On July 21, 1944, Adolf Hitler takes to the airwaves to announce that the attempt on his life has failed and that “accounts will be settled.”
Hitler had survived the bomb blast that was meant to take his life. He had suffered punctured eardrums, some burns and minor wounds, but nothing that would keep him from regaining control of the government and finding the rebels. In fact, the coup d’etat that was to accompany the assassination of Hitler was put down in a mere 11 1/2 hours.
In Berlin, Army Major Otto Remer, believed to be apolitical by the conspirators and willing to carry out any orders given him, was told that the Fuhrer was dead and that he, Remer, was to arrest Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda. But Goebbels had other news for Remer—Hitler was alive. And he proved it, by getting the leader on the phone (the rebels had forgotten to cut the phone lines). Hitler then gave Remer direct orders to put down any army rebellion and to follow only his orders or those of Goebbels or Himmler. Remer let Goebbels go. The SS then snapped into action, arriving in Berlin, now in chaos, just in time to convince many high German officers to remain loyal to Hitler.
READ MORE: The July Plot: When German Elites Tried to Kill Hitler
Arrests, torture sessions, executions, and suicides followed. Count Claus von Stauffenberg, the man who actually planted the explosive in the room with Hitler and who had insisted to his co-conspirators that “the explosion was as if a 150-millimeter shell had hit. No one in that room can still be alive.” But it was Stauffenberg who would not be alive for much longer; he was shot dead the very day of the attempt by a pro-Hitler officer. The plot was completely undone.
Now Hitler had to restore calm and confidence to the German civilian population. At 1 a.m., July 21, Hitler’s voice broke through the radio airwaves: “I am unhurt and well…. A very small clique of ambitious, irresponsible…and stupid officers had concocted a plot to eliminate me… It is a gang of criminal elements which will be destroyed without mercy. I therefore give orders now that no military authority…is to obey orders from this crew of usurpers… This time we shall settle account with them in the manner to which we National Socialists are accustomed.”
READ MORE: 6 Assassination Attempts on Adolf Hitler
Hitler to Germany: “I’m still alive” - HISTORY
Scholars Wendy Lower, Peter Hayes, Michael Berenbaum, Jonathan Petropoulos, and Deborah Dwork describe how Adolf Hitler became a powerful political figure in Weimar Germany in the aftermath of World War I.
Most Germans did not expect their country to lose World War I. And many felt shocked and betrayed to learn that its leadership had surrendered. In the aftermath, German emperor Kaiser Wilhelm renounced the throne and fled to the Netherlands. As revolutionaries fought for control of the German capital of Berlin, a new government formed in a smaller city to the south called Weimar. Almost overnight, Germany had transformed into a democratic republic, which would be known as the Weimar Republic.
The collapse of the monarchy was very important because it created these power vacuums and this grab for power. And these disgruntled youth, hardened youth, came back into German society and Austrian society, and were very disillusioned, and had known— their primary, formative years were in the carnage of the First World War, the Great War, the war to end all wars.
And so they come out of this experience and really bring that to the streets of Germany, to the political culture of Germany— so that kind of combative spirit. A lot of the politicking that's occurring in Germany is in beer halls and in street fights. For a liberal society to function and a democracy to function, there has to be compromise. There has to be civility. And it's not part of that, the birth of democracy in Germany.
Adolf Hitler was among those youth who brought a combative spirit back to the new German democratic experiment. Hitler was an Austrian citizen who had volunteered to fight for the German army. He was in a hospital, recovering from a mustard gas attack that had left him partially blinded, when he learned of Germany's defeat. And he moved to Munich shortly thereafter.
Hitler was like hundreds of thousands of other Germans— some of them in the army, some of them not— in 1919— disturbed by their nation's defeat, deeply unsettled by the political revolutions that occurred at roughly the same time, and looking for an answer. He found it in a political organization that already existed called the German Workers' Party. And he rapidly became a dominant figure in the movement because he had a gift for public speaking.
In early 1920, the party changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party, or the Nazi Party for short.
It was a movement that offered him an explanation for Germany's defeat— namely, that the nation had been sold out. That it was not his fault as a former soldier that Germany had lost, but rather seditious forces at home had undercut the war effort. And that explained why Germany had lost. That became the core of his message. And then attached to that was a particular statement that among those seditious forces were the Jews.
Traitors have betrayed us. That's why we lost the war. You need a scapegoat for that. The Jews were a scapegoat.
So that was the beginning— that Hitler blamed this ignominious defeat on his political opponents. And then the peak of this early period of crisis— from 1918 to 1923, Weimar was plagued with crisis— was the hyperinflation.
In the great inflation of 1923, you need billions of marks to be able to get a loaf of bread. It didn't pay to work, because your money was losing value every hour of every day. And the entire middle class was wiped out.
It's not a coincidence that Hitler attempts to seize power in November 1923, the peak of the hyperinflation. And he sees this as an opportunity— that Weimar has become so chaotic, the downward spiral has gone so far, that that's when he undertakes the Beer Hall Putsch.
Hitler and about 2,000 supporters attempted to stage a coup in which they took control of Munich. It ended in a confrontation which resulted in the death of 16 Nazis and four German policemen. And Hitler was arrested and charged with treason two days later.
The Putsch failed. He then was sentenced to jail. But he was treated in jail like a bit of a celebrity, and not treated with harshness, and not put away for a very long time. In jail, he wrote Mein Kampf— my battle, my struggle— which was his blueprint. He told us what he was going to do. And then he did it.
When he came out, he decided that he had to adopt a new and more effective political strategy— one that did not involve challenging the authorities with violence. And he called this, actually, the legality strategy. He spent most of the mid-1920s building up the political organization of the Nazi Party. But it's important to note that, in 1928, at the German parliamentary elections, he got 2.6% of the national vote. In 1924, he had gotten 6%. He was a marginal political figure.
In the mid '20s, the Weimar Republic did very well. Unemployment rate went down, the inflation rate went down. It seemed like Germans were going to be able to move forward with some relative stability and prosperity. And then came the stock market crash of 1929. And that was the beginning of the economic disaster.
What, in a calmer time, would have disqualified Hitler completely from being taken into the world of acceptability at this point gained and triggered support from segments of the population.
In 1930, they won 18% of the vote— 107 seats. And then, by July 1932 they were up to 37% of the vote.
Now, people knew what Hitler stood for, but they weren't quite sure what his priorities were. We now know, in retrospect, looking back, that Hitler was obsessed with two things above all— removing the Jews from Germany— and that became increasingly a murderous program, and he was obsessed with winning what he called living space for Germany in the east.
But up until 1932, that's not what he talked about all the time. Indeed, in the last three years, between 1930 and 1933, when Hitler's vote was rising the fastest, the Nazis downplayed their antisemitic rhetoric. And their rhetoric was, what's wrong with this country is the system. The system is broken. The system doesn't know how to fix what's wrong with this country.
In 1932, Hitler ran against the current president, World War I general Paul von Hindenburg. The Nazis won the largest share of seats in the Reichstag, at 37%, but did not get the majority needed for Hitler to become president. In a second round of voting, Hindenburg was able to gain a narrow majority of votes and retain the office.
A third of the electorate gravitated toward Hitler. But it was only a third. And he wouldn't have come to power if it had not been for this powerful elite around the president who said, you've got to pick somebody. Let's pick him. And he thus became the person that the president chose to make chancellor.
They believed that they could control Hitler in this way. They called him the drummer, and he was going to head the parade. And the existing elites were going to manipulate him and pass the legislation that they needed. And Germany would be saved— at least saved from communism, from a Marxist dictatorship. And it's one of the great mistakes in all of history.
