The Enigma of Hitler
by Leon Degrelle
The mountains of Hitler books based on blind hatred and ignorance do little to describe or explain the most powerful man the world has ever seen. How, I ponder, do these thousands of disparate portraits of Hitler in any way resemble the man I knew? The Hitler seated beside me, standing up, talking, listening. It has become impossible to explain to people fed fantastic tales for decades that what they have read or heard on television just does not correspond to the truth.
People have come to accept fiction, repeated a thousand times over, as reality. Yet they have never seen Hitler, never spoken to him, never heard a word from his mouth. The very name of Hitler immediately conjures up a grimacing devil, the fount of all of one's negative emotions. Like Pavlov's bell, the mention of Hitler is meant to dispense with substance and reality. In time, however, history will demand more than these summary judgments.
Hitler is always present before my eyes: as a man of peace in 1936, as a man of war in 1944. It is not possible to have been a personal witness to the life of such an extraordinary man without being marked by it forever. Not a day goes by but Hitler rises again in my memory, not as a man long dead, but as a real being who paces his office floor, seats himself in his chair, pokes the burning logs in the fireplace.
The first thing anyone noticed when he came into view was his small mustache. Countless times he had been advised to shave it off, but he always refused: people were used to him the way he was. He was not tall -- no more than was Napoleon or Alexander the Great. Hitler had deep blue eyes that many found bewitching, although I did not find them so. Nor did I detect the electric current his hands were said to give off. I gripped them quite a few times and was never struck by his lightening.
His face showed emotion or indifference according to the passion or apathy of the moment. At times he was as though benumbed, saying not a word, while his jaws moved in the meanwhile as if they were grinding an obstacle to smithereens in the void. Then he would come suddenly alive and launch into a speech directed at you alone, as though he were addressing a crowd of hundreds of thousands at Berlin's Tempelhof airfield. Then he became as if transfigured. Even his complexion, otherwise dull, lit up as he spoke. And at such times, to be sure, Hitler was strangely attractive and as if possessed of magic powers.
Anything that might have seemed too solemn in his remarks, he quickly tempered with a touch of humour. The picturesque world, the biting phrase were at his command. In a flash he would paint a word-picture that brought a smile, or come up with an unexpected and disarming comparison. He could be harsh and even implacable in his judgments and yet almost at the same time be surprisingly conciliatory, sensitive and warm.
After 1945 Hitler was accused of every cruelty, but it was not in his nature to be cruel. He loved children. It was an entirely natural thing for him to stop his car and share his food with young cyclists along the road. Once he gave his raincoat to a derelict plodding in the rain. At midnight he would interrupt his work and prepare the food for his dog Blondi.
He could not bear to eat meat, because it meant the death of a living creature. He refused to have so much as a rabbit or a trout sacrificed to provide his food. He would allow only eggs on his table, because egg-laying meant that the hen had been spared rather than killed.
Hitler's eating habits were a constant source of amazement to me. How could someone on such a rigorous schedule, who had taken part in tens of thousands of exhausting mass meetings from which he emerged bathed with sweat, often losing two to four pounds in the process; who slept only three to four hours a night; and who, from 1940 to 1945, carried the whole world on his shoulders while ruling over 380 million Europeans: how, I wondered, could he physically survive on just a boiled egg, a few tomatoes, two or three pancakes, and a plate of noodles? But he actually gained weight!
He drank only water. He did not smoke and would not tolerate smoking in his presence. At one or two o'clock in the morning he would still be talking, untroubled, close to his fireplace, lively, often amusing. He never showed any sign of weariness. Dead tired his audience might be, but not Hitler.
He was depicted as a tired old man. Nothing was further from the truth. In September 1944, when he was reported to be fairly doddering, I spent a week with him. His mental and physical vigor were still exceptional. The attempt made on his life on July 20th had, if anything, recharged him. He took tea in his quarters as tranquilly as if we had been in his small private apartment at the chancellery before the war, or enjoying the view of snow and bright blue sky through his great bay window at Berchtesgaden.
At the very end of his life, to be sure, his back had become bent, but his mind remained as clear as a flash of lightening. The testament he dictated with extraordinary composure on the eve of his death, at three in the morning of April 29, 1945, provides us a lasting testimony. Napoleon at Fontainebleau was not without his moments of panic before his abdication. Hitler simply shook hands with his associates in silence, breakfasted as on any other day, then went to his death as if he were going on a stroll. When has history ever witnessed so enormous a tragedy brought to its end with such iron self control?
Hitler's most notable characteristic was ever his simplicity. The most complex of problems resolved itself in his mind into a few basic principles. His actions were geared to ideas and decisions that could be understood by anyone. The laborer from Essen, the isolated farmer, the Ruhr industrialist, and the university professor could all easily follow his line of thought. The very clarity of his reasoning made everything obvious.
His behaviour and his life style never changed even when he became the ruler of Germany. He dressed and lived frugally. During his early days in Munich, he spent no more than a mark per day for food. At no stage in his life did he spend anything on himself. Throughout his 13 years in the chancellery he never carried a wallet or ever had money of his own.
Hitler was self-taught and made no attempt to hide the fact. The smug conceit of intellectuals, their shiny ideas packaged like so many flashlight batteries, irritated him at times. His own knowledge he had acquired through selective and unremitting study, and he knew far more than thousands of diploma-decorated academics.
I don't think anyone ever read as much as he did. He normally read one book every day, always first reading the conclusion and the index in order to gauge the work's interest for him. He had the power to extract the essence of each book and then store it in his computer-like mind. I have heard him talk about complicated scientific books with faultless precision, even at the height of the war.
His intellectual curiosity was limitless. He was readily familiar with the writings of the most diverse authors, and nothing was too complex for his comprehension. He had a deep knowledge and understanding of Buddha, Confucius and Jesus Christ, as well as Luther, Calvin, and Savonarola; of literary giants such as Dante, Schiller, Shakespeare and Goethe; and analytical writers such as Renan and Gobineau, Chamberlain and Sorel.
He had trained himself in philosophy by studying Aristotle and Plato. He could quote entire paragraphs of Schopenhauer from memory, and for a long time carried a pocked edition of Schopenhauer with him. Nietzsche taught him much about the willpower.
His thirst for knowledge was unquenchable. He spend hundreds of hours studying the works of Tacitus and Mommsen, military strategists such as Clausewitz, and empire builders such as Bismark. Nothing escaped him: world history or the history of civilizations, the study of the Bible and the Talmud, Thomistic philosophy and all the masterpieces of Homer, Sophocles, Horace, Ovid, Titus Livius and Cicero. He knew Julian the Apostate as if he had been his contemporary.
His knowledge also extended to mechanics. He knew how engines worked; he understood the ballistics of various weapons; and he astonished the best medical scientists with his knowledge of medicine and biology. The universality of Hitler's knowledge may surprise or displease those unaware of it, but it is nonetheless a historical fact: Hitler was one of the most cultivated men of this century. Many times more so than Churchill, an intellectual mediocrity; or than Pierre Lavaal, with him mere cursory knowledge of history; of than Roosevelt; or Eisenhower, who never got beyond detective novels.
Even during his earliest years, Hitler was different than other children. He had an inner strength and was guided by his spirit and his instincts.
He could draw skillfully when he was only eleven years old. His sketches made at that age show a remarkable firmness and liveliness. He first paintings and watercolors, created at age 15, are full of poetry and sensitivity. One of his most striking early works, 'Fortress Utopia,' also shows him to have been an artist of rare imagination. His artistic orientation took many forms. He wrote poetry from the time he was a lad. He dictated a complete play to his sister Paula who was amazed at his presumption. At the age of 16, in Vienna, he launched into the creation of an opera. He even designed the stage settings, as well as all the costumes; and, of course, the characters were Wagnerian heroes.
More than just an artist, Hitler was above all an architect. Hundreds of his works were notable as much for the architecture as for the painting. From memory alone he could reproduce in every detail the onion dome of a church or the intricate curves of wrought iron. Indeed, it was to fulfill his dream of becoming an architect that Hitler went to Vienna at the beginning of the century.
When one sees the hundreds of paintings, sketches and drawings he created at the time, which reveal his mastery of three dimensional figures, it is astounding that his examiners at the Fine Arts Academy failed him in two successive examinations. German historian Werner Maser, no friend of Hitler, castigated these examiners: "All of his works revealed extraordinary architectural gifts and knowledge. The builder of the Third Reich gives the former Fine Arts Academy of Vienna cause for shame."
In his room, Hitler always displayed an old photograph of his mother. The memory of the mother he loved was with him until the day he died. Before leaving this earth, on April 30, 1945, he placed his mother's photograph in front of him. She had blue eyes like his and a similar face. Her maternal intuition told her that her son was different from other children. She acted almost as if she knew her son's destiny. When she died, she felt anguished by the immense mystery surrounding her son.
