Municipalities and states, trying to pay unemployment, find themselves hamstrung too, when their tax bases disintegrate and their American loans are called in. The government tries cutting costs by cutting salaries as much as 23 percent, which infuriates both workers and their unions. Feeling betrayed by their employers, government workers join the Nazis or the Communists.
Bitter crowds blame the schlotbarone, the Ausländer, and the Jews. Misery rules the Reich.
Hitler is delighted. “Never in my life have I been so well disposed and inwardly contented as in these days. For hard reality has opened the eyes of millions of Germans,” he says.
Communists are happy, too…they recruit members from the gangs of youths committing mayhem around cities, creating the Red Front-Fighters’ League, which stages parades and rallies. They usually end in fighting with the police. The Communists also organize rent strikes, agitate to schoolchildren, and most importantly, stake out bars and taverns as their own, defending their favorite lager against all forms of capitalism. Their membership flies from 117,000 in 1929 to 360,000 in 1932.
Even so, the Communists have their own weaknesses…its leaders seem more concerned with arguing theory with Social Democrats than battling capitalists…leaders like Walter Ulbricht parrot Moscow’s line despite its contradictions… membership turns over frequently, as much as 50 percent in 1932…and most importantly, its members mostly come from the unemployed, who have little money by definition. Between 1929 and 1933, many of the Communist-owned pubs or bars go out of business, turning over the all-important beer business to Nazi-owned (and therefore subsidized) taverns.
By early 1930, German unemployment hits 6 million. Suddenly, Nazi rhetoric about imprisoning Jews, Communists, and “November criminals” strikes the German masses as not craziness, but viable solutions to Germany’s desperate problems. Hitler’s words are crude, but he promises the Germans something they need: food and jobs.
So does Communist rhetoric, which blames Germany’s problems on their primary enemy, capitalism. While the Communists gain great numbers of adherents, their class-based appeal limits them to one stratum of society: laborers. Communist speakers assail and thus alienate the middle classes, small and large businessmen, bankers, the clergy, industrialists, nationalists, military, and schlotbarone.
On January 1, 1930, the Nazi Party marks the beginning of a new decade and new era when Stormtroopers kill eight Jews in Berlin. As the year rolls on, the Brownshirts will become more visible and violent, molesting Jews in cafes and theaters, and disrupting synagogue services. In the Reichstag, Brownshirt deputies break up debates and attempts to pass useful legislation by starting fights and hurling inkwells, desk drawers, ledgers, chairs, and driving opponents from the chamber. Once the session is wrecked, the Nazis sing their marching songs. In early 1930, they gain a new song, for amid the chaos of Germany that year appears one of those ephemeral characters who tread the stage of history for a few minutes, earning a notoriety and fame they do not deserve. In 1930, such fame is thrust upon a 21-year-old Berliner named Horst Wessel.
By day, Wessel is a blond, muscular law student, rebelling against his preacher and Freemason father. By night he is a dedicated Brownshirt, fighting Reds in Berlin’s Friedrichshain district and writing poetry, including a forgettable verse named “Raise High the Flag!” It immortalizes comrades slain in street battles.
After penning the poem, Wessel sets it to the tune of a Viennese cabaret song from the turn of the century, and mails it to Goebbels’ paper Angriff. Goebbels publishes the song in September 1929, notes that Wessel is a perfect Aryan physical specimen, and that should be the end of it.
But it isn’t. Wessel falls in love with a prostitute named Erna Jaenicke and moves in with her. Some accounts say that Wessel acts as her pimp, living off her earnings, so much so that he loses interest in Party membership, except for going to meetings to beat up Communist hecklers. However, Erna’s previous pimp, Ali Hoehler, is a dedicated Communist who holds convictions for perjury, pimping, and petty crimes. Hoehler is less than thrilled at seeing his income source and playmate run off with a Nazi. Jaenicke’s landlady, Frau Salm, is also annoyed that Erna hasn’t paid the rent lately. She passes on Erna’s new address to Hoehler. The angry Communist bursts into Erna’s room on January 14, 1930, while both are there, and shoots Wessel in the mouth, hauling off Erna.
Wessel lingers in hospital for a few weeks. He is the first casualty of the fracas, truth the second. The Communists claim Wessel is a pimp who got what he deserved. He isn’t. Goebbels claims that Wessel is a heroic Christ-like martyr who died trying to evangelize for the Nazi Party. He isn’t that, either.
