dolf Hitler is undoubtedly one of the most evil men in history. He conquered most of Europe, sent millions of Jewish people to their deaths and started what would become the most deadly war in history.
But how did Hitler rise to power in such a democratic country? Well, it all started at the end of World War 1. In 1918, the German Government realised the war was unwinnable and signed a peace treaty, ending the fighting. As the Government collapsed, civil unrest and workers strikes spread across the nation. In fear that there would be a Communist uprising, political parties joined together to form the Weimar Republic.
One of the Government’s first tasks was to implement the peace treaty, imposed by the allies. In addition to losing a 10th of its territory and dismantling its army,Germany had to accept full responsibility for the war and pay reparations.
All this was seen as a humiliation by many federalists and nationalists. They wrongly believed that the war could have been won if the army hadn’t been betrayed by politicians and protesters.
For Hitler, these views became an obsession and his bigotry and delusions led him to pin the blame on Jews. By this time hundreds of thousands of Jews had integrated into German society, but many Germans saw them as outsiders. After the war, Jewish success had led to ungrounded accusations of subversion and war profiteering, building on the traditional anti-semitism which had pursued the Jews throughout history.
It can not be stressed enough that these conspiracy theories were born out of fear, anger and bigotry, not fact. Nonetheless, Hitler found success with them when he joined a small nationalist political party. His manipulative public speaking launched him into its leadership and drew increasingly larger crowds. Combining anti-Semitism with populist resentment, the Nazis denounced both Communism and Capitalism as international Jewish conspiracies to destroy Germany.
The Nazi party was not initially popular. After making an unsuccessful attempt at overthrowing the Government, the party was banned and Hitler was jailed for treason. But upon his release about a year later, he imminently began to rebuild the movement. In 1929, the Great Depression happened. It led to American banks withdrawing their loans from Germany and the already struggling German economy collapsed overnight.
Hitler took advantage of the people’s anger, offering them convenient scapegoats and a promise to restore Germany’s greatness. Mainstream parties proved to unable to handle the crisis. With this, the frustrated public flocked to the Nazis, increasing their parliamentary votes from under 3% to over 18% in just two years.
In 1932, Hitler ran for president, losing the election to decorated war hero General Paul von Hindenburg. But with 36% of the vote, Hitler had demonstrated the extent of his support. In 1933, advisers and business leaders convinced Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor, hoping to channel his popularity for their own goals. But once in this position, he kept the fear mongering of a Communist revolution and said that he was the only one that restore law and order.
Then in 1933, the Reichstag fire happened and a young worker by the name of Marinus van der Lubbe was convicted and executed for the crime. Hitler used the fire to convince the government to grant him emergency powers. Within months, freedom of the press was abolished, other parties were disbanded and anti-Jewish laws were passed.
When President Hindenburg died in August 1934 it was clear there would be no new election. Hitler declared himself Fuhrer. Disturbingly, many of Hitler’s early measures didn’t require mass repression. His speeches exploited people’s fear and ire to drive their support behind him and the Nazi party. Meanwhile, businessmen and intellectuals, wanting to be on the right side of public opinion, endorsed Hitler. They had convinced themselves and others that his more extreme rhetoric was only for show.
Decades later, Hitlers rise remains a warning of how fragile democratic institutions can be in the face of angry crowds and a leader willing to feed their anger and exploit their fears.
Sources used for this article: TedEd