Throughout the years of his youth, Hitler lived the life of a virtual recluse. He greatest wish was to withdraw from the world. At heart a loner, he wandered about, ate meager meals, but devoured the books of three public libraries. He abstained from conversations and had few friends.
It is almost impossible to imagine another such destiny where a man started with so little and reached such heights. Alexander the great was the son of a king. Napoleon, from a well-to-do family, was a general at 24. Fifteen years after Vienna, Hitler would still be an unknown corporal. Thousands of others had a thousand times more opportunity to leave their mark on the world.
Hitler was not much concerned with his private life. In Vienna he had lived in shabby, cramped lodgings. But for all that he rented a piano that took up half his room, and concentrated on composing his opera. He lived on bread, milk, and vegetable soup. His poverty was real. He did not even own an over-coat. He shoveled streets on snowy days. He carried luggage at the railway station. He spent many weeks in shelters for the homeless. But he never stopped painting or reading.
Despite his dire poverty, Hitler somehow managed to maintain a clean appearance. Landlords and landladies in Vienna and Munich all remembered him for his civility and pleasant disposition. His behaviour was impeccable. His room was always spotless, his meager belongings meticulously arranged, and his clothes neatly hung or folded. He washed and ironed his own clothes, something which in those days few men did. He needed almost nothing to survive, and money from the sale of a few paintings was sufficient to provide for all his needs.
Impressed by the beauty of the church in a Benedictine monastery where he was part of the choir and served as an altar boy, Hitler dreamt fleetingly of becoming a Benedictine monk. And it was at that time, too, interestingly enough, that whenever he attended mass, he always had to pass beneath the first swastika he had ever seen: it was graven in the stone escutcheon of the abbey portal.
Hitler's father, a customs officer, hoped the boy would follow in his footsteps and become a civil servant. His tutor encouraged him to become a monk. Instead the young Hitler went, or rather fled, to Vienna. And there, thwarted in his artistic aspirations by the bureaucratic mediocrities of academia, he turned to isolation and meditation. Lost in the great capital of Austria-Hungary, he searched for his destiny.
During the first 30 years of Hitler's life, the date April 20, 1889, meant nothing to anyone. He was born on that day in Braunau, a small town in the Inn valley. During his exile in Vienna, he often thought of his modest home, and particularly of his mother. When she fell ill, he returned home from Vienna to look after her. For weeks he nursed her, did all the household chores, and supported her as the most loving of sons. When she finally died, on Christmas eve, his pain was immense. Wracked with grief, he buried his mother in the little country cemetery. "I have never seen anyone so prostrate with grief," said his mother's doctor, who happened to be Jewish.
Hitler had not yet focused on politics, but without his rightly knowing, that was the career to which he was most strongly called. Politics would ultimately blend with his passion for art. People, the masses, would be the clay the sculptor shapes into an immortal form. The human clay would become for him a beautiful work of art like one of Myron's marble sculptures, a Hans Makart painting, or Wagner's Ring Trilogy.
His love of music, art and architecture had not removed him from the political life and social concerns of Vienna. In order to survive, he worked as a common laborer sided by side with other workers. He was a silent spectator, but nothing escaped him: not the vanity and egoism of the bourgeoisie, not the moral and material misery of the people, nor yet the hundreds of thousands of workers who surged down the wide avenues of Vienna with anger in their hearts.
He had also been taken aback by the growing presence in Vienna of bearded Jews wearing caftans, a sight unknown in Linz. "How can they be Germans?" he asked himself. He read the statistics: in 1860 there were 69 Jewish families in Vienna; 40 years later there were 200,000. They were everywhere. He observed their invasion of the universities and the legal and medical professions, and their takeover of the newspapers.
Hitler was exposed to the passionate reactions of the workers to this influx, but the workers were not alone in their unhappiness. There were many prominent persons in Austria and Hungary who did not hide their resentment at what they believed was an alien invasion of their country. The mayor of Vienna, a Christian-Democrat and a powerful orator, was eagerly listened to by Hitler.
Hitler was also concerned with the fate of the eight million Austrian Germans kept apart from Germany, and thus deprived of their rightful German nationhood. He saw Emperor Franz Josef as a bitter and petty old man unable to cope with the problems of the day and the aspirations of the future.
Quietly, the young Hitler was summing things up in his mind. First: Austrians were part of Germany, the common fatherland. Second: The Jews were aliens within the German community. Third: Patriotism was only valid if it was shared by all classes. The common people with whom Hitler had shared grief and humiliation were just as much a part of the fatherland as the millionaires of high society.
Fourth: Class war would sooner or later condemn both workers and bosses to ruin in any country. No country could survive class war; only cooperation between workers and bosses can benefit the country. Workers must be respected and live with decency and honor. Creativity must never be stifled.
When Hitler later said that he had formed his social and political doctrine in Vienna, he told the truth. Ten years later his observations made in Vienna would become the order of the day. Thus Hitler was to live for several years in the crowded city of Vienna as a virtual outcast, yet quietly observing everything around him. His strength came from within. He did not rely on anyone to do his thinking for him. Exceptional human beings always feel lonely amid the vast human throng. Hitler saw his solitude as a wonderful opportunity to meditate and not to be submerged in a mindless sea. In order not to be lost in the wastes of a sterile desert, a strong soul seeks refuge within himself. Hitler was such a soul.
The lightning in Hitler's life would come from the word. All his artistic talent would be channeled into his mastery of communication and eloquence. Hitler would never conceive of popular conquests without the power of the word. He would enchant and be enchanted by it. He would find total fulfillment when the magic of his words inspired the hearts and minds of the masses with whom he communed.
He would feel reborn each time he conveyed with mystical beauty the knowledge he had acquired in his lifetime.
Hitler's incantory eloquence will remain, for a very long time, a vast field of study for the psychoanalyst. The power of Hitler's word is the key. Without it, there would never have been a Hitler era.
Did Hitler believe in God? He believed deeply in God. He called God the Almighty, master of all that is known and unknown.
Propagandists portrayed Hitler as an atheist. He was not. He had contempt for hypocritical and materialistic clerics, but he was not alone in that. He believed in the necessity of standards and theological dogmas, without which, he repeatedly said, the great institution of the Christian church would collapse. These dogmas clashed with his intelligence, but he also recognized that it was hard for the human mind to encompass all the problems of creation, its limitless scope and breathtaking beauty. He acknowledged that every human being has spiritual needs.
The song of the nightingale, the pattern and color of a flower, continually brought him back to the great problems of creation. No one in the world has spoken to me so eloquently about the existence of God. He held this view not because he was brought up as a Christian, but because his analytical mind bound him to the concept of God. Hitler's faith transcended formulas and contingencies. God was for him the basis of everything, the ordainer of all things, of his Destiny and that of all others.
"We have the power. Now our gigantic work begins." Those were Hitler's words on the night of January 30, 1933, as cheering crowds surged past him, for five long hours, beneath the windows of the Chancellery in Berlin.
His political struggle had lasted 14 years. He himself was 43, that is, physically and intellectually at the peak of his powers. He had won over millions of Germans and organized them into Germany's largest and most dynamic political party, a party girded by a human rampart of hundreds of thousands of storm troopers, three fourths of them members of the working class. He had been extremely shrewd. All but toying with his adversaries, Hitler had, one after another, vanquished them all.
Standing there at the window, his arm raised to the delirious throng, he must have known a feeling of triumph. But he seemed almost torpid, absorbed, as if lost in another world.
It was a world far removed from the delirium in the street, a world of 65 million citizens who loved him or hated him, but all of whom, from that night on, had become his responsibility. And as he knew-as almost all Germans knew on January 1933 -- that this was a crushing, an almost desperate responsibility.
Half a century later, few people understand the crisis Germany faced at that time. Today, it's easy to assume that Germans have always been well-fed and even plump. But the Germans Hitler inherited were virtual skeletons.
During the preceding years, a score of "democratic" governments had come and gone, often in utter confusion. Instead of alleviating the people's misery, they had increased it, due to their own instability: it was impossible for them to pursue any given plan for more than a year or two. Germany had arrived at a dead end. In just a few years there had been 224,000 suicides - a horrifying figure, bespeaking a state of misery even more horrifying.
By the beginning of 1933, the misery of the German people was virtually universal. At least six million unemployed and hungry workers roamed aimlessly through the streets, receiving a pitiful unemployment benefit of less than 42 marks per month. Many of those out of work had families to feed, so that altogether some 20 million Germans, a third of the country's population, were reduced to trying to survive on about 40 pfennigs per person per day.
Unemployment benefits, moreover, were limited to a period of six months. After that came only the meager misery allowance dispensed by the welfare offices.
