Considering that the Germans had got rid of their Kaiser, declared a republic, and signed a surrender when the German Army stood well outside of Germany, they had expected the terms of the Treaty to be reasonable. Most Germans thought they had surrendered on the basis of President Wilson's Fourteen Points--a new Europe based on fairness and national aspirations--but it soon became obvious that the Allies, especially France, sought retributions. As though the victors were completely innocent and sinless, Germany was to accept full responsibility for the war and acknowledge her "war guilt."
Under the terms of the Treaty, the Germans were to be forced to admit their "war crimes" by turning over to the Allies those designated as "war criminals" for judgment. Because of "German aggression," she was also to be made defenseless and was allowed no air force, no submarines, no tanks, no heavy guns, virtually no navy, and her army was forbidden to number more than a 100,000 men. All of Germany's principle inland waterways were to be internationalized. The Allies also expected Germany to pay for all "war damages" and though the Germans offered to repair all physical damage in Belgium and France caused by the war, their proposal was rejected. The Allies, keeping in tune with their earlier dreams, came up with a unique scheme. Since the idea was to keep Germany from ever experiencing a revival, the cost to the Germans would not be set, but would function along a sliding scale. Anytime in the future that it appeared the Germany economy was gathering strength, a new payment scale would transfer more money to the Allies. If Germany was incapable of paying, goods would be demanded.
As a first payment, Germany was forced to turn over to the Allies every merchant vessel over 1600 tons, half of her merchant fleet between 1000 and 1600 tons, one fourth of her fishing fleet and one fifth of her canal and river fleet. German shipyards were ordered to start building 200,000 tons of ships a year for the Allies. All property owned by German businesses abroad was seized. Huge amounts of coal and other raw materials were to be delivered to the Allies at German expense. Even though Germany was unable to feed herself, she was also to turn over much of her livestock and raw foodstuffs.
The Allies also demanded land. France and Britain took most of the German colonies. Because "little Belgium" had suffered, she got a few German towns along her border. Denmark was allowed to extend her border forty miles into Germany. France got Alsace, Lorraine and for fifteen years, complete control of Germany's Saar Valley with its huge coal fields. The remainder of West Germany, however, was not torn apart as France wanted.
With the German navy no longer a threat, Britain's fear of Germany had shifted to fear of Communism, and with American backing, France's demands for the German Rhineland were refused. To appease France, the whole Rhineland, plus a belt 30 miles east of the entire length of the Rhine, was to be demilitarized forever. France also got the right to occupy the richest and most developed areas of the Rhineland for fifteen years.*
The German population on the whole would have settled, however unhappily, for the treaty; but, the distribution of German land and German people in the east aroused bitter resentment.
The Allied announcement earlier in the war that they were fighting for the "national self-determination" of peoples, found a practical solution for the Allies. In the East they wished to create a "belt," or a "sanitary zone," to prevent the westward expansion of communism. Consequently, the most general principle of the peace settlement was to recognize the right of national self-determination in Europe.* "Each people or nation, as defined by language, was in principle to be set up with its own sovereign and independent national state."* In keeping with the idea, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Yugoslavia, became independent "nations." (Ironically, the creation of Yugoslavia fulfilled the aims of radical Serbs who had sparked the war in 1914.) The Germans had expected the same treatment. They soon learned that the right of national self-determination, the promised "new world order," was reserved for nearly all the people of Europe except themselves.
The State of Prussia was to be cut in two so as to give Poland a "corridor" to the Baltic Sea. The Treaty did not finalize all of Poland's borders, but in the end, Poland would end up with millions of German citizens and thousands of square miles of German land which Poland had no historical or political rights to whatever.
Three million Germans living in the Sudetenland in Bohemia wanted to be annexed to the new German republic. Although they had been Austrian subjects for 400 years, they were incorporated into the new nation of Czechoslovakia along with those Germans living on 110 square miles of German territory near the Oder river. Most of these Germans, along with an additional six million within the new borders of Poland, Denmark, Belgium and France would soon come to see themselves as "oppressed minorities."
The seven million Germans of Austria also wished to join Germany now that their empire had vanished and they were bound to suffer economically. Although "there could be no clearer case for national unification,"* France objected. Germany and Austria were forbidden to unite.
The 16,000,000 Germans taken away or forbidden to unite with Germany would cause most Germans to view the Versailles Treaty as a stab in the back. As Hitler would later state:
The Versailles treaty and the "lost" Germans were to become the basis of Hitler's future political career.
