Term Paper: Nazi Rise to Power in the Early 1930

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¶ … Nazis' Rise to Power

One of the chief concerns of the historian is the discovery of what underlies the currents of the past. It is not enough merely to describe those events that have transpired, or to list the persons who participated in them. One must look to root causes; to the foundations of a way of life, and a mode of thought. Time changes men and women, and men and women change time. At times, these transformations can be startling... horrific even. 1930s Germany was just one of those periods in which the very worst of human nature was brought to the fore. Human beings' basest impulses, and most savage desires, appeared then to edge out all that was, or could be, good, in the lives of seemingly ordinary women and men. Human Nature seemed turned on its head. The German People had gone mad... Or had they? Were they just being good Germans, and bad people? Was there something in the German psyche that predisposed an entire population toward violence and cruelty? Or, were the motivations that drove Germany's Nazis, simply factors that would have caused similar changes elsewhere? For more than half a century, historians have struggled to understand the "why" that lay behind the Nazis rise to power. They have examined that Nation's prior history in minute detail. They have looked into the hearts and minds of the German People... And in the process, revealed much about what lies in their own hearts and minds, for no human being comes to the study of anything without her, or his, own prejudices and convictions. The facts - and the truth - are not necessarily the same. With that in mind, we being our exploration of these explorers of the past, hoping to understand how different individuals see identical events in widely varied ways, and through our discoveries aspire to better understand how human nature could have been so perverted - or exposed - the choice... is yours.

Immediately at the end of the Second World War, many "average" Germans attempted to distance themselves from what they wanted desperately to believe was a terrible aberration: Nazi Germany was not the real Germany; the Nazis were not the real Germans. Yet,

The view of Nazism as an aberration, a society inexplicably gone mad, or taken over by a "criminal clique" against its will, has not been corroborated by the historical evidence. Moreover, rather like the claim regarding the "uniqueness" of the Holocaust, it has always suffered from being entirely a historical, in that it attempted to lift a significant chunk of history out of the general stream of events and to discard it as not belonging to the "real" Germany, a monstrous Mr. Hyde who has fortunately been forced back into the test-tube whence he had sprung. A characteristic example of what such artificial detachment from recent events can lead to is to be found in the East Berlin Museum for German History where, for instance, the caption under the photograph of a Wehrmacht officer, killed in front of the Reichstag building in May 1945, describes him as a "dead fascist soldier." Apparently, whereas those (communist workers) who opposed Hitler were German, those (other classes) who fought for him were merely "fascists."

Many foreigners too, states A.J.P. Taylor, were willing to accept the idea that the brief democratic experiment of Weimar Germany had represented the "real" Germany, rather than the twelve years of the Nazi Regime, or the centuries of militaristic rule that had preceded Weimar. By definition, Taylor's argument implies that such "historians" are ignoring the basic facts of German History: that militant nationalism and authoritarianism are the building blocks of German society. Peter Fritzsche refers to the "Descriptions of the crowd scenes in July and August 1914 [that] became such common fare that they created myths that defined a new political community on the border between history and fiction."

The German People - unique among all the peoples of the world - were a monolith, thinking, acting, and striking out as one. Nazism was but the latest, and most exaggerated form of this age-old trend. Fritzsche turns to these very same pre-World War One demonstrations to introduce a theme that has now become common in revisionist interpretations of the rise of the Nazis to power in Germany. He reminds us, in no uncertain terms, that a "crowd" is actually made up of individuals, each of whom has his, or her, own take on events. He points out that, on the very day of the massive pro-war demonstrations that took place in front of the Kaiser's Palace, there were also anti-war demonstrations - smaller yes, but still drawing one hundred thousand people to oppose the three hundred thousand who had been "hypnotized" by jingoistic fervor.

It is precisely this contention - that the Germans, like all other peoples across the Globe - are actuated by personal motivations and personal life-histories. The real causes of Nazism's success, and the real explanations for any movement's success, are to be found in the conditions of everyday life as they affect each individual. These frames, or settings, serve as the backdrop for a new view of the history of this period. Rather than seek out some essential flaw in the German Character, many modern historians prefer to attribute the success of Hitler's movement to discrete sets of narrower impulses or beliefs, such as can grow up in the minds of men and women of widely varying background and class. Three major frames occupy much of the historical revisionism as it relates to the rise to power of the Nazi Party in pre-World War Two Germany: the Injustice Frame, the Identity Frame, and the Agency Frame. All three offer "universal" explanations of Nazi success. They create conditions that, but for the specifics of time and place, could occur anywhere within the scope of human experience. Plug in an individual and you will get a similar reaction. The burden of guilt falls not on one people, but on all.

The Injustice Frame was one of the first of these revisionist theories to gain credence. In particular, the Treaty of Versailles has been vilified by German historians almost from the beginning. Its provisions were seen as creating much of the conditions for the second, and far more deadly, war that followed the one that ended at Versailles. Indeed, A.J.P. Taylor early adopted what was essentially the German view of the Treaty of Versailles. Taylor, in common with German scholars from as back as Weimar, held that the essential problem with the pact had been its reduction of Germany to a kind of second-class status vis-a-vis the other European Powers.

The Versailles treaty created Germany's grievances and confirmed its continuation as a great power. Taylor argues that, some territorial clauses aside, the treaty focused on providing security against Germany. He says it "lacked moral validity from the start," meaning that Germans did not deem it fair, that many others, especially in the English-speaking world, came to agree with them, and that Germans were united in their hatred of the Versailles Diktat, in their determination to break it and revert to continental domination. Without German cooperation, enforcement became difficult and the German problem continued unabated.

Blame for the future rise of the Nazi Regime is laid squarely on the shoulders of the victors of the First World War. Germany escapes ultimate culpability, as its citizens' actions emerge as the natural reactions of an oppressed, and unjustly maligned, people. In a sense, the argument is one in which the Germans had nowhere else to turn but to Hitler. Individual Germans are like abused children who become psychopaths. Nevertheless, it was not the Allies stated purpose to punish Germany through the imposition of heavy reparations. While the Germans themselves may have looked upon such burdens as both onerous and punitive, they had been imposed, in the first place, in reaction to German seizure and destruction of Allied property and means of production.

Germany may have been treated as inferior in the wake of Versailles, but that had never been the document's specific intent.

In the same way that certain historians have attempted to externalize Germany's post-World War One "predicament," others have attempted to see in the Nazis' virulent anti-Semitism something that took on a life of its own, and grew to such horrific proportions only in combination with a host of other circumstances. Taken as a whole, these circumstances were unique, and singularly terrible. Adolf Hitler's campaign against the Jews had created a universal scapegoat; a bogeyman that could be blamed for any excess. Even worse, the all-poisoning Jew could give rise to any and every evil in the name of his destruction. In the "Jewish Problem," the German people saw the threat of their own annihilation, and so they attempted to beat their enemies at the task. The German People were cornered and they had to fight back - even if it meant behaving like animals.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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