By September, Geli has a new boyfriend, an artist, who asks her to marry him. Hitler orders Geli to break it off. Geli decides she’s had enough of Uncle Adolf. On September 16, a day after Royal Navy Sailors mutiny against pay cuts in Invergordon, Geli cancels her voice lessons and heads for Vienna. Mr. Wolf orders her back to Munich. She does, only to find Hitler heading out of town for a meeting of Nazi bigwigs. She accuses him of having her come for nothing. Hitler forbids Geli to return to Vienna while he’s gone.
On September 17, Hitler and Geli argue over a spaghetti lunch. Supposedly Geli has learned that Hitler has met and is dating Eva Braun. Historians and psychologists spend the next 80 years arguing if Geli is jealous of Eva or ready to dump Adolf.
Either way, after the argument, Hitler heads off on his trip. Geli shouts at Hitler on his way out. Mr. Wolf returns, strokes her cheek fondly, promises to talk further after returning from Munich, and then leaves. Geli tells the housekeeper, “Really, I have nothing at all in common with my uncle.”
As Schreck drives Hitler down Prinzregentenstrasse, Hitler turns to Heinrich Hoffman and says, “I don’t know why, but I have a most uneasy feeling.” Hoffmann, whose many duties include acting as court jester, says it’s just the wind.
At that moment, Geli, in the Hitler apartment, goes through the pockets of Hitler’s jacket and finds a letter from Eva Braun, thanking Mr. Wolf for a theater invitation and the tickets. “I am counting the hours until I may have the joy of another meeting,” Eva finishes.
Geli locks herself in her room. The next morning, Frau Reichert knocks on the door to find it locked. She phones Max Amann and Franz Schwarz. The Nazi Party’s publisher and treasurer summon a locksmith, who opens the door. They find Geli lying on the floor, a 6.34-caliber pistol next to her, shot through the heart.
Hitler is leaving Nuremberg’s Deutscher Hof Hotel by car when a taxi and pageboy from the hotel follow them. Fearing an assassination attempt, Hitler tells Schreck to speed up. But the taxi pulls up and the driver hails Schreck. The pageboy says Herr Hess is on the phone from Munich with a most urgent call, bitte.
Hitler races back to the hotel, hurling his hat and whip into a chair. “Hitler here. Has something happened?” Long pause. “Oh, God, how awful!” Then, his voice nearly a scream, “Hess, answer me, yes or no – is she still alive?” The line is cut.
Mr. Wolf is furious, and Schreck takes his boss straight back to the apartment, then to the morgue, where Hitler watches the autopsy. After that, Hitler orders her room in the Munich apartment closed off, and only he and his housekeeper can enter it.
The socialist Munich Post prints a story arguing that Hitler had Geli murdered, and Mr. Wolf orders his lawyer, Hans Frank, sue to put a stop to the scurrilous article. For three days, Hitler refuses to eat. He endlessly paces his room. When Geli’s body is shipped back to Austria for burial, Hitler risks arrest – he’s banned from entering his homeland because of his politics – to visit Geli’s grave after the funeral. He’s unable to attend the actual ritual.
Geli lies buried in Central Cemetery beneath a marble slab that reads, “Here Sleeps Our Beloved Child Geli. She was our ray of sunshine.” Hitler places flowers and then heads back to the apartment of Nazi Vienna Gauleiter Alfred Frauenfeld, silent and gloomy.
At the apartment, Hitler finally eats some breakfast, and starts talking again, his voice once again firm and confident. He tells Frauenfeld and Hoffmann that he will take over power in Germany by 1933 at the latest, before the Poles seize Danzig. Then back to the car and Munich and the meetings with the Gauleiters. Staring straight ahead at the road, Hitler says, “So. Now let the struggle begin – the struggle which must and shall be crowned with success.”
A few days later, Hitler heads off to the conference and stops with Goering at an inn. Next morning, Hitler and Goering have breakfast and the waiter offers Hitler a piece of ham. “It is like eating a corpse!” Hitler shouts at Goering. He never eats meat again, except for liver dumplings.
Then Hitler goes back to work…getting good news when the Hamburg voters of that normally left-wing and labor electorate vote 43 Nazis onto the City Council. The same day, the Japanese seize control of the Manchurian railway system, defying international treaty.
