(2024-03-20) The Forgotten History Of Hitler's Establishment Enablers

Review: The Forgotten History of Hitler’s Establishment Enablers. The Germans were voting, in the absent-minded way of democratic voters everywhere, for easy reassurances, for stability, with classes siding against their historical enemies.

Yet allowing the specifics of his ascent to be clouded by disdain is not much better than allowing his memory to be ennobled by mystery.

a failed attempt at a putsch in Munich, in 1923, left him in prison, but with many comforts, much respect, and paper and time with which to write his memoir, “Mein Kampf.” He reëmerged as the leader of all the nationalists fighting for election, with an accompanying paramilitary organization, the Sturmabteilung (S.A.)

The popular picture of the decline of the Weimar Republic—in which hyperinflation produced mass unemployment, which produced an unstoppable wave of fascism—is far from the truth. The hyperinflation had ended in 1923, and the period right afterward, in the mid-twenties, was, in Germany as elsewhere, golden

So the historian Timothy W. Ryback’s choice to make his new book, “Takeover: Hitler’s Final Rise to Power” (Knopf), an aggressively specific chronicle of a single year, 1932, seems a wise, even an inspired one

Hitler’s plans were deliberately ambiguous, but his purposes were not. Ever since his unsuccessful putsch in Munich, he had, Ryback writes, “been driven by a single ambition: to destroy the political system that he held responsible for the myriad ills plaguing the German people.”

handed absolute power over to someone who could never claim a majority in an actual election and whom the entire conservative political class regarded as a chaotic clown with a violent following.

Ryback skips past the underlying mechanics of the July, 1932, election on the way to his real subject—Hitler’s manipulation of the conservative politicians and tycoons who thought that they were manipulating him

the rational forces stuck to magical thinking, while the irrational ones were more logical, parsing the brute equations of power

the results of the July, 1932, election weren’t obviously catastrophic. The Nazis came out as the largest single party, but both Hitler and Goebbels were bitterly disappointed by their standing. The unemployed actually opposed Hitler and voted en masse for the parties of the left.

Ryback’s story begins soon after Hitler’s very incomplete victory in the Weimar Republic’s parliamentary elections of July, 1932.

The corporate bosses thought that, if you looked past the strutting and the performative antisemitism, you had someone who would protect your money.

Hitler won the support of self-employed people, who were in decent economic shape but felt that their lives and livelihoods were threatened; of rural Protestant voters; and of domestic workers (still a sizable group), perhaps because they felt unsafe outside a rigid hierarchy. What was once called the petite bourgeoisie, then, was key to his support—not people feeling the brunt of economic precarity but people feeling the possibility of it.

The political scientists and historians who study it tell us that the election was a “normal” one, in the sense that the behavior of groups and subgroups proceeded in the usual way, responding more to the perception of political interests than to some convulsions of apocalyptic feeling.

Hitler is so fully imagined a subject—so obsessively present on our televisions and in our bookstores—that to reimagine him seems pointless

The decent right thought that he was too obviously deranged to remain in power long, and the decent left, tempered by earlier fights against different enemies, thought that, if they forcibly stuck to the rule of law, then the law would somehow by itself entrap a lawless leader.

The Nazis, as they were called—a put-down made into a popular label, like “Impressionists”—began as one of many fringe and populist antisemitic groups in Germany

the two men still hated the Communists and even the center-left Social Democrats more than they did anyone on the right, and they spent most of 1932 and 1933 scheming to use Hitler as a stalking horse for their own ambitions.

Ryback spends most of his time with two pillars of respectable conservative Germany, General Kurt von Schleicher and the right-wing media magnate Alfred Hugenberg.

thought that Hitler’s call for strongman rule might awaken the German people to the need for a real strongman, i.e., Schleicher.

the game plan was to have the Brown Shirts crush the forces of the left—and then to have the regular German Army crush the Brown Shirts.

Schleicher imagined himself a master manipulator of men and causes.

