Posts Tagged With: rise of the nazis

Hitler & the Collapse of Weimar Germany

Broszat

 

Broszat, Martin.  Hitler and the Collapse of Weimar Germany. Trans. V. R. Berghahn. Leamington Spa: Berg, 1987.

This is a thin, but important book of political history.  In it, Broszat traces the complex political trends of the Weimar era, as well as the intricate deals forged by Germany’s leading politicians and economic elite at the time.  Though this is primarily a political history, Broszat does offer some glances into larger socio-cultural developments during the 1920s and 1930s.  He hints at what Detlev Peukert takes as the central issue of his own book: the effects of modernization and the rise of mass culture on German politics.  Ultimately, Broszat sees this new, mass culture as the key to the Nazis’ success in gaining control of the German government in 1933.

Broszat opens his book with a brief history of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP or Nazi Party) and shows that it was only one among many right wing, nationalist parties.  “What marked [Hitler] out among the speakers of the political Right was the way in which he put his message across” (2).  This point epitomizes Broszat’s larger argument that it was not Nazism’s message itself that made it unique or successful, but instead the manner in which the message was expressed and distributed.  NSDAP leadership – and Hitler in particular – recognized that the masses could not be ignored in any new political system.  Consequently, the Nazis saw the masses as a source of power that should be tapped into through modern technology and political aesthetics.  In this light, the National Socialists were a truly modern political party, not the culmination of an older German character.  “Nazi ideology was almost totally a product of mass culture and political semi-illiteracy which proliferated since the late nineteenth century” (38).

After demonstrating that National Socialism was a modern creation, Broszat lays out the conditions that allowed for the rise of the Nazi Party.  National Socialism emerged in Germany after the First World War during a period of worldwide economic recession and against the background of a general crisis of modernity and civilization” (37).  The SPD-led Weimar Coalition enjoyed success only during times of material improvement or stability (53); otherwise, it was attacked from all sides: the Communists on the Left and conservative nationalists like the Nazis on the Right.  The election of Paul von Hindenburg as Reich President in 1925 was a “symptom of backward looking tendencies,” Broszat claims (67).

While the election of Hindenburg symbolized a shift to the Right in Weimar mentality, the Republic was not destroyed until Chancellor Brüning was forced to resign in May 1932.  The new chancellor led a coup against Prussia, trying to separate its government from the Reich’s, and the SPD did nothing to protest, thus paving the way for an authoritarian, nationalistic government (120, 146).  The rest of the book is dedicated to revealing the political maneuvering that led to Papen’s ousting, Schleicher’s short chancellorship, and finally Hitler’s appointment as Reich Chancellor in January 1933.

Throughout the book, Broszat reveals how the NSDAP was able to gather followers.  Nazism “seemed to offer a strong determined leadership, a pseudo-democratic mobilization of the masses and their participation in the promised national revival; it looked like a ‘third way’ between democracy and the state authoritarianism of the olden days. Herein lay the lure of Nazism” (94).  As the NSDAP gained more success, its more radical messages were toned down, thus appealing to a wider audience among the working class, bourgeoisie, and old elite.  The old conservative elites lacked this mass appeal and that is why they compromised and agreed to place the Nazis in power, hoping they could keep Hitler and his party on a short leash.

To see more books on the history of modern Germany, see my full list of book reviews. 

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Weimar Germany: Promise & Tragedy

Weitz

Weitz, Eric D.  Weimar Germany: Promise & Tragedy.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007.

In this survey of the German Weimar era that is both open to a non-academic audience and helpful to scholars, Weitz offers a well-written and engaging look into a vibrant, bygone age.  The majority of the book is dedicated to studying Weimar’s vivacious, multi-faceted and lively culture.  That is not to say that Weitz ignores politics, but he does aim to show that the Weimar Republic was more than just unstable politics, more than just a prelude to the Third Reich (5).

A main theme of Weitz’s book is the Weimar Republic’s perceived relationship to modernity.  He convincingly shows that the idea of modernity was on Germans’ minds and at the heart of political debates, artistic movements, and even city planning.  In one chapter, Weitz leads readers on a leisurely stroll through Weimar Berlin, letting them experience the hustle and bustle of Berlin life “first hand.”  He refers specifically to the Romanische Café, what he calls the “perfect symbol of Weimar politics and society.”  It’s “lively, democratic, engaged, and divided and divisive, unable to speak beyond its own circle” (77-78).  People of different backgrounds and political loyalties met in the café, yet each gravitated to their own tables and corners; they were democratic and diverse, yet broke themselves into small cliques.  To Weitz, this was how the Weimar Republic itself worked.

During the Weimar period, artists and architects attempted to create Gesamtkunstwerke (synthetic works of complete artwork), like Bruno Taut and Martin Wagner’s “Hufeisen,” an apartment complex shaped like a horseshoe so that every occupant could see all other apartments, thus fostering a sense of community (181).  Other artists believed that architecture and paintings could fundamentally change society for the better.  Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus school, for example, felt filling society with modern architecture would take mankind into the modern world by transforming and harmonizing society (194).  Department stores helped usher in the New Woman by carving out a “safe” space for women in the public sphere (55).  New technology allowed for classic operas and symphonies to be presented to the new “masses,” while also creating new forms of artwork and consumption: films.  But not everyone was happy with this new culture, with its new gender norms, economic system, and modes of authority.  Conservatives of all colors protested on the streets and in the Reichstag.

This cultural vitality coexisted alongside (and also contributed to) political instability.  The republic was hit by a series of crises, and the Great Depression in particular became a crisis of the republic’s legitimacy (122).  The warding off of groups into smaller fractions was a symbol of the inefficiency, not vitality of democracy.  By 1928, there were forty-eight parties in the Reichstag, rendering it difficult to legislate.  A series of constitutional articles, (particularly Article 48) gave the Federal President (who otherwise had no direct power on the daily governmental business) unprecedented authority over the Chancellor and Parliament, setting up a “presidential dictatorship,” that for Weitz signaled a political overthrow of democracy in Germany five years before the Nazis took power (351).  The Nazis, Weitz argues, simply tapped into the new rhetoric of the radicalized Right, gaining success only by using mass mobilization and new inventions to spread their message of a return to stability and prosperity.  Ultimately, Weimar’s failure came from its instability, the fact that scores of factions were taking stabs at it from every angle.  The final blow came when a handful of conspirators (conservative government men and big, industrial businessmen) helped the Nazis to power (358).

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