8 minutes read.
Between 1924 and 1929, Hitler's party grew slowly, but then, a combination of a global economic crisis, that sharply increased unemployment to a peak of 43% and revived the worst fears of the previous crisis, that strengthened the communists, who returned to street violence, this combination brought fear, and Hitler rose meteorically over this wave of fear, promising Germans a return to the old ways and a bright future. His talent as a demagogue served him well in those years.
The German political system was in increasing chaos, with political street violence, frequent elections, very high unemployment, and general worry. Hitler openly declared that voting for him is a vote to end democracy. In May 1932 his electorate doubled to 37% .
His political opponents constantly misjudged him until it was too late, and so in January 30, 1933, at age 44, after two months of political negotiations, Adolf Hitler became the prime minister of Germany. It was supposed to be a coalition government, only 3 of the 12 cabinet members were Nazis, but Hitler now had the full authority of a prime minister, including emergency authorities, and got control of the police. In addition, he controlled his party's 500,000 strong "Brown shirts" militia that used brutal violence in city streets.
Hitler used his new authority and acted swiftly. His friend Goebels once said "Once we get to power, we will never give it back unless we're taken out of our offices as dead corpses". 12 years later he and Hitler indeed finished their careers as dead corpses, but at this moment, in 1933, they were just seizing power.
At that night the Nazis celebrated their victory by marching outside the government offices. The next morning they took control of the police. Not just ministerial control. They replaced many senior police officers with Nazis. They expanded the secret police with Nazi officers. Four days later Hitler used his emergency authority to issue an order that allowed the government to close newspapers and ban public gatherings. A new "Auxillary police" of 50,000 Nazis was formed. Their order was to dismantle any non-Nazi organization that might express resistance. Hermann Goering clearly instructed them:
"Legal and beaurocratic aspects will not limit the means I'll use ... My job is not justice. My job is to eliminate and destroy, that's all ... If you use your pistols in following my orders, you're protected ... If someone calls it murder, fine, I'm a murderer".In February 28th, after a month in power, Hitler issued two more emergency orders that "temporarily" allowed the Nazi-controlled police to bypass the legal system, which practically means that Hitler "legally" abolished ALL human rights (the order specified a long list of rights which were "canceled"), and gained total power. This order remained valid until the end of World War 2.
A month later, while surrounded by armed Nazi militia, the German Reichstag (Congress) voted to pass its legislative authority to Hitler. This allowed him to change the constitution, and passed the legislative authority of the president to Hitler. It was a move that cancelled legal government and gave Adolf Hitler total power. He was now "Der Fuhrer", The Leader. The opposition leaders were murdered, or fled. In June all other parties and their organizations were dismantled, and finally in July Hitler's party was declared the only legal party.
Backed by anti-democratic popular support, it took Hitler five months from the day he was appointed prime minister to complete the official establishment of a totalitarian police state in formerly democratic Germany. The actual change was much faster, because right from the beginning the Nazis practically ruled by using brutal force that murdered or permanently imprisoned anyone who dared to express disagreement, as Goering instructed his pseudo-legal Nazi policemen.
Every German quickly realized that anyone the Nazis dislike disappears, quickly and permanently. And so began an age of total terror, that continued until the end of World War 2. Hitler commended Hermann Goering for his brutality.
In order to ensure his total personal control, Hitler designed a regime in which each power center had a rival parallel, or even two. Internal security for example, was the realm of not only the regular police, but also of the S.A militia, the S.S (the Nazi party's other private force that sworn personal loyalty to Hitler), the GESTAPO (security police). Hitler encouraged the rivalries under him. Each senior Nazi spied after his peers. They all informed Hitler. In addition to the regular army, a small "private" army, the "Waffen SS" was formed, and so on. He started working mainly at nights, no longer wrote anything by himself, and made all major decisions in private meetings, or alone. All his orders were verbal, never written.
Hitler didn't have an economical policy, but he did have a national policy - he wanted Germany to fully re-arm itself as soon as possible. That, and the natural strength of the German economy, reduced unemployment in 3 years to none, and later even created shortage of workers. He said "We don't have to nationalize the banks and factories. Instead we nationalized the people".
While he allowed the Nazi party to brutally dominate all other aspects of life, he kept it away from the industry and the military, because for his intended war he wanted them both to reach peak performance as soon as possible.
By the mid 1930s Adolf Hitler was a brutal, but successful and popular dictator. Everyone was employed again, and national dignity was restored. Employment was full partly because a huge chunk of the national budget was spent on very massive military production, the Nazi police state regime created a huge number of new jobs in the multiple police and party organizations, and also a very large number of former workers, both jews and political enemies, were now prisoners in large "Concentration camps".