Tragedy continues for the Nazi elite on September 25, 1931, when Goering’s frail wife Carin von Kantzow learns of her mother’s death and collapses in a faint. She dies after the funeral in Sweden on October 17. Her husband isn’t with her. She sends him back to Germany and his political work. Five days later, unemployed Britons riot in London against cuts in the dole.
After the funeral Goering returns to Berlin’s Kaiserhof Hotel, Hitler’s base in the Reichhauptstadt, and lives there. He buries his sorrow in service to his Fuhrer.
While Hitler and Goering mourn their losses, Germany’s Jewish community marks the Day of Atonement. In 1914, Germany’s Jewish population stands at 615,000. Of them, more than 100,000 serve in the Army, winning decorations and dying for their country and Kaiser. They do so despite policies in some regiments that bar Jews from promotion and military academies that prohibit Jews from attendance. Now Jewish families returning from synagogues after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services suffer beatings from Stormtroopers. In one case, three SA men beat an elderly man with their fists and rubber truncheons. Brownshirts spend Yom Kippur desecrating more than 50 synagogues and kicking over tombstones in more than 100 cemeteries.
One of the many ironies in the situation is that in few other countries than Germany are Jews so tightly assimilated. In 1927, 54 percent of all marriages involving German Jews involve non-Jews, to the displeasure of the Nazis and their allies and numerous mothers-in-law.
In Weimar Germany, Jewish life thrives. Jewish books, magazines, and even multi-volume encyclopedias pour off the presses.
German Jews who are among the nation’s leading lights include composer Arnold Schonberg, artist Max Liebermann, philosopher Hermann Cohen, and physicist Albert Einstein. Nine of Germany’s first 38 Nobel laureates are Jews.
The idea the Nazis put out that the Jews are a monolithic and omnipotent bloc is also rubbish. There are numerous Jewish organizations in the Reich, ranging across the political spectrum, often in conflict with each other. Some Jewish organizations adhere to Zionist, Socialist, or modern principles, getting involved with politics and the new wave of arts. More conservative organizations and rabbis decry these organizations and their views. Others simply argue with each other over the things people argue about in any age, in any nation.
At the same time, despite Hitler’s rhetoric, Jews do not control the country’s trades. Despite a disproportionately high number of Jews in learned professions – law, medicine, teaching, journalism, and the performing arts – they are not powerful in boardrooms. Since 1925, the number of major businesses owned by Jews is declining, as are their numbers on boards. Jewish shareholders and chief executives have lost control or influence in AEG (General Electric in Germany), Afga, Kaufhof, Salamander, and the Dresdner and Commerz Banks. Only in department store chains do Jews still hold power, where they use modern marketing techniques. The Nazis fulminate against them as being subverters of traditional values.
The truth, however, does not get in the way of good stories and myths. Hitler has his own hatred of Jews, and he is very good at tapping into existing hatreds and prejudices. Conservatives dislike Jews, seeing them as Marxists and Communists. Left-wingers and laborers see Jews as ultra-capitalists. University student unions and student governments share both sets of views. And Germans of all stripes, like anti-Semites today, denounce the Jews for the same imagined ills – believing them to be greedy, corrupt, degenerate, pushy, domineering aliens.
To try to counteract this, leaders of the Central Association of German Citizens of the Jewish Faith post rebuttals to the anti-Semites, and meet with Chancellor Bruening. He listens to his complaints and does nothing. In fact, for all the power the Nazis claim the Jews to have – control of the press, business, and left wing – the Jewish community has virtually no resources or power to counter the growing anti-Semitic menace. It is an irony that is lost on Hitler and his followers.
While the politicians bicker, Germany’s greatest industrial firm, Krupp, defies Versailles with determination and energy. Krupp builds weapons in secret and not-so-secret factories in Germany and outside the Reich. Die Firma files in 1925 for 26 patents for artillery control devices, 18 for electrical fire control apparatus, nine for fuses and shells, 17 for field guns, and 14 for heavy cannon that can only be moved by rail. Their development offices create light, medium, and heavy “agricultural tractors.” One of the designs shows a tractor with a 75mm cannon, which will embarrass Alfried Krupp at Nuremberg after the war.
