1 The Background
2 From Versailles to the Soldiers’ Oath: 1919–34
3 The Futile Opposition: 1934–8
4 Munich… Prague… Warsaw
THERE are two extreme views about the European origins of the Second World War. One is that it was all Hitler’s fault. The other is that it was a war in which Hitler, along with a lot of other people, and for much the same reasons, got involved. Both views stand condemned by their very simplicity. This book supports neither but it has to start somewhere, and it starts with Hitler and the Nazis.
To begin with Hitler is not to endorse the view that the war was Hitler’s war. No great upheaval can plausibly be ascribed to a single individual, however extraordinary. The war that occurred in 1739 is called after a certain Captain Jenkins and his ear, but it was not much of a war and Captain Jenkins may, if a little spuriously, have it. But the conflict of 1939–45 was a World War and not one man’s war. It embraced a number of originally distinct wars which merged. Some of these were, in a formal sense, started by Hitler, but the causes of this six-year compendium of fighting in Europe have to be examined in terms of much more than Hitler, or the Nazis, or Germany, or even of Europe. A World War has necessarily complex origins.
But it does not follow that Hitler was a man or a politician like any other. He was not. On the contrary, he was decidedly outside the normal run of men and of statesmen, and the things that made him different contributed to war. He saw human affairs as a conflict; he portrayed this conflict as a moral one in which he had a role which justified every means; yet morally speaking he was, by any ordinary standards, himself a criminal who used murder openly and massively. Such beliefs and such behaviour cannot fail, if allied with power, to promote war.
Hitler, however, was not the demiurge. He could not create or even destroy in a vacuum, and there were, without him, the makings of war in the world and the makings of the sort of wars which were begun like a spreading fire in the years 1939–41.
To see how Hitler and the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933 it is necessary to understand not only Hitler and the Nazis but also Germany in 1933, and in order to understand the Germany of that time it is necessary to ask questions about the Europe of which Germany had been geographically and culturally a part centuries before Hitler was heard of.
Adolf Hitler was born in April 1889. In January 1933, at the age of forty-three, he became Chancellor of the German Reich. Six years later Germany invaded Poland and so began Europe’s part of the Second World War. These are three facts among countless others which belong to the history of the sources in the Second World War. They are cardinal facts. Without them things would have been very different. But by themselves they explain nothing. The war was not the work of one man or one nation but a phenomenon which punctuated the course of Europe’s history and the whole world’s.
Adolf Hitler’s father Alois was the illegitimate son of Maria Schicklgruber. Alois took the name of Hiedler or Hitler after Maria’s husband, who may have fathered him before the marriage. Alois was a reasonably well-off minor official, inclined to be self-indulgent and quick-tempered, something of a womanizer. He died in 1903 at the age of sixty-six after having married three times. His third wife bore him six children, of whom only Adolf and a sister Paula survived beyond childhood. Adolf did poorly at school and was difficult at home. From elementary school he went to a Realschule and not to a Gymnasium which was the goal of the cleverer children or of those with the more ambitious parents. He left school at sixteen and stayed at home, spending his time drawing and making plans for buildings. He dreamed of being asked to design a new municipal theatre for the city of Linz. When he was eighteen he went to Vienna with a competence which was supplemented shortly afterwards when his mother died and he got a small pension. He also sponged on a penurious aunt. He wanted to go to the Academy of Fine Arts but failed the examination. He lived at first quite well but as his money gave out he became not only idle but increasingly lonely, shabby and bitter. He earned a little money by copying pictures; a friend hawked them for him; he was a pavement artist without a pavement. He became a middle-class misfit in a lower-class environment. He was humiliated by this decline and also shocked by what he saw. Years later in Mein Kampf he referred to the ‘economic misery’ of the companions he had at this time and to the ‘crudeness of their habits and morals and the low level of their cultural development’. He also noted the fear which grips a social group when it sees itself falling down the social scale and becoming classed with the lowest workers. He looked around for someone to blame.
