A riveting study delves deeply into the conditions of the perfect storm that allowed Hitler and his Nazi party to seize and wield unprecedented power.
The Nazis, first and foremost, were opportunists. In this compelling narrative, historian Childers (Soldier from the War Returning: The Greatest Generation's Troubled Homecoming from World War II, 2009, etc.) begins with Hitler’s lackluster early life and sense of thwarted ambition, which took a sharp new direction after Germany’s crushing defeat in World War I. From Vienna, where he was first inculcated in virulent anti-Semitic influences, to postwar Munich, a hotbed of left-wing revolutionary turmoil, Hitler seized the two pillars of what would become Nazi ideology: anti-Semitism and anti-Marxism. He assumed leadership of one of the many small paramilitary parties that had sprung up before 1920 and rebranded it the National Socialist German Workers Party, complete with swastika symbol and thuggish paramilitary army, led by loyalist Ernst Röhm; the group was envisioned more as an ideological movement than a political party. From this point, Childers meticulously lays out the conditions that fed the growth of this objectionable group: Hitler’s talent for oratory, which won over rich donors; the conservative Catholic Bavarian base that was tolerant of “nationalist-Völkisch extremists of all kinds”; the shocking leniency meted out to him after the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923; the inspired choice of Joseph Goebbels to organize a Nazi propaganda machine, instigating the party rallies and Hitler cult that appealed to disenchanted voters and heavily influenced the breakthrough election of 1930; and, as the author emphasizes, the fatally misdirected backroom connivances by former chancellor Franz von Papen and others, which handed the chancellorship to Hitler in 1933. Once in power, the Nazis ensured with breathtaking rapidity that everything began to “fall in line,” with one edict after the other consolidating power and strangling the rights of Jews especially—all facing little resistance by Germans citizens or the rest of the world.
An elegantly composed study, important and even timely, given current trends in American and global politics.