Background & Overview
The National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP), more commonly known as the Nazi Party, was a political party in Germany between 1920 and 1945.
- Origins in the German Worker's Party
- The Party Gets a New Name
- The Beer Hall Putsch
- "Mein Kampf" Hitler's 'Struggle'
- Hitler Goes Legit
- Himmler Joins the Party
- Hitler Runs for President
Origins in the German Worker's Party
In 1919, Anton
Drexler, Gottfried Feder and Dietrich Eckart formed
the German Worker's Party (GPW) in Munich. The German Army was worried
that it was a left-wing revolutionary group and sent Adolf
Hitler, one of its education officers, to spy on the organization. Hitler discovered that
the party's political ideas were similar to his own - he approved of
Drexler's German nationalism and anti-Semitism but was unimpressed with the way the party was organized. Although there
as a spy, Hitler could
not restrain himself when a member made a point he disagreed with, and
he stood up and made a passionate speech on the subject.
Anton Drexler was impressed with Hitler's
abilities as an orator and invited him to join the party. At first Hitler was reluctant, but urged on by his commanding officer, Captain Karl
Mayr, he eventually agreed. He was only the fifty-fourth person to join
the German Worker's Party. Hitler was immediately asked to join the executive committee and was later
appointed the party's propaganda manager.
In the next few weeks Hitler brought several members of his army into the party, including one of
his commanding officers, Captain
Ernst Röhm. The arrival of Röhm was an important development
as he had access to the army political fund and was able to transfer
some of the money into the GWP.
The German Worker's Party used some of this money to
advertise their meetings. Adolf
Hitler was often the main speaker and it was during this period
that he developed the techniques that made him into such a persuasive
Hitler's reputation as an orator grew and it soon became clear that he was the
main reason why people were joining the party. This gave Hitler tremendous power within the organization as they knew they could not
afford to lose him.
The Party Gets a
In April, 1920, Hitler advocated that the party should change its name to the National Socialist
German Workers Party (NSDAP). Hitler had always been hostile to socialist ideas, especially those that involved
racial or sexual equality. However, socialism was a popular political
philosophy in Germany after the First World War. This was reflected
in the growth in the German Social Democrat Party (SDP), the largest
political party in Germany.
therefore redefined socialism by placing the word 'National' before
it. He claimed he was only in favour of equality for those who had "German
blood." Jews and other "aliens" would lose their rights
of citizenship, and immigration of non-Germans should be brought to
In February 1920, the NSDAP published its first programme
which became known as the "Twenty-Five Points." In the programme
the party refused to accept the terms of the Versailles Treaty and called
for the reunification of all German people. To reinforce their ideas
on nationalism, equal rights were only to be given to German citizens.
"Foreigners" and "aliens" would be denied these
To appeal to the working class and socialists, the
programme included several measures that would redistribute income and
war profits, profit-sharing in large industries, nationalization of
trusts, increases in old-age pensions and free education.
On February 24, 1920, the NSDAP (later nicknamed the
Nazi Party) held a mass rally where it announced its new programme.
The rally was attended by over 2,000 people, a great improvement on
the 25 people who were at Hitler's first party meeting.
Adolf Hitler knew that the growth in the party was mainly due to his skills as an
orator and in the autumn of 1921 he challenged Anton Drexler for the
leadership of the party. After brief resistance Drexler accepted the
inevitable, and Hitler became the new leader of the organization.
ability to arouse in his supporters emotions of anger and hate often
resulted in their committing acts of violence. In September 1921, Hitler was sent to prison for three months for being part of a mob who beat
up a rival politician.
When Hitler was released, he formed his own private army called Sturm Abteilung
(Storm Section). The SA (also known as stormtroopers or brownshirts)
were instructed to disrupt the meetings of political opponents and to
protect Hitler from
revenge attacks. Captain Ernst
Röhm of the Bavarian Army played an important role in recruiting
these men, and Hermann Goering,
a former air-force pilot, became their leader.