Vienna, in its last years as an imperial city, a polyglot centre dominated by Germans who were nevertheless fearful of losing their dominant position, was overcrowded and short of housing. The poor and destitute congregated in homes and rest-rooms. Hitler was among them. Here he picked up the common grouse that things would be much better if only Jews and foreigners – especially Czechs – were not allowed to get all the jobs. When things were specially bad this grumbling turned to hatred. Some Austrian politicians played on it and Hitler may have learned in Vienna how potent a weapon racial prejudice can be, for the forerunners of the Austrian Nazis were already at work scaring German Gentiles with the prospect of a flood of undesirable aliens who would overwhelm them economically and besmirch the purity of their race. Statistics were invoked to increase repugnance and envy. Between the middle of the nineteenth century and the outbreak of the First World War the Jewish population of the city rose from 2 per cent to nearly 9 per cent, and in Hitler’s time Jews gained more than a quarter of all the places in secondary schools and university. Financial or sexual scandals were exaggerated or invented. Hitler himself swallowed the story that the city’s prostitutes were run by a Jewish ring, when it is very unlikely that they were run by a ring at all. Hitler’s description of Jewry in Mein Kampf as the ‘bacillus which destroys humankind’, a pestilence like the Black Death, was probably formulated during his years in Vienna, and he specifically wrote of Vienna as the ‘ancient nursery of German culture’ battened on by ‘promiscuous swarms of foreigners’.
In 1913 Hitler left Vienna, probably in order to evade military service. He went to Munich but was traced by the Austrian authorities and summoned back to Austria, where, however, he was pronounced unfit to serve. He returned to Munich. His circumstances were still wretched and he lived the life of an urban beachcomber until war broke out and he joined a Bavarian regiment. The army and the war provided him with activity and a social framework; he became a corporal and won the Iron Cross Second Class and – a rarity for an NCO – First Class. He was in hospital after a gas attack when the Germans collapsed on the western front in 1918. He never served on the eastern front.
After the war Hitler returned once more to Munich. Bavaria had ceased to be a kingdom within the German empire and had become a province within a German republic. This change increased rather than diminished the Bavarians’ dislike for Prussia and for centralized government. Moreover, after a brief communist phase, initiated and extinguished by violence, authority in Munich passed to right-wing groups which were at odds with the more left-wing government in Berlin. They were also at odds with one another. There were monarchists who wanted to restore the independent Bavaria which had existed before Bismarck’s time; separatists with vaguer but similar aspirations; protagonists of a south German union between Catholic Bavaria and Catholic Austria. Hitler, while sharing the general antipathy to the central government in Berlin, wanted neither the restoration of the Bavarian royal house nor union with the Austria which he despised. He was employed in the Press and News Section of the army headquarters in Munich, was appointed a Bildungsoffizier (a cultural instructor or ideological education officer) and was detailed to investigate, among other things, a new political party called the German Workers’ Party – DAP. He joined the party, became its star platform performer, provided it with a programme and gave it a new name – the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, NSDAP. His military superiors were not only happy to see a member of their staff, still not demobilized, engaging openly in politics in this way; later they also put up some money to enable the party to buy a newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter. Hitler was put on his political feet by the army and when he left the army in April 1920 he was the leader of a party which was similar to a number of other parties except that it had a startling future before it. Post-war Munich saw many parties spring up, wilt and die. They appealed to those who were afraid of Bolshevism, afflicted by defeat in war or crippled by inflation, and they offered an escape into a nationalism which dilated on the glories of the German past and the wickedness of other nations with the implication that the glories could be revived and the wicked put down. Their programmes combined this nationalism with a sort of socialism in so far as they offered the little man protection against the communist commissar on the one hand and the capitalist banker on the other.
Munich provided Hitler with a second political novitiate. Vienna had taught him to hate Jews and had given him glimpses of how to play on popular prejudices and fears. Munich added hatred of Bolshevism, further training in the uses of propaganda, the conviction that the base of political power was mass support, and the further conviction that the way to win this support was not by reasoning but by stirring up emotions. He picked up the idea that Jews and Bolsheviks were equally loathsome and so could be treated as essentially the same thing. His experiences showed him that an audience is better captured by a ‘systematically one-sided approach’ than by a balanced evaluation of a problem which allows the audience to wonder whether the speaker is himself really convinced of the truth of what he is preaching. This second novitiate closed with a bang and a valuable lesson. In 1923 Hitler staged a putsch. He did so in alliance with General Erich Ludendorff, one of the military heroes of the war, who suffered abnormally from the stings of defeat because his own loss of nerve in 1918 had contributed to it. The putsch was a farcical failure, but the association with Ludendorff gave Hitler the attention of the whole nation. At his trial he announced that he was a man ‘born to be a dictator’. He was sentenced to prison for two years, served nine months, did some thinking and wrote Mein Kampf. The lesson he learned was that he should try to gain control of the state by constitutional means and not by frontal assault and never against the army.