Notwithstanding the gross inadequacy of this assistance, by trying to save the six million unemployed from total destruction, even for just six months, both the state and local branches of the German government saw themselves brought to ruin: in 1932 alone such aid had swallowed up four billion marks, 57 percent of the total tax revenues of the federal government and the regional states. A good many German municipalities were bankrupt.
Those still lucky enough to have some kind of job were not much better off. Workers and employees had taken a cut of 25 percent in their wages and salaries. Twenty-one percent of them were earning between 100 and 250 marks per month; 69.2 percent of them, in January of 1933, were being paid less than 1,200 marks annually. No more than about 100,000 Germans, it was estimated, were able to live without financial worries.
During the three years before Hitler came to power, total earnings had fallen by more than half, from 23 billion marks to 11 billion. The average per capita income had dropped from 1,187 marks in 1929 to 627 marks, a scarcely tolerable level, in 1932. By January 1933, when Hitler took office, 90 percent of the German people were destitute.
No one escaped the strangling effects of the unemployment. The intellectuals were hit as hard as the working class. Of the 135,000 university graduates, 60 percent were without jobs. Only a tiny minority was receiving unemployment benefits.
"The others," wrote one foreign observer, Marcel Laloire (in his book New Germany), "are dependent on their parents or are sleeping in flophouses. In the daytime they can be seen on the boulevards of Berlin wearing signs on their backs to the effect that they will accept any kind of work."
But there was no longer any kind of work. The same drastic fall-off had hit Germany's cottage industry, which comprised some four million workers. Its turnover had declined 55 percent, with total sales plunging from 22 billion to 10 billion marks.
Hardest hit of all were construction workers; 90 percent of them were unemployed.
Farmers, too, had been ruined, crushed by losses amounting to 12 billion marks. Many had been forced to mortgage their homes and their land. In 1932 just the interest on the loans they had incurred due to the crash was equivalent to 20 percent of the value of the agricultural production of the entire country. Those who were no longer able to meet the interest payments saw their farms auctioned off in legal proceedings: in the years 1931-1932, 17,157 farms-with a combined total area of 462,485 hectares - were liquidated in this way.
The "democracy" of Germany's "Weimar Republic" (1918 -1933) had proven utterly ineffective in addressing such flagrant wrongs as this impoverishment of millions of farm workers, even though they were the nation's most stable and hardest working citizens. Plundered, dispossessed, abandoned: small wonder they heeded Hitler's call. Their situation on January 30, 1933, was tragic. Like the rest of Germany's working class, they had been betrayed by their political leaders, reduced to the alternatives of miserable wages, paltry and uncertain benefit payments, or the outright humiliation of begging.
Germany's industries, once renowned everywhere in the world, were no longer prosperous, despite the millions of marks in gratuities that the financial magnates felt obliged to pour into the coffers of the parties in power before each election in order to secure their cooperation. For 14 years the well-blinkered conservatives and Christian democrats of the political center had been feeding at the trough just as greedily as their adversaries of the left..
One inevitable consequence of this ever-increasing misery and uncertainty about the future was an abrupt decline in the birthrate. When your household savings are wiped out, and when you fear even greater calamities in the days ahead, you do not risk adding to the number of your dependents.
In those days the birth rate was a reliable barometer of a country's prosperity. A child is a joy, unless you have nothing but a crust of bread to put in its little hand. And that's just the way it was with hundreds of thousands of German families in 1932..
Hitler knew that he would be starting from zero. From less than zero. But he was also confident of his strength of will to create Germany anew-politically, socially, financially, and economically. Now legally and officially in power, he was sure that he could quickly convert that cipher into a Germany more powerful than ever before. What support did he have?
For one thing, he could count on the absolute support of millions of fanatical disciples. And on that January evening, they joyfully shared in the great thrill of victory. Some thirteen million Germans, many of them former Socialists and Communists, had voted for his party.
But millions of Germans were still his adversaries, disconcerted adversaries, to be sure, whom their own political parties had betrayed, but who had still not been won over to National Socialism.
The two sides-those for and those against Hitler-were very nearly equal in numbers. But whereas those on the left were divided among themselves, Hitler's disciples were strongly united. And in one thing above all, the National Socialists had an incomparable advantage: in their convictions and in their total faith in a leader. Their highly organized and well-disciplined party had contented with the worst kind of obstacles, and had overcome them..
In the eyes of the capitalists, money was the sole active element in the flourishing of a country's economy. To Hitler's way of thinking, that conception was radically wrong: capital, on the contrary, was only an instrument. Work was the essential element: man's endeavor, man's honor, blood, muscles and soul.
Hitler wanted not just to put an to the class struggle, but to reestablish the priority of the human being, in justice and respect, as the principal factor in production..
For the worker's trust in the fatherland to be restored, he had to feel that from now on he was to be (and to be treated) as an equal, instead of remaining a social inferior. Under the governments of the so-called democratic parties of both the left and the right, he had remained an inferior; for none of them had understood that in the hierarchy of national values, work is the very essence of life; ..
The objective, then, was far greater than merely getting six million unemployed back to work. It was to achieve a total revolution.
"The people," Hitler declared, "were not put here on earth for the sake of the economy, and the economy doesn't exist for the sake of capital. On the contrary, capital is meant to serve the economy, and the economy in turn to serve the people."
It would not be enough merely to reopen the thousands of closed factories and fill them with workers. If the old concepts still ruled, the workers would once again be nothing more than living machines, faceless and interchangeable..
Nowhere in twentieth-century Europe had the authority of a head of state ever been based on such overwhelming and freely given national consent. Prior to Hitler, from 1919 to 1932, those governments piously styling themselves democratic had usually come to power by meager majorities, sometimes as low as 51 or 52 percent.
"I am not a dictator," Hitler had often affirmed, "and I never will be. Democracy will be rigorously enforced by National Socialism."
Authority does not mean tyranny. A tyrant is someone who puts himself in power without the will of the people or against the will of the people. A democrat is placed in power by the people. But democracy is not limited to a single formula. It may be partisan or parliamentary. Or it may be authoritarian. The important thing is that the people have wished it, chosen it, established it in its given form.
That was the case with Hitler. He came to power in an essentially democratic way. Whether one likes it or not, this fact is undeniable. And after coming to power, his popular support measurably increased from year to year. The more intelligent and honest of his enemies have been obliged to admit this, men such as the declared anti-Nazi historian and professor Joachim Fest, who wrote:
For Hitler was never interested in establishing a mere tyranny. Sheer greed for power will not suffice as explanation for his personality and energy-He was not born to be a mere tyrant. He was fixated upon his mission of defending Europe and the Aryan race ... Never had he felt so dependent upon the masses as he did at this time, and he watched their reactions with anxious concern.
These lines weren't written by Dr. Goebbels, but by a stern critic of Hitler and his career..
When it came time to vote, Hitler was granted plenary powers with a sweeping majority of 441 votes to 94: he had won not just two thirds, but 82.44 percent of the assembly's votes. This "Enabling Act" granted Hitler for four years virtually absolute authority over the legislative as well as the executive affairs of the government..
After 1945 the explanation that was routinely offered for all this was that the Germans had lost their heads. Whatever the case, it is a historical fact that they acted of their own free will. Far from being resigned, they were enthusiastic. "For the first time since the last days of the monarchy," historian Joachim Fest has conceded, "the majority of the Germans now had the feeling that they could identify with the state."..
"You talk about persecution!" he thundered in an impromptu response to an address by the Social Democratic speaker. "I think that there are only a few of us [in our party] here who did not have to suffer persecutions in prison from your side ... You seem to have totally forgotten that for years our shirts were ripped off our backs because you did not like the color . . . We have outgrown your persecutions!"
"In those days," he scathingly continued, "our newspapers were banned and banned and again banned, our meetings were forbidden, and we were forbidden to speak, I was forbidden to speak, for years on. And now you say that criticism is salutary!"..
Hitler's millions of followers had rediscovered the primal strength of rough, uncitified man, of a time when men still had backbone..
Gustav Noske, the lumberjack who became defense minister - and the most valiant defender of the embattled republic in the tumultuous months immediately following the collapse of 1918 - acknowledged honestly in 1944, when the Third Reich was already rapidly breaking down, that the great majority of the German people still remained true to Hitler because of the social renewal he had brought to the working class..
Here again, well before the collapse of party-ridden Weimar Republic, disillusion with the unions had become widespread among the working masses. They were starving. The hundreds of Socialist and Communist deputies stood idly by, impotent to provide any meaningful help to the desperate proletariat.
Their leaders had no proposals to remedy, even partially, the great distress of the people; no plans for large-scale public works, no industrial restructuring, no search for markets abroad. Moreover, they offered no energetic resistance to the pillaging by foreign countries of the Reich's last financial resources: this a consequence of the Treaty of Versailles that the German Socialists had voted to ratify in June of 1919, and which they had never since had the courage effectively to oppose..