The first German representatives sent to sign the treaty in May argued for concessions. When the German foreign minister lashed out at the victors for continuing the "murderous blockade,"* which had killed "hundreds of thousands of noncombatants," the French leader, who felt that there were "twenty million Germans two many," glowed "with anger," the British leader "laughed," and the British chancellor "yawned."* The German representatives resigned rather than sign, Ebert's new Chancellor resigned, and the members of the liberal German Democratic Party, which held almost one out of five seats in the new government, temporarily withdrew rather than accept any responsibility. All the German delegates, except the Independent Socialists, called for the treaty's rejection. "Hate and revenge," wrote future president of the US Herbert Hoover, ran through the whole treaty. Even President Wilson of the United States remarked to his Secretary of War: "If I were German, I think I should never sign it."
When the Germans refused to sign, the Allies threatened to take away more German territory. The French were determined to march on to Berlin and rule from there. The German High-Command was actually consulted about the feasibility of continuing the war. Hindenburg informed the Assembly that opposition was hopeless. Defenseless, a second German delegation was given the unwanted task of signing the Treaty.
Since "national self-determination" permeated the treaty, the Allies made only one noteworthy concession--they would let the people in certain areas taken from Germany vote in a plebiscite (popular vote) whether they wanted to remain outside of Germany after the treaty was signed. (When the vote was conducted, with the exception of the area bordering Denmark, Germany's neighbors and the Allies used every conceivable scheme in denying Germany what was rightfully hers under the terms of the Treaty. As an example, when the people in Upper Silesia voted overwhelmingly to return to Germany (707,000 to 479,000) the vote was ignored and the richest area was annexed by Poland. Danzig and Memel (-land), whose inhabitants similarly wished to return to Germany were given "international status." In other areas, where the Allies had assured plebiscites, they were arranged in only truncated areas. Hitler was learning that "treaties" mean nothing to unscrupulous adversaries.
In the end the triumphant Allies forced the same type of treaty on the new German Republic that they would have forced on the old Monarchy. Germany was saddled with a debt (equivalent to 40% of her national wealth) which she could not pay. All her economic ties outside of Germany were taken away. She lost three/fourths of her iron ore, one/third of her coal reserves, one/eighth of her industry, over one/eighth of her land, over one/tenth of her population and even the property that individual German citizens owned outside of Germany was confiscated.
The Center (liberal middle class for the most part) and the Social Democrats ratified the treaty, but so did the Independent Socialists which made the treaty suspect to many Germans. Resentment grew and mass demonstrations were conducted which denounced the treaty, those who supported it, and the government who signed it. Although the government attempted to relieve pressure on themselves by pointing to the treaty the German Army had forced on Russia, their attempts failed. Two wrongs don't make a right and they would bear the "shame of Versailles."
In the latter part of July, Hitler finished his special training in political instruction, propaganda and public speaking. Staff officer, Captain Mayr had not forgotten him and on July 21, Hitler along with twenty-two others received orders to join an "Educational Detachment." The next day they left for Lechfeld, the large military camp thirty miles west of Munich where Hitler, five years before, had practiced large maneuvers.
Lechfeld was now being used as "transit center" and was receiving a regular flow of freed prisoners of war who were to be discharged or reassigned. The huge camp was freely accessible to the many civilians employed there. Consequently, Independent Socialists and other Marxist agitators were getting into the camp and were spreading their gospel. The camp commander requested the Educational Section for the purpose of countering the Red propaganda with troop debriefings, or as Hitler put it: "The soldiers had to be taught to think and feel in a national and patriotic way."*
When Hitler and his group arrived, they split into groups and set up shop in the various squad rooms scattered about the base. Because Allied and communist propaganda was depicting Germany, the old Monarchy, and the army as those solely responsible for the war, the leader of Hitler's group would begin the proceedings with a speech titled: "Who Bears the Guilt for the World War?"* In an informal way, the other soldier-speakers were expected to add their bit to the proceedings.
