Military history

4. THE MIND OF HITLER AND THE ROOTS OF THE THIRD REICH

HITLER WANTED TO CALL his book “Four and a Half Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity and Cowardice,” but Max Amann, the hard-headed manager of the Nazi publishing business, who was to bring it out, rebelled against such a ponderous—and unsalable—title and shortened it to My Struggle (Mein Kampf). Amann was sorely disappointed in the contents. He had hoped, first, for a racy personal story in which Hitler would recount his rise from an unknown “worker” in Vienna to world renown. As we have seen, there was little autobiography in the book. The Nazi business manager had also counted on an inside story of the Beer Hall Putsch, the drama and double-dealing of which, he was sure, would make good reading. But Hitler was too shrewd at this point, when the party fortunes were at their lowest ebb, to rake over old coals.* There is scarcely a word of the unsuccessful putsch in Mein Kampf.

The first volume was published in the autumn of 1925. A work of some four hundred pages, it was priced at twelve marks (three dollars), about twice the price of most books brought out in Germany at that time. It did not by any means become an immediate best seller. Amann boasted that it sold 23,000 copies the first year and that sales continued upward—a claim that was received with skepticism in anti-Nazi circles.

Thanks to the Allied seizure in 1945 of the royalty statements of the Eher Verlag, the Nazi publishing firm, the facts about the actual sale of Mein Kampf can now be disclosed. In 1925 the book sold 9,473 copies, and thereafter for three years the sales decreased annually. They slumped to 6,913 in 1926, to 5,607 in 1927 and to a mere 3,015 in 1928, counting both volumes. They were up a little—to 7,664—in 1929, rose with the fortunes of the Nazi Party in 1930, when an inexpensive one-volume edition at eight marks appeared, to 54,086, dropped slightly to 50,808 the following year and jumped to 90, 351 in 1932.

Hitler’s royalties—his chief source of income from 1925 on—were considerable when averaged over those first seven years. But they were nothing compared to those received in 1933, the year he became Chancellor. In his first year of office Mein Kampf sold a million copies, and Hitler’s income from the royalties, which had been increased from 10 to 15 per cent after January 1, 1933, was over one million marks (some $300,000), making him the most prosperous author in Germany and for the first time a millionaire.* Except for the Bible, no other book sold as well during the Nazi regime, when few family households felt secure without a copy on the table. It was almost obligatory—and certainly politic—to present a copy to a bride and groom at their wedding, and nearly every school child received one on graduation from whatever school. By 1940, the year after World War II broke out, six million copies of the Nazi bible had been sold in Germany.1

Not every German who bought a copy of Mein Kampf necessarily read it. I have heard many a Nazi stalwart complain that it was hard going and not a few admit—in private—that they were never able to get through to the end of its 782 turgid pages. But it might be argued that had more non-Nazi Germans read it before 1933 and had the foreign statesmen of the world perused it carefully while there still was time, both Germany and the world might have been saved from catastrophe. For whatever other accusations can be made against Adolf Hitler, no one can accuse him of not putting down in writing exactly the kind of Germany he intended to make if he ever came to power and the kind of world he meant to create by armed German conquest. The blueprint of the Third Reich and, what is more, of the barbaric New Order which Hitler inflicted on conquered Europe in the triumphant years between 1939 and 1945 is set down in all its appalling crudity at great length and in detail between the covers of this revealing book.

As we have seen, Hitler’s basic ideas were formed in his early twenties in Vienna, and we have his own word for it that he learned little afterward and altered nothing in his thinking,  When he left Austria for Germany in 1913 at the age of twenty-four, he was full of a burning passion for German nationalism, a hatred for democracy, Marxism and the Jews and a certainty that Providence had chosen the Aryans, especially the Germans, to be the master race.

In Mein Kampf he expanded his views and applied them specifically to the problem of not only restoring a defeated and chaotic Germany to a place in the sun greater than it had ever had before but making a new kind of state, one which would be based on race and would include all Germans then living outside the Reich’s frontiers, and in which would be established the absolute dictatorship of the Leader—himself—with an array of smaller leaders taking orders from above and giving them to those below. Thus the book contains, first, an outline of the future German state and of the means by which it can one day become “lord of the earth,” as the author puts it on the very last page; and, second, a point of view, a conception of life, or, to use Hitler’s favorite German word, a Weltanschauung. That this view of life would strike a normal mind of the twentieth century as a grotesque hodgepodge concocted by a half-baked, uneducated neurotic goes without saying. What makes it important is that it was embraced so fanatically by so many millions of Germans and that if it led, as it did, to their ultimate ruin it also led to the ruin of so many millions of innocent, decent human beings inside and especially outside Germany.