Why was Hitler able to rise to power in Germany in 1933
On 30th January 1933, Hindenburg received Hitler in audience and appointed him chancellor. It came as a shock to some people but many believed that Hitlers rise to power was inevitable. Some state that Hitler could not have risen to power in any country other than Germany, implying that he was nothing more than a product of German culture. Others say that Hitler rose to power by means of his political genius. And yet still others claim that it was the weak democratic government of the Weimar Republic, and Germanys social and economic scene in the 1930s that made the people restless and ready for a dictator to come to power.
There was no single reason for Hitlers rise to power. However the main reasons were that the political and economic chaos of the 1920s and the 1930s joined forces with German culture that enabled Hitler to rise to power. Both play an equal part. Together, both created a unique situation for Hitlers rise. Hitler was in part a product of German culture. German culture at the time stood out as particularly aggressive and racist. The values and ideas found in this cultures history inspired Hitler to do many things that he did and can explain in part why he felt the way he did on certain issues.
For example there were talks of the master race in the past history of Germany by the German philosophers, which might have given Hitler his ideas on the Aryan race. Many people believe that German culture is by nature racist, militaristic, and anti-Semitic. Germany was an opportune place for Hitler to come to power. German people, feeling confused by the social and economic chaos of the 1920s and 1930s could do nothing but gravitate towards someone like Hitler. Hitler had answers for everyones problems.
He promised to restore order and greatness. And many people accepted Hitler with open arms. Which was partly due to poor alternatives and due to the fact that Hitler told the people what they wanted to hear. Since at the time the German people were without jobs resulting from the crises and were open to anyone who promised to bring back social order and economic control. Hitler promised both of these things. The German people would have supported almost any candidate who could have made them feel as Hitler did.
They wanted to feel good about themselves and about their country so they opened their arms to the person who made them feel this way. In addition to that due to the Wall Street crash the increase in economic trouble in Germany in the late 30s ironically helped the Nazis gain voters, as they claimed to have all the answers. People who had never voted before in their lives rapidly became die-hard Nazis followers. In the 1932 elections, the Nazi party received more votes than any other. The election results a total of around 13 million votes showed that Hitler had gained a lot of support.
Which assumingly came through a lot of campaigning, which might have been probably due to Hitler allying with a crucial group, the elite and the big businesses. As fear of the Left was rapidly growing, the thought of worker riots exploding all over Germany and anxious to rebuild from the economic disaster of the 1930s, capitalists were starting to support the Nazi party more strongly. At this point businessmen and the elite saw Hitler as a politician who would not hold up business. To ensure his success, big businesses and the Elite in Germany supported Hitler financially.
Which then enabled Hitler to campaign more and he could now afford to do things like using modern technology to publicise the Nazi party more widely. The elite had now also realised that they no longer needed to support the weak Republic. Since they saw Hitler as a better alternative and now believed that they could get Hitler into power and eventually control the SS/SA through Hitler to benefit them. Industry was ready enough to tolerate a Hitler cabinet and had little love for Weimar nevertheless, heavy industry and the elite exerted only marginal influence on Hitler’s appointment.
Since the political situation caused by the Reichstag’s unwillingness to assume responsibility and by the unwillingness of both Nazis and Communists to seize power was the influence exerted by the president’s political advisers. The tireless efforts from both Papen and Schleicher made both of them seem unfit to stay in power. As they made each other seem negative in Hindenburgs eyes. As a result Hindenburg ran out of many candidates that could take control of the chancellor position.
However Schleicher did unwillingly become chancellor after he had convinced Hindenburg that Papens policies of establishing martial law and amending the constitution would cause a civil war. Schleicher believed that he could get into power by exploiting the healthy nazi movement, which he believed was easy to tame and exploit by skilful political manipulation. However nothing went right for Schleicher when he was chancellor. Schleicher was never able to dodge the mistrust of the socialists, centrists and was never close to dividing the Nazis.
Therefore Schleicher finally admitted that he couldnt obtain majority in the Reichstag. Which than led to Schleichers expulsion. After Schleicher had failed Papen persuaded Hindenburg that a viable alternative to Schleicher now existed. The Nazis and Nationalists would have a reasonable chance of obtaining a majority in the Reichstag. However Hindenburg was still a little bit hesitant, he wasnt very keen on appointing Hitler as chancellor. Probably due to the fact that Hindenburg wasnt very fond of Hitler, since he had refused Hitler total power on a couple of occasions earlier on.
The Nazis were also suffering from a great deal problems. As Hitler was running very short of funds by 1933 the Nazi party was on the verge of bankruptcy. However this wasnt the only problem the Nazis and Hitler faced. As Nazis were now losing votes as well as money. The Nazi party had lost 2 million on the November Elections in 1932. Which was partly due to the fact that Hitler and his party had failed to take power on various occasions. So therefore the more restless Nazi followers drifted over to the extreme left instead.
Which probably explains the slight increase in the communist vote in the November elections. All this meant that the Nazis were heading towards a freefall and it looked as though their position was going to be lost. However two days after Schleichers resignation on 30th January 1933 Hitler was appointed chancellor. The main reason behind Hitlers appointed at this time is likely to be the scandal on Hindenburg. In which the budget committee of the Reichstag discovered that public money was misused. Speculation about this grew and Hindenburg and his relatives were implicated in the fraud.
So therefore Hindenburg drew all the attention from himself towards Hitler by making Hitler chancellor In contrast to that by looking at all the conclusive facts and arguments the sensible conclusion that can be reached is that Hitler came to power due to a combination of many different reasons. However a skilful historian can say that the backbone of Hitlers rise was based on the great economic instability of the time, which enabled Hitler to exploit the situation, and the craftiness of the backstairs intrigue.
Secondly the problems with the constitution (article 48), which undermined German Democracy, the weak and illegitimate Republic that was widely hated, the fear of the left by the elite and the Republic, and the influences of the German culture on Hitler, which gave Hitler the Ideas that had shaped his way of thinking. All this together helped in portraying the perfect picture in Hitlers rise to power in Germany in January 1933.
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Hitler and Germany: 1928-35
Much of the economic boom that Germany had enjoyed in the mid-1920s was built on foreign capital. In 1927, German manufacturing was at its postwar high: 22% above what it had been in 1913. German agriculture reached its prewar level in 1928 and remained stagnate, despite protective tariffs. Also, labor unions were forcing up wage rates, and a spiraling rise in wages and prices appeared. Germans were accumulating debts. In September 1928 Germany had 650,000 unemployed, and by 1929 three million had lost their jobs. In the wake of the great fall of prices on the US stock market in 1929, lenders from the US gave Germany ninety days to start repayment.
In 1929 in Munich the political aspirant Adolf Hitler told a US newsman, Karl Wiegand, that with Germany's economic troubles, especially bankruptcies, rising unemployment and distrust of public officials, Germany was "steadily, slowly, but surely slipping more and more into conditions of Communism." The public is confused, he said, and "It is this state of affairs that the National Socialists are raising the cry of home country and nation against the slogan of internationalism of the Marxian Socialists." Asked whether he was interested in again opposing the government by force, Hitler replied that support for his movement was growing so rapidly that "we have no need of other than legal methods." note33
Elitist masculinity in Germany. Click for explanation
By 1930 in Germany, bankruptcies were increasing. Farmers were hurting. Some in the middle-class feared sliding into the lower class. And some in the middle-class blamed the economic decline on unemployed people being unwilling to work &ndash while hunger was widespread. note35
According to Stalinist dogma, a crisis in capitalism and its attendant suffering was supposed to produce a rise in class consciousness among working people and to advance the revolution. The Communist Party in Germany did find a little more support, but Hitler and the Fascists, campaigning against Communism, were gaining strength. In 1930 the parliamentary coalition that governed Germany fell apart. New elections were held, and the biggest winner was Adolf Hitler's National Socialist Party. From twelve seats in parliament they increased their seats to 107, becoming Germany's second largest political party. The largest party was still the Social Democrats, and this party won 143 seats and 24.5 percent of the vote. Communist Party candidates won 13.1 percent of the vote (roughly 50 times better than the US Communist Party did in 1932 elections). Together the Social Democrats and the Communists were large enough to claim the right to make a government. But Communists and the Social Democrats remained hostile toward one another. The Comintern at this time was opposed to Communists working with Social Democrat reformers. It held to the belief that a collapse of parliamentary government would hasten the revolutionary crisis that would produce their revolution.