Speaking before a public speaking class, with mostly like minded acquaintances, is a task that even timid people can surmount with training. Speaking before a strange audience of undisciplined, disillusioned and embittered men is another matter. Most of the soldier-speakers fell by the wayside. Hitler, though he was worried his voice might not be strong enough, distinguished himself from the beginning. In one of the first reports sent back to Captain Mayr, Hitler was mentioned as a "straightforward speaker" who knew how to take charge and did an "excellent" job in guiding the discussions after the group leaders had delivered their speeches.*
As with anything Hitler believed in, he threw himself into his new task. "I started full of ambition and love," he would later write. "For thus I was at once offered the opportunity to speak before a large audience; and what previously I had always presumed, merely out of pure feeling without knowing it, occurred now: I could 'speak.'"*
As the reports continued to come in to Mayr, it soon became apparent that Hitler had become the "star" of the program.* Although there were times when Hitler could not be heard in the furthest corners of the larger squad rooms, "Herr Hitler," commented one observer, "is a born people's speaker, and by his [zealotry] and his crowd appeal he clearly compels the attention of his listeners and makes them think his way."* Another observer commented that he had the "ability to carry away his audience" with him.*
Most of Hitler's speeches during this period concerned the "Peace Treaty of Versailles." At the heart of these speeches were not only attacks against the Allies but attacks on the Liberals, Socialists and Communists who, beginning in November 1918, had fomented revolution, taken over the government, surrendered to the Allies, and signed a treaty which reduced Germany to a "beggar nation." By applying his beliefs to "current events," one observer noted, Hitler was able to confirm his arguments in an easily comprehensible presentation. Hitler was, consequently, able to arouse real enthusiasm among the demoralized troops and succeeded in instilling within them "not only fresh hope but also impatience, hatred and a thirst for revenge."*
Hitler carried out his duties with such competence, eventually a soldier was put as his disposal to relive him of the more trivial duties like the distribution of leaflets.* "I thus led back many hundreds, probably even thousands, in the course of my lectures to their people and fatherland," Hitler would later write, "I 'nationalized' the troops."*
By August 25, the camp was in the act of processing the last of the returning prisoners of war and Hitler gave his last speech titled "Capitalism." Although the officer in charge of troop indoctrination at the camp rated the talk as "attractive, clear, passionate," he found reason to be concerned when Hitler "came to the question of the Jews."* The "concern" the officer voiced was not due to what Hitler had said, but how "clear" he had said it. As the officer wrote to Mayr: "If the question of the Jews were presented in a very clear way, with respect to our Germanic standpoint, if it were done like that, it could give Jews reason to regard these speeches as Jew-baiting."*
Even though "anti-Semitism" was alive throughout Germany, and was especially pronounced in Bavaria because of the short lived "Jewish Soviet," the officer had reason to be concerned. Since the 1880's German leftists had courted German Jews. The Social Democrats dominated over a coalition government which included the Independent Socialists. Because of the "many Jews in the ruling Social Democratic party"* and the Independent party, the Army General Staff (who for the most part relished thoughts of bringing back the monarchy) was in no position to alienate a government which Hindenburg pledged to support. The officer advised Mayr that Hitler's obvious "hints about a strange race should be avoided".*
At the beginning of September, Hitler was back in Munich and was assigned his own room on the second floor of the barracks. By now his superiors had become so impressed with his ideas, and his ability to present them in simplified form, that he was asked to write an "official report" on troop resettlement problems. When Hitler completed his analysis, his superiors were so impressed that Captain Mayr commended Hitler in writing and also informed him that "Headquarters proposes...to release your official report to the Press."* Because the Army was looking for an "appropriate patriotic attitude to take toward the Jews,"* Mayr also went on to request a written analysis of Hitler's views on the Jews.
Within a week Hitler handed in his analysis which started out by stating that "Jewry" constituted a threat to the German nation because of their harmful and destructive endeavors, "whether conscious or unconscious."* He then went on to state that an anti-Jewish attitude would never succeed unless it was based on "facts." He then picks up on the traditional nationalistic point of view and continues:
Hitler undoubtedly knew that the last part of this paragraph would attract the attention of his superiors. A few weeks before, when he was "nationalizing" the men at Lechfeld, the new German republic adopted a new constitution. Under, "Laws affecting aliens," Jews were excluded as aliens and granted equal rights with all "German" citizens, while (as most Germans saw it) other "non-Germans" were not. Because many Jews sat in high visible places (e.g. Paul Hirsch, a Jewish Social Democrat, became the first Prime Minister of Prussia and Hugo Preuss was the "author of the Weimar Constitution,"*), many Germans found the new constitution suspect and were convinced that Jews were granting themselves special privileges. Hitler's statement: "POSSESSES THE SAME POLITICAL PRIVILEGES THAT WE DO," was a classic example of Hitler's ability to "apply his ideological obsessions to current events so that the principles seemed to be irrefutably confirmed and the incidents of the day swelled to portentous vastness."* Hitler's report continued:
Hitler then goes on to describe the new "Republic" as a moral-less and spiritual-less state waiting to be toppled "by the ruthless intervention of national personalities possessing leadership and profound inner feelings of responsibility." He concludes:
The main substance of Hitler's concluding paragraph is not as unique as it may sound. The situation exists in every democratic society because of competing parties vying for votes and support. As an example, old US politicians had a saying that if you run for election with an equally matched opponent, 40% of the voters will be for you, 40% will be against you, and the other 20% don't really give a damn. So, to win, what one has to do is convince 11% of the last group to vote for them, or pull special interest groups (blocks) away from their opponent by offering them something. Everyone in politics knows how the system works and accepts it as a part of the democratic process. However, to those groups or blocks not benefiting from such politicking, anger begins to smolder. Unfortunately that anger is usually always directed against those benefiting from such an arrangement instead of the politicians responsible for it. Hitler believed that the Social Democrats were using the Jews for their own purposes, and the Jews were (wisely) taking advantage of it.