Now, how was the new Reich to regain her position as a world power and then go on to world mastery? Hitler pondered the question in the first volume, written mostly when he was in prison in 1924, returning to it at greater length in Volume Two, which was finished in 1926.

In the first place, there must be a reckoning with France, “the inexorable mortal enemy of the German people.” The French aim, he said, would always be to achieve a “dismembered and shattered Germany … a hodgepodge of little states.” This was so self-evident, Hitler added, that “… if I were a Frenchman … I could not and would not act any differently from Clemenceau.” Therefore, there must be “a final active reckoning with France … a last decisive struggle … only then will we be able to end the eternal and essentially so fruitless struggle between ourselves and France; presupposing, of course, that Germany actually regards the destruction of France as only a means which will afterward enable her finally to give our people the expansion made possible elsewhere.”2

Expansion elsewhere? Where? In this manner Hitler leads to the core of his ideas on German foreign policy which he was to attempt so faithfully to carry out when he became ruler of the Reich. Germany, he said bluntly, must expand in the East—largely at the expense of Russia.

In the first volume of Mein Kampf Hitler discoursed at length on this problem of Lebensraum—living space—a subject which obsessed him to his dying breath. The Hohenzollern Empire, he declared, had been mistaken in seeking colonies in Africa. “Territorial policy cannot be fulfilled in the Cameroons but today almost exclusively in Europe.” But the soil of Europe was already occupied. True, Hitler recognized, “but nature has not reserved this soil for the future possession of any particular nation or race; on the contrary, this soil exists for the people which possesses the force to take it.” What if the present possessors object? “Then the law of self-preservation goes into effect; and what is refused to amicable methods, it is up to the fist to take.”3

Acquisition of new soil, Hitler continued, in explaining the blindness of German prewar foreign policy, “was possible only in the East … If land was desired in Europe, it could be obtained by and large only at the expense of Russia, and this meant that the new Reich must again set itself on the march along the road of the Teutonic Knights of old, to obtain by the German sword sod for the German plow and daily bread for the nation.”4

As if he had not made himself entirely clear in the initial volume, Hitler returned to the subject in the second one.

Only an adequate large space on this earth assures a nation of freedom of existence … Without consideration of “traditions” and prejudices [the National Socialist movement] must find the courage to gather our people and their strength for an advance along the road that will lead this people from its present restricted living space to new land and soil … The National Socialist movement must strive to eliminate the disproportion between our population and our area—viewing this latter as a source of food as well as a basis for power politics … We must hold unflinchingly to our aim … to secure for the German people the land and soil to which they are entitled …5

How much land are the German people entitled to? The bourgeoisie, says Hitler scornfully, “which does not possess a single creative political idea for the future,” had been clamoring for the restoration of the 1914 German frontiers.

The demand for restoration of the frontiers of 1914 is a political absurdity of such proportions and consequences as to make it seem a crime. Quite aside from the fact that the Reich’s frontiers in 1914 were anything but logical. For in reality they were neither complete in the sense of embracing the people of German nationality nor sensible with regard to geomilitary expediency. They were not the result of a considered political action, but momentary frontiers in a political struggle that was by no means concluded … With equal right and in many cases with more right, some other sample year of German history could be picked out, and the restoration of the conditions at that time declared to be the aim in foreign affairs.6

Hitler’s “sample year” would go back some six centuries, to when the Germans were driving the Slavs back in the East. The push eastward must be resumed. “Today we count eighty million Germans in Europe! This foreign policy will be acknowledged as correct only if, after scarcely a hundred years, there are two hundred and fifty million Germans on this continent.”7 And all of them within the borders of the new and expanded Reich.

Some other peoples, obviously, will have to make way for so many Germans. What other peoples?

And so we National Socialists … take up where we broke off six hundred years ago. We stop the endless German movement to the south and west, and turn our gaze toward the land in the East.

If we speak of soil in Europe today, we can primarily have in mind only Russia and her vassal border states.*8

Fate, Hitler remarks, was kind to Germany in this respect. It had handed over Russia to Bolshevism, which, he says, really meant handing over Russia to the Jews. “The giant empire in the East,” he exults, “is ripe for collapse. And the end of Jewish rule in Russia will also be the end of Russia as a state.” So the great steppes to the East, Hitler implies, could be taken over easily on Russia’s collapse without much cost in blood to the Germans.

