DW: Hitler wasn’t an ‘accident’ – Could his rise have been prevented?

DW: Hitler wasn’t an ‘accident’ – Could his rise have been prevented?

On January 30, 1933, the Führer was appointed chancellor. In an exhaustive confrontation with the then historical and social becoming historians examine this – theoretical – question

In reality, the developments could have taken a different turn. Because in the early 1930s everything showed that Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party NSDAP were breathing the dust. This is what the German-Israeli writer Dan Diener argues for the period before Hitler’s so-called seizure of power on January 30, 1933. A year earlier, in the fall of 1932, the party and its leader were facing serious setbacks. To the point that even the Germans themselves of the time seemed surprised when he eventually became Reich Chancellor. The consequences are tragic: 60 million dead worldwide, 6 million Jews, Sindi and Roma persecuted and exterminated, people with disabilities and homosexuals murdered. January 30, 1933 is one of the greatest turning points in history. “January 30, 1933 has become an Archimedean point in German history,” says Dan Diener in an interview with DW. “Something happened that allows us as historians, but also as contemporary people, to make estimates about the time before and after. This is perhaps one of the most important and, in terms of its visibility, most important key dates in German history of the 20th century.”

Hitler was no accident

And this begins with the term “seizure of power”, a deliberate invention of Nazi propaganda. On January 30, power was not seized by Hitler, but handed over to Hitler. Reich President Paul von Hindenburg appointed him chancellor. However, the elderly general had resisted Hitler for a long time, refusing to make him chancellor despite good election results in August 1932. This was one of Hitler’s biggest defeats. British historian Ian Kershaw in his book on Hitler, which is considered an international reference work, lists the various factors that led to the National Socialists taking power. On the one hand, he says, during Weimar there was the undermining of democracy in order to preserve or impose one’s own economic interests. And this alongside the blind determination of extreme right-wing conservatives to “eliminate democracy and destroy socialism”. Second, in the wake of the turmoil due to the global financial crisis there has been a shift to an authoritarian system of governance. Finally, Hitler’s will to power and destruction was constantly underestimated. “Hitler was not the inevitable result of a German ‘Sonderweg’ (special road),” says Kershaw, “but neither was it a mere accident. One must see Hitler through the time frame of his time, war, revolution, national humiliation and fear of Bolshevism”.

According to historian Dan Diener, who has done comparative studies on the subject, there are many factors that played a decisive role. For him the economic crisis and the structure of the Weimar Constitution, in which radical parties could quickly enter the parliament, are very important factors. However, there was a contradiction. “Hitler’s appointment was a surprise event,” notes Diener. “The NSDAP was deadlocked. From the autumn of 1932 there were signs of economic recovery. The NSDAP was in decline, while the economy was booming. And at this very point Hitler is appointed Reich Chancellor. It really shouldn’t have happened.” . Dan Diener has long been concerned with the question of whether Hitler’s rise to power was inevitable. The German Historical Museum in Berlin, in an unusual exhibition under its auspices, presents the possibilities that could have changed the course of history. An unusual approach to historical becoming. The exhibition entitled “Roads not taken” which will last until November 24, 2024, is dedicated to such questions. Not only in relation to 1933, but also to other key dates in German history, from 1989 and back to 1848. “It’s not a speculative story,” explains Dan Diener, “we’re more grounded in reality to see what might happen. seeds of possibilities existed, but which then no longer enter the historical narrative”.

They ignored the dangers

Central historical events are analyzed through a microscope. The fact that Hitler became Reich Chancellor in 1933 was also largely the product of behind-the-scenes machinations of power. A large number of people played a destructive role in this, most notably Franz von Papen, who had been forced to resign as Reich Chancellor as recently as November 1932 and now saw an opportunity to regain power. And he really succeeded, because on January 30, 1933 he was appointed vice chancellor in the Hitler-Pappen-Hugenberg government. Von Papen was Hindenburg’s confidant. In January 1933 he negotiated with Hitler the terms for the chancellorship and a joint government under Hitler and finally convinced Hindenburg that this was the right course.

At the same time, it became clear that the outgoing Reich Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher could not be retained in power. In January 1933 the remaining participants were seduced by the fact that Hitler apparently backed down on his demands by asking to take “only” the chancellery, the interior ministry and the Prussian interior ministry. They thought that by assuming power Hitler would be tamed, a monumental fallacy. “There’s a line by Hitler that the others supposedly discovered him, but it gives me chills, as if there are magical forces at work that move a man into a position to then develop explosive nuclear power,” Diener says of the story’s trajectory. The perspective of the report makes it clear that the greed for power and self-interest of individual actors also paved the way for Hitler to rise to power.

Dan Diener also examines history through the lens of questions of the present. Because in today’s crises one finds parallels with yesterday, even with 1933: “The big problem was that the institutions that ensured democracy collapsed,” says Dan Diener. And that meant losing control. In the final phase of the Weimar Republic, government was governed only by emergency decree, parliament was deadlocked, and Reich President Hindenburg could appoint and dismiss chancellors at will. What lessons should we learn from this today? Dan Diener’s answer is simple but meaningful: “You learn from it to respect institutions.” And keep your eyes open. Although the Nazi paramilitary organization “Storm” on the evening of January 30, 1933 led a torchlight procession for hours through night Berlin to the Brandenburg Gate, most did not even take into account the destruction that was beginning. A large number of serious newspapers saw no cause for concern in the new government. Only a few recognized the danger. But their warnings went unheeded.

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