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The Hitler Honeymoon
Germany 1933-1934

February 17, 2013
by William P. Meyers

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When Allied troops starting liberating German concentration camps at the end of World War II, the world was shocked. Rumors that Jews and other people Hitler considered undesirable had been being systematically exterminated turned out to be true. By then the U.S. and the British Empire had embraced the idea of total war: the destruction of civilian populations in Germany and Japan by fire bombing, later to be capped by the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Germans were just plain bad.

In 1945 most Americans re-wrote German history in their minds, even more than they had in 1941. Many Americans had expressed an admiration for Benito Mussolini starting in the 1920s, or for Hitler in the 1930s. Once the United States officially entered World War II (we had already been fighting the Japanese in China and the Germans in the Atlantic), public opinion became vigorously patriotic, nationalist, and solidly against the opposing nations and their political leaders.

Even today it is hard to talk objectively about how the Nazi Party came to power, or what governance was like in Germany aside from the Holocaust and decision to invade Poland.

Hitler wanted power, and he wanted it badly, and behaved not unlike such politicians of all races and throughout the ages. He emphasized bright and shining ideas, while dimming the ideas that were less popular with voters. Only once he made himself dictator, in 1934, did he begin to behave, from our point of view, really badly.

Hitler was appointed to the most powerful office in Germany, Chancellor, on January 30, 1933, after the dismissal of General Schleicher. His Nazi Party, in the recent election, had won 195 seats, making it the largest in a multi-party Reichstag (congress). As a compromise his cabinet contained only 4 Nazi ministers, the others being mostly technocrats. His Vice-Chancellor, Franz von Papen, had been the leader of the right-wing of the Catholic Center Party (Zentrum).

To win the election Hitler had declared he was for peace [sound familiar?], for Christianity (he himself was Roman Catholic, as were many Nazis), and ready to get the economy going again (it was in the Great Depression). He even toned down his anti-jewish rants.

Hitler had his own problems. The Nazi Party was huge, it largely consisted of fiefdoms, and any of several of its war lords thought themselves every bit as fit to become dictator as Hitler. Adolf needed leverage against the more radical and disloyal members of his own party, and for that he courted German conservatives, moderates, Roman Catholics, military men and business men. He did maintain his anti-communist stand. Pope Pius XI "remarked how pleased he was that the German Government now had at its head a man [Adolph Hitler] uncompromisingly opposed to Communism and Russian nihilism." [Franz von Papen Memoirs, page 279]

The economic program consisted of some deregulation of industry, combined with an employment program. The largest component sent young people to work on farms, where there had been a labor shortage. The Autobahn (equivalent to our Interstate Highway System started in the 1950s) was begun. There was some increased military spending (Germany had a very tiny army as a result of treaty limitations). Disputes between labor and capitalists were settled, generally in favor of the workers. Hitler declared on May 10, 1933, "The new State will no longer represent the sectional interests of a group or a class, but will be the trustee of the nation as a whole." The tourist industry was even revived by giving workers paid holiday tours. [Franz von Papen Memoirs, page 284]

Sound like the New Deal? That is because it was, only done more quickly and effectively. The main difference is that, because there was almost no business regulation in the U.S. in 1933, but German business was highly regulated, the New Deal program included a lot of new regulation of business. Also, the U.S. Supreme Court stopped President Roosevelt's most fascistic programs, notably the NRA (National Recovery Administration).

Of course most honeymoons come to an end. During this period fanatical Nazis beat up Jews and Communists. Opposition political parties were dissolved. Opposition to Hitler within the Nazi party was liquidated in the Night of the Long Knives. When President Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934, Hitler absorbed his powers and filled his cabinet with members of his own party. Many Germans, even former communists and social democrats, had joined the ranks of the Nazis; there was no effective opposition. Hitler was popular because he had restarted the economy. Instead of being happy with that he began preparing for the glory of war and the extermination of Jews and other perceived enemies of his new Third Reich.

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