Can anyone contend that the blueprint here is not clear and precise? France will be destroyed, but that is secondary to the German drive eastward. First the immediate lands to the East inhabited predominantly by Germans will be taken. And what are these? Obviously Austria, the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia and the western part of Poland, including Danzig. After that, Russia herself. Why was the world so surprised, then, when Chancellor Hitler, a bare few years later, set out to achieve these very ends?

   On the nature of the future Nazi State, Hitler’s ideas in Mein Kampf are less concise. He made it clear enough that there would be no “democratic nonsense” and that the Third Reich would be ruled by the Fuehrerprinzip, the leadership principle—that is, that it would be a dictatorship. There is almost nothing about economics in the book. The subject bored Hitler and he never bothered to try to learn something about it beyond toying with the crackpot ideas of Gottfried Feder, the crank who was against “interest slavery.”

What interested Hitler was political power; economics could somehow take care of itself.

The state has nothing at all to do with any definite economic conception or development … The state is a racial organism and not an economic organization … The inner strength of a state coincides only in the rarest cases with so-called economic prosperity; the latter, in innumerable cases, seems to indicate the state’s approaching decline … Prussia demonstrates with marvelous sharpness that not material qualities but ideal virtues alone make possible the formation of a state. Only under their protection can economic life flourish. Always when in Germany there was an upsurge of political power the economic conditions began to improve; but always when economics became the sole content of our people’s life, stifling the ideal virtues, the state collapsed and in a short time drew economic life with it … Never yet has a state been founded by peaceful economic means …9

   Therefore, as Hitler said in a speech in Munich in 1923, “no economic policy is possible without a sword, no industrialization without power.” Beyond that vague, crude philosophy and a passing reference in Mein Kampf to “economic chambers,” “chambers of estates” and a “central economic parliament” which “would keep the national economy functioning,” Hitler refrains from any expression of opinion on the economic foundation of the Third Reich.

And though the very name of the Nazi Party proclaimed it as “socialist,” Hitler was even more vague on the kind of “socialism” he envisaged for the new Germany. This is not surprising in view of a definition of a “socialist” which he gave in a speech on July 28, 1922:

Whoever is prepared to make the national cause his own to such an extent that he knows no higher ideal than the welfare of his nation; whoever has understood our great national anthem, “Deutschland ueber Alles,” to mean that nothing in the wide world surpasses in his eyes this Germany, people and land—that man is a Socialist.10

Considerable editorial advice and even pruning on the part of at least three helpers could not prevent Hitler from meandering from one subject to another in Mein Kampf. Rudolf Hess, who took most of the dictation first at Landsberg prison and later at Haus Wachenfeld near Berchtesgaden, did his best to tidy up the manuscript, but he was no man to stand up to the Leader. More successful in this respect was Father Bernhard Stempfle, a former member of the Hieronymite order and an anti-Semitic journalist of some notoriety in Bavaria. This strange priest, of whom more will be heard in this history, corrected some of Hitler’s bad grammar, straightened out what prose he could and crossed out a few passages which he convinced the author were politically objectionable. The third adviser was Josef Czerny, of Czech origin, who worked on the Nazi newspaper,Voelkischer Beobachter, and whose anti-Jewish poetry endeared him to Hitler. Czerny was instrumental in revising the first volume of Mein Kampf for its second printing, in which certain embarrassing words and sentences were eliminated or changed; and he went over carefully the proofs of Volume Two.

Nevertheless, most of the meanderings remained. Hitler insisted on airing his thoughts at random on almost every conceivable subject, including culture, education, the theater, the movies, the comics, art, literature, history, sex, marriage, prostitution and syphilis. Indeed, on the subject of syphilis, Hitler devotes ten turgid pages, declaring it is “the task of the nation—not just one more task,”* to eradicate it. To combat this dread disease Hitler demands that all the propaganda resources of the nation be mobilized. “Everything,” he says, “depends on the solution of this question.” The problem of syphilis and prostitution must also be attacked, he states, by facilitating earlier marriages, and he gives a foretaste of the eugenics of the Third Reich by insisting that “marriage cannot be an end in itself, but must serve the one higher goal: the increase and preservation of the species and the race. This alone is its meaning and its task.”11

And so with this mention of the preservation of the species and of the race in Mein Kampf we come to the second principal consideration: Hitler’s Weltanschauung, his view of life, which some historians, especially in England, have seen as a crude form of Darwinism but which in reality, as we shall see, has its roots deep in German history and thought. Like Darwin but also like a whole array of German philosophers, historians, kings, generals and statesmen, Hitler saw all life as an eternal struggle and the world as a jungle where the fittest survived and the strongest ruled—a “world where one creature feeds on the other and where the death of the weaker implies the life of the stronger.”