Hammerstein, an essentially tragic figure, was unable to act alone. He suffered from a malady found among decent military men suddenly thrust into positions of political power: his scruples were at odds with his habits of deference to hierarchy. Generals became generals by learning to take orders before they learned how to give them. Hammerstein hated Hitler, but he waited for someone else of impeccable authority to give a clear direction before he would act.

Ryback’s gift for detail joins with a nice feeling for the black comedy of the period. He makes much sport of the attempts by foreign journalists resident in Germany, particularly the New York TimesFrederick T. Birchall, to normalize the Nazi ascent—with Birchall continually assuring his readers that Hitler, an out-of-his-depth simpleton, was not the threat he seemed to be

Ryback, focussing on the self-entrapped German conservatives, generally avoids the question that seems most obvious to a contemporary reader: Why was a coalition between the moderate-left Social Democrats and the conservative but far from Nazified Catholic Centrists never even seriously attempted? Given that Hitler had repeatedly vowed to use the democratic process in order to destroy democracy, why did the people committed to democracy let him do it?

Lewis Edinger, who had known the leaders of the Social Democrats well and consulted them directly—the ones who had survived, that is—for his study. His conclusion was that they simply “trusted that constitutional processes and the return of reason and fair play would assure the survival of the Weimar Republic and its chief supporters.”

The Social Democrats may have been hobbled, too, by their commitment to team leadership—which meant that no single charismatic individual represented them.

when a rumor spread that Hitler had once spat out a Communion Host, it only made him more popular among Catholics, since it called attention to his Catholic upbringing. Indeed, most attempts to highlight Hitler’s personal depravities (including his possibly sexual relationship with his niece Geli, which was no secret in the press of the time; her apparent suicide, less than a year before the election, had been a tabloid scandal) made him more popular

“Unlike Hitler’s anti-Semitism, a toxic brew of pseudoscientific readings and malignant mentoring, Hitler’s hatred of the Weimar Republic was the result of personal observation of political processes,” Ryback writes. “He hated the haggling and compromise of coalition politics inherent in multiparty political systems.”

Second only to Schleicher in Ryback’s accounting of Hitler’s establishment enablers is the media magnate Alfred Hugenberg. The owner of the country’s leading film studio and of the national news service. (billionaire of his time)

a “catastrophe politics” of cultural warfare, in which the strategy, Ryback says, was to “flood the public space with inflammatory news stories, half-truths, rumors, and outright lies.” The aim was to polarize the public, and to crater anything like consensus

Hitler was impossible to discourage, not because he ran an efficient machine but because he was immune to the normal human impediments to absolute power: shame, calculation, or even a desire to see a particular political program put in place.

Schleicher conspired to have Papen fired as Chancellor by Hindenburg and replaced by himself. He calculated that he could cleave Gregor Strasser and the more respectable elements of the Nazis from Hitler, form a coalition with them, and leave Hitler on the outside looking in. But Papen, a small man in everything except his taste for revenge, turned on Schleicher in a rage and went directly to Hitler, proposing, despite his earlier never-Hitler views, that they form their own coalition.

Hindenburg, in his mid-eighties and growing weak, became fed up with Schleicher’s Machiavellian stratagems and dispensed with him as Chancellor. Papen, dismissed not long before, was received by the President. He promised that he could form a working majority in the Reichstag by simple means: Hindenburg should go ahead and appoint Hitler Chancellor.

The ultimate fates of Ryback’s players are varied, and instructive. Schleicher, the conservative who saw right through Hitler’s weakness—who had found a way to entrap him, and then use him against the left—was killed by the S.A. during the Night of the Long Knives, in 1934, when Hitler consolidated his hold over his own movement by murdering his less loyal lieutenants. Strasser and Röhm were murdered then, too.

But Hugenberg, sidelined during the Third Reich, was exonerated by a denazification court in the years after the war. And Papen, who had ushered Hitler directly into power, was acquitted at Nuremberg; in the nineteen-fifties, he was awarded the highest honorary order of the Catholic Church.

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