Instead of a left-of-center, socialist government, the president of the German republic, Hindenburg, selected Heinrich Brüning of the Catholic Center Party to form a government. This Party had received only 11.3 percent of the vote. Brüning did not have the majority parliamentary support needed to rule. Brüning ruled as chancellor under Hindenburg's emergency powers. It was the beginning of the end of democracy in Germany, with Hindenburg willing to do anything other than give the government back to the Social Democrats.
Brüning attempted to restore the economy with the conservative policies: a balanced budget, high interest rates and remaining on the gold standard. There was no emergency deficit (Keynesian) spending as in Sweden, and the economy continued to slide.
Hitler was looking good to many Germans because he seemed truly devoted to the country. He was a sincere nationalist. He appeared to adore children and those adults who supported him. Hitler found his greatest support in traditionally conservative small towns. He appealed to morality, attacking free love and what he inferred was the immorality of Berlin and some other major cities. He promised to stamp out big city corruption. He called for a spiritual revolution, for a "positive Christianity" and a spirit of national pride. Hitler repeatedly called for national renewal. He and his National Socialists benefited from the recent upheavals in the Soviet Union: the collectivization, starvations, persecutions, and the rise in fear and disgust in Germany for Bolshevism. Hitler's campaign posters read:
If you want your country to go Bolshevik, vote Communist. If you want to remain free Germans, vote for the National Socialists.
Hitler called for a strengthened Germany and a refusal to pay reparations. He promised to restore Germany's borders. He appeared to be for the common man and critical of Germany's "barons." To the unemployed he promised jobs and bread. His party had the appeal of being young and on the move. Disillusioned Communists joined his movement, as did many unemployed young men and a variety of malcontents. In addition to finding support in small towns, he found support among the middle-class. He found support too from some among the newly rich and among some aristocrats. He found support among a few industrialists and financiers who wished for lower taxes and an end to the labor movement. From wealthy contributors Hitler was able to set up places where unemployed young men could get a hot meal and trade their shabby clothes for a storm trooper uniform.
Appeals to anti-Semitism had not been much help to conservative candidates before the depression, but Hitler's verbal attacks on Jews were now having more appeal. Not one prominent industry in Germany had a Jew as an owner or director, but Hitler continued to hammer away at what he described as the Jewish aspect of capitalism.
The depression had been worsening in Germany, and in 1932 unemployment reached thirty percent &ndash 5,102,000 in September. Hindenburg's seven-year term as president ended that year, and at age 84 Hindenburg ran for re-election, his major opponent for the presidency &ndash Adolf Hitler. Neither Hindenburg nor Hitler won a majority, and in the runoff campaign Hindenburg won 19.4 million to Hitler's 11.4. But in the parliamentary elections held later that April, the National Socialists increased their seats from 107 to 162, the National Socialists becoming the largest political party in Germany. Hitler had lost the election for the presidency, but his campaigning was building support.
Hindenburg had become dissatisfied with his chancellor, Brüning, and the hunt was on for a new chancellor. Brüning still lacked the parliamentary majority needed for democratic rule, and without Hindenburg's support he was forced to resign. His last act as chancellor was to put a ban on Hitler's street forces, the storm troopers or Brown Shirts, also known as the Sturmabteilungor (S.A.), in English the Assault Division.
The aristocratic Hindenburg disliked Hitler, seeing him as a rabble-rouser and believing that the Nationalist Socialists were indeed socialists. He was not about to select Hitler as his new chancellor, while his aide, Kurt von Schleicher, was having difficulty putting together a governing coalition of national unity. Giving up on national unity, Schleicher put together a cabinet that was largely of aristocrats &ndash to be known as "the cabinet of barons"– with himself as minister of defense and Franz von Papen as chancellor. It was another government that lacked a parliamentary majority, and it was unpopular across Germany. But the new government did have at least one success in foreign affairs: the cancellation of Germany's obligation to make reparations payments.
The crisis over establishing a government with a parliamentary majority continued, and in late July, 1932, another parliamentary election was held. The results hurt the middle-class and moderate political parties. The National Socialists increased their seats in parliament still more &ndash to 230 of a total of 670 seats. The number of seats for the Communists rose to 89. Schleicher believed that it was necessary to form a government that included National Socialists, and Hitler was buoyed by the thought that he was on the verge of being selected as chancellor. When parliament opened in September, the National Socialists were seeking a government led by Hitler, and they organized a vote against the von Papen government. Von Papen responded by dissolving parliament, with new elections scheduled for November.
In the November elections, the Communists won seventeen percent of the vote, and their number of seats in parliament rose to 100, while Hitler's National Socialists lost 34 seats. This drop shocked the National Socialists. With others they believed that their movement might have lost its momentum. Also the National Socialists were in debt from all their campaigning &ndash Hitler having borrowed money extravagantly for his campaigns, believing he could pay it back easily if he won and that the loans did not matter if he lost. Discouraged financial backers began withdrawing their support from the National Socialists, and opportunistic party activists began leaving the party. Hitler was alarmed, and there was talk that some who were leaving the National Socialists were going over to that other party of revolution &ndash the Communists.
Hermann Goering, another fascistic war hero. When Hitler became chancellor he put Goering in charge of the police.
Schleicher was alarmed by the growth of support for the Communists. (So too was Herbert Hoover's ambassador to Germany, Frederic Sackett.) Schleicher forced von Papen's resignation. Papen was irritated with Schleicher and, buoyed by the decline of the National Socialists, he hit on the idea of heading a coalition that included the National Socialists, believing that he and other respectable conservatives in his cabinet could control the humbled National Socialist party. Schleicher formed an emergency government and tried to put together a coalition of many political parties, including some National Socialists that he hoped to split away from Hitler. Schleicher hoped to win the support of both moderate socialists and conservatives, but the reforms that he hoped would appeal to the moderate socialists were rejected by conservatives, and Schleicher's coalition failed to hold together.
The unwillingness of the conservatives to work with the Social Democrats paved the way for Adolf Hitler. Hitler agreed to work with von Papen but only as the head of a new coalition government. Papen went to Hindenburg and proposed a government with Hitler as chancellor and himself as vice-chancellor, with the majority of the cabinet to be conservatives from von Papen's Nationalist Party. Hitler met with some right-wing industrialists, reassuring them of his respect for private property. He told them that democracy led to socialism and that he would curb socialism and the socialist-led labor unions. The industrialists liked what Hitler told them. In January 1933, Hindenburg made Hitler chancellor.
It was not democracy that gave power to Hitler. Hitler became Germany's chancellor (prime minister) without ever having received more than 37 percent of the popular vote. His National Socialist Party had never received more than a third of the seats in parliament. Hitler had been appointed chancellor by a man who did not believe in democracy and had been maneuvering against the creation of a government that had majority support as the parliamentary system demanded, Hindenburg's purpose being to keep the Social Democrats from power.
As Germany's new chancellor, Hitler's powers were limited. But those limitations would soon be cast aside, accomplished by other than democratic means.
How Bush's grandfather helped Hitler's rise to power
George Bush's grandfather, the late US senator Prescott Bush, was a director and shareholder of companies that profited from their involvement with the financial backers of Nazi Germany.
The Guardian has obtained confirmation from newly discovered files in the US National Archives that a firm of which Prescott Bush was a director was involved with the financial architects of Nazism.