Before passing Hitler's report on to Headquarters, Mayr added the comment: "I am in complete agreement with Herr Hitler's view that...Social Democracy is indissolubly linked with Jewry." He also added that within the army, "all harmful elements must, like viruses, either be eliminated or [contained]."*
In the meantime, under the terms of the treaty, the Army had been given only three months to make their first reduction and get troop level down to 200,000 officers and troops.* With socialists and communists still urging revolt and discord, the new army (Reichswehr) was determined to keep its new ranks free from their influence. Because Hitler was still the Army's star speaker around Munich, his main task, by way of his speeches now, was to weed-out Mayr's "viruses" (a word Hitler would become particularly fond of in the future).
"No other task could make me happier than this one," Hitler would later write, "because now I was able, even before my discharge, to render useful services to that institution which had been infinitely near to my heart, the army."*
As always, Hitler was able to make contact with the troops and "enthrall them." The heart of Hitler's speeches continued to be on the "Versailles disgrace." He also showed the troops how the Socialists' and Communists' "Social and Political Slogans" appeal to the ear but have no relationship to facts. He also talked on the nearly hopeless "Reconstruction" of Germany under the terms of the treaty. His appeal lay in his ability as a natural speaker and he could launch into a speech without the slightest preparation. "My voice," Hitler would write, "had become so much better that I could be well understood, at least in all parts of the small hall where the soldiers assembled."* The program was successful and most of Hitler's colleagues acknowledged that he deserved the "lion's share" of the credit for their success.* Hitler was soon considered good enough to venture outside of Munich and was sent as far away as 100 miles to Passau where he had once lived as a boy.* Under the direction of the army, Hitler had finally slipped out of obscurity. He was now considered an "Information Officer"--a leader and shaper of men.
Hitler's small step up the social ladder fed his self-respect and he began looking for that something special that would distinguish him from other men. During the war he had experimented with several types of mustaches and by the end of the war was wearing one that was fairly bushy and ran along the whole of the upper lip almost concealing it. During his training in propaganda and speaking, he thinned out his mustache and wore it close-cropped. Around this time he chose to clip the ends which made it narrower than the width of his lips. This type of mustache was more prominent among the British, but some German officers (like Ernst Rohm) and right wing "intellectuals" (Dietrich Eckart, Gottfried Feder, etc.) to whom Hitler had been exposed in his speaker training period, sprouted such clumps of hair over their upper lip. Hitler was undoubtedly attempting to emulate them; and like them, when he was off the military base, he dressed in a suit, white shirt and tie with overcoat and broad brimmed hat.
The Army in Munich, as well as the police, were still jumpy over the fact that a handful of radicals had taken over Bavaria a few months before. The turbulent political situation had fostered over fifty political parties, associations, and societies which had formed as a direct challenge to government or simply to get their ideas aired. They covered the political spectrum from rabid communists to rabid nationalists. All of them, whether left or right, were subject to surveillance by the police or the army. When Hitler wasn't lecturing troops, one of his other duties was to report on such organizations.
On September 12, Hitler was ordered to check-out an organization calling itself the German Workers' Party. That evening, dressed in a dark blue suit, he attended the group's meeting which was held in one of the meeting rooms of the Sternecker Brewery on the corner of the Tal and Sternecker Strasse. (Biertischpolitik (Beer-table politics) was an important factor in the political life of Germany.) The revolution had given the soldiers the right to participate in politics, and that "right," as Hitler put it, was still in effect at the time. Hitler, consequently, had nothing to hide and signed the party's register as: "Gefreiter Munchen 2. I. Rgt." (Lance corporal, Munich, 2nd Infantry Regiment).*
Hitler's first impression of the party was "neither good nor bad; a new foundation like so many others."* The main speaker that night was to have been the nationalist poet and playwright Dietrich Eckart. When he fell ill, Gottfried Feder (engineer, amateur economist and brother-in-law of von Muller) substituted for him.* Hitler, who had been exposed to Feder's speeches about the evils of capitalism and the "yoke of high finance" during his training at the University, was free to concentrate on the gathering. Over forty people had signed the register that night and Hitler noted that most of the participants were workers or soldiers-- "chiefly from among the lower walks of life."* Present also were five students, a doctor, a writer, a pharmacist, two bank employees, four businessmen, two engineers, a daughter of a judge and a professor.*
Feder spoke for nearly two hours and by the time he finished, Hitler was dying of boredom. Although Hitler would have preferred to leave, he was obligated to make a report of the gathering to the army. An open discussion followed, and as Hitler expected, nothing of importance was mentioned. After a while the "professor" rose and, after refuting Feder's anti-Capitalist stand, called on the party to support the "movement" which favored Bavaria's separation from Germany and union with Austria.*
Hitler considered such talk "nonsense" and asked to be recognized. After introducing himself, he delivered a short opposing opinion of a strong united Germany with such passion that nearly everyone present was impressed with his sincerity and speaking abilities. Anton Drexler, a co-founder of the party holding the meeting, and the so-called head of the "Munich District," was so impressed he whispered to the party secretary: "This one has a great mouth, we could use him!"