Mein Kampf, a mixture of autobiography and political manifesto, was an immensely successful book which sold so well that Hitler eventually made a fortune out of it. It is a long book in bad German. Its author remained largely unknown until 1930 and was not taken seriously by many of those who did hear of him. This was a pity because for all its hyperbole Mein Kampf proclaimed much of what Hitler wanted to do and how. As a politician Hitler was an unnatural mixture of the normal and the eccentric. After the 1923 putsch he superficially adopted the normal forms of party organization, speech-making and publicity, but he also adapted them up to and beyond the point of distortion. His conformity, so far as it went, reflected his caution and shrewdness, but it was far from being a complete index to his character for his grip on his party was autocratic and intolerant, his speech-making took place in a setting of ostentatiously armed henchmen, party meetings became hierophantic rallies quite unlike the meetings of normal political parties, he was uncommonly uninhibited by scruple and an unrestrained liar (who may have believed what he said while he was saying it but who also believed that lying paid), and he was prepared to use violence whenever and however it served his purpose. In the organization of his party he insisted from the first on his personal ascendancy and refused to allow even his principal colleagues to have views of their own; in his speech-making he was conspicuously violent in what he said and how he said it; and in his propaganda, his mass meetings and the dress and deportment of his followers he deliberately gave his party the appearance, as he himself said, of ‘a political fighting force and not a debating society’. If on the one hand he was using the accepted implements of politics, he was also transforming them.
Hitler did not have the mind of a statesman but rather an impresario and improviser. Where a Bismarck imposed himself on events, Hitler imposed himself on people by the fervour of his personality. He was a leader of men first and a framer of policies only a poor second. He was not an original thinker or theorizer but he was adept at picking up ideas which suited him and at taking the opportunities given him by others; he knew how to wait for his chances and how to seize them, and he was guided by certain basic preconceptions. He had a view of history. He was a Manichee, a man who sees the world and its history in terms of black and white, good and evil, god and devil. He saw two powers face to face in ‘a world of everlasting conflict where the one creature feeds on the other and the death of the weaker implies the life of the stronger’. For such people the problem is to identify the good and the evil. Hitler saw no difficulty here. He defined the party of the good as the Aryans – a ‘race’ or biological group which was superior and so had to be tended, preserved and improved by political leaders acting like farm bailiffs.
This definition of good and evil in terms of race stemmed from certain European philosophers and historians who had, during the nineteenth century, evolved the view that races and nations could be graded on a scale of merit and that those lower down the scale would for ever remain below their betters higher up. This way of thinking was fortified by Darwin’s contributions to biological science which, taken up by social scientists, were thought to show that social groups, like natural species, evolved to higher stages by a process of conflict involving – and justifying – the extinction of some groups and the survival and expansion of others. Thus backwardness, an inferior culture, was seen as a natural phenomenon rather than as a social challenge, as something to be observed rather than something to be changed. Hitler imbibed these ideas. Conflict, he said, was ‘the father of all things’. The German people had to be embattled and purified, preserved from the taint of mixed blood which had caused the downfall of the ancient civilizations; it had also to be trained in devoted obedience to its Leader, to whom had been vouchsafed a vision and a mission to save the world. But to save the world from what?
The party of evil was even more easily identifiable than the party of the good. It consisted of the Jews who, ever since the time of Moses, had been labouring with diabolical ingenuity to destroy nothing less than the human race itself. Hitler’s anti-semitism was a genuine and potent hatred. It was sharpened by his ability to equate Jewry with communism. For him Lenin was the latest reincarnation of Moses, Bolshevism the latest device of Jewish malevolence and ‘the most radical form of the genocide [plotted] by the Jews’. Through Marx and Lenin and Bolshevism the Jews were repeating what they had done through St Paul and Christianity: European civilization was to be destroyed by the one as Rome had been destroyed by the other. At one time or another Hitler conflated all his adversaries, all those who stood for values which he despised, with the loathed Jews, so that Jewry became a sort of cultural generic term embracing – because it had inseminated and poisoned – not only communism but also social democracy, liberalism, the intellectuals, aristocrats, international finance and Christianity. Either these would be extirpated or they would extirpate humanity. A Jewish triumph would be the ‘funeral wreath of the human race’ and would leave the planet diving through space ‘once again without any human life on its surface’. It was as simple and as terrible as that. The simple view, when wrong, can be the worst because it removes doubt and justifies every means. Hitler did not recoil from slaughter; it was so obviously necessary that it probably never occurred to him to consider whether it was agreeable or disagreeable. Genocide was not a moral issue but the practical application of physical means to social ends. He did not enjoy indiscriminate killing in the way that many simpler Nazis did, although he savoured personal revenge (he revelled over the films of the hangings of the conspirators of July 1944). He enjoyed secondhand descriptions of living and dying in concentration camps but was a strong anti-vivisectionist and could not stomach a demonstration of slaughter when he saw one with his own eyes.