His business dealings, which continued until his company's assets were seized in 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act, has led more than 60 years later to a civil action for damages being brought in Germany against the Bush family by two former slave labourers at Auschwitz and to a hum of pre-election controversy.
The evidence has also prompted one former US Nazi war crimes prosecutor to argue that the late senator's action should have been grounds for prosecution for giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
The debate over Prescott Bush's behaviour has been bubbling under the surface for some time. There has been a steady internet chatter about the "Bush/Nazi" connection, much of it inaccurate and unfair. But the new documents, many of which were only declassified last year, show that even after America had entered the war and when there was already significant information about the Nazis' plans and policies, he worked for and profited from companies closely involved with the very German businesses that financed Hitler's rise to power. It has also been suggested that the money he made from these dealings helped to establish the Bush family fortune and set up its political dynasty.
Remarkably, little of Bush's dealings with Germany has received public scrutiny, partly because of the secret status of the documentation involving him. But now the multibillion dollar legal action for damages by two Holocaust survivors against the Bush family, and the imminent publication of three books on the subject are threatening to make Prescott Bush's business history an uncomfortable issue for his grandson, George W, as he seeks re-election.
While there is no suggestion that Prescott Bush was sympathetic to the Nazi cause, the documents reveal that the firm he worked for, Brown Brothers Harriman (BBH), acted as a US base for the German industrialist, Fritz Thyssen, who helped finance Hitler in the 1930s before falling out with him at the end of the decade. The Guardian has seen evidence that shows Bush was the director of the New York-based Union Banking Corporation (UBC) that represented Thyssen's US interests and he continued to work for the bank after America entered the war.
Bush was also on the board of at least one of the companies that formed part of a multinational network of front companies to allow Thyssen to move assets around the world.
Thyssen owned the largest steel and coal company in Germany and grew rich from Hitler's efforts to re-arm between the two world wars. One of the pillars in Thyssen's international corporate web, UBC, worked exclusively for, and was owned by, a Thyssen-controlled bank in the Netherlands. More tantalising are Bush's links to the Consolidated Silesian Steel Company (CSSC), based in mineral rich Silesia on the German-Polish border. During the war, the company made use of Nazi slave labour from the concentration camps, including Auschwitz. The ownership of CSSC changed hands several times in the 1930s, but documents from the US National Archive declassified last year link Bush to CSSC, although it is not clear if he and UBC were still involved in the company when Thyssen's American assets were seized in 1942.
Three sets of archives spell out Prescott Bush's involvement. All three are readily available, thanks to the efficient US archive system and a helpful and dedicated staff at both the Library of Congress in Washington and the National Archives at the University of Maryland.
The first set of files, the Harriman papers in the Library of Congress, show that Prescott Bush was a director and shareholder of a number of companies involved with Thyssen.
The second set of papers, which are in the National Archives, are contained in vesting order number 248 which records the seizure of the company assets. What these files show is that on October 20 1942 the alien property custodian seized the assets of the UBC, of which Prescott Bush was a director. Having gone through the books of the bank, further seizures were made against two affiliates, the Holland-American Trading Corporation and the Seamless Steel Equipment Corporation. By November, the Silesian-American Company, another of Prescott Bush's ventures, had also been seized.
The third set of documents, also at the National Archives, are contained in the files on IG Farben, who was prosecuted for war crimes.
A report issued by the Office of Alien Property Custodian in 1942 stated of the companies that "since 1939, these (steel and mining) properties have been in possession of and have been operated by the German government and have undoubtedly been of considerable assistance to that country's war effort".
Prescott Bush, a 6ft 4in charmer with a rich singing voice, was the founder of the Bush political dynasty and was once considered a potential presidential candidate himself. Like his son, George, and grandson, George W, he went to Yale where he was, again like his descendants, a member of the secretive and influential Skull and Bones student society. He was an artillery captain in the first world war and married Dorothy Walker, the daughter of George Herbert Walker, in 1921.
In 1924, his father-in-law, a well-known St Louis investment banker, helped set him up in business in New York with Averill Harriman, the wealthy son of railroad magnate E H Harriman in New York, who had gone into banking.
One of the first jobs Walker gave Bush was to manage UBC. Bush was a founding member of the bank and the incorporation documents, which list him as one of seven directors, show he owned one share in UBC worth $125.
The bank was set up by Harriman and Bush's father-in-law to provide a US bank for the Thyssens, Germany's most powerful industrial family.
August Thyssen, the founder of the dynasty had been a major contributor to Germany's first world war effort and in the 1920s, he and his sons Fritz and Heinrich established a network of overseas banks and companies so their assets and money could be whisked offshore if threatened again.
By the time Fritz Thyssen inherited the business empire in 1926, Germany's economic recovery was faltering. After hearing Adolf Hitler speak, Thyssen became mesmerised by the young firebrand. He joined the Nazi party in December 1931 and admits backing Hitler in his autobiography, I Paid Hitler, when the National Socialists were still a radical fringe party. He stepped in several times to bail out the struggling party: in 1928 Thyssen had bought the Barlow Palace on Briennerstrasse, in Munich, which Hitler converted into the Brown House, the headquarters of the Nazi party. The money came from another Thyssen overseas institution, the Bank voor Handel en Scheepvarrt in Rotterdam.
By the late 1930s, Brown Brothers Harriman, which claimed to be the world's largest private investment bank, and UBC had bought and shipped millions of dollars of gold, fuel, steel, coal and US treasury bonds to Germany, both feeding and financing Hitler's build-up to war.
Between 1931 and 1933 UBC bought more than $8m worth of gold, of which $3m was shipped abroad. According to documents seen by the Guardian, after UBC was set up it transferred $2m to BBH accounts and between 1924 and 1940 the assets of UBC hovered around $3m, dropping to $1m only on a few occasions.
In 1941, Thyssen fled Germany after falling out with Hitler but he was captured in France and detained for the remainder of the war.
There was nothing illegal in doing business with the Thyssens throughout the 1930s and many of America's best-known business names invested heavily in the German economic recovery. However, everything changed after Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Even then it could be argued that BBH was within its rights continuing business relations with the Thyssens until the end of 1941 as the US was still technically neutral until the attack on Pearl Harbor. The trouble started on July 30 1942 when the New York Herald-Tribune ran an article entitled "Hitler's Angel Has $3m in US Bank". UBC's huge gold purchases had raised suspicions that the bank was in fact a "secret nest egg" hidden in New York for Thyssen and other Nazi bigwigs. The Alien Property Commission (APC) launched an investigation.
There is no dispute over the fact that the US government seized a string of assets controlled by BBH - including UBC and SAC - in the autumn of 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy act. What is in dispute is if Harriman, Walker and Bush did more than own these companies on paper.
Erwin May, a treasury attache and officer for the department of investigation in the APC, was assigned to look into UBC's business. The first fact to emerge was that Roland Harriman, Prescott Bush and the other directors didn't actually own their shares in UBC but merely held them on behalf of Bank voor Handel. Strangely, no one seemed to know who owned the Rotterdam-based bank, including UBC's president.
May wrote in his report of August 16 1941: "Union Banking Corporation, incorporated August 4 1924, is wholly owned by the Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart N.V of Rotterdam, the Netherlands. My investigation has produced no evidence as to the ownership of the Dutch bank. Mr Cornelis [sic] Lievense, president of UBC, claims no knowledge as to the ownership of the Bank voor Handel but believes it possible that Baron Heinrich Thyssen, brother of Fritz Thyssen, may own a substantial interest."
May cleared the bank of holding a golden nest egg for the Nazi leaders but went on to describe a network of companies spreading out from UBC across Europe, America and Canada, and how money from voor Handel travelled to these companies through UBC.