In 1928, Krupp steel enables the Reich to launch the first of its “pocket battleships,” electro-welded heavy cruiser hulls packing six 11-inch heavy guns. Krupp builds cannon for the Reich in The Netherlands, and U-Boats allegedly for Spain, Turkey, and Finland there, which are tested by German crews, despite the ban on German submarines. The term for this, on Die Firma’s careful records, is “schwarze Produktion,” or “black production.” By 1931, Krupp is hard at work on a new anti-aircraft gun with an 88 mm caliber, built on a massive 15,000-ton press.
Yet the Depression pounds Krupp: despite the secret production, only 18,000 of the 40,000 Kruppianer are actually working, and on three-day weeks. To save fuel, Gustave and Bertha Krupp move to a smaller part of their mansion, leaving most of it unheated.
If producing weapons is no surprise to Gustav Krupp, the political developments in the Reich are. The continuing weak governments puzzle a man who studies railroad timetables, looking for errors. He writes to his colleagues and the ex-Kaiser in Doorn, saying that Germany needs order, but that the Nazis are too rough. After all, Hitler is neither gentry nor officer. Perhaps if Hitler had been commissioned…but Krupp’s fellow industrialists, like Fritz Thyssen, are joining the Nazi Party.
Krupp’s conversion to Nazism comes late by German standards…as late as January 27, 1932, he holds out. But Hugenberg assures Krupp that if the little corporal comes to power, the conservatives can handle him. But that day, Gustave sends a representative to Hitler’s speech to the schlotbarone, and the aide reports that Hitler is a great man. Gustav’s brother-in-law, Tilo von Wilmowsky, calls Hitler a “raving demagogue,” but Gustav is interested. Hitler’s insistence on “Fuhrerprinzip” reminds the steel baron of the old days of the Kaiser, and that the employer is master in his own house. To Gustav Krupp, that’s sacred. He has no truck with unions and organized labor.
Neither do most of the men who will lead Germany’s armies in battle. They’re busy doing their jobs. Erwin Rommel commands a company in the 13th Wurttemburg Infantry Regiment in for nine years, until his son Manfred is born in 1928. The following year he becomes an instructor at the Infantry School in the china-making factory city of Dresden. The Infantry School is located in Dresden for political reasons – Hans Von Seeckt’s anger that the cadets of 1923 all backed Hitler’s Munich Putsch. There, Rommel teaches his own exploits – victories and inspired battlefield leadership in the Argonne and on the Italian front. He assembles his notes and anecdotes, along with his lectures into a book, which he calls “Infantry Attacks.” He uses new technology, like sketch maps displayed on screen by projectors. His charisma and energy keep the students awake.
(Alert readers who have seen the movie “Patton” will note that George C. Scott’s Patton reads “The Tank in Attack” by Erwin Rommel before the El Guettar battle scene. In actuality, Rommel’s book is about infantry tactics. Hollywood license.)
Rommel’s efficiency reports describe him as “a towering personality,” “a genuine leader,” “a first-rate infantry and combat instructor…respected by his colleagues, worshipped by his cadets.”
In October 1931, Rommel is appointed commander of the 3rd Battalion of the 17th Infantry Regiment. On arriving, the officers supposedly test their new CO by asking him to join them climbing up and skiing down a nearby mountain. After three such cycles, Rommel invites them for a fourth, but the officers decline. Rommel has demonstrated his physical prowess, which impress the Lower Saxony woodsmen and farmboys who make up the battalion. Its history dates back to the King’s German Legion of the Peninsula and Waterloo. In April 1932, Rommel is finally promoted to major after 15 years of waiting.
Another major, Walter Warlimont, spends three months in 1929 in England learning the language. Once he does so, he is sent to the United States to study their industrial mobilization. He becomes one of the few German general staff officers with overseas experience and a real world view.
Gerd von Rundstedt, when not reading mysteries, commands the 2nd Cavalry Division in 1928 and is promoted to lieutenant-general. Major Walther Model is a staff officer with the Berlin Training Directorate. “Smiling Albert” Kesselring, promoted to lieutenant colonel, commands the 4th Artillery Regiment in Dresden, where the Jewish population of 6,000 takes pride in one of Germany’s largest synagogues. Heinz Guderian commands the 3rd (Prussian) Motor Transport Battalion, tasked with carrying out field experiments with wooden tanks, based on British manuals. In October 1931, Guderian becomes chief of staff to Colonel Lutz, head of the transport corps, and the two begin working on a secret program to provide the German army with an independent panzer force, and more importantly, convince the World War I-obsessed generalitat of the Weimar Republic that such an arm should exist. Despite the Great War, many German generals follow the lead of cavalry boss General Knochenhauer, who forms Germany’s three cavalry divisions into a single corps, with the wheeled reconnaissance battalions under the cavalry.