In 1930, 1931 and 1932, German workers had watched the disaster grow: the number of unemployed rose from two million to three, to four, to five, then to six million. At the same time, unemployment benefits fell lower and lower, finally to disappear completely. Everywhere one saw dejection and privation: emaciated mothers, children wasting away in sordid lodgings, and thousands of beggars in long sad lines.
The failure, or incapacity, of the leftist leaders to act, not to mention their insensitivity, had stupefied the working class. Of what use were such leaders with their empty heads and empty hearts-and, often enough, full pockets?
Well before January 30, thousands of workers had already joined up with Hitler's dynamic formations, which were always hard at it where they were most needed. Many joined the National Socialists when they went on strike. Hitler, himself a former worker and a plain man like themselves, was determined to eliminate unemployment root and branch. He wanted not merely to defend the laborer's right to work, but to make his calling one of honor, to insure him respect and to integrate him fully into a living community of all the Germans, who had been divided class against class.
In January 1933, Hitler's victorious troops were already largely proletarian in character, including numerous hardfisted street brawlers, many unemployed, who no longer counted economically or socially.
Meanwhile, membership in the Marxist labor unions had fallen off enormously: among thirteen million socialist and Communist voters in 1932, no more than five million were union members. Indifference and discouragement had reached such levels that many members no longer paid their union dues. Many increasingly dispirited Marxist leaders began to wonder if perhaps the millions of deserters were the ones who saw things clearly. Soon they wouldn't wonder any longer. Even before Hitler won Reichstag backing for his "Enabling Act," Germany's giant labor union federation, the ADGB, had begun to rally to the National Socialist cause. As historian Joachim Fest acknowledged: "On March 20, the labor federation's executive committee addressed a kind of declaration of loyalty to Hitler." (J. Fest, Hitler, p. 413.)
Hitler than took a bold and clever step. The unions had always clamored to have the First of May recognized as a worker's holiday, but the Weimar Republic had never acceded to their request. Hitler, never missing an opportunity, grasped this one with both hands. He did more than grant this reasonable demand: he proclaimed the First of May a national holiday..
I myself attended the memorable meeting at the Tempelhof field in 1933. By nine o'clock that morning, giant columns, some of workers, others of youth groups, marching in cadence down the pavement of Berlin's great avenues, had started off towards the airfield to which Hitler had called together all Germans. All Germany would follow the rally as it was transmitted nationwide by radio..
In the dark, a group of determined opponents could easily have heckled Hitler or otherwise sabotaged the meeting. Perhaps a third of the onlookers had been Socialists or Communists only three months previously. But not a single hostile voice was raised during the entire ceremony. There was only universal acclamation. Ceremony is the right word for it. It was an almost magical rite. Hitler and Goebbels had no equals in the arranging of dedicatory ceremonies of this sort. First there were popular songs, then great Wagnerian hymns to grip the audience. Germany has a passion for orchestral music, and Wagner taps the deepest and most secret vein of the German soul, its romanticism, its inborn sense of the powerful and the grand.
Meanwhile the hundreds of flags floated above the rostrum, redeemed from the darkness by arrows of light.
Now Hitler strode to the rostrum. For those standing at the of the field, his face must have appeared vanishingly small, but his words flooded instantaneously across the acres of people in his audience. A Latin audience would have preferred a voice less harsh, more delicately expressive. But there was no doubt that Hitler spoke to the psyche of the German people.
Germans have rarely had the good fortune to experience the enchantment of the spoken word. In Germany, the tone has always been set by ponderous speakers, more fond of elephantine pedantry than oratorical passion. Hitler, as a speaker, was a prodigy, the greatest orator of his century. He possessed, above all, what the ordinary speaker lacks: a mysterious ability to project power.
A bit like a medium or sorcerer, he was seized, even transfixed, as he addressed a crowd. It responded to Hitler's projection of power, radiating it back, establishing, in the course of myriad exchanges, a current that both orator and audience gave to and drew from equally. One had to personally experience him speaking to understand this phenomenon.
This special gift is what lay at the basis of Hitler's ability to win over the masses. His high-voltage, lightning-like projection transported and transformed all who experienced it. Tens of millions were enlightened, riveted and inflamed by the fire of his anger, irony, and passion.
By the time the cheering died away that May first evening, hundreds of thousands of previously indifferent or even hostile workers who had come to Tempelhof at the urging of their labor federation leaders were now won over. They had become followers, like the SA stormtroopers whom so many there that evening had brawled with in recent years. The great human sea surged back from Tempelhof to Berlin. A million and a half people had arrived in perfect order, and their departure was just as orderly. No bottlenecks halted the cars and busses. For those of us who witnessed it, this rigorous, yet joyful, discipline of a contented people was in itself a source of wonder. Everything about the May Day mass meeting had come off as smoothly clockwork.
The memory of that fabulous crowd thronging back to the center of Berlin will never leave me. A great many were on foot. Their faces were now different faces, as though they had been imbued with a strange and totally new spirit. The non-Germans in the crowd were as if stunned, and no less impressed than Hitler's fellow countrymen. The French ambassador, André François-Poncet, noted:
The foreigners on the speaker's platform as guests of honor were not alone in carrying away the impression of a truly beautiful and wonderful public festival, an impression that was created by the regime's genius for organization, by the night time display of uniforms, by the play of lights, the rhythm of the music, by the flags and the colorful fireworks; and they were not alone in thinking that a breath of reconciliation and unity was passing over the Third Reich. "It is our wish," Hitler had exclaimed, as though taking heaven as his witness, "to get along together and to struggle together as brothers, so that at the hour when we shall come before God, we might say to him: 'See, Lord, we have changed. The German people are no longer a people ashamed, a people mean and cowardly and divided. No, Lord! The German people have become strong in their spirit, in their will, in their perseverance, in their acceptance of any sacrifice. Lord, we remain faithful to Thee! Bless our struggle!" (A. François-Poncet, Souvenirs d'une ambassade à Berlin, p. 128.)
Who else could have made such an incantatory appeal without making himself look ridiculous?
No politician had ever spoken of the rights of workers with such faith and such force, or had laid out in such clear terms the social plan he pledged to carry out on behalf of the common people.
The next day, the newspaper of the proletarian left, the "Union Journal," reported on this mass meeting at which at least two thirds-a million-of those attending were workers. "This May First was victory day," the paper summed up.
With the workers thus won over, what further need was there for the thousands of labor union locals that for so long had poisoned the social life of the Reich and which, in any case, had accomplished nothing of a lasting, positive nature?
Within hours of the conclusion of that "victory" meeting at the Tempelhof field, the National Socialists were able to peacefully take complete control of Germany's entire labor union organization, including all its buildings, enterprises and banks. An era of Marxist obstruction abruptly came to an end : from now on, a single national organization would embody the collective will and interests of all of Germany's workers.
Although he was now well on his way to creating what he pledged would be a true "government of the people," Hitler also realized that great obstacles remained. For one thing, the Communist rulers in Moscow had not dropped their guard-or their guns. Restoring the nation would take more than words and promises, it would take solid achievements. Only then would the enthusiasm shown by the working class at the May First mass meeting be an expression of lasting victory.
How could Hitler solve the great problem that had defied solution by everyone else (both in Germany and abroad): putting millions of unemployed back to work?
What would Hitler do about wages? Working hours? Leisure time? Housing? How would he succeed in winning, at long last, respect for the rights and dignity of the worker?
How could men's lives be improved-materially, morally, and, one might even say, spiritually? How would he proceed to build a new society fit for human beings, free of the inertia, injustices and prejudices of the past?
"National Socialism," Hitler had declared at the outset, "has its mission and its hour; it is not just a passing movement but a phase of history."
The instruments of real power now in his hands-an authoritarian state, its provinces subordinate but nonetheless organic parts of the national whole-Hitler had acted quickly to shake himself free of the last constraints of the impotent sectarian political parties. Moreover, he was now able to direct a cohesive labor force that was no longer split into a thousand rivulets but flowed as a single, mighty current.
Hitler was self-confident, sure of the power of his own conviction. He had no intention, or need, to resort to the use of physical force. Instead, he intended to win over, one by one, the millions of Germans who were still his adversaries, and even those who still hated him.
His conquest of Germany had taken years of careful planning and hard work. Similarly, he would now realize his carefully worked out plans for transforming the state and society. This meant not merely changes in administrative or governmental structures, but far-reaching social programs.
He had once vowed: "The hour will come when the 15 million people who now hate us will be solidly behind us and will acclaim with us the new revival we shall create together." Eventually he would succeed in winning over even many of his most refractory skeptics and adversaries.