Between the Germans or Aryans on the one hand and the Jews on the other were peoples who were neither. These peoples, of whom the Slavs were the most prominent example, did not have to be exterminated. Their function was to serve the party of the good. Their chief characteristics were their inferiority and their number. These were related terms since it is the destiny of an élite to rule over inferior hordes and use them, as for example the British did in India (Hitler admired the British empire for reasons which would have horrified the Indian Civil Service).
Nazi contempt for the Slavs merged with a far more ancient German-Slav hostility. The conflict between Germans and Slavs is a thousand years old. After the period of the great barbarian invasions and migrations in Europe the Frankish King Charles created in an era of dawning stability an empire in western Europe to match the eastern empire of Byzantium. This empire reached tentatively to the Carpathians and extinguished the alien Avar power in central Europe, but it failed to embrace the rising Slavic state of Moravia; nor did it weld the western Franks of France, still less those in Spain, to its Germanic core. This empire was shortlived. What survived was the idea of a western empire blessed by the papacy -and so essentially Italian as well as German – and distinct from Byzantium. It was revived by Charlemagne’s successors in the tenth century, the Saxon emperors. By this time the place of the Avars in central Europe had been taken by the no less alien Magyars or Hungarians, whom the Saxons checked but did not exterminate. The emperors also made war on the Slavs in what is now northern Germany and on the Poles – the first Germano-Polish conflict. They made no attempt to bring the western Franks back into the empire but were even more strongly pulled towards Italy and the papacy than Charlemagne had been. This ‘renovation’ of the empire was clearly to include Italy but exclude the lands west of the Rhine and Rhône. About the Slavs, however, there were doubts. Otto III (A . D . 983–1002) conceived a great western Christian empire in which other princes besides himself would have wide autonomous authority as kings. Such an empire could include non-Germans, and the Polish, Czech and Hungarian princes welcomed it and joined it. But Otto died young. His conception of the empire died with him. His successors reverted to fighting the Slavs, and the Slavs, missing an opportunity to create a countervailing empire of their own, quarrelled among themselves: the Czechs remaining in the empire, which the Poles renounced. A pattern evolved which endured, with variations, for centuries and produced in more modern times a strong German power flanked to the east by separate and weaker Polish, Czech and Hungarian ones.
By the twentieth century the opportunities created by this pattern of power were combined with racial theories and economic appetites. In the eyes of German nationalists the Slavs were biologically inferior peoples destined to become a caste of slaves; they also occupied valuable space which was needed by the Germans who, by virtue of their superiority, had every right to take it. The notion of Lebensraum, the idea that Germany was too small for the German race, was not invented by Hitler. It was current during the First World War and was one of the pseudo-intellectual props of the policy of Mitteleuropa, which aimed to establish a continental empire fit for Germans (and stretching in some versions from France into Asia Minor). Hitler appears to have been genuinely convinced of the need for Lebensraum, which, with his racial fantasies, constituted the basis of his foreign political attitudes. In Mein Kampf he wrote that National Socialism ‘must attempt to remove the disproportion between our population and our living space – the latter regarded both as a source of food and as the basis of political power – between our historic past and the hopelessness of our present impotence’.
Hitler belonged to ‘the race of men who dream concretely – a very dangerous breed’ (the words come from Ernst Jünger’s parable The Marble Cliffs). Taken by itself his idea that one being waxes as another declines is neither original nor startling. Goethe wrote:
Du musst steigen oder sinken,
Du musst herrschen und gewinnen
Oder dienen und verlieren,
Amboss oder Hammer sein.
(Man must rise or fall, He must win and rule
Or lose and serve, Be the anvil or the hammer.)
But there is a world of difference, in practice and in intent, between the figurative speech of a poet and the concrete programme of a practical politician with a literal mind and power at his command. Hitler’s concrete dream envisaged a German nucleus of some hundred million people, flanked by subordinate federations colonized by other Germans. He did not think that this re-ordering of Europe could be effected without war, nor did he think that war was at all agreeable. He said that the next war would be extremely horrible and enormously destructive, but like so many of his contemporaries he believed it would be short. He also believed that too much peace was bad for a people and he took pleasure in the thought that a greater and more beautiful Germany would rise from the devastation, inhabited by survivors welded into a nation by their experiences and guided by a messianic leadership which would last a thousand years: Hitler was a chiliast as well as a Manichee. Some people have been tempted to judge that Hitler did not mean what he said when he indulged in language of this kind, that he got carried away; but it is equally possible to believe that he never spoke truer to his own nature than at these moments. Although cautious, he was not moderate.