Mein Kampf is studded with such pronouncements: “In the end only the urge for self-preservation can conquer … Mankind has grown great in eternal struggle, and only in eternal peace does it perish…. Nature … puts living creatures on this globe and watches the free play of forces. She then confers the master’s right on her favorite child, the strongest in courage and industry … The stronger must dominate and not blend with the weaker, thus sacrificing his own greatness. Only the born weakling can view this as cruel …” For Hitler the preservation of culture “is bound up with the rigid law of necessity and the right to victory of the best and strongest in the world. Those who want to live, let them fight, and those who do not want to fight, in this world of eternal struggle, do not deserve to live. Even if this were hard—that is how it is!”12

And who is “nature’s favorite child, the strongest in courage and industry” on whom Providence has conferred “the master’s right”? The Aryan. Here in Mein Kampf we come to the kernel of the Nazi idea of race superiority, of the conception of the master race, on which the Third Reich and Hitler’s New Order in Europe were based.

All the human culture, all the results of art, science and technology that we see before us today, are almost exclusively the creative product of the Aryan. This very fact admits of the not unfounded inference that he alone was the founder of all higher humanity, therefore representing the prototype of all that we understand by the word “man.” He is the Prometheus of mankind from whose shining brow the divine spark of genius has sprung at all times, forever kindling anew that fire of knowledge which illumined the night of silent mysteries and thus caused man to climb the path to mastery over the other beings of this earth … It was he who laid the foundations and erected the walls of every great structure in human culture.13

And how did the Aryan accomplish so much and become so supreme? Hitler’s answer is: By trampling over others. Like so many German thinkers of the nineteenth century, Hitler fairly revels in a sadism (and its opposite, masochism) which foreign students of the German spirit have always found so difficult to comprehend.

Thus, for the formation of higher cultures the existence of lower human types was one of the most essential preconditions … It is certain that the first culture of humanity was based less on the tamed animal than on the use of lower human beings. Only after the enslavement of subject races did the same fate strike beasts. For first the conquered warrior drew the plow—and only after him the horse. Hence it is no accident that the first cultures arose in places where the Aryan, in his encounters with lower peoples, subjugated them and bent them to his will … As long as he ruthlessly upheld the master attitude, not only did he remain master, but also the preserver and increaser of culture.14

   Then something happened which Hitler took as a warning to the Germans.

As soon as the subjected people began to raise themselves up and approach the level of their conqueror, a phase of which probably was the use of his language, the barriers between master and servant broke down.

But even worse than sharing the master’s language was something else.

The Aryan gave up the purity of his blood and, therefore, lost his sojourn in the paradise which he had made for himself. He became submerged in a racial mixture and gradually lost his cultural creativeness.

To the young Nazi leader this was the cardinal error.

Blood mixture and the resultant drop in the racial level is the sole cause of the dying out of old cultures; for men do not perish as a result of lost wars, but by the loss of that force of resistance which is continued only in pure blood. All who are not of good race in this world are chaff.15

Chaff were the Jews and the Slavs, and in time, when he became dictator and conqueror, Hitler would forbid the marriage of a German with any member of these races, though a fourth-grade schoolmarm could have told him that there was a great deal of Slavic blood in the Germans,especially in those who dwelt in the eastern provinces. In carrying out his racial ideas, it must again be admitted, Hitler was as good as his word. In the New Order which he began to impose on the Slavs in the East during the war, the Czechs, the Poles, the Russians were—and were to remain, if the grotesque New Order had endured—the hewers of wood and the drawers of water for their German masters.

It was an easy step for a man as ignorant of history and anthropology as Hitler to make of the Germans the modern Aryans—and thus the master race. To Hitler the Germans are “the highest species of humanity on this earth” and will remain so if they “occupy themselves not merely with the breeding of dogs, horses and cats but also with care for the purity of their own blood.”16

Hitler’s obsession with race leads to his advocacy of the “folkish” state. Exactly what kind of state that was—or was intended to be—I never clearly understood despite many rereadings of Mein Kampf and listening to dozens of addresses on the subject by the Fuehrer himself, though more than once I heard the dictator declare that it was the central point of his whole thinking. The German word Volk cannot be translated accurately into English. Usually it is rendered as “nation” or “people,” but in German there is a deeper and somewhat different meaning that connotes a primitive, tribal community based on blood and soil. In Mein Kampf Hitler has a difficult time trying to define the folkish state, announcing, for example, on page 379 that he will clarify “the ‘folkish’ concept” only to shy away from any clarification and wander off on other subjects for several pages. Finally he has a go at it:

In opposition to [the bourgeois and the Marxist-Jewish worlds], the folkish philosophy finds the importance of mankind in its basic racial elements. In the state it sees only a means to an end and construes its end as the preservation of the racial existence of man. Thus, it by, no means believes in an equality of races, but along with their difference it recognizes their higher or lesser value and feels itself obligated to promote the victory of the better and stronger, and demand the subordination of the inferior and weaker in accordance with the eternal will that dominates this universe. Thus, in principle, it serves the basic aristocratic idea of nature and believes in the validity of this law down to the last individual. It sees not only the different value of the races, but also the different value of individuals. From the mass it extracts the importance of the individual personality and thus … it has an organizing effect. It believes in the necessity of an idealization of humanity, in which alone it sees the premise for the existence of humanity. But it cannot grant the right to existence even to an ethical idea if this idea represents a danger for the racial life of the bearers of a higher ethics; for in a bastardized and niggerized world all the concepts of the humanly beautiful and sublime, as well as all ideas of an idealized future of our humanity, would be lost forever …

And so the folkish philosophy of life corresponds to the innermost will of nature, since it restores that free play of forces which must lead to a continuous mutual higher breeding, until at last the best of humanity, having achieved possession of this earth, will have a free path for activity in domains which will lie partly above it and partly outside it.

We all sense that in the distant future humanity must be faced by problems which only a highest race, become master people and supported by the means and possibilities of an entire globe, will be equipped to overcome.17

   “Thus,” Hitler declares a little farther on, “the highest purpose of a folkish state is concern for the preservation of those original racial elements which bestow culture and create the beauty and dignity of a higher mankind.”18 This again leads him to a matter of eugenics:

The folkish state … must set race in the center of all life. It must take care to keep it pure … It must see to it that only the healthy beget children; that there is only one disgrace: despite one’s own sickness and deficiencies, to bring children into the world; and one highest honor: to renounce doing so. And conversely it must be considered reprehensible to withhold healthy children from the nation. Here the [folkish] state must act as guardian of a millennial future in the face of which the wishes and the selfishness of the individual must appear as nothing and submit … A folkish state must therefore begin by raising marriage from the level of a continuous defilement of the race and give it the consecration of an institution which is called upon to produce images of the Lord and not monstrosities halfway between man and ape.19

   Hitler’s fantastic conception of the folkish state leads to a good many other wordy considerations which, if heeded, he says, will bring the Germans the mastery of the earth—German domination has become an obsession with him. At one point he argues that the failure to keep the Germanic race simon-pure “has robbed us of world domination. If the German people had possessed that herd unity which other peoples enjoyed, the German Reich today would doubtless be mistress of the globe.”20 Since a folkish state must be based on race, “the German Reich must embrace all Germans”—this is a key point in his argument, and one he did not forget nor fail to act upon when he came to power.

Since the folkish state is to be based “on the aristocratic idea of nature” it follows that democracy is out of the question and must be replaced by the Fuehrerprinzip. The authoritarianism of the Prussian Army is to be adopted by the Third Reich: “authority of every leader downward and responsibility upward.”

There must be no majority decisions, but only responsible persons … Surely every man will have advisers by his side, but the decision will be made by one man* … only he alone may possess the authority and the right to command … It will not be possible to dispense with Parliament. But their councilors will then actually give counsel … In no chamber does a vote ever take place. They are working institutions and not voting machines. This principle—absolute responsibility unconditionally combined with absolute authority—will gradually breed an elite of leaders such as today, in this era of irresponsible parliamentarianism, is utterly inconceivable.21

Such were the ideas of Adolf Hitler, set down in all their appalling crudeness as he sat in Landsberg prison gazing out at a flowering orchard above the River Lech,* or later, in 1925–26, as he reclined on the balcony of a comfortable inn at Berchtesgaden and looked out across the towering Alps toward his native Austria, dictating a torrent of words to his faithful Rudolf Hess and dreaming of the Third Reich which he would build on the shoddy foundations we have seen, and which he would rule with an iron hand. That one day he would build it and rule it he had no doubts whatsoever, for he was possessed of that burning sense of mission peculiar to so many geniuses who have sprouted, seemingly, from nowhere and from nothing throughout the ages. He would unify a chosen people who had never before been politically one. He would purify their race. He would make them strong. He would make them lords of the earth.

A crude Darwinism? A sadistic fancy? An irresponsible egoism? A megalomania? It was all of these in part. But it was something more. For the mind and the passion of Hitler—all the aberrations that possessed his feverish brain—had roots that lay deep in German experience and thought. Nazism and the Third Reich, in fact, were but a logical continuation of German history.

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