By September May had traced the origins of the non-American board members and found that Dutchman HJ Kouwenhoven - who met with Harriman in 1924 to set up UBC - had several other jobs: in addition to being the managing director of voor Handel he was also the director of the August Thyssen bank in Berlin and a director of Fritz Thyssen's Union Steel Works, the holding company that controlled Thyssen's steel and coal mine empire in Germany.
Within a few weeks, Homer Jones, the chief of the APC investigation and research division sent a memo to the executive committee of APC recommending the US government vest UBC and its assets. Jones named the directors of the bank in the memo, including Prescott Bush's name, and wrote: "Said stock is held by the above named individuals, however, solely as nominees for the Bank voor Handel, Rotterdam, Holland, which is owned by one or more of the Thyssen family, nationals of Germany and Hungary. The 4,000 shares hereinbefore set out are therefore beneficially owned and help for the interests of enemy nationals, and are vestible by the APC," according to the memo from the National Archives seen by the Guardian.
Jones recommended that the assets be liquidated for the benefit of the government, but instead UBC was maintained intact and eventually returned to the American shareholders after the war. Some claim that Bush sold his share in UBC after the war for $1.5m - a huge amount of money at the time - but there is no documentary evidence to support this claim. No further action was ever taken nor was the investigation continued, despite the fact UBC was caught red-handed operating a American shell company for the Thyssen family eight months after America had entered the war and that this was the bank that had partly financed Hitler's rise to power.
The most tantalising part of the story remains shrouded in mystery: the connection, if any, between Prescott Bush, Thyssen, Consolidated Silesian Steel Company (CSSC) and Auschwitz.
Thyssen's partner in United Steel Works, which had coal mines and steel plants across the region, was Friedrich Flick, another steel magnate who also owned part of IG Farben, the powerful German chemical company.
Flick's plants in Poland made heavy use of slave labour from the concentration camps in Poland. According to a New York Times article published in March 18 1934 Flick owned two-thirds of CSSC while "American interests" held the rest.
The US National Archive documents show that BBH's involvement with CSSC was more than simply holding the shares in the mid-1930s. Bush's friend and fellow "bonesman" Knight Woolley, another partner at BBH, wrote to Averill Harriman in January 1933 warning of problems with CSSC after the Poles started their drive to nationalise the plant. "The Consolidated Silesian Steel Company situation has become increasingly complicated, and I have accordingly brought in Sullivan and Cromwell, in order to be sure that our interests are protected," wrote Knight. "After studying the situation Foster Dulles is insisting that their man in Berlin get into the picture and obtain the information which the directors here should have. You will recall that Foster is a director and he is particularly anxious to be certain that there is no liability attaching to the American directors."
But the ownership of the CSSC between 1939 when the Germans invaded Poland and 1942 when the US government vested UBC and SAC is not clear.
"SAC held coal mines and definitely owned CSSC between 1934 and 1935, but when SAC was vested there was no trace of CSSC. All concrete evidence of its ownership disappears after 1935 and there are only a few traces in 1938 and 1939," says Eva Schweitzer, the journalist and author whose book, America and the Holocaust, is published next month.
Silesia was quickly made part of the German Reich after the invasion, but while Polish factories were seized by the Nazis, those belonging to the still neutral Americans (and some other nationals) were treated more carefully as Hitler was still hoping to persuade the US to at least sit out the war as a neutral country. Schweitzer says American interests were dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The Nazis bought some out, but not others.
The two Holocaust survivors suing the US government and the Bush family for a total of $40bn in compensation claim both materially benefited from Auschwitz slave labour during the second world war.
Kurt Julius Goldstein, 87, and Peter Gingold, 85, began a class action in America in 2001, but the case was thrown out by Judge Rosemary Collier on the grounds that the government cannot be held liable under the principle of "state sovereignty".
Jan Lissmann, one of the lawyers for the survivors, said: "President Bush withdrew President Bill Clinton's signature from the treaty [that founded the court] not only to protect Americans, but also to protect himself and his family."
Lissmann argues that genocide-related cases are covered by international law, which does hold governments accountable for their actions. He claims the ruling was invalid as no hearing took place.
In their claims, Mr Goldstein and Mr Gingold, honorary chairman of the League of Anti-fascists, suggest the Americans were aware of what was happening at Auschwitz and should have bombed the camp.
The lawyers also filed a motion in The Hague asking for an opinion on whether state sovereignty is a valid reason for refusing to hear their case. A ruling is expected within a month.
The petition to The Hague states: "From April 1944 on, the American Air Force could have destroyed the camp with air raids, as well as the railway bridges and railway lines from Hungary to Auschwitz. The murder of about 400,000 Hungarian Holocaust victims could have been prevented."
The case is built around a January 22 1944 executive order signed by President Franklin Roosevelt calling on the government to take all measures to rescue the European Jews. The lawyers claim the order was ignored because of pressure brought by a group of big American companies, including BBH, where Prescott Bush was a director.
Lissmann said: "If we have a positive ruling from the court it will cause [president] Bush huge problems and make him personally liable to pay compensation."
The US government and the Bush family deny all the claims against them.
In addition to Eva Schweitzer's book, two other books are about to be published that raise the subject of Prescott Bush's business history. The author of the second book, to be published next year, John Loftus, is a former US attorney who prosecuted Nazi war criminals in the 70s. Now living in St Petersburg, Florida and earning his living as a security commentator for Fox News and ABC radio, Loftus is working on a novel which uses some of the material he has uncovered on Bush. Loftus stressed that what Prescott Bush was involved in was just what many other American and British businessmen were doing at the time.
"You can't blame Bush for what his grandfather did any more than you can blame Jack Kennedy for what his father did - bought Nazi stocks - but what is important is the cover-up, how it could have gone on so successfully for half a century, and does that have implications for us today?" he said.
"This was the mechanism by which Hitler was funded to come to power, this was the mechanism by which the Third Reich's defence industry was re-armed, this was the mechanism by which Nazi profits were repatriated back to the American owners, this was the mechanism by which investigations into the financial laundering of the Third Reich were blunted," said Loftus, who is vice-chairman of the Holocaust Museum in St Petersburg.
"The Union Banking Corporation was a holding company for the Nazis, for Fritz Thyssen," said Loftus. "At various times, the Bush family has tried to spin it, saying they were owned by a Dutch bank and it wasn't until the Nazis took over Holland that they realised that now the Nazis controlled the apparent company and that is why the Bush supporters claim when the war was over they got their money back. Both the American treasury investigations and the intelligence investigations in Europe completely bely that, it's absolute horseshit. They always knew who the ultimate beneficiaries were."
"There is no one left alive who could be prosecuted but they did get away with it," said Loftus. "As a former federal prosecutor, I would make a case for Prescott Bush, his father-in-law (George Walker) and Averill Harriman [to be prosecuted] for giving aid and comfort to the enemy. They remained on the boards of these companies knowing that they were of financial benefit to the nation of Germany."
Loftus said Prescott Bush must have been aware of what was happening in Germany at the time. "My take on him was that he was a not terribly successful in-law who did what Herbert Walker told him to. Walker and Harriman were the two evil geniuses, they didn't care about the Nazis any more than they cared about their investments with the Bolsheviks."
What is also at issue is how much money Bush made from his involvement. His supporters suggest that he had one token share. Loftus disputes this, citing sources in "the banking and intelligence communities" and suggesting that the Bush family, through George Herbert Walker and Prescott, got $1.5m out of the involvement. There is, however, no paper trail to this sum.
The third person going into print on the subject is John Buchanan, 54, a Miami-based magazine journalist who started examining the files while working on a screenplay. Last year, Buchanan published his findings in the venerable but small-circulation New Hampshire Gazette under the headline "Documents in National Archives Prove George Bush's Grandfather Traded With the Nazis - Even After Pearl Harbor". He expands on this in his book to be published next month - Fixing America: Breaking the Stranglehold of Corporate Rule, Big Media and the Religious Right.
