On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler, Führer
of the Nazi Party, walks out of the offices of German President Paul von Hindenburg with
tears in his eyes. He is greeted by a small crowd cheering and
saluting him with the Hitler Salute. When he gets into his car, he repeats; “we
did it, we did it.” Against all democratic principles, he has
been appointed Chancellor of the German Reich. It is the beginning of the downfall of Germany
and a prelude to tens of millions of deaths. Welcome to Between-2-Wars a chronological
summary of the interwar years, covering all facets of life, the uncertainty, hedonism,
and euphoria, and ultimately humanity’s descent into the darkness of the Second World War. I’m Indy Neidell. In our previous episode about German elections,
we left things off as Germany had once again managed to elect a parliament incapable of
selecting a government with majority support. Parts of the electorate had abandoned traditional
parties for the Communists on the extreme left or the Nazis on the outer right. Chancellor Franz von Papen of the Conservative
Zentrum party had convinced President Paul von Hindenburg to issue an emergency decree
making Papen dictator of Prussia. Hitler had snubbed Papen’s attempt to forge
a nazi-conservative coalition, and finally, in a showdown with the Reichstag, Hindenburg
and Papen dissolved parliament and called for new elections on November 4. Exciting stuff. While that election campaign starts, Papen
remains Chancellor by emergency decree and continues to court the NSDAP, the Nazis, for
a coalition. His Nazi counterpart and ally Gregor Strasser
was one of the first Nazi members of parliament and is now Reichsorganisationsleiter, General
Secretary of the party, the second most powerful Nazi after Hitler. Strasser is one of the last members of the
left NSDAP still in the party leadership. In the early days of the party, together with
his brother Otto Strasser, he had led a faction with outspoken anti-bourgeois, left-leaning
sympathies. In 1925 he even challenged Hitler’s leadership
over ideas about proposing Soviet-style land reforms. But Hitler, with support of the ultra-reactionary
party right wing defeats Strasser in a public showdown at the party leadership summit at
Bamberg in 1926. Hitler rails against the leftists, labeling
them Nationalbolsheviken, and decrying them as traitors to the Nazi cause. Strasser backs down, and it is here that Hitler
gets confirmed as the absolute leader of the party – the Führer. Despite Strasser’s loss and that his leftist
economic views have no real effect on the party anymore, he is appointed Reichspropagandaleiter,
Head of Propaganda. Together with his apprentice Joseph Goebbels
he now continues the campaign that will make the Nazis a real force in German politics. Now, by Goebbels’ had, by his own account,
already abandoned any sympathy for the left during the Bamberg showdown. But he bridges Strasser’s economic leftism
and Hitler’s ultra-racist positions by converging them around anti-semitism where their views
are already aligned anyway. Goebbels and Strasser now perfect the Nazi
racist, antisemitic newspeak where “Socialism” means “solidarity within the German race”
– “Bolshevik” is synonymous with “Jew” – “Bourgeoisie” indicates “Jewish middle class” – “Banker”
is “a Jew” – “Capitalism” is the “Jewish conspiracy of international finance” – and so on. The issue is not a new one in this the “National
Socialist German Workers Party.” And yet, Hitler opposes continued Socialist
sounding rhetoric at first, but Goebbels convinces him to play along. Not only is this instrumental in making the
NSDAP acceptable to former Socialists with Nationalist sympathies, but it also saves
Strasser from Hitler’s ire. And it’s a success, attracting huge amounts
of violent Socialist militants and activists dissatisfied with the floundering Communist
Party. Between 1925 and 1930, NSDAP membership grows
from 26,000 to 389,000. In May 1929, Strasser loses but survives yet
another showdown with Hitler when Strasser dares to propose entertaining the idea of
a coalition with the Social Democrats, or even the Communists for a state government
in Saxony. This episode also marks a final break with
Goebbels, now his successor as head of propaganda. But despite the infighting, between1928 and
1930, Strasser advances his position and rebuilds the party into a model of efficiency. He introduces a structure closely mirroring
the provincial structure of Germany, with Gauleiters instead of provincial governors,
and the Sturmabteilung or SA structured like the state and federal police. He appoints Reichsleiters to handle a state-like
administration and restructures the party leadership like a shadow cabinet of the chancellery. By 1932, the NSDAP is a complete state within
the state, poised and pouncing at a takeover of the country. For that Hitler has two plans;
A Hitler wins the Presidency and appoints Strasser Chancellor. B Hitler doesn’t win the Presidency, and they
demand that Hitler is appointed Chancellor. Strasser considers both ideas unrealistic
and has only one plan: enter into a coalition with the conservatives and settle for key
