Germany did not lose World War I in a decisive military defeat. They saw the writing on the wall and opted for an armistice – which became the Treaty of Versailles.
Absolutely nobody was happy with it. The French and British, who had done a great deal of the fighting and bleeding, felt that Germany got off too easily. On the other hand, Germany felt unjustly penalized.
Defeat in World War I left Germany desperate and on the brink of collapse. One of the stipulations was that Germany had to pay $23 billion in war reparations. This was a fraction of the actual damage, which totaled more than $200 billion. But considering that Germany was $100 billion in debt at the end of the war, this was an impossible demand.
It broke the German economy. Germany went into hyper-inflation, unemployment soared out of control, and chaos broke out with rival factions fighting in the streets.
The political situation in Germany was extremely unstable. The writings of Trotsky and Lenin reveal the efforts that “communist international” was putting into Germany. Everyone was sure that Germany was the next country to go communist.
In this climate, small nationalist parties started to spring up. All of them had similar agendas: to restore law and order, at all costs.
These parties also claimed that the only reason Germany lost World War I was because the soldiers on the front lines were sabotaged by sinister forces with German society. Who were those allegedly traitorous forces? The Jews.
Rise of the Nazis
One of the parties that began to gain popularity and strength would become the German National Socialist Party (which was neither particularly Nationalist nor Socialist). Hitler joined and galvanized the party around a grandiose idea – to conquer Munich, then go for the rest of Germany. Their aim was to get Germany back to its "true" values and traditions.
The "Beer Hall Putsch" was their attempted coup of Munich; it failed, leaving 16 Nazis and three German policemen dead. As a result, Hitler was arrested for high treason. He was given a light sentence of five years, and spent only nine months in prison.
During this time he wrote the famous Mein Kampf ("My Struggle"), his manifesto of plans for global domination and conquest. The book outlined his fanatical hatred for the Jews. It was a runaway best-seller in Germany, and made Hitler a millionaire.
Upon his release from prison, Hitler revitalized the Nazi party.
In German politics, the Nazis never had a majority in the government. During the 1920s, they garnered 2-3% of the vote. Then in 1929, history intervened with economic turmoil of the Great Depression. The situation in Germany went from bad to horrible. The country devolved into complete chaos, with food riots and pitched battles in the streets every night. Hitler’s twisted promises offered Germans a solution to their despair.
Although the 1932 elections made the Nazi party the largest in Germany, no single party actually won a majority and none could form a government. Paul von Hindenburg was the president of Germany, a World War I general whom everyone loved. But he was getting old and a bit senile.
Under his special powers, the president could dissolve the parliament and appoint a chancellor. The chancellor’s job was to prepare Germany for a new election. The military, the industrialists and others pressured Von Hindenburg into a special deal – to appoint Hitler.
The plan was to forge some kind of cooperative coalition. But as soon as Hitler got into office, it became clear that he was not about to listen to anyone.
Within six months of appointing Hitler as chancellor, Von Hindenburg died. Hitler assumed the role of president and gained control of the army. He decreed the Nazis as the only legal party in Germany. And he achieved all this completely legally through the system.
Hitler immediately set out to do as promised: He got Germany back on its feet economically, and got the nations of the world to absolve all debt from World War I. Hitler threw the country into producing weapons, which gained him the approval and loyalty of three main factions: the military, the industrialists, and the common people who were relieved from mass unemployment.
Most of all, the Nazi promise to restore Germany's honor and glory struck a powerful chord.
All of Germany was behind Hitler now. In huge rallies, he captured the public’s minds and imaginations. He became the "Fuhrer," the unchallenged supreme authority in Germany.
The Supreme Court declared allegiance to Hitler personally, not to Germany. Whoever opposed this policy was an immediate candidate for the first concentration camp, Dachau, located just outside Munich where dissidents could get a bit of “re-education.”
As the supreme power in Germany, Adolf Hitler began molding it to his will.