Impact of Wall Street Crash on Nazi Support
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Published: Fri, 29 Sep 2017
How far did the Versailles Treaty and the Wall Street Crash help to bring Hitler to power?
The year of 1939 undoubtedly marks the commencement of an era of bloodshed, devastation and the catastrophic war. Central to entire cause of the World War II is understanding the role of Adolf Hitler, and the process in which he obtained plenary powers over Germany. This essay seeks to examine the extent that the Versailles Treaty and Wall Street crash assisted Hitler’s rise to power until 1933, when the Enabling act was passed and Hitler effectively attained the powers to pass laws without the approval of the Reichstag. Despite many setbacks in his ascendency to chancellorship, Adolf Hitler was able to utilise the Nazi propaganda, detestation of the Weimar Government, and deficient psychological state of Germany due to the effects of the Versailles Treaty and Wall Street crash to aid his conquest for power. The essay will also highlight that although it can be argued that the vulnerability and desperation of the German population was susceptible to exploitation, the effective organisation, sheer persistence and impeccable character of Hitler served as the fundamental catalyst in his rise to power.
A key aspect of Hitler’s rise to power lies in understanding the implications of the Versailles Treaty. The Versailles Treaty that was enacted after the Great War introduced a wide range of negative repercussions on the German population. The strong bitterness at the harsh conditions imposed by the Treaty left the German population in a vindictive state, and they sought a leader to end the humiliation, regardless even if he was dangerous or aggressive. It is believed that Germany surrendered under the hope and belief that the conditions of treaty would be formed in accordance to President Wilson’s fourteen points, which was rooted in ideas of diplomacy and multilateral cooperation, seeking not to place any blame on any country for the war. However, the treaty that was finally created not only removed Germany from the League of Nations, but in contrast was fundamentally a treaty placing the blame of the war on Germany. The Treaty enforced immense reparations liabilities, diminished Germany’s essential economic trades, seized territories, and imposed demilitarisation clauses. George Clemenceau, the French prime minister, demanded that Germany had to be responsible for the damages caused and repercussions of the war, and claimed the most in reparations. They also demanded for full disarmament of Germany, determined to exact revenge for both the Great War in 1939 and the 1870 Franco-Prussian War by extorting as much as possible in financial reparations, and to render Germany helpless and vulnerable in the future (Smith, 1965)[4 in dakin sloss]. The war guilt clause placed shame onto the Germans by forcing Germany to accept the responsibility for creating the suffering and destruction incurred by the Allied Nations. Furthermore, the exclusion of Germany from the League of Nations resulted in a feeling of seclusion, adding to the idea that Europe was exacting its vengeance on Germany for the war. The financial liability of Germany to the Allied Nations required the dedication of its entire economy to repay the debt, and slumped the nation into a state of massive inflation, widespread poverty and impoverishment. The financial burden placed on Germany was made neither in consideration to the fact that Germany was still recovering from the war, nor whether or not Germany had the ability and capability to compensate (Keynes, 1922)[15 in dakin sloss]. Degradation from a militaristic Prussian state to an army closer to the size of a police force increased German sentiments of hatred and anger for the Allied Nations. Extensive control of German territories were seized, including the Rhineland, the Polish Corridor, Alsace-Lorraine, and the Saar Valley. The German economy depended heavily on the iron and coal ore-fields in Alsace-Lorraine and this was seen as a confiscation of limited economic and human resources. However, it has been argued that there has been no strong evidence to prove that the Versailles Treaty was indeed the cause of the poor economic and social state of Germany. A.J.Nicholls provides evidence to state that the German industry, was recovering its productive capacity despite the costs incurred from the treaty (Nicholls, 2000). Hitler capitalized on the situation, playing to popular sentiments to garner support for the Nazi party. His political agenda as written in the Nazi Party Program stated one of the aims as the abrogation of the Versailles Treaty (Shirer, 1990). The humiliation from the Versailles Treaty affected a huge majority of Germans, and the sentiments of oppression and the need for liberation from the treaty was successfully manipulated by Adolf Hitler in his rise to power.