cabinet positions. When plan A falls through, he takes this to
Papen, without informing Hitler. But already before the July polls, Hitler
finds out from British journalist Sefton Delmer and once again blows a gasket at Strasser. The rest of the leadership calm Hitler down
enough to not make a public scene and to pay lip service to Strasser’s and Papen’s agreement. With the Parliament seats gained in July,
Hitler stays his course and snubs Papen. Strasser, though, is less optimistic about
the November elections and continues negotiations with Papen as the new election campaign starts. Now, street violence coming mostly from the
Nazis against the Communists was the central theme of the July election, this election
campaign we see the Communists go after the Social Democrats, for Ernst Thälmann, leader
of the Communist Party the KPD, has smelled blood. In July the new votes he captured came almost
exclusively at the expense of the center-left Social Democrats, the SPD. And if you have found a winning formula, why
not roll with it? Well, that is what he does! Their main slogan is still that they are the
only genuine anti-fascist alternative. But now, they add the SPD to this list of
fascists by labeling them ‘social fascists.’ The SPD themselves position Social Democracy
as the alternative to everything – against von Papen – against the Nazis – against the
Communists. The Nazis, on Goebbels orders, had toned down
the anti-semitic rhetoric in 1930 and in July, but now it creeps back into their main campaign
focus. And the patchwork of Conservative parties,
including Zentrum and the German National People’s Party DNVP, run on an identity campaign
to return Germany to an imagined glorious past. And while they all rail against each other,
something essential happens in the background: the economy starts to recover. Not overnight, it has been in recovery for
many months, but now people begin to notice it in their wallets and on the job market. It’s a combination of Papen’s repeal of several
of the draconian austerity measures set by his predecessor, and the early effects of
overall European recovery from the 1929 October crash. Moreover, many of the briefly canceled social
security programs, part of German welfare capitalism, have been reintroduced. Together, it leads to a lower sense of financial
urgency, which coupled with exhaustion over the constant elections suppresses voter turnout,
which sinks from 84.1% in July to 80.6% in November. On election day, the biggest losers are actually
the Nazis, but the Social Democrats also take a beating, an essential beating. The NSDAP loses 34 seats to 196, but is still
the biggest party. Papen’s conservative block combined gains
16 seats to 154 or 26.3%, making them the second-biggest faction. The moderate and liberal centrist parties
are now wholly insignificant, but the change on the left flank has dramatic effects. The SPD lose 12 seats, out of which 11 go
to the KPD- the Communists. So even with the NSDAP losses, 50.7% of votes
in the Reichstag are either for Communists or Nazis. This means nothing has changed – the extremists
on both ends can still block the formation of a government by merely abstaining from
voting. It was so close. If the Communists had taken only four fewer
seats from SPD, a new grand coalition would have been possible. But now even if a coalition of SPD and KPD
was ideologically possible, which it isn’t, they don’t have the votes for that either. Instead, the only viable alternatives are
yet another election or a coalition of Conservatives and Nazis, right? Well, now with the losses of the NSDAP and
the improving economy, Papen comes up with another plan. He will take charge of the country as dictator
of Germany. Now, Papen and his Minster of the Interior
Wilhelm, Baron von Gayl, advise Hindenburg to prorogue the Reichstag for six months and
only then hold new elections. In that time they will devise a new constitution. It is his old plan of a return to constitutional
Monarchy. New elections in the spring should give them
time to build a sufficient base to get this through the new Reichstag. Hindenburg likes the idea, but before they
can start putting it into play, they meet resistance. The execution of the plan depends on having
the Riechswehr, the army on their side, but Reichswehr Minister Kurt von Schleicher has
some serious concerns with this plan. During the only major violent clash between
police, Communists, and Nazis in the November election campaign, one of his generals, Eugen
Ott was playing war games and coming up with disaster scenarios. According to Ott, the Reichswehr is in no
position to resist the Nazi paramilitaries without launching a civil war. His scenarios predict that the Communists
would build a third front. And in various versions of the events that
then unfold, Ott foresees doom. Such as; Invasion by Poland, intervention
by the USSR, a secession of Bavaria as a Nazi State, occupation by the Western Allies, and
several other effects that lead to the end of Germany. Not a single scenario foresees a successful
outcome for the Reichswehr. To put it bluntly: combined, the NSDAP and
KPD armed forces are now in many ways superior to the better equipped German armed forces. So Schleicher suggests another plan: appease
