Germany 1930-1937: Lectures based on Pool's book
We start with a discussion of Germany in the 1930's using as main reference James Pool's book Hitler and his Secret Partners (Pocket Books, 1997). There are three big questions about the events of that period.
Pool's book is divided into two parts separated by the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. A preface offers an overview of the whole book and an Introduction deals with events before 1933. Noteworthy there is the near success of a communist revolution in Germany and the extreme fear that this event generated in the German upper and middle classes.
Chapter 1 discusses how the fear of communism led the German establishment to support Hitler and make him chancellor in January of 1933. Particularly noteworthy items: Goering had his own power base amongst the conservatives because he was viewed as representing the right wing of the Nazi party. Pool discusses in detail how the Nazis received significant financial backing from German industrialist for the campaign of the March 1933 elections.
Chapter 2 describes how Hitler managed to get the German parliament to grant him dictatorial powers even though he had not won an absolute majority in the elections (he got 44% of the vote). Critical to that step was the vote of the centrist German catholic party. The party did so only after pressure by Pope Pius XI. The chapter ends with a description of the looting of the funds of the labor unions.
Chapter 3 describes how the Nazis and their allies fought amongst themselves for power. There were three fractions: the Nazi left led by Roehm and including most of the SA (the brown-shirts). The Nazi right led by Goering and having support amongst industrialists and many army generals. And the conservatives led by von Papen and including anti-Nazi generals that wanted to restore the monarchy. Hitler favored the Nazi right and in the end of June of 1934 he and the SS carried a bloody purge of the Nazi left killing Roehm (who at one time was Hitler's mentor) and several of the SA leaders. The brown-shirts ceased to be an effective force. For good measure some of the conservatives were killed as well (including von Papen's speech writer). When president von Hindenburg died in August of 1934, the army generals let Hitler combine the offices of the president and chancellor in his person. He asked for popular approval in a plebiscite and won it with 84% of the vote.
The discussion of the first three chapters suggests that while Hitler may have been an evil genius, he had enormous support amongst the German industrialists, the army generals, and the pope. Popular support was significant, at least 44% since the March 1933 elections were reasonably free. However this was not true in the 1934 plebiscite so the 84% is too high a figure.
Chapter 4 discusses the secret re-armament of Germany and the expansion of the army. the events of March 1936 when Hitler sent his troops to occupy the Rhineland, a part of Germany that had been demilitarized by the treaty of Versailles. This was an action that has puzzled historians. Hitler took the action against the advice of his generals. He admitted later "if the French had (mobilized) we would have had to withdraw with our tails between our legs." Shirer (p. 293) claims that the result from a strong French reaction "would have been the end of Hitler." Later Hitler himself referred to the 48 hours after the occupation as the "most nerve-racking" period in his life. (p. 293 of Shirer and pp. 496-497 of Fest). It was a gamble that paid handsomely because, amongst other things it solidified his own position within Germany, not only over his own generals but also over the rest of the population. The remilitarization of the Rhineland was enormously popular in Germany in its own right and with that action Hitler crossed the threshold from a politician to a national leader. Before that Hitler's opponents had hopes that they could get rid of him, but that step extinguished all such hopes. (ref. Shirer) This chapter provides evidence that Hitler's action was not as much of a gamble as historians have been thinking. Pool offers evidence that the new English king (Edward VIII) who had just ascended to the throne (January 1936) provided significant information to Hitler, in effect, encouraging him in his plan. His future wife, Mrs. Simpson, appears to be have been a messenger.
In short, Hitler received support not only from within Germany, but also from England. The fear of Soviet Russia made a lot of influential people join his cause.
Chapter 5 discusses the attacks on the Jews and documents that a major motive for the attacks was the looting of Jewish property. For example, Jewish owners of major businesses were forced to sell them to "Aryans" at a fraction (as little as 1/10th or less) of the true value.
A major theme that comes out in the rest of the book is that Hitler followed a looting policy and the persecution of the Jews was a significant part of that looting. Chapters 5, and 7 document Hitler's looting policy. Chapters 11 and 13 focus on the motivation for the extermination of the Jews and those who profited from it. The concluding sentence of Chapter 11 is ".. to yield 100,000 Jewish slave laborers, 400,000 Jews were rounded up... The 300,000 unfit to work ... were soon exterminated... " Note that Pool's analysis contradicts the view that the Holocaust was 'evil for the sake of evil.' Topic for discussion: What can we conclude from Pool's analysis about the possibility of a future major persecution of the Jews?
Chapters 9 ('Foreign Friends') shows how ambassador Kennedy and Lindbergh were helpful to Hitler. Chapters 11 ('The "Good Germans"') and 15( the last chapter) provide some insight to what was happening behind the scenes, mainly that Hitler's power decreased only during the last few months of the war when the end was imminent. We may discuss those as well if there is time and interest.
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