In the article, Buchanan, who has worked mainly in the trade and music press with a spell as a muckraking reporter in Miami, claimed that "the essential facts have appeared on the internet and in relatively obscure books but were dismissed by the media and Bush family as undocumented diatribes".
Buchanan suffers from hypermania, a form of manic depression, and when he found himself rebuffed in his initial efforts to interest the media, he responded with a series of threats against the journalists and media outlets that had spurned him. The threats, contained in e-mails, suggested that he would expose the journalists as "traitors to the truth".
Unsurprisingly, he soon had difficulty getting his calls returned. Most seriously, he faced aggravated stalking charges in Miami, in connection with a man with whom he had fallen out over the best way to publicise his findings. The charges were dropped last month.
Buchanan said he regretted his behaviour had damaged his credibility but his main aim was to secure publicity for the story. Both Loftus and Schweitzer say Buchanan has come up with previously undisclosed documentation.
The Bush family have largely responded with no comment to any reference to Prescott Bush. Brown Brothers Harriman also declined to comment.
The Bush family recently approved a flattering biography of Prescott Bush entitled Duty, Honour, Country by Mickey Herskowitz. The publishers, Rutledge Hill Press, promised the book would "deal honestly with Prescott Bush's alleged business relationships with Nazi industrialists and other accusations".
In fact, the allegations are dealt with in less than two pages. The book refers to the Herald-Tribune story by saying that "a person of less established ethics would have panicked . Bush and his partners at Brown Brothers Harriman informed the government regulators that the account, opened in the late 1930s, was 'an unpaid courtesy for a client' . Prescott Bush acted quickly and openly on behalf of the firm, served well by a reputation that had never been compromised. He made available all records and all documents. Viewed six decades later in the era of serial corporate scandals and shattered careers, he received what can be viewed as the ultimate clean bill."
The Prescott Bush story has been condemned by both conservatives and some liberals as having nothing to do with the current president. It has also been suggested that Prescott Bush had little to do with Averill Harriman and that the two men opposed each other politically.
However, documents from the Harriman papers include a flattering wartime profile of Harriman in the New York Journal American and next to it in the files is a letter to the financial editor of that paper from Prescott Bush congratulating the paper for running the profile. He added that Harriman's "performance and his whole attitude has been a source of inspiration and pride to his partners and his friends".
The Anti-Defamation League in the US is supportive of Prescott Bush and the Bush family. In a statement last year they said that "rumours about the alleged Nazi 'ties' of the late Prescott Bush . have circulated widely through the internet in recent years. These charges are untenable and politically motivated . Prescott Bush was neither a Nazi nor a Nazi sympathiser."
However, one of the country's oldest Jewish publications, the Jewish Advocate, has aired the controversy in detail.
More than 60 years after Prescott Bush came briefly under scrutiny at the time of a faraway war, his grandson is facing a different kind of scrutiny but one underpinned by the same perception that, for some people, war can be a profitable business.
1933: How did Hitler Come to Power in Germany?
This day the Nazis consider to be the day they took power, because on this day Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. He accomplished that in an unusual way. Namely, on parliament elections the Nazi Party (NSDAP) gained only 33.09% of the votes, so it didn’t have absolute majority. The Social Democratic Party and the Communist Party together won 37.29% votes, but they refused to form a coalition (that was the result of a directive from Moscow to the local Communist Party).
The 4th strongest party was the Catholic Center Party (Deutsche Zentrumspartei). It is interesting that the Nazis lost the elections in municipalities in which the majority of the population was Catholic.
Since not one party had an absolute majority, President von Hindenburg had to decide who would be entrusted with the mandate to form a new government. He was suspicious of Hitler, but Franz von Papen, recent chancellor, convinced him that Hitler could be controlled.
So von Hindenburg, on this day, agreed to appoint Hitler as the new Chancellor of Germany, and von Papen became Vice Chancellor. But, soon enough, von Papen’s belief proved to be incorrect. The Nazis achieved full control over the government, and when President Hindenburg died, Hitler also became head of state.
Hitler’s Quest for Power Was Nearly Derailed Multiple Times. But the System Enabled His Rise
A dolf Hitler did not have to come to power. Indeed, during his 13-year quest for leadership of Germany, he almost failed many times.
In the end, however, his astonishing success showed how demagoguery could overcome potentially career-ending challenges&mdashand profoundly change history. A determined strongman, not taken seriously by the elites but enabled by a core of passionate supporters, could bend events his way just as his country went into free-fall. Hitler&rsquos seemingly improbable ascent is an object lesson in the volatility of history.
While researching my new book on the radical Nazi&rsquos rise, I was stunned at the number of times Hitler&rsquos quest for power almost came to an end&mdashand how close the world came, it seems, to avoiding the terror he caused. The first was in 1923, when he staged an ill-fated coup d&rsquoétat that became known as the Beer Hall Putsch. It failed within 17 hours. Twenty men were killed, and Hitler missed being hit in a barrage of police bullets by only two feet. The man next to him died. Hitler threatened suicide and, in prison, attempted a hunger strike. In the end, he stood trial and was convicted of treason.
That event should have ended Hitler&rsquos political career. But the Nazi chief was a fanatic. Convinced of his messianic mission to save Germany from imminent downfall, he wrote an autobiographical manifesto called Mein Kampf, obtained early parole from prison and refounded the Nazi movement in 1925. Hitler&rsquos party drew true believers and grew. Yet in 1926, he faced an internal insurrection and possible party splintering. At the last minute, he quelled the challenge with a four-hour stemwinder at a closed Nazi meeting.
A year later, the Nazi Party was broke. Hitler again considered suicide, telling his new acolyte, Joseph Goebbels, that he would rather put a bullet into his head than accept bankruptcy. He was saved by a rich industrialist, Emil Kirdorf. Motivated by a four-hour Hitler monologue delivered at a Munich mansion, Kirdorf reportedly gave the Nazi Party 100,000 marks&mdash$350,000 in today&rsquos money.
In 1928, Hitler led his radical band into national elections&mdashand fell flat. Preaching doom and downfall, Hitler swam against the historical tide. Germany&rsquos economy was rebounding. The Nazis won only 2.6% of the vote, hitting rock bottom.
Even after the Great Depression prompted a turnaround for the flailing party&mdashby 1930, the Nazis had won 18.3% in a national election&mdashhe faced another mutiny within the party and then, in 1931, a scandal prompted by the suicide of his 23-year-old niece, Geli Raubal, who was assumed by many to be his lover. The political roller-coaster ride continued. In 1932, Hitler&rsquos Nazis reached a peak of 37% of the parliamentary vote, but Hitler&rsquos refusal to be part of a coalition led the party to shed two million votes in the year&rsquos final election.
After Hitler&rsquos top lieutenant, Gregor Strasser, dramatically defected, threatening a party break-up, the Nazi leader&rsquos meteoric political rise seemed at an end. &ldquoIt is obvious that [Hitler] is now headed downhill,&rdquo wrote a leading newspaper. &ldquoThe republic has been rescued.&rdquo
Even Goebbels was devastated. &ldquoThe year 1932 has been one long streak of bad luck,&rdquo he wrote. &ldquoWe just have to smash it to pieces.&rdquo
But to the amazement of many, Hitler was not dead yet.
By January 1933, German politics was in a tailspin&mdashunemployment had hit 24%, with 6 million out of work. A new government was desperately needed. After a series of clandestine meetings of behind-the-scenes political players in a posh Berlin villa, Hitler emerged as the secret choice to be appointed chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg.