Hitler's stormtroopers were often former members of the Freikorps (right-wing
private armies who flourished during the period that followed the First
World War) and had considerable experience in using violence against
The SA wore grey jackets, brown shirts (khaki shirts
originally intended for soldiers in Africa but purchased in bulk from
the German Army by the Nazi Party), swastika armbands, ski-caps, knee-breeches,
thick woolen socks and combat boots. Accompanied by bands of musicians
and carrying swastika flags, they would parade through the streets of
Munich. At the end of the march Hitler would make one of his passionate speeches that encouraged his supporters
to carry out acts of violence against Jews and his left-wing political
As this violence was often directed against Socialists
and Communists, the local right-wing Bavarian government did not take
action against the Nazi Party. However, the national government in Berlin
were concerned and passed a "Law for the Protection of the Republic." Hitler's response was
to organize a rally attended by 40,000 people. At the meeting Hitler called for the overthrow of the German government and even suggested
that its leaders should be executed.
The Beer Hall Putsch
On November 8, 1923, the Bavarian government held a
meeting of about 3,000 officials. While Gustav von Kahr, the leader
of the Bavarian government was making a speech, Adolf
Hitler and armed stormtroopers entering the building. Hitler jumped onto a table, fired two shots in the air and told the audience
that the Munich Putsch was
taking place and the National Revolution had began.
Goering and the SA to guard the 3,000 officials, Hitler took Gustav von Kahr, Otto von Lossow, the commander of the Bavarian
Army and Hans von Lossow, the commandant of the Bavarian State Police
into an adjoining room. Hitler told the men that he was to be the new leader of Germany and offered
them posts in his new government. Aware that this would be an act of
high treason, the three men were initially reluctant to agree to this
offer. Hitler was furious
and threatened to shoot them and then commit suicide: "I have three
bullets for you, gentlemen, and one for me!" After this the three
Soon afterwards Eric Ludendorff arrived. Ludendorff
had been leader of the German Army at the end of the First World War.
He had therefore found Hitler's claim that the war had not been lost by the army but by Jews, Socialists,
Communists and the German government, attractive, and was a strong supporter
of the Nazi Party. Ludendorff agreed to become head of the the German
Army in Hitler's government.
While Hitler had been appointing government ministers, Ernst
Röhm, leading a group of stormtroopers, had seized the War Ministry
and Rudolf Hess was arranging
the arrest of Jews and left-wing political leaders in Bavaria.
Hitler now planned to march on Berlin and remove the national government. Surprisingly, Hitler had not arranged for the stormtroopers to take control of the radio
stations and the telegraph offices. This meant that the national government
in Berlin soon heard about Hitler's putsch and gave orders for it to be crushed.
The next day Adolf
Hitler, Eric Ludendorff, Hermann Goering and 3,000 armed supporters
of the Nazi Party marched through Munich in an attempt to join up with
Röhm's forces at the War Ministry. At Odensplatz they found the road
blocked by the Munich police. As they refused to stop, the police fired
into the ground in front of the marchers. The stormtroopers returned
the fire and during the next few minutes 21 people were killed and another
hundred were wounded, included Goering.
When the firing started Adolf
Hitler threw himself to the ground dislocating his shoulder. Hitler lost his nerve and ran to a nearby car. Although the police were outnumbered,
the Nazis followed their leader's example and ran away. Only Eric Ludendorff
and his adjutant continued walking towards the police. Later Nazi historians
were to claim that the reason Hitler left the scene so quickly was because he had to rush an injured young
boy to the local hospital.
After hiding in a friend's house for several days, Hitler was arrested
and put on trial for high treason. If found guilty, Hitler faced the death penalty. While in prison Hitler suffered from depression and talked of committing suicide. However,
it soon became clear that the Nazi sympathizers in the Bavarian government
were going to make sure that Hitler would not be punished severely.
At his trial Hitler was allowed to turn the proceedings into a political rally, and although
he was found guilty he only received the minimum sentence of five years.
