By Thomas Childers, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania
While fighting along with fellow German men for the greater good of Germany, Adolf Hitler felt the sense of the classlessness of the trenches. This vision became the centerpiece of much of his political life. Read on to see how his political career began, which led to unprecedented events in the history of humankind.
A New Role for Hitler in the German Army
Having recovered from an injury inflicted during the war, Adolf Hitler was transferred to Munich, where he was to be mustered out of the army. Germany was demobilizing, but he was able to stay on the army rolls.
He was given a job as a member of an army surveillance and propaganda unit. His job was to go and listen to political meetings and write reports on the people and the different parties or organizations that were popping up.
The army wanted to maintain order and combat the threat of Bolshevism that was sweeping the country. So, they conducted courses in anti-Bolshevism, German history, and the course of the war. Hitler attended these courses, where he was an excellent student. In fact, he was selected to go to an instructor’s course, where he emerged for the first time as a star orator.
This is a transcript from the video series A History of Hitler’s Empire, 2nd Edition. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
The Rational Anti-Semitism of Hitler
It was at this school for instructors that he realized he could speak. The topic that he chose for most of his talks on this course was anti-Semitism. “The Jews are our misfortune”, he would say, and argued that “anti- Semitism, based on reason—on facts and not on emotion” was the key.
Emotions would produce pogroms, but these things were not very useful and didn’t lead to any sort of “final solution”.
The final aim, he argued, was what he called rational anti-Semitism. The goal of rational anti-Semitism must “unshakably be the removal of Jews altogether”.
The ‘unshakable’ was typical Hitler verbiage; everything that he ever said was unshakable. It was felsenfest; he was not going to give in; not change a word of it.
Hitler’s Fear of Judeo-Bolshevism
Hitler was worried about the Bolshevization of Germany. He made a link between Bolsheviks and Jews, and throughout his career, he almost always spoke of what he called Judeo-Bolshevism.
He insisted at this point that his anti-Semitism wasn’t the result of religion, the oldest form of anti-Semitism, which had been around for centuries. His was not a sort of socioeconomic anti-Semitism, accusing the Jews of being parasites.
His argument was that this was a racial matter, and so for him, a converted Jew is even worse than a practicing religious Jew.
The Beginning of Hitler’s Political Career
For the first time in 1919, Hitler attended the meeting of the German Workers’ Party, or the DAP—the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei—as the party was called. He was not impressed with what he saw. However, he found the speech interesting.
His time on government money, his army paycheck, was going to run out. He was going to be mustered out of the army soon, but he had six to nine months, so he joined the DAP.
Unlike the other members of this organization, he had a job, so he had money. He could devote himself entirely to political activity, which he did.
Learn more about the Nazi breakthrough.
Hitler: The Street Corner Speaker of the DAP
This discovery of his ability to speak would make Hitler the drawing card of the DAP. He didn’t want it to be a club; he didn’t want it to be a debating society. He wanted to use this as the vehicle for the creation of a mass political movement.
His voice sounded odd to Germans. It was an Austrian-accented voice. He had the capacity—some have argued that it was the result of the gassing attack, of the wounds that he’d suffered in his larynx as well as his eyes—to ratchet up from one octave to another. He would create a sense of crescendo with his speech that everybody found odd and remarkable.
Hitler quickly achieved a reputation for himself as a street-corner speaker. He spoke in streetcars in Munich; he spoke on street corners; everywhere that there would be a crowd.
And, when the new party began charging admission for people to come to their meetings, Hitler’s speaking was one of the things that drew people inside.
The Creation of the People’s Community
The program of the DAP was drawn up in 1919. It was bellicosely nationalistic—the Treaty of Versailles was a crime; the war had not been Germany’s fault—and called for the restoration of German power and prestige.
It was radically anti-Semitic and radically anti-Marxist; in fact, it linked Marxism and Judaism, or Jews, to be more precise. Anti-Semitism was linked to economic exploitation; Jews were seen as having benefited from the hard work of Germans.
Winning Working-Class Support
It was also determined to win working-class support for these ideas. This is one of the things that made it stand out. It wasn’t just an appeal to middle-class Germans, for whom that program might have had some attraction. Hitler wanted to attract German workers to cross the great class lines.
The party rejected the Marxist idea of the dictatorship of the proletariat. They believed in German socialism. The DAP and Hitler wanted to create the volksgemeinschaft, a ‘people’s community’, where class, religion, and region would no longer be important. The key was that one was German and a member of this racial community.
Learn more about Hitler’s assumption of power.
The National Socialist German Workers’ Party
Hitler changed the name of the party in 1920. It became the NSDAP, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. The name itself was an enigma: National, right-wing; Socialist, left-wing; German, right; workers, left. The party was trying to appeal to a broader population.
In 1920, Hitler rewrote the program that became the ’25 Points’. All the old ideas from the earlier program were there. He called for not only an appeal to workers but also to the German middle class, emphasizing again the anti-Semitism.
For these first two years of the party’s existence, Hitler’s fame, his notoriety, extended basically to Munich and the outlying areas. By the beginning of 1923, the party had about 6,000 members. It was known around there, but nowhere else.
Later, the German political scene changed. The hyperinflation of 1923 and then the harsh stabilization of 1924 gave a thrust to Hitler’s career and he became a personality on the national political stage.
Common Questions about the Beginning of Hitler’s Political Career
Adolf Hitler believed that the goal of rational anti-Semitism must “unshakably be the removal of Jews altogether”.
Adolf Hitler wanted to use the DAP as the vehicle for the creation of a mass political movement.
The DAP and Adolf Hitler wanted to create the volksgemeinschaft, a ‘people’s community’, where class, religion, and region would no longer be important.