Hitler’s Rise to Power in Germany: Causes

Today, almost everyone knows who Adolf Hitler was. We live in a day and age where the term fascism is thrown around carelessly. But what little know is why Hitler was able to rise to power, and why the story of his rise matters so much to America (and Western Civilization as a whole) today.

Of course, before we begin, I will present historical context, followed by a short narrative of the events leading to the eventual rise of Hitler. Germany after the First World War was a land with its people humiliated. Germany had lost much land to the allied powers after the dreaded Treaty of Versailles (1919). The strong former government, the Kaiserreich, or what most call the German Empire, was disbanded and replaced with the fragile, debt-burdened and shallow-rooted Weimar Republic. The people themselves, rather than blame the wartime leaders of Germany, instead blamed the Weimar leaders for the woes caused by the war. Many Germans wanted a return to Empire, and a return to glory.

Nazi Germany's Rise Map Final
Note: Legend Indicates German ethnicity as of 1914 in the immediate vicinity of Germany. Pockets of Germans in Hungary, Latvia, Romania, and other nations were not included in order to keep this map small. Borders are also approximated.

A man named Adolf Hitler also wanted these things, and beyond. Failing to become an artist in Austria, Hitler managed to enlist in the German Army during World War I, and earned an Iron Cross, an award for bravery in combat, as messenger during the war. After Germany’s defeat in the First World War, Hitler blamed the Jews and Socialists for Germany’s loss in the war for surrendering the nation. In 1920, Hitler managed to become leader of the German Workers Party, which had aligned with his views of anti-communism, anti-capitalism, anti-Semitism, nationalism, and Pan-Germanism, the idea that all Germans should be in one single state. Hitler had the party renamed to the National Socialist German Workers Party, and with his orating skill was able to attract many more members into the party. However, the party remained small and was regarded as extremist amongst most Germans. Only when the Great Depression hit in 1930 did Hitler’s popularity dramatically increase, as more and more Germans saw him as their last and only hope. One of the largest things driving this shift was Hitler’s promise to provide work for the unemployed masses, while, at the same time, being nationalist and promising a revival of empire. Eventually, through much persuasion, Hitler was given the office of Chancellor in 1933, and soon took full control of the German Government.

We can determine a few reasons for Hitler’s success. The first two are Hitler’s combined oration skill and genius in appealing to the poor for solutions to problems, neither of which need to be explained in detail due to the obviousness of their benefits. The third reason for Hitler’s rise was German nationalism. Most nations after the First World War were organized according to the principles of nationalism. Austria was 95% ethnically Austrian/German, Hungary was 92% ethnically Hungarian, Romania was 76% ethnically Romanian, Finland was 89.3% ethnically Finnish, and so on[1]. However Germany had lost lands that were predominantly German in Belgium, Poland, France, and small areas in Denmark. With such a loss, many Germans would find it easy to climb on board Hitler’s bandwagon and join the Nazis so Germany could one day regain former territory lost by the empire, and at the same time allowing for more Germans to be reunified with the homeland. This fit perfectly with the Nazi party’s Pan-Germanism ideology.

Although the other factors mentioned above are important and necessary, there is one reason that supersedes all others in importance as to why Hitler was able to rise. There were no firm, deep values of democracy or individual rights in the German people. Many Germans hated the idea of democracy, associating it with their own demise. Germans instead had deep values of glory and empire. By electing more Nazi party members the people were able to kill the new Weimar Republic and end its fragile balance, replacing a democracy with an authoritarian regime that, as stated before, many Germans wanted. One could further say that the German government wasn’t fully rooted either. Former German Chancellor Franz Von Papen, a German conservative, persuaded the German President, a staunch opponent of Hitler, that he could control Hitler if he became chancellor (so long as he became Vice-Chancellor). Obviously this didn’t happen, but if Germany had stuck by democracy rather than traditional authoritarianism, perhaps Hitler may not have been able to rise at all, or at least not as quickly.

So how does this relate to the United States? The answer to that is simple. As politics today become more and more intensified, and the more and more the United States begins to fracture, and words such as racist and fascist are thrown around more and more carelessly, and the more values of individual rights and republicanism (as in preserving the republic, not the GOP) are under threat, the closer we get to a Hitler, or a Caesar. Who am I referring to? Next time I will reveal my thoughts on the matter.

[1] Note that some nations were based on two or more nationalities. Yugoslavia was to unite the Southern Slavs, and Czechoslovakia was built on Czechs and Slovaks (although the capital was Prague, a Czech city).