The German Dictatorship
by Karl Dietrich Bracher

notes by William P. Meyers

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Notes from The German Dictatorship , by karl Dietrich Bracher, translated by Jean Steinberg, Praeger Publishers, New York, 1972 third U.S. printing, softcover. Subtitle: the Origins, Structure, and Effects of National Socialism

I was assigned The German Dictatorship to read in one of my classes at Brown University in the mid 1970s. Reading it again in 2015 was quite a different experience. Since then I have read many other books on the Nazi and other fascist dictatorships, and of course learned much from life itself and my involvement in American politics and culture.

These are not definitive notes. I am happy to share them, but they reflect my particular interests. Facts that support, or contradict, hypotheses about fascism, are noted only if they are not generally known. I am particularly interested in why Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were so able at suppressing all their opposition, left, right, and center. But I am particularly interested in what Bracher mentions about the role of the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches in both Hitler's rise to power and in the resistance to his government.

Page numbers are in brackets. As I have the book to refer to, entries are minimal, just enough to remind me why I would want to to back to the pages cited when I write about the topic.

National Socialism (as opposed to international, democratic, or Marxist socialism) had its precursors in Austria,( then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) in the first decades of the 20th century. "[In Austria] As the party of the Catholic lower middle class, the Christian Socialists opposed liberalism and capitalism, which they considered the repository of un-Christian materialism, excessive individualism, and above all, disproportionate Jewish influence ... the Christian Socialist Party succeeded in attracting workers, shopkeepers, and white-collar workers with national-social and anti-Semitic catchphrases ... The Social Democratic trade unions, themselves rent by the German-Czech conflict and the defection of Czech unions, were being challenged by splinter groups propagating a socialism free from internationalism." [51]

"It began with the split of the Bohemian unions, followed by the formation of independent Czech unions. In 1898, a Czech national socialist party was organized, and in 1904, the German Workers' Party (DAP) was founded in Trautenau (Bohemia) ... headquartered in Linz, the city in which just about then the young Hitler was ending his unsuccessful school career." [52]

Hitler "became Party Comrade No. 55, and simultaneously, the seventh member of the executive committee." [67]

Gives an account of the strongest parties in the German states. "The Catholic electorate remained stable, most obviously so in Bavaria; however, the Catholic Bavarian People's Party [BVP], which in the state elections of 1920 succeeded in strengthening its already powerful position, leaned towards the Right, showing a monarchic-conservative bent and a receptivity to antidemocratic activities." [79]

In Munich in 1919 the fighting between left and right organizations "were followed by a violent anti-Jewish campaign against the deposed 'racially alien government' in which portions of the BVP and the Church joined in . . . Hitler's career as an agitator can be said to have begun here." [82]

The German DAP (as opposed to the Czech DAP mentioned above) was founded at a meeting from January 2 to 5, 1919, in Munich by Anton Drexler "together with twenty-five railway workers from his shop." This early version of the party was nationalist and anti-capitalist as well as anti-Semitic. "The DAP thus differed from the Thule Society which, with its racial theories and elitism, continued to be a small, conspiratorial organization." [82-83]

"It is significant that Hitler had never been a member of any of the numerous völkisch sects. He won his spurs and acquired the propaganda tools for his political rise not among racist theorists but in the concrete situation of local and national issues, particularly in the fight against 'Versailles,' however deeply rooted the anti-Semitism that ultimately determined his policies." [83]

"Hitler's primary concern—the reorganization and broadening of the DAP through the recruitment of ex soldiers and Free Corps members grown unaccustomed to civilian life—soon brought him into conflict with the old leadership." On February 25, 1920, Hitler announced the new 25-point party program and "the change of the name to National Socialist German Workers' Party—a name which betrayed the Austrian influence . . . Its 'socialism' was meant to combat Bolshevism among the working class."