His army of converts was already forming ranks. In a remarkable tribute, historian Joachim Fest felt obliged to acknowledge unequivocally:
Hitler had moved rapidly from the status of a demagogue to that of a respected statesman. The craving to join the ranks of the victors was spreading like an epidemic, and the shrunken minority of those who resisted the urge were being visibly pushed into isolation-The past was dead. The future, it seemed, belonged to the regime, which had more and more followers, which was being hailed everywhere and suddenly had sound reasons on its side.
And even the prominent leftist writer Kurt Tucholsky, sensing the direction of the inexorable tide that was sweeping Germany, vividly commented: "You don't go railing against the ocean." (J. Fest, Hitler, pp. 415 f.)
"Our power," Hitler was now able to declare, "no longer belongs to any territorial fraction of the Reich, nor to any single class of the nation, but to the people in its totality."
Much still remained to be done, however. So far, Hitler had succeeded in clearing the way of obstacles to his program. Now the time to build had arrived.
So many others had failed to tackle the many daunting problems that were now his responsibility. Above all, the nation demanded a solution to the great problem of unemployment. Could Hitler now succeed where others had so dismally failed?..
Unemployment could be combated and eliminated only by giving industry the financial means to start up anew, to modernize, thus creating millions of new jobs.
The normal rate of consumption would not be restored, let alone increased, unless one first raised the starvation-level allowances that were making purchases of any kind a virtual impossibility. On the contrary, production and sales would have to be restored before the six million unemployed could once again become purchasers.
The great economic depression could be overcome only by restimulating industry, by bringing industry into step with the times, and by promoting the development of new products..
Nearly ten years earlier, while in his prison cell, Hitler had already envisioned a formidable system of national highways. He had also conceived of a small, easily affordable automobile (later known as the "Volkswagen"), and had even suggested its outline. It should have the shape of a June bug, he proposed. Nature itself suggested the car's aerodynamic line.
Until Hitler came to power, a car was the privilege of the rich. It was not financially within the reach of the middle class, much less of the worker. The "Volkswagen," costing one-tenth as much as the standard automobile of earlier years, would eventually become a popular work vehicle and a source of pleasure after work: a way to unwind and get some fresh air, and of discovering, thanks to the new Autobahn highway network, a magnificent country that then, in its totality, was virtually unknown to the German worker.
From the beginning, Hitler wanted this economical new car to be built for the millions. The production works would also become one of Germany's most important industrial centers and employers. During his imprisonment, Hitler had also drawn up plans for the construction of popular housing developments and majestic public buildings.
Some of Hitler's rough sketches still survive. They include groups of individual worker's houses with their own gardens (which were to be built in the hundreds of thousands), a plan for a covered stadium in Berlin, and a vast congress hall, unlike any other in the world, that would symbolize the grandeur of the National Socialist revolution.
"A building with a monumental dome," historian Werner Maser has explained, "the plan of which he drew while he was writing Mein Kampf, would have a span of 46 meters, a height of 220 meters, a diameter of 250 meters, and a capacity of 150 to 190 thousand people standing. The interior of the building would have been 17 times larger than Saint Peter's Cathedral in Rome." (W. Maser, Hitler, Adolf, p. 100.)
"That hall," architect Albert Speer has pointed out, "was not just an idle dream impossible of achievement."
Hitler's imagination, therefore, had long been teeming with a number of ambitious projects, many of which would eventually be realized.
Fortunately, the needed entrepreneurs, managers and technicians were on hand. Hitler would not have to improvise.
Historian Werner Maser, although quite anti-Hitler-like nearly all of his colleagues (how else would they have found publishers?) - has acknowledged: "From the beginning of his political career, he [Hitler] took great pains systematically to arrange for whatever he was going to need in order to carry out his plans."
"Hitler was distinguished," Maser has also noted, "by an exceptional intelligence in technical matters." Hitler had acquired his knowledge by devoting many thousands of hours to technical studies from the time of his youth.
"Hitler read an endless number of books," explained Dr. Schacht. "He acquired a very considerable amount of knowledge and made masterful use of it in discussions and speeches. In certain respects he was a man endowed with genius. He had ideas that no one else would ever have thought of, ideas that resulted in the ending of great difficulties, sometimes by measures of an astonishing simplicity or brutality."
Many billions of marks would be needed to begin the great socioeconomic revolution that was destined, as Hitler had always intended, to make Germany once again the European leader in industry and commerce and, most urgently, to rapidly wipe out unemployment in Germany. Where would the money be found? And, once obtained, how would these funds be allotted to ensure maximum effectiveness in their investment?
Hitler was by no means a dictator in matters of the economy. He was, rather, a stimulator. His government would undertake to do only that which private initiative could not.
Hitler believed in the importance of individual creative imagination and dynamism, in the need for every person of superior ability and skill to assume responsibility.
He also recognized the importance of the profit motive. Deprived of the prospect of having his efforts rewarded, the person of ability often refrains from running risks. The economic failure of Communism has demonstrated this. In the absence of personal incentives and the opportunity for real individual initiative, the Soviet "command economy" lagged in all but a few fields, its industry years behind its competitors.
State monopoly tolls the death of all initiative, and hence of all progress.
For all men selflessly to pool their wealth might be marvelous, but it is also contrary to human nature. Nearly every man desires that his labor shall improve his own condition and that of his family, and feels that his brain, creative imagination, and persistence well deserve their reward.
Because it disregarded these basic psychological truths, Soviet Communism, right to the end, wallowed in economic mediocrity, in spite of its immense reservoir of manpower, its technical expertise, and its abundant natural resources, all of which ought to have made it an industrial and technological giant.
Hitler was always adverse to the idea of state management of the economy. He believed in elites. "A single idea of genius," he used to say, "has more value than a lifetime of conscientious labor in an office."
Just as there are political or intellectual elites, so also is there an industrial elite. A manufacturer of great ability should not be restrained, hunted down by the internal revenue services like a criminal, or be unappreciated by the public. On the contrary, it is important for economic development that the industrialist be encouraged morally and materially, as much as possible.
The most fruitful initiatives Hitler would take from 1933 on would be on behalf of private enterprise. He would keep an eye on the quality of their directors, to be sure, and would shunt aside incompetents, quite a few of them at times, but he also supported the best ones, those with the keenest minds, the most imaginative and bold, even if their political opinions did not always agree with his own.
"There is no question," he stated very firmly, "of dismissing a factory owner or director under the pretext that he is not a National Socialist."
Hitler would exercise the same moderation, the same pragmatism, in the administrative as well as in the industrial sphere. What he demanded of his co-workers, above all, was competence and effectiveness. The great majority of Third Reich functionaries - some 80 percent-were never enrolled in the National Socialist party. Several of Hitler's ministers, like Konstantin von Neurath and Schwerin von Krosigk, and ambassadors to such key posts as Prague, Vienna and Ankara, were not members of the party. But they were capable..
"Herr Schacht," he said, "we are assuredly in agreement on one point: no other single task facing the government at the moment can be so truly urgent as conquering unemployment. That will take a lot of money. Do you see any possibility of finding it apart from the Reichsbank?" And after a moment, he added: "How much would it take? Do you have any idea?"
Wishing to win Schacht over by appealing to his ambition, Hitler smiled and then asked: "Would you be willing to once again assume presidency of the Reichsbank?" Schacht let on that he had a sentimental concern for Dr. Luther, and did not want to hurt the incumbent's feelings. Playing along, Hitler reassured Schacht that he would find an appropriate new job elsewhere for Luther.
Schacht then pricked up his ears, drew himself up, and focused his big round eyes on Hitler: "Well, if that's the way it is," he said, "then I am ready to assume the presidency of the Reichsbank again." His great dream was being realized. Schacht had been president of the Reichsbank between 1923 and 1930, but had been dismissed. Now he would return in triumph. He felt vindicated. Within weeks, the ingenious solution to Germany's pressing financial woes would burst forth from his inventive brain.
"It was necessary," Schacht later explained, "to discover a method that would avoid inflating the investment holdings of the Reichsbank immoderately and consequently increasing the circulation of money excessively."
"Therefore," he went on, "I had to find some means of getting the sums that were lying idle in pockets and banks, without meaning for it to be long term and without having it undergo the risk of depreciation. That was the reasoning behind the Mefo bonds."
What were these "Mefo" bonds? Mefo was a contraction of the Metallurgische Forschungs-GmbH (Metallurgic Research Company). With a startup capitalization of one billion marks - which Hitler and Schacht arranged to be provided by the four giant firms of Krupp, Siemens, Deutsche Werke and Rheinmetall-this company would eventually promote many billions of marks worth of investment.