When the meeting ended, Drexler, who made his living as a skilled worker for the railroad, approached Hitler and invited him to come again. He gave Hitler a copy of his 40 page pamphlet, "My political Awakening--From the Diary of a German Socialist Worker," which he described was the basic outline of the party's position. As Hitler would later write: "This was very agreeable to me, for now I could hope that perhaps in this way I could become acquainted with this boring society in an easier manner, without being forced again to attend such interesting meetings."*
Returning to his room at the 2nd Infantry barracks, Hitler retired for the night. He had trouble sleeping and awoke early in the morning. "Since I could not go to sleep again," he wrote, "I suddenly thought of the previous evening, and now I remembered the booklet which the worker had given me. And so I began to read."*
Drexler was not against many of the socialist ideas, especially the economic ones, or against being associated with the "Left."* He made it clear however, that he was a nationalist and a anti-communist who rejected Marxism and its international stance. He also rejected democracy and had been a passionate wartime supporter of the Kaiser. Drexler believed in an authoritarian but benevolent government. Hitler, always pleased to find material that already confirmed his own convictions wrote: "Once I had started, I read the entire little document with interest....involuntarily I saw thus my own development come to life before my eyes."*
Drexler's goal was to capture the disillusioned among the German workers, soldiers, civil servants and lower middle class and draw them away from the Marxists and what he termed the "Jewish spirit." He predicted the rise of a new political party, based on "National Socialism," which would create a "new world order" where laborers and tradesmen would be allied with farmers, shopkeepers, office workers and even members of the intellectual and professional classes.
Hitler's thoughts darted back to 1907 (when he arrived in Vienna and became acquainted with the successes of Karl Lueger) and he could not resist adding that he had come to the same conclusion "twelve years ago."*
For nearly a week Hitler was unable to get Drexler's pamphlet out of his mind, when unexpectedly, he received a "postcard" from Drexler. Hitler was informed that he would be welcomed as a member of the German Workers' Party and was invited to attend a meeting of the officers the coming Wednesday. Although Hitler didn't know exactly what to make of the invitation, the fact that he had been invited to the party committee meeting indicated that the party officials intended to offer him something--possibly a leading position. The party appeared to conform to Hitler's political ideals and the gathering at the meeting he attended the week before was far from shabby. Hitler undoubtedly felt he was being invited into the inner ranks of a fairly influential circle. His "curiosity" won out and he decided to attend. Hitler would later write:
Drexler soon appeared and his demeanor betrayed his eagerness to have Hitler as a committee member. Hitler was shortly introduced to the other five members of the "Party Executive," including the so-called "National Chairman" who arrived late. By the time the "executive meeting" got under way, Hitler's disappointment had turned into resignation. He "smiled" in amusement at the pretentiousness of the little group. Hitler continued:
By the time the "Executive Committee" came around to discussing "new memberships," Hitler had "stopped smiling."* The "absurdity" of the so called "party" was too much. He nevertheless asked questions and discussed matters about the organization. He found that the party members, all from Munich, basically adhered to Drexler's pamphlet. Because the "National Chairman," Karl Harrer, was also a member of the Munich Thule Society (whose captured seven members had been murdered in the Jewish led revolt in April), the group was intensely anti-Jewish.
Hitler also noted that the "party," was disorganized and although the leaders claimed to have around fifty members, the six committee members were the only ones active. As Hitler would later write: "Apart from a few general principles, there was nothing--no program, no pamphlet, nothing at all in print, no membership cards, not even a party stamp, only obvious good faith and good intentions."*
The "treasury" of the party was kept in a cigar box and there wasn't enough money to have leaflets or posters printed to announce the party's next public meeting. The party's meetings normally attracted, other than the officers, fewer than a dozen visitors while a crowd of 40 was considered large. Their largest gathering* was the open meeting Hitler attended where the main speaker was to have been one of Munich's best anti-leftist speakers.* By now Hitler was completely let down and concluded that the organization would never amount to anything. He felt that the committee members had no "organizational abilities," no "adequate grasp" of the situation and had no idea how to "develop a club into a party or a movement." He felt the party would "simply disappear silently after a time." Although Hitler was offered a position in the party, he left the meeting without making any commitment.