Footnote on page 85 says Rudolf Hess wrote a letter dated May 17, 1921 claiming Hitler was a "good Catholic," which would put him in good stead in Roman Catholic Bavaria. But Bracher indicates he believes this stance was to make Hitler politically acceptable to conservatives.[85]

Although often cited by Americans and Roman Catholics as the font of Nazi ideology, Alfred Rosenberg, author of The Myth of the Twentieth Century, had only slight influence in the party as a whole. "Hitler was not really influenced by Rosenberg's writings; he himself said that he had not even read Mythus." [90]

Addressing the financing of the Nazis, it varied over time. "A thesis advanced by Marxist polemicists in particular, namely that National Socialism was in fact the invention and creation of monopoly capitalism, is a gross oversimplification of its background and early history." Some capitalists were attracted at some points, but "The smaller contributions of middle-class followers, admission charged at gatherings, collections, and membership dues paid rental and printing costs; the financial situation of the early leadership, including Hitler's, was modest. [101]

"At the Paris conference of January, 1923, Britain and France clashed; Britain withdrew its delegation, and Poincare maintained that his action gave France a free hand to set the reparation conditions. A few days later, on January 11, French and Belgian troops marched in the Ruhr." [104]

A key event was the run-off election of Paul von Hindenberg as President on April 26, 1925, since he would later appoint Hitler as Chancellor. The runner up was Wilhelm Marx, of the (Catholic) Center Party. The Social Democrats placed third, but could have won in the primary if the Communists had supported their candidate. Marx would have defeated Hindenberg if he had the support of the (Catholic) Bavarian People's Party, but they preferred the conservative Hindenberg (a Protestant). [125]
President Hindenberg German President Paul von Hindenberg

In 1926 and 1927 Hitler and the Nazis struggled. Hitler was banned from speaking in most of Germany. "The old financial sources had dried up almost completely ... [but] Hitler himself was able to live very well at Obersalzberg on his book royalties, fees for newspaper articles, and probably the party treasury as well." Hitler devoted himself to the internal organization of his party. [133]

1929 was a breakthrough year for Hitler and the National Socialists. He received help from Alfred Hugenberg, a wealthy businessman who owned newspapers and a film studio, and effective leader of the right-wing DNVP. . . "Through this alliance, the long-despised NSDAP gained new access to social respectability, finances, and influence; suddenly the party found itself with undreamed-of propaganda and organizational resources. The contacts with Fritz Thyssen were revived." [161]

Bracher believes (and argues) that parliamentary control of the German government ended in 1929, long before Hitler came to power. Hindenberg was the President throughout this period. "Cabinets—supraparliamentary Hindenberg Governments—were appointed precipitately without consultation of the political parties. ... The easy way out, via Presidential rule, paralyzed their activity and their sense of responsibility. . . . This agitation offered the National Socialists a welcome pretext for the strategy of achieving their totalitarian objective by pseudo-legal means. the road to extraparliamentary government was entered upon when, immediately after the resignation of the Muller Cabinet (March 27, 1930) and without consultation of parliament, Hindenberg appointed his Bruning Cabinet (March 30)—threatening that Presidential emergency power would replace parliamentary rule if the Reichstag should fail to go along." And in July 1930 Bruning did dissolve it. [Bruning was Catholic Center Party, showing the Catholics had no problem with a dictatorship, as long as they were in charge.] [171-172]

Bruning's move in 1930 resulted in new elections in September 1930. The Nazis were the main beneficiaries, increasing their seats in the Reichstag to107 from their prior 12. [172]

Hindenberg was reelected by a wide margin in 1932. The Army pushed for a new cabinet, which was unrelated to election results; the Reichstag was not consulted. "The new Cabinet of Center Party defector Franz von Papen was installed even more precipitately and heedlessly than its predecessor ... [it was] lauded in even stronger terms as a 'national' government above parties. . . According to the testimony of men close to Papen, his goal was a corporate, aristocratic Presidential leadership state with an upper chamber appointed by Hindenburg and a pluralistic rather than universally elected lower chamber. . . Papen immediately set about to win Hitler's cooperation." [174]

