In 1919, Hitler joined the German Workers’ Party, becoming only its seventh active
member. Two years later he was chairman of what was now called the National
Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche
Arbeiterpartei, or NSDAP).
Hitler saw the NSDAP as an instrument for gaining power
and sought to give it a military caste. He created his own personal
army of storm troopers, the Sturmbabteilung or SA. The group wore brown
uniforms — the same color as the victorious British army —
hence the nickname “Brownshirts.” They eventually had their
own marching song, which
was named after the Berlin leader
of the SA, Horst Wessel, who, according to Nazi legend, was murdered by a Communist in 1930.
The party adopted an ancient religious emblem, the swastika, as its symbol.
Its objectives were to impose state control over much of society, but
its greater emphasis was on a foreign policy that would bring about
the creation of a Greater Germany, an abrogation of Versailles, and
an end to the malignant influence of the Jews. Germany, Hitler believed, was threatened by its neighbors and could never become the
power it should be so long as the size of its army was restricted.
By the time he took control of the party, Hitler had already displayed his talent as an inspirational orator. Still,
when he decided to make his first bid for power, he had only about 3,000
In the early 1920s, the German economy was in distress
and the currency had collapsed by 1923. Hitler saw the public’s discontent as his opportunity to steal power.
On November 8, he led his “army” to a beer hall in Bavaria
where local government leaders were holding a meeting. The Nazis quickly
captured the politicians and Hitler put himself in charge. The group
then marched on the former Bavarian War Ministry building when the police
opened fire. During the riot that followed, the man beside Hitler was
killed as he pulled his leader to the ground.
The failure of the “Beer Hall Putsch” brought
the obscure man with the funny moustache his first national publicity. Hitler was arrested
and, after a 24-day trial, sentenced to five years in Landsberg fortress.
The name is misleading, because the "fortress" was more like
one of those country-club type prisons where white-collar criminals
are sometimes sent. Hitler received a steady stream of visitors and presents and was treated more
like he was on a picnic outing than serving as an inmate.
The most important aspect of Hitler’s
incarceration was that it allowed him to dictate his views to his friend
and cell-mate, Rudolf Hess.
Those views would later be published as the book Mein
Kampf (My Struggle), a volume that to this day remains a bible
for racists, anti-Semites, and sociopaths.
When it was first written, however, Hitler would not permit the book to be published in English.
Kampf, Hitler laid out his views on the centrality of Aryan
purity to historical progress, the mortal danger posed by world Jewry
and international communism, the necessity of rebuilding German power,
and the importance of expanding Germany’s borders to provide the
living space — Lebensraum — the German people require.
Hitler did not conceal his intentions; they were in black and white
for anyone to read. The hard part, especially in the 1920s, was to take
On December 20, 1924, Hitler was released from prison. He served only nine months.
The failure of the “Beer Hall Putsch” taught Hitler valuable lessons
that he would use to win and hold power later. One obvious lesson was
not to get into any more battles with an enemy that was larger and better
armed. Hitler also decided
that his best chance to gain power would be through the use of ballots
rather than bullets. Hence, the would-be dictator started out as a democrat
— of sorts.
Sources: Mitchell G. Bard, The
Complete Idiot's Guide to World War II, (NY: MacMillan, 1998),