Other members of the Nazi Party also received light sentences and Eric
Ludendorff was acquitted.
"Mein Kampf" - Hitler's 'Struggle'
Hitler was sent to Landsberg Castle in Munich to serve his prison sentence.
While there he wrote Four Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity,
and Cowardice. Hitler's publisher reduced it to My Struggle (Mein
Kampf). The book is a mixture of autobiography, political ideas
and an explanation of the techniques of propaganda. The autobiographical
details in Mein Kampf are often inaccurate, and the main purpose of this part of the book
appears to be to provide a positive image of Hitler.
For example, when Hitler was living a life of leisure in Vienna he claims he was working hard as a labourer.
Kampf Hitler outlined his political philosophy. He argued that the German (he wrongly
described them as the Aryan race) was superior to all others. "Every
manifestation of human culture, every product of art, science and technical
skill, which we see before our eyes today, is almost exclusively the
product of Aryan creative power."
Adolf Hitler warned that the Aryan's superiority was being threatened by intermarriage.
If this happened world civilization would decline: "On this planet
of ours human culture and civilization are indissolubly bound up with
the presence of the Aryan. If he should be exterminated or subjugated,
then the dark shroud of a new barbarian era would enfold the earth."
Although other races would resist this process, the
Aryan race had a duty to control the world. This would be difficult
and force would have to be used, but it could be done. To support this
view he gave the example of how the British Empire had controlled a
quarter of the world by being well-organised and having well-timed soldiers
Hitler believed that Aryan superiority was being threatened particularly by
the Jewish race who, he argued, were lazy and had contributed little
to world civilization. (Hitler ignored the fact that some of his favourite composers and musicians
were Jewish). He claimed that the "Jewish youth lies in wait for
hours on end satanically glaring at and spying on the unconscious girl
whom he plans to seduce, adulterating her blood with the ultimate idea
of bastardizing the white race which they hate and thus lowering its
cultural and political level so that the Jew might dominate."
According to Hitler,
Jews were responsible for everything he did not like, including modern
art, pornography and prostitution. Hitler also alleged that the Jews had been responsible for losing the First
World War. Hitler also
claimed that Jews, who were only about 1% of the population, were slowly
taking over the country. They were doing this by controlling the largest
political party in Germany, the German Social Democrat Party, many of
the leading companies and several of the country's newspapers. The fact
that Jews had achieved prominent positions in a democratic society was,
according to Hitler,
an argument against democracy: "a hundred blockheads do not equal
one man in wisdom."
Hitler believed that the Jews were involved with Communists in a joint conspiracy
to take over the world. Like Henry Ford, Hitler claimed that 75% of all Communists were Jews. Hitler argued that the combination of Jews and Marxists had already been successful
in Russia and now threatened the rest of Europe. He argued that the
communist revolution was an act of revenge that attempted to disguise
the inferiority of the Jews.
Kampf Hitler declared that: "The external security of a people in largely determined
by the size of its territory. If he won power Hitler promised to occupy Russian land that would provide protection and lebensraum
(living space) for the German people. This action would help to destroy
the Jewish/Marxist attempt to control the world: "The Russian Empire
in the East is ripe for collapse; and the end of the Jewish domination
of Russia will also be the end of Russia as a state."
To achieve this expansion in the East and to win back
land lost during the First World War, Hitler claimed that it might be necessary to form an alliance with Britain
and Italy. An alliance with Britain was vitally important because it
would prevent Germany fighting a war in the East and West at the same
Hitler Goes Legit
Hitler was released from prison on December 20, 1924, after serving just over
a year of his sentence. The Germany of 1924 was dramatically different
from the Germany of 1923. The economic policies of the German government
had proved successful. Inflation had been brought under control and
the economy began to improve. The German people gradually gained a new
faith in their democratic system and began to find the extremist solutions
proposed by people such as Hitler unattractive.