Hitler’s principal instrument was the Nazi Party, which, exploiting the circumstances of his day and age, he used to win power over the German people and the German state. Through the party he practised the violence, verbal and physical, whose effectiveness became increasingly contrasted with the ineffectiveness of his opponents and of the constitution. The Nazi Party was like the feudal system. In it a man was obligated to an immediate chief and also to the supreme Führer. There were Führers at every level but the supreme Führer was linked with all members of the movement by direct personal allegiance as well as through the hierarchy. The supreme Führer, besides being the apex of a pyramid, was also a unique being, infallible, prophetic, the incarnation of the general (Aryan) will: ‘The will of the Führer is law.’ His authority was not only absolute but he himself was irreplaceable: he could have no true successor. Successors of a sort – caliphs to Hitler’s Mahomet – could be nominated, but this concession to human mortality did not detract from the urgency of fulfilling the Nazi mission in Hitler’s own lifetime and while he was still in the prime of life.
This concept of the Führer was reflected in Hitler’s relations both with his principal henchmen and with the generality of his followers. After the capture of power in 1933 the machinery of party and the machinery of state coexisted in a kind of semi-merger. The Weimar constitution was never abrogated – it was simply ignored – and the machinery of state was left largely intact, but power passed to numerous party agencies which were given overlapping functions with the result that many decisions could be made only by the Führer; the bureaucracy, reduced to a state of confusion and inefficiency, was eliminated as a barrier between Führer and Volk, ruler and ruled. Hitler’s principal lieutenants were not men of conspicuous ability and they never constituted a team. Perhaps only Goebbels was more than ordinarily talented and even Goebbels was more marked by the extremity of his devotion to Hitler than by outstanding intellect. There was little trust or friendship in the party’s higher reaches and not much cooperation. The Nazi leaders feared and intrigued against each other and, at the end, against Hitler too. Hitler seems to have been neither surprised nor dismayed by this lack of solidarity, so long as it did not affect relations with himself. A suspicious man, he expected others to be suspicious too, and he built their mutual mistrust and malice into his system of government. As a result the principal organs of the party and, after 1933, of the state, were run by feudatories, and government at the top proceeded by a series of clashes. The heads of the government did not govern by talking and working together, and the supreme chief – whether as party Führer or Reich Chancellor – was a dictator conducting a wilfully discordant band which he was not particularly anxious to orchestrate. What mattered to Hitler was the obedience of his lieutenants to himself. They did not have to agree among themselves. The party was held together by the Leader’s personal magnetism and not by fellowship or community of ideas. The Führerprinzip was hostile to ideas, since an ideologist might find himself in a conflict between his doctrine and his Führer. Alfred Rosenberg, the party’s chief racial theorist, never became a figure of the first rank and was increasingly ignored by Hitler, and the Strasser brothers, leaders of the more radical groups of the Nazi Party in northern Germany, were pressed out of the party when the Führer came to have no use for their quasi-socialist ideas.
With his remoter followers the Führer’s relations were special in two ways. Without the Führer the followers were nothing, so that the Nazi Party dissolved in 1945 not merely because the Nazi Reich had been defeated but because the Nazi Führer was dead; and secondly, there was an intimacy between Führer and rank and file, a mutual dependence, which gave the movement a democratic force based, not on majorities or voting (a degrading exercise), but on the identification of the leader with the led, expressed by the former’s unquestioned authority. The function of the party organization was to ‘communicate a definite idea… to ensure its conversion from theory to reality’ and to do these things with as little intervening ‘machinery’ as possible. This relationship between party leader and party members was repeated at second remove and transmitted from the movement to the even wider circle of the German people as a whole. While membership of the party was limited and pride (and profit) in membership preserved undiluted, the outer circle of sympathizers was progressively enlarged to create a wider mass movement which, like the party members but less intensively; was attached to Hitler personally and which, because of this emotional attachment, had a stake in his success. Hitler realized the importance of getting the masses to feel but not to think. The Führer divulged his inmost thoughts in a narrow circle whence they percolated to the Nazi élite, thence again into the party in general, beyond the party to the people and beyond the people to the outside world. At each stage they lost something in the telling and so became assimilable by people who would otherwise have rejected them as mad and bad. In such a system the élite and the leader himself could afford to propagate preposterous ideas and even to do so cynically, because the party followers and the people as a whole were blinded by their devotion and their distance from the centre. Hermann Rauschning, with whom Hitler had long and intimate talks until their breach in 1934, relates that Hitler once told him that he was well aware that there was no such thing as race, but that he needed it for his political and Salvationist purposes. A saviour of the human race may well permit himself a touch of cynicism. Nor is it incompatible with fanaticism.