Papen dissolved the Reichstag on June 4, 1932. "The shutting-out of the Reichstag by repeated suspensions meant that the ensuing period of rule by emergency law was completely contrary to the democratic will. A new Reichstag was elected, and again Papen dissolved it in September 1932. That followed the takeover of Prussia on July 20, 1932 by Papen seeking "to break through the political isolation and, by taking over Prussia, to consolidate his authoritarian position in at least that state, three-fifths of Germany." [175]

Back to the election of September 14, 1930. 82% of the eligible population voted. The Nazis won 18.3% of the vote, behind only the Social Democratic Party (SPD). The Communist Party also gained, gathering 13.1%. The Center Party had 15%. [Since Catholics made up 35% of the electorate, likely any that did not vote for the Center or the BVD instead vote Nazi.]The DNVP did very badly. [182-183]

In February 1932 Hitler gained German citizenship. He had been Austrian. [190]

"Even at the moment of its greatest expansion, in the summer of 1932, it held little more than one-third of the parliamentary seats; the legal road via a majority party remained blocked to Hitler, particularly when the elections of November, 1932 showed a clear decline in National Socialist strength." And "the Presidential dictatorial powers under the famous-infamous Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution intended specifically to protect the democratic order against radical efforts to overthrow it in the early postwar years, now, under a President with a different orientation, served diametrically opposite purposes." [193]

"Out of the confusing welter of political and personal factors leading to Hitler's Chancellorship, one fact emerges clearly: in the course of the negotiations, Hitler adhered to the basic demand that as the head of a Presidential government he, too, must be granted the extraordinary dictatorial emergency powers. Hitler gained 'legitimate' control of the Government not as the head of a parliamentary coalition, as misleading apologia still suggests, but through this authoritarian loophole in the Weimar Constitution." Hitler took power as Chancellor on January 30, 1933. [194]

The first National Socialist led cabinet "was composed of only three National Socialists and eight conservatives ... 'We have engaged him [Hitler],' Vice Chancellor Papen, the initiator of the Government, stated triumphantly." The cabinet was sworn in on January 30, 1933. But Hitler encountered little resistance from his conservative cabinet members. "As it turned out, possession of the Chancellorship and of the Interior Ministries in the Reich and in Prussia (posts held by Frick and Goring, respectively) was all that was needed to turn the national revolution into a National Socialist takeover." [195]

"A series of emergency laws based on the ill-fated Article 48 and enacted in February, 1933, to which Hindenburg, blinded by Hitler's conservative, Christian-national promises, agreed, laid the foundations for the power through which the national Socialists were able almost at will to control and oppress the country." [195]

"The new Reichstag elections of March 5, despite the propaganda and the terror, failed to bing Hitler his expected majority." [196]

"The rapidity with which the political Left was overwhelmed, to the astonishment of even the new rulers, was also connected with deception and self-delusion. ... The Communist leadership ... cooperated in the overthrow of the Social Democratic Government of Prussia, and on many occasions made common cause with the National Socialists against the Republic [brief list follows]" [198]

The Enabling Act was passed on March 23, 1933, effectively putting all power in the executive, and making the Reichstag merely advisory. "By voting for the Enabling Act, the misguided [Catholic] Center Party as well as the Hugenberg-Papen group relinquished the base of its existence." On July 14, 1933, the one-party state was established. [210]

Hitler did not just destroy opposing parties, he smashed opposition within the Nazi Party: "The NSDAP's left wing, relegated to the role of socialist establishments, exercised no real influence after January 30, 1933." Unions were easy to dismantle because they were divided into "socialist (4.5 million members), Christian (1 million), and liberal (500,000) organizations." Soon "Helplessness, false hopes, and resignation spread among the unions, and they began to offer the new rulers pledges of loyalty and cooperation in return for their continued existence." But May Day was declared a national holiday. [215]

Discussion of the lack of real opposition by the SPD, and its collapse. [220-221]

"The capitulation of political Protestantism, whose monarchist, nationalist majority had never managed to arrive at a positive position toward the Weimar Republic, was followed by the death of the Center Party and the BVP, those pillars of the Republic and bastions of political Catholicism in the Reich and Bavaria." By voting for the Enabling Act the Catholic Center Party voted to become or support the Nazis. "The Catholic Church relented on its former verdict on National Socialism and a growing number of prominent Catholics sought to build bridges to the new regime, Hitler began negotiations on a concordat with Rome" [the Vatican, not Mussolini]. [221-222]