However, the secret arrangement depended on a delicately balanced, multi-party cabinet. Then, just hours before his scheduled swearing in by President Hindenburg, the Nazi leader demanded that his prospective cabinet ministers agree to new elections within six weeks&mdasha move that would affirm the Nazis&rsquo hold on power. It was a stunning last-second condition, yet all agreed except Alfred Hugenberg, who was to be minister of economics and agriculture. The stubborn old politician, 24 years Hitler&rsquos senior, distrusted the noisy Nazi and did not want to give him an even freer hand.
The deal for Hitler to take power now threatened to become unraveled, yet again.
Without Hugenberg, everyone knew, there would be no cabinet, no government, no swearing-in.
As Hitler and the cabinet members entered the chancellery, where the 84-year-old Hindenburg waited for them, the president&rsquos top aide rushed up, his pocket watch in hand. &ldquoGentlemen, you can’t keep the president waiting any longer,&rdquo he said.
Suddenly Hugenberg, a man of the old school who revered manners, authority and age, accepted Hitler&rsquos conditions. Hitler&rsquos last brush with political obscurity was averted. Over the prior two decades, he had relied on luck and rhetoric to save his career time and again&mdashbut behind those factors lay, always, a larger context of German politics that enabled his rise. His speeches could head off a mutiny, but the success or failure of the German economy held more sway over the fortunes of the Nazi Party. And here, once again, was a moment when Hitler&rsquos mania for power did not succeed alone, but instead with the help of a system that let it happen. Within 15 minutes, he had become chancellor of Germany, setting the stage for the horrors that followed.
The following day, Hugenberg told a friend: &ldquoYesterday, I did the stupidest thing of my life. I joined forces with the greatest demagogue in world history.&rdquo
Hitler's Third Reich continues to be the object of study of many historians and writers. I am grateful for the opportunity to incorporate new material and suggestions from readers in this fourth edition of my book. Throughout the book I have made revisions, included new illustrations and added new material, especially in chapters two, three, four, six, and nine, and thoroughly updated the bibliographies at the end of each chapter.
Nazi Germany had its formal beginnings in the appointment of Adolf Hitler as chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. Hitler and the Nazis believed that they would create a Third Reich that would last a thousand years. And yet, within a brief twelve years, despite their creation of a powerful Germany and the conquest of much of Europe, they ended up totally destroyed.
The world has not forgotten the enormity of Nazi crimes against humanity. The name Hitler and the word Nazis have become virtually synonymous with evil. Historians, philosophers, and many others have struggled to explain how and why such a phenomenon as Nazi Germany could ever have occurred in the twentieth century, and especially in a country with such a humanistic cultural heritage. While massive biographies and hundreds of specialized books on various aspects of the Third Reich have been written, my purpose in writing this book has been to provide a brief but comprehensive survey of the Third Reich based on current research findings. It is intended not for specialists but for general readers who want a deeper view of this short period in German history. As seen in the title, I have emphasized the person of Adolf Hitler. While I do not believe that individuals alone determine the course of history, there is no doubt in my mind that Hitler played a crucial role in the history of the Third Reich. I have sought, however, to present a balanced picture that examines Hitler's role the economic, social, and political forces that made possible the rise and development of Nazism the institutional, cultural, and social life of the Third Reich World War II and the Holocaust. I have approached World War II and the Holocaust as logical outcomes of the ideology of Hitler and the Nazi movement. I have discussed these subjects both chronologically and thematically.
One of my major interests in writing this book has been in putting the story back in history. I believe that a combination of good analysis and narrative is both possible and desirable. Narrative history conveys the lessons of the past well and is the form that best aids remembrance. I am convinced that an understanding of the Nazi era today is crucial if we are to avoid a repetition of similar events.
Many people have helped me in one way or another to write this history of Hitler and Nazi Germany. I wish to thank Timothy Whisler, who first suggested the project and provided research assistance. David Redles gave generously of his time and ideas. I appreciate the financial and verbal support of my department heads, Gerald Eggert and Charles Ameringer. My colleague Dan Silverman read part of the manuscript and made valuable suggestions. I would also like to thank Benjamin C. Sax, University of Kansas Eugene W. Miller, Jr., Pennsylvania State UniversityHazleton and Otto M. Nelson, Texas Tech University, for reviewing the manuscript and making helpful comments. The enthusiastic questions and responses of my students have caused me to see many aspects of Nazi Germany in new ways, and I am thankful to them. For this fourth edition, I have benefited greatly from the detailed reviews of my book by Ronald Warloski, University of WisconsinEau Claire and John Powell, Pennsylvania State UniversityErie. I am also grateful to colleagues and students for their unsolicited comments about the book. I hope that this fourth edition will continue to assist new readers in making some sense of one of history's most disturbing experiences.
Above all, I thank my family for their support. My sons, Eric and Christian, and daughters, Jennifer and Kathryn, were patient and tolerant of their father's time in his study. In addition to providing editorial assistance, my wife Diane was a loving companion who helped me keep the rigors of writing a book in their proper perspective. In truth, I could not have written the book without her.
Reviews & endorsements
". an excellent work that should appeal to anyone interested in the history of Germany in this period and the legacy of imperialism on twentieth-century German history." -Matthew A. Yokell, Canadian Journal of History
". could serve as a good introduction for the general reader, and is especially valuable for its chronological depth and the attention it pays to German overseas imperialism." -Andrew Zimmerman, German Studies Review
". an important contribution to a debate that has lingered in the historiography on Germany at least since the period covered in the book." -Daniel Becker, H-German
She survived Hitler and wants to warn America
Kitty Werthmann survived Hitler.
&ldquoWhat I am about to tell you is something you&rsquove probably never heard or read in history books,&rdquo she likes to tell audiences.
&ldquoI am a witness to history.
&ldquoI cannot tell you that Hitler took Austria by tanks and guns it would distort history.
If you remember the plot of the Sound of Music, the Von Trapp family escaped over the Alps rather than submit to the Nazis. Kitty wasn&rsquot so lucky. Her family chose to stay in her native Austria. She was 10 years old, but bright and aware. And she was watching.
&ldquoWe elected him by a landslide &ndash 98 percent of the vote,&rdquo she recalls.
She wasn&rsquot old enough to vote in 1938 &ndash approaching her 11th birthday. But she remembers.
&ldquoEveryone thinks that Hitler just rolled in with his tanks and took Austria by force.&rdquo
Hitler is welcomed to Austria
&ldquoIn 1938, Austria was in deep Depression. Nearly one-third of our workforce was unemployed. We had 25 percent inflation and 25 percent bank loan interest rates.
Farmers and business people were declaring bankruptcy daily. Young people were going from house to house begging for food. Not that they didn&rsquot want to work there simply weren&rsquot any jobs.
&ldquoMy mother was a Christian woman and believed in helping people in need. Every day we cooked a big kettle of soup and baked bread to feed those poor, hungry people &ndash about 30 daily.&rsquo
&ldquoWe looked to our neighbor on the north, Germany, where Hitler had been in power since 1933.&rdquo she recalls. &ldquoWe had been told that they didn&rsquot have unemployment or crime, and they had a high standard of living.
Austrian girls welcome Hitler
&ldquoNothing was ever said about persecution of any group &ndash Jewish or otherwise. We were led to believe that everyone in Germany was happy. We wanted the same way of life in Austria. We were promised that a vote for Hitler would mean the end of unemployment and help for the family. Hitler also said that businesses would be assisted, and farmers would get their farms back.
&ldquoNinety-eight percent of the population voted to annex Austria to Germany and have Hitler for our ruler.
&ldquoWe were overjoyed,&rdquo remembers Kitty, &ldquoand for three days we danced in the streets and had candlelight parades. The new government opened up big field kitchens and everyone was fed.
&ldquoAfter the election, German officials were appointed, and like a miracle, we suddenly had law and order. Three or four weeks later, everyone was employed. The government made sure that a lot of work was created through the Public Work Service.