Over the next few days, Hitler had time to think and began to feel that he understood what the members of the party wanted to accomplish--"The feeling which had induced those few young people to join in what seemed such a ridiculous enterprise was nothing but the call of the inner voice which told them--though more intuitively than consciously--that the whole party system as it had hitherto existed was not the kind of force that could restore the German nation or repair the damages that had been done to the German people by those who hitherto controlled the internal affairs of the nation."*
The "little formation," Hitler also observed, "seemed to have the unique advantage of not yet being fossilized into an 'organization' and still offered a chance for real personal activity on the part of the individual. Here it might still be possible to do some effective work; and, as the movement was still small, one could all the easier give it the required shape. Here it was still possible to determine the character of the movement, the aims to be achieved and the road to be taken."*
Over the next two weeks Hitler met with Drexler and attempted to help the party recruit new members. Hitler wrote and typed "invitations" on the barracks typewriter, then handed them out to army buddies, friends (like the Popps), or passers-by. "I still remember how I myself in this first period," Hitler would later write, "once distributed about eighty of these slips of paper, and how in the evening we sat waiting for the masses who were expected to appear."* The net increase of guests was a disappointing one or two new faces. Remembering his early days in advertising, Hitler realized that a little sophistication might offer better results. Using his own money and funds other members of the party had contributed, he had hundreds of fliers announcing the next meeting printed at a local print shop. He helped post them about the city, handed them out at street corners, and placed them in mailboxes. By the time the "National Chairman" began to speak at that meeting, around thirty new faces were present. Hitler, nevertheless, could not make up his mind to join the party or not, until "Fate," as he later wrote, "pointed out the way."*
The Army at this time, regarded it as a patriotic duty* to support "German nationalism" as a counterweight to "Communist internationalism." Only paramilitary groups like the Free Corps were capable of putting down Red uprisings, so members of the Officers' Corps in Munich decided that the only other alternative to keep Bavaria from moving too far to the left was to support right wing political organizations.* The army was speedily reducing to the 200,000 men in its first reduction step, and was beginning to resemble an elite corps of officers. The need for soldier-speakers trained in lecturing troops was fast coming to an end. The men from the "Education Section" would be more valuable working outside the army as propagandists of nationalist views* in their spare time. Their army salary of twenty golden marks would give them the time and ability to help expand acceptable organizations or parties.
Even though there was great competition for the few places available in the new army,* Hitler was considered too valuable to let go. In keeping within the spirit of the Versailles Treaty, Hitler was actually discharged around this time but within one month he was accepted for re-enlistment into the new army.* Hitler, then received orders from Mayr to report on political parties with the hope of joining a "worker's party" and helping in its expansion.*
At the beginning of October, Hitler attended another meeting of the German Worker's Party. For the next two days he pondered on what "step" to take. There can be little doubt that Hitler would have preferred to have joined a larger and more established party, but he soon came to the conclusion that within a larger institution, he could never hope to rise to any important position because of his lack of "schooling." Coarse language, candidness, and appeals to the emotions are assets that have always troubled persons of "education or quality." Hitler (possibly remembering that the professor he had opposed at the first meeting of the German Workers' Party walked out before he finished his rebuttal) would write:
On October 4, Hitler concluded his brief summary of the party to Mayr and added: "I request the Captain's permission to join this association or party."* Permission was quickly granted and Hitler became the 55th member and number 7 in the parties executive committee in charge of "recruitment and propaganda."* National Chairman Harrer, a journalist and the most "educated" within the committee, failed to see any value in the acquisition of Hitler, but Drexler was overwhelmed. To a fellow committee member he commented: "Now we have an Austrian with a great mouth."
The German Workers' Party, had been established earlier that year and started out vigorously by holding an open meeting every two weeks. Because of all the competing political parties, its attempts to attract more then nominal interest among the working classes proved a "perfect failure."* By the time Hitler became involved with the "party," it had become little more than a debating society which held committee meetings "once a week....each Wednesday"* with open meetings about once a month. Hitler was determined to turn the little group around and change it into a major political force.
The only income the party had at the time was what the membership contributed and the small donations collected at its rare open meetings. Hitler persuaded the committee members to risk the whole lot. He proposed that they rent a larger meeting room to hold a public meeting and advertise the upcoming event in a well circulated nationalist newspaper. His arguments were so effective that the party gave him free reign and he spent almost every penny of the Party's funds on the idea. By the night of the meeting (Thursday, October 16, 1919) the ad had been placed, fliers had been handed out and the message had been spread.
In a room (left), capable of holding 130 people, in the Hofbrauhauskeller on Wiener Platz ("not to be confused," as Hitler put it, with the huge "Hofbrauhaus" on Brauhaus Strasse) the party leaders waited nervously. "To me personally," Hitler would write, "the room seemed like a big hall and each of us worried whether we would succeed in filling this 'mighty' edifice with people."*
The main attraction that night was Doctor Erich Kuhn, the editor and co-publisher of a national magazine, who was to speak on "The Jewish question a German Question."* For the first time, Hitler was formally scheduled to speak outside of army circles. He was to follow the Doctor and emphasize some of his points. By the time the Doctor began to speak, the meeting room was nearly filled with 111 people.* Present were seventy new faces including Karl Brassler, a writer for the Rightist newspaper Munchener Beobachter (Munich Observer).*
When Hitler's turn came he stepped quietly behind the podium. After a subdued beginning, which was to become one of his trademarks, he abandoned all restraint. He let his emotions take over and spilled out a stream of denunciations and threats against Germany's internal and external enemies. Within minutes the audience was enthralled. Hitler did not appeal to reason nor did he ask his listeners to think. He pointed to the wrongs done Germany and released within the audience passions they already felt and made them angry. He attacked the Marxist and the "Jewish-controlled newspapers" which he stated "suppressed" the truth.* He looked forward to the day when Germany would again recover her greatness. After a speech of a half hour, which left Hitler exhausted with perspiration covering his face, he appealed to his listeners for funds so that the party could continue its mission. He sat down to loud applause. He had upstaged the main speaker.