But the claims and counter-claims are immaterial. While Wessel lies dying, Goebbels unearths his song and says, “Horst Wessel was murdered because he was a National Socialist.” At a Nazi meeting in the Sportspalast, everyone sings the “Horst Wessel Lied.” Nazism has its new anthem.
The alleged martyr dies on February 23, but Goebbels isn’t finished yet: he asks Hitler to give the eulogy at the funeral. Hitler, uneasy about showmanship for such a questionable person, declines. Wisely. Reds attack the funeral procession. At the gravesite, Goebbels calls the roll of stormtroopers and bellows, “Horst Wessel?” All the Brownshirts roar back, “Present!” Among the official mourners are Goering and Prince August Wilhelm of Prussia, who provides Kaiserliche imprimatur to Nazism. Goebbels delivers the eulogy, comparing Wessel’s sacrifice to that of Christ. “Wherever Germany is,” Goebbels says, “you are there, too, Horst Wessel!”
Next, Goebbels proceeds to burnish the Horst Wessel myth, such as it is. All the Nazi publications honor him as a “martyr for the Third Reich.” And his song becomes the battle hymn of the Nazi party and ultimately Germany’s second national anthem.
Then, to ensure that the truth about Horst Wessel remains obscure, Goebbels orders Heinrich Himmler and his SS to take care of things. That’s easy enough. Himmler’s SS men have infiltrated the Bavarian Police, and they kill Hoehler, Jaenicke, Salm, and all the witnesses in the case. It never comes to trial. The “Grossenluge” has triumphed. Nazism has its undeserved martyr in a tawdry case of pimps, murder, betrayal, petty revenge, lies, and cover-ups. It is an appropriate foundation for the Nazi regime.
In 1930 and 1931, politics continue violent in Germany. The Nazis claim 17 deaths in 1930, 42 in 1931, and 84 in 1932. The Communist casualty bill: 44 in 1930, 52 in 1931, and 75 in the first half of 1932. Both sides are equally guilty…they show up for their own and each other’s rallies armed with blackjacks, brass knuckles, and buckled belts. Since Germans don’t play baseball, no baseball bats.
But while German politics continues its fall into the gutter, German military professionalism at Lipetsk in the Soviet Union continues its rise. German officers work with British, Russian, and German tanks, and attend Soviet Army maneuvers. The German officers are impressed by tanks and armored vehicles. They are less impressed by the Soviet Army. The officers and NCOs, cowed by Stalin, show no initiative. The tactics displayed are rigid. The watching Germans believe the Soviets can never improve, and start mentally writing them off as serious opponents.
The attending German officers watching the brown-clad Soviet infantry and cavalry include some junior men, like Hermann Hoth, Hans Jeschonneck, Werner von Brauchitsch, and perhaps most importantly of all, Major Erich von Manstein, a tall, distinguished Great War veteran and Prussian Foot Guards officer who becomes head of Group One in Section T1 (Operations) of the Truppenamt on September 1, 1929. His job is to begin the process to expand the German Army.
He proposes a dramatic re-expansion of the army, tripling itself from within, training every officer, NCO, and man to fill the job of his immediate superior. That way, when mobilized, each infantry section becomes a platoon, each platoon a company, and so on, until seven peacetime divisions become 21, almost overnight. Despite his arrogance to superior officers, Manstein draws the respect of his bosses, with the exception of an unimaginative but industrious artillery major named Wilhelm Keitel.
But to the other officers, Manstein is now a man to watch.
With Germany falling into the bottom of the barrel and the Nazis gaining importance, the Nazis gain more support and attention from the schlotbarone. Using the “Grossenluge,” Hitler ignores his working-class origins and supporters, cultivating the industrialists and schlotbarone.
Key to doing so is a fat, piano-playing, hard-drinking raconteur named Walther Funk. Editor of the conservative Berlin financial newspaper Borsenzeitungsince 1922, Funk is an ardent nationalist and anti-Marxist. He joins the party in 1931 and quickly becomes its leading contact man with the industrialists like Fritz Thyssen and Friedrich Flick.
Funk is an unlikely intermediary. Greasy-looking, dwarfish, a habitual drunkard, he casts himself as a great lothario in his dinner stories, but is actually a practicing homosexual with a preference for little boys. He quits his newspaper job to persuade the schlotbarone that Hitler is “an enemy of state economy and that he considered free enterprise and competition as absolutely necessary.”
Somehow, Funk impresses the money-men. Thyssen is already aboard the Nazi bandwagon. Georg von Schnitzler of the I.G. Farben combine, and Cologne banker Kurt von Schroder join up, too.