The Wall Street played a fundamental role in assisting Germany in its economic difficulty as a cause of the Versailles Treaty, and therefore, it is difficult to ignore the serious repercussions that Germany suffered as a result of the 1929 Wall Street Crash. Similarly, Hitler exploited the vulnerable state of Germany during the Great Depression, which was caused by the Wall Street Crash, just as he did with the Versailles Treaty. Germany was in a dire economic state after the massive financial output from Great War and perhaps due to the harsh conditions imposed by the Versailles Treaty. International Bankers, primarily from the capitalist United States, provided huge amounts of profitable loans for German industries and cartels, such as I.G. Farben and Vereinigte Stahlwerke. This provided a source of relief for Germany, and to a certain extent some stability and a vast improvement in its economic welfare. In 1924 and 1928, the Dawes Plan and the Young Plan were implemented, which could be argued as a means for the Wall Street investors to influence Germany with American Capitalism (Sutton, 1976). In essence, the burden of German reparations to the Allied Nations was remunerated mainly by global subscribers of German bonds issued by the Wall Street stockbrokers (Sutton, 1976). In 1929 the Wall Street crashed, and the significant influence that the American economy had on Germany caused immediate and devastating consequences. As a result, there was a steep increase in unemployment, destitution amongst the working class became widespread, and many industries were forced to declare bankrupt. The Wall Street crash eventually led to the Great Depression. The crucial point to note was that the psychological effects of the Wall Street crash was the main factor which Hitler abused to obtain support for his political agenda. The severe and dire situation that the German population was suffering from caused a psychological façade that allowed the Nazi Party to prosper and succeed. ‘As Germany plunged deeper into the Depression, growing numbers of middle class citizens began to see in the youthful dynamism of the Nazi Party a possible way out of the situation’ (Evans, 2003). Hitler was adept and seized the opportunity to gather the support of the unemployed masses of working and middle class citizens, once again using popular sentiments to his advantage, and this largely accounted for the stark increase in Nazi support in the 1930 elections. ‘Like most great revolutionaries he could thrive only in evil times… when the masses were unemployed, hungry and desperate… (The people’s suffering he would) transform cold-bloodedly and immediately, into political support for his own ambitions (Shirer, 2009).
Friedrich Meinecke, the eminent German historian, once referred to Hitler as one of the greatest examples of a singular and incalculable power of personality in historical life. It can arguably be stated that Hitler was the key cause of the rise of Nazism within Germany, and without his dictatorial rule, resilient persistence, and shrewd political ability, there would not have been a Nazi Germany. His ideals of an Aryan Germany ruled by the Fuehrer-prinzip (Leadership Principle) was essentially a dictatorship adopting the authoritarianism of the Prussian army. A political campaign that was presumed by many as a lunacy and impossible to succeed eventually thrived under the dire circumstances that Germany was in. An extremely eloquent speaker, Adolf Hitler had an aptitude in capturing the minds of the masses with his speeches. Shirer asserts that after the failure of the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch, Hitler or the Nazis were hardly heard of and was ‘the butt of jokes’. However, he also adds that this was a significant event that contributed to the Nazi propaganda. Hitler used the publicity of the trial as a platform to announce the Nazi ideals on a nationwide scale. By the end of the trial, Hitler had transformed his defeat into a victory, and managed to impress the masses of the German population with his eloquence and strong desire for nationalism, and made himself well known around the entire nation. (Shirer, 1990) It is difficult to distinguish whether it was his oratory proficiency or his crafty leadership that contributed to a greater extent to the success of the Nazi party. Although he was incarcerated and barred from speaking in public by the Bavarian Government, Hitler continued to consolidate and influence the masses in the determined pursuit to rebuild the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Whilst the Nazi party was an organisation comprising of murderers, alcoholics, homosexuals and pimps, Hitler was indifferent to this and solely used them to his benefit. Similarly, in the unstable period of 1930 to 1933, due to the death of Gustav Stresemann and the Wall Street crash, Hitler capitalized on the susceptibility of the masses to achieve political power. Hitler envisaged the catastrophe, and premeditated to use it to his advantage (Shirer, 1990). He appealed to a wide range of audiences, with rational anti-communist beliefs for the upper and middle classes, nationalistic attitudes for the working classes, to radical anti-Semitism opinions for the extremist. Hitler once told more than a million cheering Berliners in 1937, “I did not issue from some palace, I came from the worksite. Neither was I a general; I was a soldier like millions of others. It is a miraculous thing that an unknown man was able to step forth from the army of millions of German people, German workers and soldiers to stand at the fore of the Reich and the nation.” (Evans, 2005) Historians have long attested to Hitler’s rhetorical excellence. Klaus Fisher asserts, “Without his remarkable gift of persuasion Hitler would never have reached such heights of power.” It was added by historian Frederic Spotts that Hitler’s eloquence was his key to attaining political power. Hitler was able to communicate in a sympathetic way many of the uncertainties and prejudices already felt by the masses, and this was a key aspect that contributed to his success.
