* Why do you think so many Germans supported Hitler? One answer (of sorts) in a Collioure creperie.
Posted by Lew Weinstein on June 13, 2012
Now that I’m embarked on research for my new novel, I get into conversations I would never have had before. Pat and I had crepes this week at one of our favorite Collioure restaurants. The middle-aged couple sitting next to us spoke French and perhaps a little German, but as we each received “l’addition,” we were addressed in English. The couple turned out to be Swiss. When the conversation touched on retirement, I said I was busy in mine, writing novels. Which led to my current project and my new conversation-grabbing question.
“So why do you think so many Germans supported Hitler?” I asked.
There are so many ways to answer that question. First of all, what time frame are we talking about?
- In 1923, the people who supported Hitler were mainly frustrated war veterans, unemployed, super-patriots, Jew-haters … looking to overthrow what Hitler repeatedly called the “Jew Communist Republic” in Berlin. Of course, the 1923 Munich putsch failed, and Hitler was sent to prison. But after he got out (his sentence was absurdly lenient) his supporters actually increased.
- A second major time frame was the late 1920s to 1933, at the end of which Hitler actually achieved power. Who supported Hitler then? Who gave him the 25% of the vote that he manipulated into the Chancellorship and the ultimate power? Who allowed that political manipulation to succeed? Why?
- Then there’s after 1933, as Hitler transformed Germany, built a war machine, improved the economy, and made Jews persecuted non-citizens. Who supported those actions? Why?
- And finally, the Holocaust. Box cars heading east. No Jews returning. Who supported that? Why?
My new Swiss friend chose to talk about the early 1930s. “Hitler had a minority of the vote, a minority of legislative seats,” he said. “But he was able to block everything the government wanted to do. It was bad times, the Depression. Nothing was getting done. Finally, the majority made a deal with Hitler. He became Chancellor, with the Interior and Justice Ministries under Nazi control. Then, with that power, he made the other political parties illegal and took total control, using brute force as a political weapon.”
But that, it seems to me, begs the question. You can’t change 25% into total control without the compliance of the 75%. Who were those 75% and why did they go along? I didn’t get to ask that question before we left the table, and I have not yet read enough to suggest an answer. Perhaps next week in Munich and Nuremberg I will get other perspectives.
There is no simple answer. At different points in time, Hitler’s supporters came from different segments of the German population, and each had different reasons for playing their part in enabling Hitler to accomplish his clearly stated objectives.
What did those Germans think Hitler would do if he got power? He had been telling everyone who would listen for more than a decade, including endlessly repeating that Germany could never be great until all the Jews were eliminated.
In 1933, did the 75% believe him? Did they care?