the Nazis and the Communists and use Strasser to break up the NSDAP from within. It’s an old idea called Querfront, in English
the Third Position, that supporters of a Conservative Revolution have toyed with for over a decade. In basic terms, it combines the reactionary
social positions of the extreme right with some collectivist, labor-friendly fiscal policy
of the radical left. Sound familiar? You got it – it’s the Strasser position! Now, for the Conservative mainstream, this
has been an unacceptable idea until now, but under the dreadful prospects of the Ott scenarios,
most of the Conservative cabinet backs Schleicher’s plan. Unsurprisingly, Strasser is also all for it. Somewhat surprisingly, he also indicates that
he will have no problem to get Hitler and the rest of the NSDAP behind it too. On December 3, 1932, Hindenburg dismisses
Papen and makes Schleicher new Chancellor of Germany and dictator of Prussia by emergency
decree. Meanwhile, Strasser takes the proposal for
a coalition with Hitler as deputy Chancellor to the rest of the Nazi leadership. This time Hitler doesn’t explode, the election
losses have left him more cautious. Instead, Strasser meets immediate opposition
from Reichstag President Hermann Göring and from Josef Goebbels, who favor an “all or
nothing” approach. Now, Hitler has spent the last few weeks in
meetings with industrialists and bankers, working tirelessly to convince and assure
them that they have no Socialist measures to fear from the National Socialists. Then his new industrialist and banker friends
have been put pressure on Hindenburg to accept Hitler, even as Chancellor, but they have
also impressed on Hitler the need for diplomacy. While the NSDAP leaders argue, Schleicher
starts making known his intent for a Third Front through a broad coalition. Not only is this met with skepticism by the
general public, but it also infuriates Conservatives who deride him as the Red General. Hitler fumes with anger when he realizes that
he’s being played. On the fifth day of the crisis, Strasser is
forced to resign from his positions in the party. Schleicher’s Third Position has failed before
he even gets a chance to try it. For Hitler, it is now all or nothing, him
or Schleicher, Chancellor or bust. And the general public in Germany goes to
celebrate Christmas and New Year with false sense of relief. The economy continues to make public signs
of recovery, with spending and employment during the holiday season above expectations. The Communists are relieved that the Nazis
didn’t make a government, who are relieved that the Communists didn’t form part of the
government. To the majority, it looks like a defeat for
both extremes, especially Hitler- whom the media now portrays as a loser, relegated back
to just a provincial Bavarian trouble maker. For Schleicher, it is nothing short of a disaster
– he has no mandate, no coalition partners, no plan, but he does have enemies. Papen and Schleicher had been close friends
and allies for many years. But in only a few days, they have now become
bitter enemies, and this will have consequences for the whole world. To salvage public support, Schleicher now
publicly and repeatedly attacks the unpopular Papen, which he had promised Hindenburg he
would not do, s not only is the principled old man in the Presidential Palace- Hindenburg-
angered, he sees this as destructive to the chances of forming any government at all. On January 4, 1933, Papen meets Hitler in
secret in Cologne at a prominent banker’s house. The topic is how to overthrow Schleicher. Papen’s suggestion is the old one – a new
government with himself as Chancellor and Hitler as Deputy but now on equal footing. Hitler is agreeable in general but evasive
on the Chancellor issue. The meeting leaks to the press, framed as
an attempt to form a majority government finally, one with the Nazis but under Conservative
oversight. A panicked Schleicher rushes to Hindenburg
demanding him to charge Papen with treason by Presidential executive order, Hindenburg
declines. On January 9, Papen meets in secret with Hindenburg
and proposes a government with Hitler in some form, but not as Chancellor. On January 22, Hitler and Papen meet at Joachim
von Ribbentrop’s home in Berlin in yet another secret meeting. Von Ribbentrop, as many of you know, will
one day be Nazi Germany’s Foreign Minister. Göring and Goebbels are there, as well as
Hindenburg’s confidants Otto Meissner and Oskar von Hindenburg, the President’s son,
attend too. They negotiate a compromise, Hitler as Chancellor,
Papen Deputy Chancellor and Governor of Prussia, and Göring Minister of the Interior of Prussia. Meanwhile, Schleicher rushes to Hindenburg
again, demanding that he dissolve the Reichstag, declare a state of emergency, and suspend
elections indefinitely. Hindenburg declines, and when the attempted
coup leaks to the press, Scheicher faces outrage and loud public calls for his immediate dismissal. Oskar von Hindenburg and Meissner now start
convincing the President to go along with Hitler and Papen’s plan. On January 28, Schleicher makes a last-ditch
attempt to persuade Hindenburg to at least Prorogue the Reichstag, let him govern for
