyhold and contained sentences like “He is easily content, modest, and desirous to please. Makes no demands, is quiet and sensible, serious and quite without aggressiveness, and tries painstakingly to abide by prison rules” (Fest 218). Clearly a model prisoner. The state prosecutor saw therefore no reason not to grant him parole. On December 20, 1924, Hitler walked through the doors of the fortress in Landsberg-am-Lech a free man.
But the Germany of 1925 was a different Germany than a year earlier: Hitler found the party in disarray, the government in Berlin had acquired some respectability, both nationally and internationally, and the willingness of many to try a path outside the law had strongly diminished. That included Hitler. He set out to rebuild the party and to prepare it for “the legal revolution” as opposed to “an illegal one.”
From 1924–25 to 1929 it seemed as if there was a future for the Weimar republic; Germany was allowed to join the League of Nations in 1926, economic recovery plans like the Dawes plan of 1924 and the Young plan of 1928 did much to restore faith in the German economy, Germany was invited to rejoin the International Olympic Committee and granted the Games of 1936. In the general elections of 1928 Hitler’s reconstituted Nazi Party managed to gain 12 seats out of more than 430. Again the future looked bleak. All that would change after the crash of the New York Stock Exchange in October 1929. Once again Hitler began to think of seizing power, this time democratically with the help of the ballot box. It would end on January 30, 1933, when he was appointed chancellor of Germany with almost 50 percent of Germans having voted for him. The gamble to “become a politician” that he had taken in 1919, had paid off: the aimless drifter of 1923 had found his way in jail.
Fest, Joachim C. Hitler. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973. Print.
Heiden, Konrad, and Adolf Hitler. Introduction. Das Zeitalter Der Verantwortungslosigkeit: Konrad Heiden. Zürich: Europa-Verlag, 1936. n.p. Print.
Hitler, Adolf, and Ralph Manheim. Mein Kampf. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971. Print.
Toland, John. Adolf Hitler. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976. Print.
Wistrich, Robert. Who’s Who in Nazi Germany. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1982. Print.