The Nazi party served two main purposes. Through its ideology it united the people with their leader and through its techniques it perfected the elimination of opposition. It was not a party in the ordinary sense of the word since it could never be satisfied with partial allegiance or partial dominance. It presented a comprehensive, total way of life, explaining everything, past and future, and regulating everything, public and private. Hitler did not achieve this purpose by catechizing or by arguing. He neither instructed his audiences nor explained things to them. He presented views which, half inarticulately, they were already disposed to welcome, and one reason for his success was his ability to appeal to a variety of different types of people – the disgruntled generation of the First World War, the middle classes downgraded by inflation, the deprived classes which had never played a part in German politics before, youth, the nationalism of the old order and the nationalism of the masses. But although he appealed to these classes, he did not appeal to them as classes. At a meeting addressed by Hitler the message went from Hitler to each listener separately. The audience was a crowd of distinct depersonalized objects. In the aggregate they formed not classes but a mass, ‘uniform [as he said once at a marchpast] not only in ideas, but even the facial expression is almost the same… a hundred thousand men become a single type’. Each man and woman, whether marching past the Führer or standing in a packed crowd to listen to him, had his eyes and soul focused onto a man who had placed himself in a unique position in German political life: sufficiently remote from the normal political structure which was crumbling (Hitler never got himself elected to the Reichstag and so never operated as a party political leader in that restricted field) and at the same time intensely close to the magnetized individual who wanted a Leader rather than a choice between leaders.
Hitler used fear and persuasion to an unsurpassed degree. Physical terror was one of his principal political weapons. To quote The Marble Cliffs again: ‘A cloud of fear preceded the Chief Ranger like the mountain mist that presages the storm. Fear enveloped him, and I am convinced that therein far more than in his own person lay his power.’ The Nazis thought nothing of assaulting their opponents, torturing them and murdering them – frequently with fanatical brutality. Sadistic thugs were given a licence instead of being shut up, and this licence was accorded to them by Hitler not out of indifference to the finer standards of behaviour but with the positive intention of assuring his hold over Germany in this way. Overt opposition died and even individual thinking was stifled. The dominance of the party was rendered as nearly total as it could humanly be by fear. Education, controlled after 1933 by the certifiable Dr Rust, became a means for destroying the individual’s capacity to form opinions and indoctrinating the young with Nazi versions of history and ethics (and even with German, as opposed to inferior, mathematics) through rewritten textbooks and politically reliable teachers. Teachers who did not toe the line were reported by the Hitler Youth, which came virtually to control the schools. Boys and girls spent their leisure hours in uniformed youth associations where the process was continued. Books, plays, the press and broadcasting were brought under Nazi control and censorship. Justice became a farce. It was, said Hitler, ‘a means of ruling’. The courts were used to complete the suppression of the individual; the legal profession was regimented, the Führer had the power to quash proceedings, his deputy the power to increase inadequate sentences in cases involving offences against the Führer, the state or the party; illegality was legalized by the invention of the principle of ‘hidden right’; an advocate who got his client acquitted would see him being bundled into a police van as he left the court. The whole of life was subordinated to the Nazi purpose with the concentration camps, or the mere knowledge of their existence, in reserve to quell those who felt like protesting openly or, given the perfection of delation within the family, even in private.
This colossal subversion of civilized values was acquiesced in by the German people and to some extent by Europe too. Only the war put an end to it. What permitted this acquiescence?
Hitler joined an ancient practice with a modern force – ritual with the mass meeting, mumbo-jumbo focused on the microphone. In great squares and open spaces, which he converted into cathedrals of Nazism, he filled ordinary Germans with a sense of destiny, giving them a wonderful vision of unreality as an escape from the chanciness of life and also laying bare to them, with telling candour, how much he had already achieved by violence and how much more he was going to achieve the same way. His performances were brilliantly staged but they would have remained historically inconsequential if they had not fitted the time and place of their presentation.