The Nazi Party Before Adolf Hitler
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"Hitler is a good Catholic." — Rudolf Hess, May 17, 1921
Adolf Hitler became "Party Comrade No. 55" in the fall of 1919 in the city of Munich in province of Bavaria in Germany. The Armistice that had ended World War I had been signed on November 11, 1918, while Hitler was in a hospital, recovering from poison gas used by the Allies against German soldiers. If you no anything about history at all, you probably know that Hitler went on to become the Chancellor of Germany and is generally considered the baddest of bad guys of the 20th century.
The party that Hitler joined, and quickly became the leader of, was not yet known as the Nazi Party. It was the German Workers Party (Deutsche Arbeiter Partei or DAP). At that time its members were all in Munich. The DAP was part of a broader trend of mostly small parties and clubs that were trying to combine nationalism with socialism. This trend was a spontaneous response to the combination of national sentiment with socialist thinking that was global in scope. The main line of development that led to the DAP originated in Austria, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the empire broke up at the end of World War I.
In Austria Roman Catholicism was the only legal religion. "In the face of the dual threat posed by socialism and capitalism, the Christian Social Party succeeded in attracting workers, shopkeepers, and white collar workers with national-social and anti-semitic catchphrases." [Bracher p. 51]
By origin Adolf Hitler was Austrian, not German. Yet the dividing line between Austria and Germany was an artificial consequence of politics. Adolf Hitler was born on April 20, 1889 in Braunau am Inn, on the Bavarian-Austrian border. The Austrian Empire had many ethnic groups, but the key rivalry that led to national socialist ideology was between ethnic Germans and ethnic Czechs. Despite the Marxist idea that class divisions were more important than ethnic divisions, within the Empire many labor unions ending up splitting along ethnic lines. Union workers wanted a party that fought the capitalist bosses, but they did not want to work with other ethnic groups.
The Roman Catholic Church contributed three critical components to the national socialist mix: anti-Semitism, the leadership principle, and corporatism. It should be noted that is was not the only source of these practices. Leninism, in particular, contributed strongly to the idea that an authoritarian party organization was necessary to seize power.
People and ideas moved freely from the German ethnic areas of the Austrian Empire to Bavaria. The first German Workers Party had been founded in Bohemia in 1904, but was centered in Linz, where Adolf Hitler went to school. As a young adult Hitler lived in Vienna (painting postcards but mostly living off money sent by his family) and read pamphlets written by German nationalist-socialist and Catholic anti-semitic groups, but did not join any.
The Bavarian version of the German Workers Party, or DAP, was founded at a conference held between January 2 and 5, 1919, at the Furstenfelder Hof. The founders were Anton Drexler and twenty-five of his coworkers from his railroad shop. At the time Munich had just passed through an attempted seizure of power by leftists that had been put down by the German military, police, and their right-wing allies. The DAP was just one of many such groups and conspiracies.
Hitler was in the employ of the military when he first contacted the DAP. Essentially, he was their military liaison. He was 30 years old. He already was anti-semitic, a German nationalist, and anti-capitalist, though he had never been a worker receiving a wage from a capitalist boss. As an soldier he was angry at Germany's loss of the war. The signing of the peace treaty at Versailles on June 28, 1919 gave a strong impetus to all right-wing groups in Germany. It was grossly unfair to Germany and did not keep the promises U.S. President Woodrow Wilson made to induce Germany to stop fighting. [Wilson tried to keep his promises, but was overruled by the British and French Empires.]
Within a few months Hitler became the most important person in the DAP, mainly because he devoted himself to it full time, whereas Drexler continued to work at the railroad shop. Hitler focused his recruiting on former soldiers, rather than the factory workers the DAP had been founded on.
On February 24, 1920, the Party had its first mass meeting. There Hitler introduced a new name, the National Socialist German Workers Party, or NSDAP, which connected it ideologically to nationalist socialist groups in Austria. He also introduced the revised party program of 25 points.
When thinking about the Nazis and World War II, there is a critical point that is always left out of the American and Vatican propaganda versions of Nazi history. It is best to just quote the point, number 24: "The Party as such advocates the standpoint of positive Christianity without binding itself confessionally to any one denomination."
Apologists for the Catholic Church later tried to (and still try to) use the adjective "positive" to deny that the Nazi party, like the Italian, French, Austrian, Polish and Spanish fascist parties, was aligned with the Roman Catholic Church. Hitler, an astute politician, talked almost constantly. By selecting carefully, a propagandist can make him sound like an atheist, a good Roman Catholic, or a pagan.
It was ultimately the Pope and the German military that together selected Hitler to be Chancellor of Germany. The explicitly Roman Catholic parliamentary party in Germany confirmed that selection.
Hitler was not just the head of the National Socialists in Germany. The National Socialists of Austria quickly accepted him as their leader as well. The Austrian national socialists were almost exclusively good Roman Catholics. The Austrian Roman Catholic Church was particularly anti-semitic.
The most reasonable interpretation of the phrase "without binding itself confessionally to any one denomination" was to leave room to recruit Lutherans, not just Catholics. In Bavaria almost everyone (except leftist atheists) was a Catholic. But Hitler wanted to rule Germany, which was majority Lutheran. Not a particular problem for Hitler, since Lutherans had been anti-semitic going back to Martin Luther himself.
[This essay's specific facts are from The German Dictatorship by Karl Dietrich Bracher, the English language edition translated from teh German by Jean Steinberg, published by Praeger Publishers, New York, 1970. I was assigned it in a class in college. Its German title was Die deutsche Diktatur: Entstehung, Strukturr, Folgen des Nationalsozialismus]
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