“This method of fighting a battle,” Guderian writes, “is invariably marked by extreme confusion, and I have never seen an example of it that was marked by anything but extreme confusion.
On the other hand, Col. Walther Von Reichenau, Chief of Staff in Wehrkries I in East Prussia, has an epiphany when he asks his wife to attend one of Hitler’s 1932 election speeches in Konigsberg. Frau Reichenau listens to Hitler and returns impressed. The same day, the Reichenaus and Hitler are invited to tea by the Wehrkries pastor. There, over the teacups, Hitler gives his usual monologue about rearmament, which he will initiate as chancellor. Reichenau comes out convinced Hitler is “the man,” and supports him – mercilessly, as it will turn out.
Other officers are in less glamourous jobs. Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin is reading French and Rittmeister in the 18th Cavalry Regiment. Jurgen Von Arnim is a lieutenant colonel and commands 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment. Hans Von Kluge is a full colonel. Lt. Hasso von Manteuffel is a lieutenant in the 3rd Cavalry, chief of its technical squadron, and an equestrian gold-medallist.
On October 10, 1931, the United States War Department issues nearly $2 million worth of contracts for new aircraft, most of it new monoplanes. The U.S. finally gives up on the gangly biplanes of World War I vintage.
The same day, the former Obergefreiter finally meets the Feldmarschall, a first time for both Hitler and Hindenburg. The interlocutor who sets up the meeting is the politically ambitious General Kurt Von Schleicher, head of the German Army’s political department. “Schleicher” in German means “intriguer,” which is appropriate. The scheming Schleicher is an impetuous improviser, who thinks he can use the former Obergefreiter. Like many people, Schleicher underestimates Hitler, who still comes across to the upper crust as an easily manipulated coarse demagogue, with neither manners nor fashion sense. Like many people, Schleicher will have a rude awakening.
Schleicher is as close as the Weimar government has to a human face…quick-witted, talkative, well-connected, and very ambitious. Leon Trotsky calls him “a question mark with the epaulettes of a general.”
With Goering at his side, Hitler tries to impress Germany’s wooden titan with his rhetoric, but Hindenburg is not awed. Hindenburg’s son Oskar sneers, “I suppose he wants a free drink.” The Reichpresident suggests that Hitler back Bruening, in return for a share of power.
Hitler refuses. He wants it all. In the 75-minute meeting, Hitler speaks for 60 minutes. After the meeting, Hindenburg tells Schleicher, “Queer fish you brought me there, general. Wants to be Chancellor, that Bohemian corporal, does he? Not if I have any say about it. Put him in charge of the Post Office. That’s the best job he’ll ever get.” Hindenburg adds that Hitler can then lick the backside of stamps with his face on them.
Hindenburg’s public relations people issue a bland press release saying that Hitler and Goering met with the Reichspresident, to discuss “internal and external political questions.”
Hitler reacts to Hindenburg’s contemptuous dismissal by reviewing Brownshirts and SS men for six hours at a Party rally in Brunswick on October 17. Bruening wants the Reichstag to simply extend the titan’s term, but they refuse to do so. Bruening fears that a new president will not rubber-stamp his decrees, or worse, issue new ones of his own, so he persuades the 84-year-old Hindenburg to put on the Prussian dress blue uniform and stand for election one more time. Unlike the contenders in America’s presidential election, also raging in 1932, Hindenburg doesn’t have to take a position on Prohibition.
On December 12, 1931, Goebbels marries Magda Quandt in a civil ceremony. Hitler is the best man. Goebbels writes to the Holy See in Rome for permission to hold a church marriage, but gets shot down. Goebbels later writes a nasty letter to his Archbishop, denouncing the Church. The Church shoots back by suing him to reclaim the scholarship money they gave Goebbels for college. Goebbels ignores the lawsuits. With the marriage, Magda loses her 4,000 mark monthly alimony. Hitler solves that problem by doubling Josef’s salary.