Hitler attempted to play down his extremist image, and claimed that he was
no longer in favour of revolution but was willing to compete with other
parties in democratic elections. This policy was unsuccessful and in
the elections of December 1924 the NSDAP could only win 14 seats compared
with the the 131 obtained by the Socialists (German Social Democrat
Party) and the 45 of the German Communist Party (KPD).
In the 1928 German elections, less than 3% of the people
voted for the Nazi Party. This gave them only twelve seats, twenty fewer
than they achieved in the May, 1924 election. However, the party was
well organized and membership had grown from 27,000 in 1925 to 108,000
One of the new members was Joseph
Goebbels. Hitler first met him in 1925. Both men were impressed with each other. Goebbels
described one of their first meetings in his diary: "Shakes my
hand. Like an old friend. And those big blue eyes. Like stars. He is
glad to see me. I am in heaven. That man has everything to be king."
Hitler admired Goebbels' abilities as a writer and speaker. They shared an
interest in propaganda and together they planned how the NSDAP would
win the support of the German people.
Propaganda cost money and this was something that the
Nazi Party was very short of. Whereas the German Social Democrat Party
was funded by the trade unions and the pro-capitalist parties by industrialists,
the NSDAP had to rely on contributions from party members. When Hitler approached rich industrialists for help he was told that his economic
policies (profit-sharing, nationalization of trusts) were too left-wing.
In an attempt to obtain financial contributions from
industrialists, Hitler wrote a pamphlet in 1927 entitled The Road to Resurgence. Only
a small number of these pamphlets were printed and they were only meant
for the eyes of the top industrialists in Germany. The reason that the
pamphlet was kept secret was that it contained information that would
have upset Hitler's working-class supporters. In the pamphlet Hitler implied that the anti-capitalist measures included in the original twenty-five
points of the NSDAP programme would not be implemented if he gained
Hitler began to argue that "capitalists had worked their way to the top
through their capacity, and on the basis of this selection they have
the right to lead." Hitler claimed that national socialism meant all people doing their best for
society and posed no threat to the wealth of the rich. Some prosperous
industrialists were convinced by these arguments and gave donations
to the Nazi Party, however, the vast majority continued to support other
parties, especially the right-wing German Nationalist Peoples Party
Himmler Joins the
Another new member of the NSDAP was Heinrich
Himmler. Hitler was impressed by Himmler's fanatical nationalism and his deep hatred
of the Jews. Himmler believed Hitler was the Messiah that was
destined to lead Germany to greatness. Hitler,
who was always vulnerable to flattery, decided that Himmler should become
the new leader of his personal bodyguard, the Schutz
The German economy continued to improve and as unemployment
fell, so did the support for extremist political parties such as the
NSDAP. In the General Election held in May, 1928, the Nazi Party won
only 14 seats, while the left-wing parties, the German Social Democrat
Party (153) and the German Communist Party (54) still continued to grow
The fortunes of the NSDAP changed with the Wall Street
Crash in October 1929. Desperate for capital, the United States began
to recall loans from Europe. One of the consequences of this was a rapid
increase in unemployment. Germany, whose economy relied heavily on investment
from the United States, suffered more than any other country in Europe.
Before the crash, 1.25 million people were unemployed
in Germany. By the end of 1930 the figure had reached nearly 4 million.
Even those in work suffered as many were only working part-time. With
the drop in demand for labour, wages also fell and those with full-time
work had to survive on lower incomes. Hitler,
who was considered a fool in 1928 when he predicted economic disaster,
was now seen in a different light. People began to say that if he was
clever enough to predict the depression maybe he also knew how to solve
In the General Election that took place in September
1930, the Nazi Party increased its number of representatives in parliament
from 14 to 107. Hitler was now the leader of the second largest party in Germany.
The German Social Democrat Party was the largest party
in the Reichstag, it did not have a majority over all the other parties,
and the SPD leader, Hermann Mueller, had to rely on the support of others
to rule Germany. After the SPD refused to reduce unemployment benefits,
Mueller was replaced as Chancellor by Heinrich Bruening of the Catholic
Centre Party (BVP). However, with his party only having 87 representatives
out of 577 in the Reichstag, he also found it extremely difficult to
gain agreement for his policies.
