The Prodigal Greek

The Greek crisis through a different prism

As the wolf bursts into the flock, so we come

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Extracts from The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler by Laurence Rees. Given recent political developments in Greece, food for thought:

Even though Nazi membership stood at around 100,000 in 1928, there seemed little objective chance of a breakthrough for the party. The lowest point was the election of May 1928 when the Nazis polled just 2.6 per cent of the vote. More than 97 per cent of the German electorate still rejected Adolf Hitler and his policies.


In the election of 1928 two of the 12 seats in the Reichstag that the Nazis won went to Goebbels and Göring. Goebbels was clear how he perceived his own parliamentary responsibilities in this democratic Germany, ‘We enter parliament in order to supply ourselves, in the arsenal of democracy, with its own weapons… If democracy is so stupid as to give us free [railway] tickets and salaries for this work, that is its affair… We flout cooperating in a stinking dung heap. We come to clear away the dung… We do not come as friends, nor even as neutrals. We come as enemies. As the wolf bursts into the flock, so we come.’


But, as far as the Nazis were concerned, in 1928 the evidence was that the democratic ‘slime’ were winning. Indeed, the Nazis were so short of money in 1928 that they had trouble financing their party rally in Nuremberg. However, there were stirrings in German society that offered some hope to a Nazi party that so clearly needed a crisis to be able to progress. German agricultural workers were suffering as the price of food on the world market began to drop. Since the relative prosperity of the Weimar government had been built on using loans from America to pay the British and French their reparations, this was a fragile economy, and it already showed signs of cracking.


Working hard to stabilise Germany’s position was Gustav Stresemann, the German Foreign Secretary. He had convinced the German government to sign the Kellogg-Briand Pact in August 1928 that committed Germany to a peaceful resolution of international problems. Stresemann then built on the subsequent goodwill by negotiating the Young Plan in February 1929, by which the burden of German reparations would be reduced.


Between 1929 and 1933 millions of Germans turned their back on their previous party allegiances and decided to support Adolf Hitler and the Nazis – and they did this knowing that Hitler intended to destroy the German democratic system and supported acts of criminal violence.


The most important precondition for Hitler’s rise in popularity was the apparent failure of democracy in the face of economic crisis. In March 1930 the coalition of the Social Democrats and the Liberal People’s Party that had previously governed Germany collapsed when they couldn’t agree how best the crisis should be handled. For many […] this was evidence of the need for radical change. The Reichstag was known as the ‘chattering circle’ to Hähnel and his friends because they believed that all of the different political parties – many of whom represented particular interest groups – did little but talk.


By January 1930, just four months after the Wall Street crash, there were more than three million Germans unemployed – perhaps, taking into account part-time workers, as many as four million. In this atmosphere of crisis, many Germans willingly heard Hitler’s message of ‘solidarity’ and national unity. So much so that the Nazis achieved a remarkable breakthrough in the general election of September 1930. Their share of the vote leapt from 2.6 per cent to 18.3 per cent and they were now the second largest party in the Reichstag with more than a hundred seats.


Between 1930 and 1932 the economic crisis grew still worse – by the start of 1932 more than six million Germans were unemployed.


In July 1931 the huge German Danat-Bank crashed. As a result, it wasn’t just the millions of unemployed who were now suffering in Germany, but swathes of the middle class as well.


By the start of 1932 there were more than a quarter of a million members of the SA – three times as many as just a year before. Wearing brown shirts and carrying Nazi banners, they were a common sight, not just marching through German towns and villages, but also fighting with Communist youth groups. Economic desperation was leading to violent confrontation on the streets. It seemed as if German society was politically splitting apart as support not just for the Nazis but also for the Communists increased.


Amidst this civil discontent – trouble which the Nazis themselves were helping to create – Hitler tried to position himself as the political messiah who would guide Germans out of the chaos. And in that context he emphasised themes of national renewal. He talked of removing a democratic system that had – he claimed – failed Germany; and the ‘righting’ of the ‘wrongs’ of the Versailles treaty.


The political question Hitler now needed to answer urgently was whether or not he should challenge Paul von Hindenburg for the Presidency in 1932. It was not that there was a serious possibility that Hitler would win – even given the Nazis’ recent electoral success, Hindenburg offered the broad German population a much more unifying alternative as head of state. But a noisy, intense campaign could potentially help Hitler’s public profile


Hitler’s decision to challenge Hindenburg for the presidency paid off. As expected, he didn’t win, but he gained 30 per cent of the popular vote in the first round of the election held on 13 March 1932, and then nearly 37 per cent of the vote in the direct run-off against Hindenburg which took place the following month. Hitler was now centre-stage in German politics


three months after challenging for the presidency, Hitler led the Nazis to an astonishing victory in the general election of July 1932 – the Nazis became the largest party in the Reichstag with 230 seats and a share in the vote of nearly 38 per cent.



Written by Yiannis Mouzakis

June 23, 2013 at 10:25 pm

Posted in Politico

Tagged with , ,

One Response

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  1. andresmourenza

    June 28, 2013 at 10:46 am

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