Although Hitler and many of the top Nazis were Catholic, on the whole Catholics were probably underrepresented in the party until 1933 because they could belong to one of the two large specifically Catholic parties. In 1933 largely Catholic areas saw Nazi membership climb rapidly, like Cologne, where it climbed 458%. [234]

The Nazi "old fighters," mainly did not make the transition to leadership in the new regime. "By the end of 1934 almost 80% of the political leaders were people who had joined the party after 1933." [235]

Heinrich Himmler was the son of a Catholic schoolteacher. "Typical of Himmler's personality was the coexistence of sectarian lunacies (special mineral-water enterprises, the cultivation of herbs and roots, a Henry I cult, an institute for ancestor research) and the sober-pedantic terror and annihilation machinery, of love for animals and plants and planned extermination of human beings."

Hitler made himself popular by taking Germany out of the League of Nations on October 14, 1933. His popularity was confirmed in the plebiscite of November 12, 1933. "Acclamation of Hitler's policies was performed with much fanfare and the outspoken support of non-Nazi groups as well, up to the Catholic episcopate."

In 1933 the Roman Catholic, fascist Pilsudski dictatorship of Poland began seeking "closer ties with Nazi Germany. Apparently Pilsudski was banking on the anti-Bolshevik and antidemocratic principles of the Hitler regime. Despite differences in their methods of government, both men were right-wing dictators. At the same time, Warsaw also seemed to figure that the top [Roman Catholic] leadership of the Third Reich, predominantly South German and Austrian, would not pursue the traditional Prussian German-Russian policies at the expense of Poland." [292]

In the spring of 1933 the Nazis began giving massive assistance to the Austrian National Socialists. That just "drove the authoritarian government of Engelbert Dollfuss into the arms of Mussolini ... supported by Italy, Dollfuss set about to eliminate Nazis democrats, communists, and finally also Social Democrats and trade unions." The Nazis assassinated Dollfuss on July 25, 1934, but their putsch failed. Papen patched things up: "this useful henchman of the Third Reich became the special envoy of the Fuhrer, and, as a conservative Catholic, was instrumental in assuaging Vienna, thus successfully mapping out a less risky road for the absorption of Austria. [294]

Diplomatic success eluded Hitler at first. In 1934 even Mussolini rejected him. In 1935 Italy made a treaty with France that completed a wall around Germany. [294-295]

But eventually Mussolini did come around. Then others. "As early as January, 1937, Hitler rewarded Belgian defection from the impotent French alliance system with his stated willingness to recognize the inviolability of Belgium and Holland. A formal guarantee of October, 1937, confirmed this ongoing process." Soon "Only the French alliance with Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union was still in force." The imperialist dictatorships of Britain and France had other problems: "Western colonialism faced a crisis in the Middle East, North Africa, Indochina, and India." [304

Reunifying all German-speaking people was popular. "There followed a Greater German plebiscite on April 10, 1938, which yiled the routing 99 per cent yes votes. ... The Austrian bishops under Cardinal Innitzer issued a proclamation celebrating the 'extraordinary accomplishments of National Socialism in the sphere of völkisch and economic reconstruction as well as social policy.'" [310]

"The mass arrests of Communists and Socialists that began on February 28, 1933 (in Prussia alone 25,000-30,000 persons were arrested during March and April), brought the first provisional concentration camps to relieve the overcrowding of the prisons." [358]

"The idea that the chruches were a source of a popular movement against National Socialism and that the Catholic Church almost to a man opposed it is as questionable as the contrary thesis ... The church opposition, significant through frequently equivocal, was certainly also a political matter, but only rarely did it go over from the defense of its own concerns and interests to political resistance." [371]372]