Now Hitler was ready to begin a dramatic series of daring expansion moves. Each of those moves that succeeded without starting a war further enhanced Hitler image as a political-strategic genius, and increased his daring self-confidence. The main reasons for those successes were that the deeply pacifist war-traumatized Great Britain and France, which always preferred appeasement over confrontation, and Hitler, who made no mistakes until the end of 1938, repeatedly used two excuses for his expansion:
There was only one problem with the appeasement policy which repeatedly accepted Hitler's moves. Hitler was not going to stop, and he could not be appeased. It was clear to those who read his book and heard his dramatic speeches, but so many in Europe preferred to ignore it and treat him as if he was an ordinary political leader. It was a fatal mistake. Furthermore, the active pacifism in Britain and France was so strong that the British government pressed France to significantly reduce the size of the French army, the British labor party opposed re-armament right until the war started, and in France there was a campaign to reduce the duration of military service by half. The few warning voices, like that of Winston Churchill, were ignored.
Hitler's pre-war expansion steps were:
At that point Hitler's popularity in Germany significantly decreased. The German public which applauded the unification with the ethnic German population of Austria, was now really worried of war. But as a total dictator Hitler was not dependent on public support, so its loss did not slow him at all.
He now intended to dismantle and swallow Poland too, as he did to Czechoslovakia, using the threat of his military power to achieve conquest without fighting. But he didn't realize that his actions finally alarmed Great Britain, which realized that war is inevitable and decided not to accept Hitler's next move.
Hitler thought that his actions will not start a war with Great Britain. He intended to head East, through Poland, and finally be in position to execute the next step of his global plan, to attack the Soviet Union. He intended to confront the British Empire and the rest of the world only after occupying Russia and after his plan to build a huge oceanic German Navy (plan Z) will be complete, circa 1944.
So in March 1939, right after the annexation of Czechoslovakia, he cancelled the German-Polish non-aggression pact. Just 3 days later the British government guaranteed Polish independence.
Since he was not going to stop, and since Great Britain and France began to negotiate a military pact with the Soviet Union, Hitler made a very surprising move. He signed a non-aggression pact with his near future prey, the Soviet Union, in which the two dictatorships also secretly agreed that they will both invade Poland and divide it between them.
In August 22nd, 1939, based on his experience so far, the confident Hitler told his Generals that Great Britain and France will not declare war in response to an invasion of Poland. This was his first big mistake. He didn't realize that when forced to confront someone like himself, the pacifist West finally had no options left but to fight.
A few days later, in September 1st, 1939, the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe, the German army and Air Force, attacked Poland in a way that shocked the world with its speed and efficiency. This was Blitzkrieg ("Lightning war"), a new powerful tactic that coordinated and concentrated the power and mobility of tanks and aircraft to a devastating force. Today's modern tactics are a direct descendant of Blitzkrieg.
Hitler's entire career was a countdown to war. He wanted it since 1918, and now he started it.
Like in most wars, it did not progress as the aggressor expected. He had great victories, but his obsessive involvement with the professional management of the war, first strategically and later at the daily tactical level, with less and less attention to his Generals advise, resulted in several fatal mistakes that resulted in his defeat. During the war he executed his plan to an organized mass murder of the millions of jews among the populations of the countries under his control. About six million European jews were murdered before the war ended, in various ways, from plain shooting, to starvation of prisoners, to murder by poison gas in death camps. Millions of Slavs, both civilians and captured soldiers, were also murdered in various ways, following Hitler's commands that explicitly demanded maximum cruelty. Tens of millions died in the war itself.
As years pass, some neo-Nazis, anti-semitics, and plain ignorants, try to claim that this unprecedented mass murder and mass brutality did not happen, or that it was "Not that bad", or that the numbers were not so big.
It's important to emphasize that there is plenty of detailed and absolutely undisputed evidence that this mass evil, both in detail and in numbers, did happen. And as General Eisenhower said, as he personally witnessed the remaining piles of dead bodies and the extremely starved survivors : "The world must know what happened, and never forget".
In April 30th, 1945, at age 56, still a bachelor, Adolf Hitler's struggle for world domination ended in total defeat. With advancing Soviet forces less than a mile away from his underground bunker in Berlin, he married his mistress, and right after the brief wedding they committed suicide in their private room. She took poison and he fired a pistol at his head. Their bodies were burned.
Back to part 1 of Adolf Hitler (7 minutes read)
Hermann Goering (6 minutes read)
World War 2 leaders (17 minutes read)
The biggest mistakes in World War 2 (15 minutes read)
When did Hitler lose the war ? (7 minutes read)
Russia in World War 2 (22 minutes read)