The origins of Nazi propaganda can be traced to the Nazi Party’s 25 point program and Adolf Hitler’s autobiography titled Mein Kampf, in which he emphasises on the importance of propaganda and indoctrination of the German population. This was carried out through many avenues such as public marches, speeches, newspapers (Voelkischer Beobachter) and repression of all those who opposed. The common goal was to portray Hitler as the answer to Germany’s deplorable situation. Anti-Communist ideologies were promoted to gain support and funds from the middle and upper class voters, whereas the promotion of socialism was used to garner the votes of the working class. Hitler managed to arouse German sentiments of patriotism and nationalism, and promised to lead Germany away from communism, socialism, trade unionism and the futilities of democracy (Shirer, 1990). It must be noted that in order to appeal to all the social classes in Germany, Hitler kept his promises during his mass speeches vague, which was unsurprising as many were often contradictory. Events such as the Putsch in 1923 were used to make Hitler a national figure, a patriot and a hero. As one of Adolf Hitler’s closest associate, Paul Joseph Goebbels had a substantial influence on Nazi propaganda even before he was appointed as propaganda minister for the Nazi Party in 1933. He successfully promulgated Hitler’s image as a fanatical nationalist who promised to restore the German Army’s former glory. The Nazi propaganda created the cult of personality around Hitler, leading them to believe that he could re-establish the glory of Germany by uniting the social classes, restoring militarism, and to absolve the nation from the misery of the Versailles treaty. Therefore, although the Nazi propaganda sought to fulfil various goals such as the humiliation of Germany by the Treaty of Versailles, the weakness of the Weimar Republic and Anti-Semitism ideologies, the most dominant aspect was the deification of Adolf Hitler, as the Fuhrer of the Nazi Party.
After the adjudication of Kaiser Wilhelm II, a new democratic republic was formed that lasted from 1919 to 1933. Many historians have argued that the Weimar republic was condemned to its defeat ever since the beginning due to the political, social and economic instability of Germany, which it assumed governance over. The Social Democratic Party, faced a number of objective obstacles in their term of parliamentary control. The odium for defeat of the Great War, the implications of the Versailles Treaty, the constant blame of the diktat and labelling of its leaders as ‘November Criminals, and the poor policies that caused an economic crisis due to the Wall Street crash’ (Hamburger and Pulzer, 1985). The defeat in Great War and the signing of the armistice came as a particular disbelief to most of the German population who were under the impression that Germany was close to achieving victory in 1918. Consequently, many of them turned to popular sentiments that the war was lost from within, blaming treachery and the democratic government for the failure. Furthermore, the responsibility of the acceptance of the Versailles treaty was imposed wholly on the Weimar Government, causing further political demoralisation within the Parliament. During the period of the Great Depression, the German Chancellor, Heinrich Bruning, pursued an ineffective policy of rigid deflation, which increased unemployment and ultimately contributed to the loss of support for the Weimar Government. The acute economic issues that arose hastened the dissolution of traditional form of governance (Rosenhaft, 1983). A.J.Nicholls mentions that ‘perhaps the most consistent opponent of the Republic was Adolf Hitler. He argued that Germany could never be strong while the Weimar system was allowed to continue’ (Nicholls, 2000). In an unstable period plagued with revolutions, uncertainty and frustration, it was suitable conditions for radical left and right wing political parties to thrive. The Weimar Republic was ruling at an inopportune time, and Adolf Hitler merely capitalised on these factors in the benefit for his conquest of power.
The real damage the treaty did to Germany was to disillusion more moderate men who might otherwise have supported their new Republic.
Hitler had the patience to wait and the shrewdness to realise that the climate of material prosperity and of a feeling of relaxation which settled over Germany in those years was not propitious for his purposes (Shirer, 1990)
Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (New York: The Penguin Press, 2005), 498.
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