"The Center Party, on the surface remarkably stable, was increasingly paralyzed by Catholicism's flirtation with the new regime ... [which] was still thought to be the lesser evil compared to the Marxist danger. This factor carried great weight with the Center party as well as with the churches." [373]

"The earlieest resisters were ... the organizations of the labor movement." [373]

Churches and Resistance subsection [379-390]:

The Lutheran and Catholic churches did not oppose National Socialism per se, but did resist Nazi infringements on their perceived rights and privileges. Some individual Catholics and Lutherans resisted more than others. "Article 24 of the party program hailed 'positive Christianity' as a factor in the fight against Marxist atheism; even before the takeover, a National Socialist Movement of German Christians had been organized." Nazis sought to organize all Christians under a single Reich bishop. One group called itself the "SA of Jesus Christ." But one thing that Lutherans and Catholics could agree upon was not being united in one church. [380] The resisters to unification came to be called the Confessional Church (Bekennende Kirche or BK) [381]

But this was not resistance to Nazi rule. "since they were not directed against National Socialist authority but were concerned solely with the preservation of autonomy and the freedom to teach." As time went by "The result was rather something like a truce: only few took the road to political resistance." [381]

"Yet the eccentric plans of Alfred Rosenberg or of the Orientalist Wilhelm Hauer also never gained the standing of an official creed. Hitler ridiculed all these designs. He saw the role of religion far too pragmatically, as a tool of power politics, to let it become a needless source of opposition." The church's opposition was criticism of "certain aspects of Nazi rule," not the rule itself. "Only a minority in either of the two churches was able to overcome the involvement with a pastoral nationalism and the myth of Reich, Nation, and Fatherland." [382]

Hitler refrained from launching an overt, new Kulturkampf. [383]

The SS was the main Nazi organization that "pursued an antichurch course." [383]

Martin Borman sent a memo in 1941 saying "National Socialism and Christianity were incompatible" and comparing the harm done by religion to that of "astrologers, soothsayers, and assorted swindlers." [384]

Some Protestants, at least, admitted to their errors, once the Nazis lost power. "This was stated quite plainly after the war in the Stuttgart Confession of Guilt of the Evangelical Churches(1945)—in contrast to the apologies with which other groups and institutions, including the Catholic Church, sought to cover up their coresponsibility." [384]

"With the outbreak of the war, the churches largely fell back on their position of World War I and put patriotic duty and prayers for victory above possible reservations." Also "anti-Communism tied both Protestants and Catholics to the policies of National Socialism and neutralized much of the opposition against the regime." [385]

"The external cohesion of Catholicism did not prevent the Church from dropping much of its original opposition to National Socialism. On the contrary, it assisted in the acceptance of accomplished facts. Efforts were even made to win support for the regime. ... With their polemic against Rome, the National Socialists exploited popular anti-Catholic feelings, even though many of them were themselves Catholic and Hitler was an admirer of the authoritarian structure of the Roman Church." [386][WPM: it is strange that nowhere does Bracher mention that Hitler was a Roman Catholic, except in a footnote, when for instance that is stated in Rise and Fall and easily proved to be a fact.]

"On March 28, 1933 the Bishop's Conference at Fulda revised its previously negative attitude towards National Socialism, though it accused Hitler of "certain religious-moral errors." And "At about this time, the head of the Center Party, the Reverend Kaas, turned up in Rome and, in conjunction with Papen, initiated negotiations for a concordat which promised to be advantageous to both parties ... the continuing encroachments on Catholic organizations also did not prevent the negotiations from continuing up to their successful conclusion on July 8, 1933, three days after the dissolution of the Center Party. The Vatican negotiations, conducted by its Secretary of State, Cardinal Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII) recognized the Hitler regime and agreed to restrictions on the political and social Catholic organizations in Germany." [WPM: following the blueprint followed in the 1920s in Fascist Italy] [386-387]

"Moreover, the agreement lent support to those groups which, prodded by Papen and the other right-wing Catholics, urged active participation in the national revolution and close cooperation with National Socialism, for example through the Cross and Eagle League, the Working Group of Catholic Germans, and the Catholic League for National Politics." [387]

Hitler; national socialism;