Hitler also moves to eliminate his remaining party rivals. The Strasser brothers are next. Hitler meets with Otto Strasser at Berlin’s swanky Adlon Hotel. Strasser is furious that Hitler is dealing with industrialists instead of supporting rank-and-file workers. Despite Hitler’s cooing rhetoric, they reach no deal. Strasser wants industry nationalized.
Hitler argues that the schlotbarone have fought their way to the top through their abilities. On the basis of this selection, which again only proves their higher race, they have a right to lead, Hitler says. Now you want an incapable Government Council or Works Council, which has no notion of anything, to have a say. No leader in economic life would tolerate it.
Strasser asks what Hitler will do with the Krupp empire. Hitler replies, “Of course I should leave it alone. Do you think I should be so mad as to destroy Germany’s economy? Only if people should fail to act in the interests of the nation, then – and only then – would the State intervene. But for that you do not need any expropriation, you do not need to give the workers the right to have a voice in the conduct of the business: you only need a strong state.”
Hitler’s words re-echo joyously in Gustav Krupp’s Hauptverwaltungsgebaude in Essen. Die Firma’s directors know that Hitler will not break up or attack their business. Strasser, however, threatens a party revolt against Hitler.
So Hitler orders Strasser and his followers purged from the party, eliminating these original Nazis. Gregor Strasser sticks by Hitler. Otto Strasser vanishes into obscurity.
Now Nazi and Communist bullyboys are fighting all over Germany’s streets. Goebbels uses Red rhetoric against them, “Working Germany, awake! Break your chains in two!” When Reds and Nazis aren’t beating up each other, they march arm-in-arm against their mutual enemy, Berlin Police Commissioner Bernhard Weiss, whose cops jail both sides equally. Worse, Weiss is Jewish.
Weiss bans the wearing of Nazi and Communist emblems in public parades. The Nazis retaliate by marching bare-chested in summer, or wearing identical white shirts and black ties, or lederhosen.
The police are quite unable to cope. Many cops, being ex-soldiers, dislike their own government, and often sympathize with the Nazis and their rhetoric. The left-leaning Weimar government is seen by cops as weakening their power, cozying up to Reds, and most of all, slow in passing out police promotions. Police officers regard the Communists as criminals, using politics as a cover for thuggery. The violence continues.
Hitler promises higher prices to farmers. So they back him. He promises tax cuts to the lower middle class. So they back him. He promises an idealistic socialist society to university students. So they support him. So does Prince August Wilhelm, the ex-Kaiser’s youngest son. And Prince Philip von Hessen, a grandson of Queen Victoria. Hitler offers unity to Germany. All have something to gain from a Nazi state – all but Jews and Communists.
Nazi propaganda about the Jews is delivered in gutter terms: Jews are depicted as the murderers of Christ, little children, and babies. They are accused of ritual murders for Passover, secret Satanic rituals, and raping German girls. The propaganda about Communists is equally ludicrous: that the body of the Bishop of Voronezh was cooked for soup and force-fed to monks; that a monument is erected in Svyahsk to Judas Iscariot. The highlight may be the canard that the Soviet Union has eliminated the terms “father,” “mother,” “son,” “daughter,” “brother,” and “sister,” and incest is no longer a crime.
Facing disaster, the Weimar government tries emergency measures, which fail in the recalcitrant Reichstag, when Nazi deputies again hurl inkwells to prevent votes on bills. Government is stalled. So the government calls an election.
The Reich goes to the polls on September 14, 1930, in the biggest election in Reichstag history. 4.5 million newly-registered voters cast ballots. Goebbels predicts he will raise Nazi seats from 12 to 40. He turns out to be a pessimist. In a massive triumph, the Nazis go from 12 Reichstag seats to 107. They gain 800,000 votes in 1928 to 6.4 million. The liberal parties, headed by Heinrich Brüning, a Frontkämpfer, lose 1.25 million votes from their 1928 totals. More than 100,000 people join the Nazi Party in the final weeks of 1930.
Now the once-ignored Nazis (and the Communists) are a force in the Reichstag. As the Nazi deputies enter the immense building, Brownshirts stand outside, shouting, “Germany awake, death to Jews!” Outside of the Reichstag, Germany is in chaos. SA Brownshirts attack enemies in the streets. In one month, 99 men die and 1,125 are wounded in Berlin street brawls. Brownshirts storm into Jewish-owned department stores and vandalize them. Once again, Germany is disintegrating.