now, and announce new elections. Hindenburg refuses again and Schleicher hands
in his resignation. The same day Papen meets Hindenburg and assures
him that they have Hitler’ boxed in’ and the tired old general agrees with the proposal. The next day Papen and Hitler meet, and Hitler
informs Papen of the real plan- announce elections for March, ensure that these elections are
a landslide for the Nazis, by whatever means. Then they will enact an Enabling Law, giving
Hitler dictatorial powers. Papen will later claim that Hitler’s words
left him shaken to the core, but that it was too late. On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler is formally
appointed Chancellor of the German Reich by presidential executive order. Gregor Strasser, now a private citizen, reportedly
evaluates the development like this to a friend: “Dr. Martin, I am a man marked by death. We shall not be able to go on seeing each
other for long, and in your own interest; I suggest you do not come here anymore. Whatever happens, mark what I say: From now
on, Germany is in the hands of an Austrian who is a congenital liar, a former officer
who is a pervert, and a clubfoot. And I tell you the last is the worst of them
all; this is Satan in human form.” He is referring to Hitler, Göring, and Goebbels
in that order. SEGUE
Perhaps ironically, it is with the organization that Strasser has built that the three will
proceed to seize totalitarian power. See, Franz von Papen is the one who’s boxed
in. He might control large parts of the German
administration, but remember that Strasser built the Nazi party as a state within the
state. A powerful organization that now quickly reaches
its tentacles into all aspects of governance. Even as dictator of Prussia, Papen is powerless. Göring is now Prussian Minister of the Interior
with full control of the Prussian police and administration. Within days the Prussian state is fully controlled
by the SA. Göring formalizes the NSDAP intelligence
efforts as the Geheime Staatspolizei, Gestapo who proceed to infiltrate every aspect of
Prussian public life. Meanwhile, Hitler and Goebbels start setting
up the Gauleiters to do the same in all of the German provinces. As the election campaign for the March elections
gets underway, the NSDAP unleashes violence, voter suppression, and terror on a scale that
widely surpasses any previous election unrest. On the night of February 28, a Dutch Communist
sets fire to the Reichstag in protest against the Nazis. The next day Hindenburg signs the Reichstag
Fire Decree, or Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State, enabling
Hitler to suspend law and order to pursue ostensible political enemies of the state. In reality, it just makes the already ongoing
activities of the party less cumbersome. Now the Prussian Police, the SA and Hitler’s
bodyguard, the Schutzstaffel or SS arrest thousands of KPD members, Social Democrats,
and Liberals, many of them on the ballots. To systematically jail, beat, torture, and
sometimes murder them, Gauleiters, the SA and SS set up improvised internment camps
all across the country. It is the beginning of the concentration camp
system. Political rallies of the Social Democrats
and Communists are attacked and dispersed. On election day 50,000 SA and SS come out
to patrol the polling booths to safeguard the elections. Still, despite this massive voter intimidation
and manipulation campaign, more than 30% still dare to vote for the Communists or Social
Democrats. On March 24 the new Reichstag passes the Enabling
Act, and Hitler is for all practical purposes dictator of Germany. It’s an event that is sometimes analyzed as
if it could have stopped the Nazis. Many of the SPD deputies and all of KPD deputies
were not even there; they were in Concentration Camps. Lining the walls of the plenary hall of the
Reichstag were hundreds of uniformed, armed SA men. It was not the beginning of the Nazi power
grab, but merely a ceremonial end. Thirteen years earlier, Social Democrat, Liberal
and Conservative politicians of Germany had united around the idea of a free, tolerant
and open democracy. Faced with extremists on the right and the
left, they had appeased one side to beat down the other. They had tried to win their votes by themselves
embracing conspiracy theories and populist positions. Ideas that they knew were false, anti-democratic,
and not even workable solutions. Willingly or unwillingly they had moved closer
and closer to extremism themselves. They were now reaping the poisonous fruits
that they had planted. Fruit that will now kill many of them together
with the tens of millions of innocent people that they, the pillar of German democracy,
had on this day condemned to death. We’ve created a playlist of all the episodes
we have done on Hitler’s rise to power… it will be here any moment now. Our TimeGhost Army member for this episode
is Omar Gallardo. It’s thanks to Omar and the rest of the TimeGhost
army members’ contributions that we can continue shining a light on these events. And as MLK said: “Let us not seek to satisfy
our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.” Cheers, and stay safe!