Enterprises, old and new, that filled government orders had only to draw drafts on Mefo for the amounts due. These drafts, when presented to the Reichsbank, were immediately convertible into cash. The success of the Mefo program depended entirely on public acceptance of the Mefo bonds. But the wily Schacht had planned well. Since Mefo bonds were short-term bonds that could be cashed in at any time, there was no real risk in buying, accepting or holding them. They bore an interest of four percent-a quite acceptable figure in those days-whereas banknotes hidden under the mattress earned nothing. The public quickly took all this into consideration and eagerly accepted the bonds.
While the Reichsbank was able to offer from its own treasury a relatively insignificant 150 million marks for Hitler's war on unemployment, in just four years the German public subscribed more than 12 billion marks worth of Mefo bonds!
These billions, the fruit of the combined imagination, ingenuity and astuteness of Hitler and Schacht, swept away the temporizing and fearful conservatism of the bankers. Over the next four years, this enormous credit reserve would make miracles possible.
Soon after the initial billion-mark credit, Schacht added another credit of 600 million in order to finance the start of Hitler's grand program for highway construction. This Autobahn program provided immediate work for 100,000 of the unemployed, and eventually assured wages for some 500,000 workers.
As large as this outlay was, it was immediately offset by a corresponding cutback in government unemployment benefits, and by the additional tax revenue generated as a result of the increase in living standard (sping) of the newly employed.
Within a few months, thanks to the credit created by the Mefo bonds, private industry once again dared to assume risks and expand. Germans returned to work by the hundreds of thousands.
Was Schacht solely responsible for this extraordinary turnaround? After the war, he answered for himself as a Nuremberg Tribunal defendant, where he was charged with having made possible the Reich's economic revival:
I don't think Hitler was reduced to begging for my help. If I had not served him, he would have found other methods, other means. He was not a man to give up. It's easy enough for you to say, Mr. Prosecutor, that I should have watched Hitler die and not lifted a finger. But the entire working class would have died with him!
Even Marxists recognized Hitler's success, and their own failure. In the June 1934 issue of the Zeitschrift für Sozialismus, the journal of the German Social Democrats in exile, this acknowledgement appears: Faced with the despair of proletarians reduced to joblessness, of young people with diplomas and no future, of the middle classes of merchants and artisans condemned to bankruptcy, and of farmers terribly threatened by the collapse in agricultural prices, we all failed. We weren't capable of offering the masses anything but speeches about the glory of socialism.
VI. The Social Revolution
Hitler's tremendous social achievement in putting Germany's six million unemployed back to work is seldom acknowledged today. Although it was much more than a transitory achievement, "democratic" historians routinely dismiss it in just a few lines. Since 1945, not a single objective scholarly study has been devoted to this highly significant, indeed unprecedented, historical phenomenon.
Similarly neglected is the body of sweeping reforms that dramatically changed the condition of the worker in Germany. Factories were transformed from gloomy caverns to spacious and healthy work centers, with natural lighting, surrounded by gardens and playing fields. Hundreds of thousands of attractive houses were built for working class families. A policy of several weeks of paid vacation was introduced, along with week and holiday trips by land and sea. A wide-ranging program of physical and cultural education for young workers was established, with the world's best system of technical training. The Third Reich's social security and workers' health insurance system was the world's most modern and complete. This remarkable record of social achievement is routinely hushed up today because it is embarrasses those who uphold the orthodox view of the Third Reich. Otherwise, readers might begin to think that perhaps Hitler was the greatest social builder of the twentieth century..
Nevertheless, restoring work and bread to millions of unemployed who had been living in misery for years; restructuring industrial life; conceiving and establishing an organization for the effective defense and betterment of the nation's millions of wage earners; creating a new bureaucracy and judicial system that guaranteed the civic rights of each member of the national community, while simultaneously holding each person to his or her responsibilities as a German citizen: this organic body of reforms was part of a single, comprehensive plan, which Hitler had conceived and worked out years earlier.
Without this plan, the nation would have collapsed into anarchy. All-encompassing, this program included broad industrial recovery as well as detailed attention to even construction of comfortable inns along the new highway network.
It took several years for a stable social structure to emerge from the French Revolution. The Soviets needed even more time: five years after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, hundreds of thousands of Russians were still dying of hunger and disease. In Germany, by contrast, the great machinery was in motion within months, with organization and accomplishment quickly meshing together..
Hitler personally dug the first spadeful of earth for the first Autobahn highway, linking Frankfurt-am-Main with Darmstadt. For the occasion, he brought along Dr. Schacht, the man whose visionary credit wizardry had made the project possible. The official procession moved ahead, three cars abreast in front, then six across, spanning the entire width of the autobahn..
Hitler's plan to build thousands of low-cost homes also demanded a vast mobilization of manpower. He had envisioned housing that would be attractive, cozy, and affordable for millions of ordinary German working-class families. He had no intention of continuing to tolerate, as his predecessors had, cramped, ugly "rabbit warren" housing for the German people. The great barracks-like housing projects on the outskirts of factory towns, packed with cramped families, disgusted him.
The greater part of the houses he would build were single story, detached dwellings, with small yards where children could romp, wives could grow vegetable and flower gardens, while the bread-winners could read their newspapers in peace after the day's work. These single-family homes were built to conform to the architectural styles of the various German regions, retaining as much as possible the charming local variants.
Wherever there was no practical alternative to building large apartment complexes, Hitler saw to it that the individual apartments were spacious, airy and enhanced by surrounding lawns and gardens where the children could play safely.
The new housing was, of course, built in conformity with the highest standards of public health, a consideration notoriously neglected in previous working-class projects.
Generous loans, amortizable in ten years, were granted to newly married couples so they could buy their own homes. At the birth of each child, a fourth of the debt was cancelled. Four children, at the normal rate of a new arrival every two and a half years, sufficed to cancel the entire loan debt.
Once, during a conversation with Hitler, I expressed my astonishment at this policy. "But then, you never get back the total amount of your loans?," I asked. "How so?" he replied, smiling. "Over a period of ten years, a family with four children brings in much more than our loans, through the taxes levied on a hundred different items of consumption." As it happened, tax revenues increased every year, in proportion to the rise in expenditures for Hitler's social programs. In just a few years, revenue from taxes tripled. Hitler's Germany never experienced a financial crisis.
To stimulate the moribund economy demanded the nerve, which Hitler had, to invest money that the government didn't yet have, rather than passively waiting-in accordance with "sound" financial principles-for the economy to revive by itself.
Today, our whole era is dying economically because we have succumbed to fearful hesitation. Enrichment follows investment, not the other way around..
Even before the year 1933 had ended, Hitler had succeeded in building 202,119 housing units. Within four years he would provide the German people with nearly a million and a half (1,458,128) new dwellings! Moreover, workers would no longer be exploited as they had been. A month's rent for a worker could not exceed 26 marks, or about an eighth of the average wage then. Employees with more substantial salaries paid monthly rents of up to 45 marks maximum.
Equally effective social measures were taken in behalf of farmers, who had the lowest incomes. In 1933 alone 17,611 new farm houses were built, each of them surrounded by a parcel of land one thousand square meters in size. Within three years, Hitler would build 91,000 such farmhouses..
Everywhere industry was hiring again, with some firms-like Krupp, IG Farben and the large automobile manufacturers-taking on new workers on a very large scale. As the country became more prosperous, car sales increased by more than 80,000 units in 1933 alone. Employment in the auto industry doubled. Germany was gearing up for full production, with private industry leading the way.
The new government lavished every assistance on the private sector, the chief factor in employment as well as production. Hitler almost immediately made available 500 million marks in credits to private business.
This start-up assistance given to German industry would repay itself many times over. Soon enough, another two billion marks would be loaned to the most enterprising companies. Nearly half would go into new wages and salaries, saving the treasury an estimated three hundred million marks in unemployment benefits. Added to the hundreds of millions in tax receipts spurred by the business recovery, the state quickly recovered its investment, and more.
Hitler's entire economic policy would be based on the following equation: risk large sums to undertake great public works and to spur the renewal and modernization of industry, then later recover the billions invested through invisible and painless tax revenues. It didn't take long for Germany to see the results of Hitler's recovery formula.
Economic recovery, as important as it was, nevertheless wasn't Hitler's only objective. As he strived to restore full employment, Hitler never lost sight of his goal of creating a organization powerful enough to stand up to capitalist owners and managers, who had shown little concern for the health and welfare of the entire national community.
Hitler would impose on everyone-powerful boss and lowly wage earner alike-his own concept of the organic social community. Only the loyal collaboration of everyone could assure the prosperity of all classes and social groups.
Consistent with their doctrine, Germany's Marxist leaders had set class against class, helping to bring the country to the brink of economic collapse. Deserting their Marxist unions and political parties in droves, most workers had come to realize that strikes and grievances their leaders incited only crippled production, and thus the workers as well.