"At this first meeting, which could truly be called public..." Hitler would later write, "I spoke for thirty minutes, and what formerly I had simply felt without really knowing it, was now proved by reality: I could speak [to the public]."**
As the enthusiastic audience filed out that evening, they donated generously to the party. In less then a month, Hitler had turned the little group around. He had shown that he could not only organize large meetings but that he could also arouse a civilian audience. Karl Brassler, the writer for the Observer noted that "Herr Hitler" spoke "with passion."* It was the beginning of Hitler's political career.
A month later the Party scheduled another open meeting at a tavern called the Eberlbraukeller in the same part of town. Four nationalist speakers were scheduled to speak, with Hitler being the main attraction. Hitler was so confident of success that he convinced the Committee to charge 50 pfennigs admission--an innovation in Bavarian politics.*
Hitler now had to move cautiously for clashes between the Right and Left were a normal part of Bavarian politics. Rivals normally ignored the smaller or less threatening parties operating within their areas, but if a party opposed to their views seemed a threat, hecklers were sent to discredit the speaker or make sure he wasn't heard.* If heckling didn't have the desired result, agitators and thugs attempted to create disturbances and breakup the meeting in more violent ways. Word had already got around about Hitler's anti-Marxist stand, and trouble from the Left was expected. Hitler knew that if he asked for police protection they would cancel the meeting as a "'precautionary measure for the prevention of an unlawfulness,'"* and he would never be heard. Hitler wanted his message spread and consequently arranged for a few of his army buddies from a trench mortar company to "monitor" the upcoming meeting.
By the time the meeting got under way on Thursday Nov, 13th about 300 people were in the hall.* Most of the party members were present and 129 guests had paid their half Mark.* The audience for the most part consisted of students, army officers, and shopkeepers. Present also were some Leftists who intended to intimidate the group of "anti-Semitic, anticommunist speakers" with Hitler being their main target.*
Hitler was only to speak for 15 minutes but when his turn came he spoke for over an hour. Again he enthralled his listeners. Although he spoke with unprepared primitive force and emotion that set him apart from other speakers,* he delivered his speech in such a comprehendible manner that an undercover police investigator described him as a "businessman." Hitler blamed "the Jews Liebknecht [and] Luxemburg" (Karl and Rosa) for the uprising in Berlin. He denounced "the Jew Landauer, the Jew Levien, the Jew Levine...[and] also Eisner was a Jew" as "the leaders of the bloody Soviet government in Bavaria."* In the middle of his speech hecklers and agitators tried to disrupt him. Most were quickly overpowered and thrown out. The interruption only spurred Hitler to greater heights.* He appealed to people's hearts concerning their love for their nation, and the enemies that threatened her. He portrayed the treaty the Germans had forced on Russia as reasonable and humane while the treaty the Allies had forced on Germany as miserable and oppressive. He denounced the "hunger blockade" that the Allies enforced during and after the war as "inhuman." French Premier Georges, "the Tiger," Clemenceau's remark that there were "twenty million too many Germans" brought outrage.* Hitler carried the audience with him. As those in the room stood up and cheered, he closed with the forecast:
The end of Hitler's speech was met with "tumultuous applause." Even "National Chairman" Harrer appeared aroused and he closed the meeting by commenting that Germany's problems were not caused by war and defeat, but by Jewish Marxists. He urged the audience to come to the next meeting and bring "at least three others along." The undercover policeman reported that Hitler's speech was "masterful"* and that he was sure to become a "professional propaganda speaker."*
Three days after the meeting, Hitler was invited to participate in an "inner circle" meeting with Drexler and Harrer. Discussions were carried on as to what new directions the group hoped to move. Against the wishes of Harrer, who preferred a low profile "conspiratorial right-wing network,"* Hitler convinced Drexler that the party stay public and hold an open meeting every two weeks. Harrer reluctantly gave in. Drexler also acknowledged that Hitler was the party's main attraction and was to be one of the main speakers at future meetings. It was also decided that a platform, expressing the small groups principles and policies, would be drawn up. Hitler was named as one of the drafters.