&ldquoHitler decided we should have equal rights for women. Before this, it was a custom that married Austrian women did not work outside the home. An able-bodied husband would be looked down on if he couldn&rsquot support his family. Many women in the teaching profession were elated that they could retain the jobs they previously had been required to give up for marriage.
&ldquoThen we lost religious education for kids
Poster promoting "Hitler Youth"
&ldquoOur education was nationalized. I attended a very good public school.. The population was predominantly Catholic, so we had religion in our schools. The day we elected Hitler (March 13, 1938), I walked into my schoolroom to find the crucifix replaced by Hitler&rsquos picture hanging next to a Nazi flag. Our teacher, a very devout woman, stood up and told the class we wouldn&rsquot pray or have religion anymore. Instead, we sang &lsquoDeutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles,&rsquo and had physical education.
&ldquoSunday became National Youth Day with compulsory attendance. Parents were not pleased about the sudden change in curriculum. They were told that if they did not send us, they would receive a stiff letter of warning the first time. The second time they would be fined the equivalent of $300, and the third time they would be subject to jail.&rdquo
And then things got worse.
&ldquoThe first two hours consisted of political indoctrination. The rest of the day we had sports. As time went along, we loved it. Oh, we had so much fun and got our sports equipment free.
&ldquoWe would go home and gleefully tell our parents about the wonderful time we had.
&ldquoMy mother was very unhappy,&rdquo remembers Kitty. &ldquoWhen the next term started, she took me out of public school and put me in a convent. I told her she couldn&rsquot do that and she told me that someday when I grew up, I would be grateful. There was a very good curriculum, but hardly any fun &ndash no sports, and no political indoctrination.
&ldquoI hated it at first but felt I could tolerate it. Every once in a while, on holidays, I went home. I would go back to my old friends and ask what was going on and what they were doing.
&ldquoTheir loose lifestyle was very alarming to me. They lived without religion. By that time, unwed mothers were glorified for having a baby for Hitler.
&ldquoIt seemed strange to me that our society changed so suddenly. As time went along, I realized what a great deed my mother did so that I wasn&rsquot exposed to that kind of humanistic philosophy.
&ldquoThen food rationing began
&ldquoIn 1939, the war started and a food bank was established. All food was rationed and could only be purchased using food stamps. At the same time, a full-employment law was passed which meant if you didn&rsquot work, you didn&rsquot get a ration card, and if you didn&rsquot have a card, you starved to death.
&ldquoWomen who stayed home to raise their families didn&rsquot have any marketable skills and often had to take jobs more suited for men.
&ldquoSoon after this, the draft was implemented.
&ldquoIt was compulsory for young people, male and female, to give one year to the labor corps,&rdquo remembers Kitty. &ldquoDuring the day, the girls worked on the farms, and at night they returned to their barracks for military training just like the boys.
&ldquoThey were trained to be anti-aircraft gunners and participated in the signal corps. After the labor corps, they were not discharged but were used in the front lines.
&ldquoWhen I go back to Austria to visit my family and friends, most of these women are emotional cripples because they just were not equipped to handle the horrors of combat.
&ldquoThree months before I turned 18, I was severely injured in an air raid attack. I nearly had a leg amputated, so I was spared having to go into the labor corps and into military service.
&ldquoWhen the mothers had to go out into the work force, the government immediately established child care centers.
&ldquoYou could take your children ages four weeks old to school age and leave them there around-the-clock, seven days a week, under the total care of the government.
&ldquoThe state raised a whole generation of children. There were no motherly women to take care of the children, just people highly trained in child psychology. By this time, no one talked about equal rights. We knew we had been had.
&ldquoBefore Hitler, we had very good medical care. Many American doctors trained at the University of Vienna..
&ldquoAfter Hitler, health care was socialized, free for everyone. Doctors were salaried by the government. The problem was, since it was free, the people were going to the doctors for everything.
&ldquoWhen the good doctor arrived at his office at 8 a.m., 40 people were already waiting and, at the same time, the hospitals were full.
&ldquoIf you needed elective surgery, you had to wait a year or two for your turn. There was no money for research as it was poured into socialized medicine. Research at the medical schools literally stopped, so the best doctors left Austria and emigrated to other countries.
&ldquoAs for healthcare, our tax rates went up to 80 percent of our income. Newlyweds immediately received a $1,000 loan from the government to establish a household. We had big programs for families.
&ldquoAll day care and education were free. High schools were taken over by the government and college tuition was subsidized. Everyone was entitled to free handouts, such as food stamps, clothing, and housing.
&ldquoWe had another agency designed to monitor business. My brother-in-law owned a restaurant that had square tables.
&ldquo Government officials told him he had to replace them with round tables because people might bump themselves on the corners. Then they said he had to have additional bathroom facilities. It was just a small dairy business with a snack bar. He couldn&rsquot meet all the demands.
&ldquoSoon, he went out of business. If the government owned the large businesses and not many small ones existed, it could be in control.
&ldquoWe had consumer protection, too
Austrian kids loyal to Hitler
&ldquoWe were told how to shop and what to buy. Free enterprise was essentially abolished. We had a planning agency specially designed for farmers. The agents would go to the farms, count the live-stock, and then tell the farmers what to produce, and how to produce it.
&ldquoIn 1944, I was a student teacher in a small village in the Alps. The villagers were surrounded by mountain passes which, in the winter, were closed off with snow, causing people to be isolated.
&ldquoSo people intermarried and offspring were sometimes retarded. When I arrived, I was told there were 15 mentally retarded adults, but they were all useful and did good manual work.
&ldquoI knew one, named Vincent, very well. He was a janitor of the school. One day I looked out the window and saw Vincent and others getting into a van.
&ldquoI asked my superior where they were going. She said to an institution where the State Health Department would teach them a trade, and to read and write. The families were required to sign papers with a little clause that they could not visit for 6 months.
&ldquoThey were told visits would interfere with the program and might cause homesickness.
&ldquoAs time passed, letters started to dribble back saying these people died a natural, merciful death. The villagers were not fooled. We suspected what was happening. Those people left in excellent physical health and all died within 6 months. We called this euthanasia.
&ldquoNext came gun registration. People were getting injured by guns. Hitler said that the real way to catch criminals (we still had a few) was by matching serial numbers on guns. Most citizens were law abiding and dutifully marched to the police station to register their firearms. Not long afterwards, the police said that it was best for everyone to turn in their guns. The authorities already knew who had them, so it was futile not to comply voluntarily.
&ldquoNo more freedom of speech. Anyone who said something against the government was taken away. We knew many people who were arrested, not only Jews, but also priests and ministers who spoke up.
&ldquoTotalitarianism didn&rsquot come quickly, it took 5 years from 1938 until 1943, to realize full dictatorship in Austria. Had it happened overnight, my countrymen would have fought to the last breath. Instead, we had creeping gradualism. Now, our only weapons were broom handles. The whole idea sounds almost unbelievable that the state, little by little eroded our freedom.&rdquo
&ldquoThis is my eye-witness account.
&ldquoIt&rsquos true. Those of us who sailed past the Statue of Liberty came to a country of unbelievable freedom and opportunity.
Find out more
The Myth of the Master Race by Robert Cecil (Batsford, 1972)
War Land on the Eastern Front. Culture, National Identity and German Occupation in World War I by Vejas Gabriel Liulevicius (Cambridge University Press, 2000)
Himmler. Reichsführer SS by Peter Padfield (Macmillan, 1990)
The Ideological Origins of Nazi Imperialism by Woodruff D Smith (Oxford University Press, 1986)
Hitler and the Quest for World Dominion. Nazi ideology and Foreign Policy in the 1920s by Geoffrey Stoakes (Berg, 1986)
Germany Turns Eastwards. A Study of Ostforschung in the Third Reich by Michael Burleigh (Cambridge University Press, 1988)
Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler (republished by Hutchinson, 1974 - originally published by?)