By the of 1932, in any case, the discredited labor unions were drowning in massive debt that realistically could never be repaid. Some of the less scrupulous union officials, sensing the oncoming catastrophe, had begun stealing hundreds of thousands of marks from the workers they represented. The Marxist leaders had failed: socially, financially and morally.
Every joint human activity requires a leader. The head of a factory or business is also the person naturally responsible for it. He oversees every aspect of production and work. In Hitler's Germany, the head of a business had to be both a capable director and a person concerned for the social justice and welfare of his employees. Under Hitler, many owners and managers who had proven to be unjust, incompetent or recalcitrant lost their jobs, or their businesses.
A considerable number of legal guarantees protected the worker against any abuse of authority at the workplace. Their purpose was to insure that the rights of workers were respected, and that workers were treated as worthy collaborators, not just as animated tools. Each industrialist was legally obliged to collaborate with worker delegates in drafting shop regulations that were not imposed from above but instead adapted to each business enterprise and its particular working conditions. These regulations had to specify "the length of the working day, the time and method of paying wages, and the safety rules, and to be posted throughout the factory," within easy access of both the worker whose interests might be angered and the owner or manager whose orders might be subverted.
The thousands of different, individual versions of such regulations served to create a healthy rivalry, with every factory group vying to outdo the others in efficiency and justice.
One of the first reforms to benefit German workers was the establishment of paid vacations. In France, the leftist Popular Front government would noisily claim, in 1936, to have originated legally mandated paid vacations-and stingy ones at that, only one week per year. But it was actually Hitler who first established them, in 1933 -- and they were two or three times more generous.
Under Hitler, every factory employee had the legal right to paid vacation. Previously, paid vacations had not normally exceed four or five days, and nearly half of the younger workers had no vacation time at all. If anything, Hitler favored younger workers; the youngest workers received more generous vacations. This was humane and made sense: a young person has more need of rest and fresh air to develop his maturing strength and vigor. Thus, they enjoyed a full 18 days of paid vacation per year.
Today, more than half a century later, these figures have been surpassed, but in 1933 they far exceeded European norms. The standard vacation was twelve days. Then, from the age of 25 on, it went up to 18 days. After ten years with the company, workers got a still longer vacation: 21 days, or three times what the French socialists would grant the workers of their country in 1936.
Hitler introduced the standard forty-hour work week in Europe. As for overtime work, it was now compensated, as nowhere else in the continent at the time, at an increased pay rate. And with the eight-hour work day now the norm, overtime work became more readily available.
In another innovation, work breaks were made longer: two hours each day, allowing greater opportunity for workers to relax, and to make use of the playing fields that large industries were now required to provide.
Whereas a worker's right to job security had been virtually non-existent, now an employee could no longer be dismissed at the sole discretion of the employer. Hitler saw to it that workers' rights were spelled out and enforced. Henceforth, an employer had to give four weeks notice before firing an employee, who then had up to two months to appeal the dismissal. Dismissals could also be annulled by the "Courts of Social Honor" (Ehrengerichte).
This Court was one of three great institutions that were established to protect German workers. The others were the "Labor Commissions" and the "Council of Trust."
The "Council of Trust" (Vertrauensrat) was responsible for establishing and developing a real spirit of community between management and labor. "In every business enterprise," the 1934 "Labor Charter" law stipulated, "the employer and head of the enterprise (Führer), the employees and workers, personnel of the enterprise, shall work jointly toward the goal of the enterprise and the common good of the nation."
No longer would either be exploited by the other-neither the worker by arbitrary whim of the employer, nor the employer through the blackmail of strikes for political ends.
Article 35 of the "Labor Charter" law stated: "Every member of an enterprise community shall assume the responsibility required by his position in said common enterprise." In short, each enterprise would be headed by a dynamic executive, charged with a sense of the greater community-no longer a selfish capitalist with unconditional, arbitrary power.
"The interest of the community may require that an incapable or unworthy employer be relieved of his duties," the "Labor Charter" stipulated. The employer was no longer unassailable, an all-powerful boss with the last word on hiring and firing his staff. He, too, would be subject to the workplace regulations, which he was now obliged to respect no less than the least of his employees. The law conferred the honor and responsibility of authority on the employer only insofar as he merited it..
In the Third Reich, the worker knew that "exploitation of his physical strength in bad faith or in violation of his honor" was no longer tolerated. He had obligations to the community, but he shared these obligations with every other member of the enterprise, from the chief executive to the messenger boy. Finally, the German worker had clearly defined social rights, which were arbitrated and enforced by independent agencies. And while all this had been achieved in an atmosphere of justice and moderation, it nevertheless constituted a genuine social revolution..
Factories and shops, large and small, were altered or transformed to conform to the strictest standards of cleanliness and hygiene: interiors, so often dark and stifling, were opened up to light; playing fields were constructed; rest areas where workers could unbend during break, were set aside; employee cafeterias and respectable locker rooms were opened. The larger industrial establishments, in addition to providing the normally required conventional sports facilities, were obliged to put in swimming pools!
In just three years, these achievements would reach unimagined heights: more than two thousand factories refitted and beautified; 23,000 work premises modernized; 800 buildings designed exclusively for meetings; 1,200 playing fields; 13,000 sanitary facilities; 17,000 cafeterias.
To assure the healthy development of the working class, physical education courses were instituted for younger workers. Some 8,000 were eventually organized. Technical training was equally emphasized. Hundreds of work schools, and thousands of technical courses were created. There were examinations for professional competence, and competitions in which generous prizes were awarded to outstanding masters of their craft.
Eight hundred departmental inspectors and 17,300 local inspectors were employed to conscientiously monitor and promote these improvements.
To provide affordable vacations for German workers on a hitherto unprecedented scale, Hitler established the "Strength through Joy" program. As a result, hundreds of thousands of workers were now able to make relaxing vacation trips on land and sea each summer. Magnificent cruise ships were built, and special trains brought vacationers to the mountains and the seashore. In just a few years, Germany's working-class tourists would log a distance equivalent to 54 times the circumference of the earth! And thanks to generous state subsidies, the cost to workers of these popular vacation excursions was nearly insignificant..
Was Hitler's transformation of the lot of the working class authoritarian? Without a doubt. And yet, for a people that had grown sick and tired of anarchy, this new authoritarianism wasn't regarded as an imposition. In fact, people have always accepted a strong man's leadership.
In any case, there is no doubt that the attitude of the German working class, which was still two-thirds non-Nazi at the start of 1933, soon changed completely. As Belgian author Marcel Laloire noted at the time:
When you make your way through the cities of Germany and go into the working-class districts, go through the factories, the construction yards, you are astonished to find so many workers on the job sporting the Hitler insignia, to see so many flags with the swastika, black on a bright red background, in the most densely populated districts. Hitler's "German Labor Front" (Deutsche Arbeitsfront), which incorporated all workers and employers, was for the most part eagerly accepted. The steel spades of the sturdy young lads of the "National Labor Service" (Reichsarbeitsdienst) could also be seen gleaming along the highways.
Hitler created the National Labor Service not only to alleviate unemployment, but to bring together, in absolute equality, and in the same uniform, both the sons of millionaires and the sons of the poorest families for several months' common labor and living.
All performed the same work, all were subject to the same discipline; they enjoyed the same pleasures and benefited from the same physical and moral development. At the same construction sites and in the same barracks, Germans became conscious of what they had in common, grew to understand one another, and discarded their old prejudices of class and caste.
After a hitch in the National Labor Service, a young worker knew that the rich man's son was not a pampered monster, while the young lad of wealthy family knew that the worker's son had no less honor than a nobleman or an heir to riches; they had lived and worked together as comrades. Social hatred was vanishing, and a socially united people was being born.
Hitler could go into factories-something few men of the so-called Right would have risked in the past-and hold forth to crowds of workers, at times in the thousands, as at the huge Siemens works. "In contrast to the von Papens and other country gentlemen," he might tell them, "in my youth I was a worker like you. And in my heart of hearts, I have remained what I was then."
During his twelve years in power, no untoward incident ever occurred at any factory he visited. Hitler was at home when he went among the people, and he was received like a member of the family returning home after making a success of himself.
But the Chancellor of the Third Reich wanted more than popular approval. He wanted that approval to be freely, widely, and repeatedly expressed by popular vote. No people was ever be more frequently asked for their electoral opinion than the German people of that era-five times in five years.
For Hitler, it was not enough that the people voted from time to time, as in the previous democratic system. In those days, voters were rarely appealed to, and when they expressed an opinion, they were often ill-informed and apathetic. After an election, years might go by, during which the politicians were heedless and inaccessible, the electorate powerless to vote on their actions.