Adolf Hitler used this situation to his advantage, claiming that parliamentary democracy
did not work. The NSDAP argued that only Hitler could provide the strong government that Germany needed. Hitler and other Nazi leaders travelled round the country giving speeches putting
over this point of view.
What said depended very much on the audience. In rural
areas he promised tax cuts for farmers and government actin to protect
food prices. In working class areas he spoke of redistribution of wealth
and attacked the high profits made by the large chain stores. When he
spoke to industrialists, Hitler concentrated on his plans to destroy communism and to reduce the power
of the trade union movement. Hitler's main message was that Germany's economic recession was due to the Treaty
of Versailles. Other than refusing to pay reparations, Hitler avoided explaining how he would improve the German economy.
Hitler Runs for President
With a divided Reichstag, the power of the German President
became more important. In 1931 Hitler challenged Paul von Hindenburg for the presidency. Hindenburg was now
84 years old and showing signs of senility. However, a large percentage
of the German population still feared Hitler and in the election Hindenburg had a comfortable majority.
In August 1931 the Nazi Party decided to have its own
intelligence and security body. Heinrich
Himmler therefore created the SD (Sicherheitsdienst). Richard
Heydrich was appointed head of the organization and it was kept
distinct from the uniformed SS (Schutzstaffel).
Heinrich Bruening and other senior politicians were
worried that Hitler would use his stormtroopers to take power by force. Led by Ernst
Röhm, it now contained over 400,000 men. Under the terms of the
Treaty of Versailles the official German Army was restricted to 100,000
men and was therefore outnumbered by the SA. In the past, those who
feared communism were willing to put up with the SA as they provided
a useful barrier against the possibility of revolution. However, with
the growth in SA violence and fearing a Nazi coup, Bruening banned the
In May 1932, Paul von Hindenburg sacked Bruening and
replaced him with Franz von
Papen. The new chancellor was also a member of the Catholic Centre
Party and, being more sympathetic to the Nazis, he removed the ban on
the SA. The next few weeks saw open warfare on the streets between the
Nazis and the Communists during which 86 people were killed.
In an attempt to gain support for his new government,
in July Franz von Papen called another election. Hitler now had the support of the upper and middle classes and the NSDAP did
well winning 230 seats, making it the largest party in the Reichstag.
However the German Social Democrat Party (133) and the German Communist
Party (89) still had the support of the urban working class and Hitler was deprived of an overall majority in parliament.
Adolf Hitler demanded that he should be made Chancellor but Paul von Hindenburg refused
and instead gave the position to Major-General Kurt von Schleicher. Hitler was furious and
began to abandon his strategy of disguising his extremist views. In
one speech he called for the end of democracy a system which he described
as being the "rule of stupidity, of mediocrity, of half-heartedness,
of cowardice, of weakness, and of inadequacy."
The behaviour of the NSDAP became more violent. On
one occasion, 167 Nazis beat up 57 members of the German Communist Party
in the Reichstag. They were then physically thrown out of the building.
The stormtroopers also carried out terrible acts of
violence against socialists and communists. In one incident in Silesia,
a young member of the KPD had his eyes poked out with a billiard cue
and was then stabbed to death in front of his mother. Four members of
the SA were convicted of the rime. Many people were shocked when Hitler sent a letter of support for the four men and promised to do what he
could to get them released.
Incidents such as these worried many Germans, and in
the elections that took place in November 1932 the support for the Nazi
Party fell. The German Communist Party made substantial gains in the
election winning 100 seats. Hitler used this to create a sense of panic by claiming that German was on
the verge of a Bolshevik Revolution and only the NSDAP could prevent
A group of prominent industrialists who feared such
a revolution sent a petition to Paul von Hindenburg asking for Hitler to become Chancellor. Hindenberg reluctantly agreed to their request
and at the age of forty-three, Hitler became the new Chancellor of Germany.