Hitler, sensing that he could get nearly anything he wanted from Drexler at this point, made arrangements to do away with his position as Propaganda Chairman, and at the next officer's meeting was named Propaganda Chief. Hitler no doubt accomplished this by pointing out, that except for scanty notes, he spoke unprepared and getting the approval of a "committee" as to the content of his speeches was meaningless. This was a giant step upward in the party for Hitler. Now, he was not only the driving force behind the party, but its "philosophical mentor."
On November 26, Hitler scheduled his third open meeting and 170 people showed up at the Eberlbraukeller to hear him speak. At the beginning of December another open meeting was scheduled on the other side of town on the road to Dachau. The earliest surviving notice of a Hitler meeting ran as follows:
German Workers' Party
to take place on Wednesday 10 December 1919
'Germany in her deepest humiliation'.
(Note the double "t" in Hitler's name. In his early days with the party, his name was often spelled with two T's. It appears that Hitler deliberately let the misspellings go unchallenged so as to create confusion as to his background.)
For this meeting the crowd fell to 140 and at the following committee meeting some of the officers used the poor showing to attack Hitler.* Many were bitter of Hitler's rapid ascendancy in the party and resented him. They were men who sat around debating minor points and sharing responsibilities in common. They had been thrust into the background since Hitler "had more ideas, was more adept and more energetic."* They pointed to Hitler's way of doing things and complained. No doubt edged on by Harrer, they accused Hitler of moving too fast along lines not consistent with theirs and holding too many meetings.
Hitler, not one to be put on the defensive, struck back. After arguing that an open meeting every two weeks was nothing in a city of 700,000, he pointed out that the party operated along lines not consistent with its professed aims and was totally democratic in its internal procedures. He attacked the democratic concept--the "tea-club" mentality--that the party followed where, as he put it, "the answer to a safely arrived letter let loose an interminable argument."* As with most democratic organizations, where debating and issuing reports are the normal alternative to action, Hitler saw the constant debates as a hindrance to growth. He called for a complete reform of the party where those voted as officers would make decisions without having to seek the approval of those beneath them. "Each member of the committee," Hitler ended, "should obtain a feeling for his own value and usefulness for the movement."* Hitler's demands were rejected at this time but Drexler, who saw Hitler as the only hope of the group, continued to back him. Those committee members opposed to Hitler's way of doing things took no action but sat back and waited for Hitler to over reach himself.
Instead of taking a cautious approach, Hitler was determined to show the committee that his views were the correct course to follow. Pushing his new position as "Propaganda Chief" to the limit, he began taking action. Understanding that a organization needs to appear respectable and established, he rented a cellar room, without electric lighting, at the Sternecker Brewery on the Tal. The rent was only 50 marks a month but the party still possessed a measly treasury and Hitler's Commander, Captain Mayr, came up with the funds to give the party a permanent address.
To gain access to the party's first "headquarters," one had to enter the narrow Sternecker Alley and descend a steep flight of stairs. "It was a small vaulted, dark room with brown wooden paneling, about six yards long and three broad." Hitler would later state: "On overcast days everything was dark."* Using some of his own money and some funds from the party, Hitler had electric light installed. He also acquired a table, a few chairs, a book case, two cabinets, a typewriter, a safe for the party records, and had a phone installed--a sure sign of an established organization.
Hitler knew that the attack against him concerning the attendance at the last meeting had merit. The hall at Dachauer Street had been close to an army barracks and the drop in attendance was undoubtedly a greater shock to Hitler than anyone. Like most men with a mission, Hitler believed that all he had to do was get the word out and people would flock to his meetings. He was now shaken out of his complacency.
Hitler scheduled the next open meeting, to be held shortly after Christmas, and set about making sure that he did not suffer another reversal. For the upcoming meeting Hitler used his past experience in advertising to the utmost. The days of such complacent advertising as the one announcing the previous meeting were discarded. Imitating (and outraging) the Communists, Hitler had new posters printed on flaming red paper. Large headlines and eye catching words were set apart which shouted out at the passerby. Understanding the power of condensed hard hitting written material (which he had read in abundance in his youth) Hitler also had hundreds of pamphlets ("recruiting material," as he called it) printed which stated the groups goals. The pamphlets were to be made available to guests at party functions or left in the beer gardens after meetings with the hope that they would be passed around and read by potential recruits. All of the party's members were also encouraged to pass the material around. Hitler also had membership cards printed and to give the impression of a large and growing organization he had the numbering begin with 500. The first original member became 501 and Hitler became member 555. "Propaganda, propaganda," Hitler stated. "Everything depends on Propaganda."*
Hitler's methods paid off. Over 200 people showed up at the next meeting on Dachauer Strasse to hear him speak. Hitler had proven himself right. The party was breaking out into the open. Harrer resigned and all of Hitler's detractors within the committee were temporarily silenced. The only person wielding more power than Hitler was Drexler.
Footnotes: (One asterisk is for a footnote, two asterisks are for additional information.)