To enable the German public to express its opinion on the occasion of important events of social, national, or international significance, Hitler provided the people a new means of approving or rejecting his own actions as Chancellor: the plebiscite.
Hitler recognized the right of all the people, men and women alike, to vote by secret ballot: to voice their opinion of his policies, or to make a well-grounded judgment on this or that great decision in domestic or foreign affairs. Rather than a formalistic routine, democracy became a vital, active program of supervision that was renewed annually.
The articles of the "Plebiscite Law" were brief and clear:
1.The Reich government may ask the people whether or not it approves of a measure planned by or taken by the government. This may also apply to a law.
2. A measure submitted to plebiscite will be considered as established when it receives a simple majority of the votes. This will apply as well to a law modifying the Constitution.
3. If the people approves the measure in question, it will be applied in conformity with article III of the Law for Overcoming the Distress of the People and the Reich.
The Reich Interior Ministry is authorized to take all legal and administrative measures necessary to carry out this law. Berlin, July 14, 1933. Hitler, Frick..
From the first months of 1933, his accomplishments were public fact, for all to see. Before end of the year, unemployment in Germany had fallen from more than 6,000,000 to 3,374,000. Thus, 2,627,000 jobs had been created since the previous February, when Hitler began his "gigantic task!" A simple question: Who in Europe ever achieved similar results in so short a time?..
In his detailed and critical biography of Hitler, Joachim Fest limited his treatment of Hitler's extraordinary social achievements in 1933 to a few paragraphs. All the same, Fest did not refrain from acknowledging:
The regime insisted that it was not the rule of one social class above all others, and by granting everyone opportunities to rise, it in fact demonstrated class neutrality-These measures did indeed break through the old, petrified social structures. They tangibly improved the material condition of much of the population. (J. Fest, Hitler, pp. 434-435.)
Not without reason were the swastika banners waving proudly throughout the working-class districts where, just a year ago, they had been unceremoniously torn down.
Here is excerpt from his memoirs General Leon Degrelle, former leader of the Belgian contingent of the Waffen-SS:
"One of the first labor reforms to benefit the German workers was the establishment of annual paid vacation. The Socialist French Popular Front, in 1936, would make a show of having invented the concept of paid vacation, and stingily at that, only one week per year. But Adolf Hitler originated the idea, and two or three times as generously, from the first month of his coming to power in 1933.
Every factory employee from then on would have the legal right to a paid vacation. Until then, in Germany paid holidays where they applied at all did not exceed four or five days, and nearly half the younger workers had no leave entitlement at all. Hitler, on the other hand, favored the younger workers. Vacations were not handed out blindly, and the youngest workers were granted time off more generously. It was a humane action; a young person has more need of rest and fresh air for the development of his strength and vigor just coming into maturity. Basic vacation time was twelve days, and then from age 25 on it went up to 18 days. After ten years with the company, workers got 21 days, three times what the French socialists would grant the workers of their country in 1936.
These figures may have been surpassed in the more than half a century since then, but in 1933 they far exceeded European norms. As for overtime hours, they no longer were paid, as they were everywhere else in Europe at that time, at just the regular hourly rate. The work day itself had been reduced to a tolerable norm of eight hours, since the forty-hour week as well, in Europe, was first initiated by Hitler. And beyond that legal limit, each additional hour had to be paid at a considerably increased rate...
Dismissal of an employee was no longer left as before the sole discretion of the employer. In that era, workers' rights to job security were non-existent. Hitler saw to it that those rights were strictly spelled out. The employer had to announce any dismissal four weeks in advance. The employee then had a period of up to two months in which to lodge a protest. The dismissal could also be annulled by the Honor of Work Tribunal. What was the Honor of Work Tribunal? Also called the Tribunal of Social Honor, it was the third of the three great elements or layers of protection and defense that were to the benefit of every German worker. The first was the Council of Trust. The second was the Labor Commission.
The Council of Trust was charged with attending to the establishment and the development of a real community spirit between management and labor. In any business enterprise, the Reich law stated, the employer and head of the enterprise, the employees and workers, personnel of the enterprise, shall work jointly towards the goal of the enterprise and the common good of the nation...
Thus from 1933 on, the German worker had a system of justice at his disposal that was created especially for him and would adjudicate all grave infractions of the social duties based on the idea of the Aryan enterprise community. Examples of these violations of social honor are cases where the employer, abusing his power, displayed ill will towards his staff or impugned the honor of his subordinates, cases where staff members threatened work harmony by spiteful agitation; the publication by members of the Council of confidential information regarding the enterprise which they became cognizant of in the course of discharging their duties. Thirteen Tribunes of Social Honor were established, corresponding with the thirteen commissions...
From then on the worker knew that exploitation of his physical strength in bad faith or offending his honor would no longer be allowed. He had to fulfill certain obligations to the community, but they were obligations that applied to all members of the enterprise, from the chief executive down to the messenger boy. Germany's workers at last had clearly established social rights that were arbitrated by a Labor Commission and enforced by a Tribunal of Honor. Although effected in an atmosphere of justice and moderation, it was a revolution.
This was only the end of 1933, and already the first effects could be felt. The factories and shops large and small were reformed or transformed in conformity with the strictest standards of cleanliness and hygiene; the interior areas, so often dilapidated, opened to light; playing fields constructed; rest areas made available where one could converse at one's ease and relax during rest periods; employee cafeterias; proper dressing rooms.
With time, that is to say in three years, those achievements would take on dimensions never before imagined; more than 2,000 factories refitted and beautified; 23,000 work premises modernized; 800 buildings designed exclusively for meetings; 1,200 playing fields; 13,000 sanitary facilities with running water; 17,000 cafeterias. Eight hundred departmental inspectors and 17,300 local inspectors would foster and closely and continuously supervise these renovations and installations.
The large industrial establishments moreover had been given the obligation of preparing areas not only suitable for sports activities of all kinds, but provided with swimming pools as well. Germany had come a long way from the sinks for washing one's face and the dead tired workers, grown old before their time, crammed into squalid courtyards during work breaks.
In order to ensure the natural development of the working class, physical education courses were instituted for the younger workers; 8,000 such were organized. Technical training would be equally emphasized, with the creation of hundreds of work schools, technical courses and examinations of professional competence, and competitive examinations for the best workers for which large prizes were awarded.
To rejuvenate young and old alike, Hitler ordered that a gigantic vacation organization for workers be set up. Hundreds of thousands of workers would be able every summer to relax on the sea. Magnificent cruise ships would be built. Special trains would carry vacationers to the mountains and to the seashore. The locomotives that hauled the innumerable worker-tourists in just a few years of travel in Germany would log a distance equivalent to fifty-four times around the world!
The cost of these popular excursions was nearly insignificant, thanks to greatly reduced rates authorized by the Reichsbank.
Didn't these reforms lack something? Were some of them flawed by errors and blunders? It is possible. But what did a blunder amount to alongside the immense gains?
That this transformation of the working class smacked of authoritarianism? That's exactly right. But the German people were sick and tired of socialism and anarchy. To feel commanded didn't bother them a bit. In fact, people have always liked having a strong man guide them. One thing for certain is that the turn of mind of the working class, which was still almost two-thirds non-Nazi in 1933, had completely changed.
The Belgian author Marcel Laloire would note: "When you make your way through the cities of Germany and go into the working-class districts, go through the factories, the construction yards, you are astonished to find so many workers on the job sporting the Hitler insignia, to see so many flags with the Swastika, black on a bright red background, in the most populous districts." The Labor Front that Hitler imposed on all of the workers and employers of the Reich was for the most part received with favor.
And already the steel spades of the sturdy young lads of the National Labor Service could be seen gleaming along the highways. The National Labor Service had been created by Hitler out of thin air to bring together for a few months in absolute equality, and in the same uniform, both the sons of millionaires and the sons of the poorest families. All had to perform the same work and were subject to the same discipline, even the same pleasures and the same physical and moral development. On the same construction sites and in the same living quarters, they had become conscious of their commonality, had come to understand one another, and had swept away their old prejudices of class and caste. After this hitch in the National Labor Service they all began to live as comrades, the workers knowing that the rich man's son was not a monster, and the young lad from the wealthy family knowing that the worker's son had honor just like any other young fellow who had been more generously favored by birth. Social hatred was disappearing, and a socially united people was being born.
Hitler could already go into factories, something no man of the so-called Right before him would have risked doing, and hold forth to the mob of workers, tens of thousands of them at a time, as in the Siemens works. In contrast to the von Papens and other country gentlemen, he might tell them, "In my youth I was a worker like you. And in my heart of hearts, I have remained what I was then." In the course of his twelve years in power, no incident ever occurred at any factory Adolf Hitler ever visited. When Hitler was among the people, he was at home, and he was received like the member of the family who had been most successful."