In the annals of democracy, the rise of Hitler and the fall of Germany’s Weimar Republic is the archetype of failure. It’s the horror story that politicians use to scare the voters. It’s what parents use to scare their children. For that reason, it’s always tempting to rewrite the rise of Hitler to make it sound more like whatever is happening today. Or else the writer wants to reassure us that it’s nothing at all like today. But I’m going to try to tell the story without any reference to today. Also, I’ll be sticking to the ebb and flow of democracy, and talking more about the political timeline of events that allowed Hitler to take over -- or that maybe could have stopped him -- and less about the philosophical underpinnings of Nazism, or the military ambitions of Germany. If you’re interested in more details about that, just look around. Google it. This is Internet after all, it’s mostly Hitler and cats and of course, catsthatlooklikeHitler.com.
Kicking out the Kaiser
Like most European nations, the German Empire entered the First World War in 1914 as a constitutional monarchy. On a democratic scale running from, say, New Zealand at the top to Czarist Russia at the bottom, Germany was probably about halfway. They had multiple political parties and universal male suffrage for a parliament that controlled the budget, but they still kept a lot of power and decision-making reserved for the Emperor (Kaiser) and his military aristocracy. In August, 1914, Kaiser Wilhelm and his generals basically got into the growing war all by themselves and just dragged the parliament along with them. The only chance the legislature got to take control of the situation occurred briefly at the beginning, when the empire needed them to vote for war loans to finance the war. At first, some members of the left wing Social Democratic Party, the largest party in the German parliament, briefly considered withholding support for the loans in order to stop the oncoming war, but eventually they decided they couldn’t fight the pull of history and voted yes.
By the fall of 1918, German armies were in slow retreat, but rather than wait for full, crushing defeat and enemy occupation, the government in Berlin tried to negotiate a cease fire with the Allies on more or less equal terms. The Allies realized they had the upper hand and insisted that the Emperor be removed before they would even consider it. On November 9, 1918, Kaiser Wilhelm quit and went into exile, leaving parliament to declare a republic and negotiate a cease-fire with the Allies. The shooting stopped two days later and everyone celebrated. However, this chain of events meant that in the eyes of many Germans, the Republic was born in defeat and failure.
Let’s stop and take a breath here. If you summarize history too quickly, you can make it seem like there was only one current pulling the world inexorably in one direction. In Germany, that current would be the Nazis, but, as in any democracy, different Germans had different opinions, pulling them every which way. Toward the end of the war, the pacifist wing of Germany’s Social Democrats came out of the closet and formed the Spartacus League. Dangerous ideas like pacifism did not sit well with the authorities, and any legislators who refused to vote for new war bonds were quickly ejected from parliament. Many leaders of this faction such as Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg
spent the last couple of years of the war in jail for their antiwar activities.
After the fall of the Emperor, German political prisoners were freed and the old imperial restrictions against radicalism were lifted, so Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg stepped out into the sunlight, blinked in confusion and reorganized the Spartacus League into the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). They disagreed over whether to cooperate with other parties in governing the new Germany, with Liebknecht stubbornly opposed to any compromise and Luxemburg stubbornly in favor of working within the system.
In early January 1919, after the socialist party newspaper in Berlin had printed a series of articles insulting the Spartakists, some stray workers with communist sympathies worked themselves into a frenzy and seized the newspaper offices. Rather than disown the action as Rosa Luxemburg suggested, the KPD called a general workers’ strike in support. Within a couple of days there were a half million strikers on the streets of Berlin. Not having the manpower on hand to put down the Spartakist Revolt, Chancellor Friedrich Ebert of the interim government enlisted the aid of the Freikorps, an unofficial right-wing militia of recently discharged veterans who had held onto their weapons when they left the army. Coming out of the losing end of the World War, the Freikorps veterans were bitter and undisciplined, and they showed little mercy to the strikers. For a few days, the streets of Berlin were the site of a civil war., which set an unfortunate precedent for the future. When Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg fell into Freikorps hands on January 15, they were bound and dragged off to the Eden Hotel in Berlin for several hours of torture and interrogation. Then Luxemburg was beaten to death with gun butts and dumped in a nearby river, while Liebknecht was shot in the back of the head and left without identification at a local mortuary.
Meanwhile, German statesmen gathered in January in the town of Weimar in Saxony, a cultural center associated with Goethe and the German Enlightenment, to write, rewrite and eventually adopt a republican constitution. They began with a rough draft composed by Hugo Preuss, an academic jurist in the Interior Ministry. The Nazis would later fixate on his Jewish ancestry as a way to vilify the entire Weimar Republic as a sneaky Jewish plot.
Germany under the Weimar Constitution
The Weimar constitution created a pretty standard parliamentary government for Germany. A ceremonial president sat at the top. The upper house of parliament, the Reichsrat, represented the component states of Germany, but they only handled lofty constitutional issues. The lower house, the Reichstag, actually ran the everyday side of things through the prime minister or chancellor, usually the leader of the chief party. Unlike most older democracies, Weimar Germany allowed all men and women to vote right from the start. It handed out seats in the lower house of parliament (the Reichstag) according to the percentage that each party got in the voting. If a party got 3% of the vote, it got 3% of the seats. Thirty percent of the vote earned 30% of the seats. That sounds fair – and indeed, it is fair – but this meant there was no real advantage to actually winning the election. Falling one point short of your opponent only meant you were one point short -- unlike, for example, the system of winner-take-all geographic constituencies at work in the United States. There were over a dozen parties with seats in the Reichstag, representing every crackpot view that could attract the support of a few hundred thousand people no matter how widely scattered or removed from reality. Not only were these splinter parties not penalized for draining votes away from larger parties, they became major power brokers, selling their one or two percent to the bigger parties in exchange for major concessions out of proportion to their real popularity.
It didn’t help the governing process that many of Germany’s most popular parties opposed the very idea of democracy. On the left were the communists with 9% of the vote in 1924; on the right were the monarchists and militant nationalists (25% of the vote in 1924). That meant that about one-third of the seats in the Reichstag were held by extremists who refused to cooperate with any democratic government. This would be a constant handicap to the Weimar Republic.
Four parties in the moderate center together usually squeaked out a bare majority in parliament willing to work within the system for the public good. The Social Democrats were moderate left wing Socialists and the largest single party in Germany, polling about one out of every four voters. The aptly named Center Party (Zentrum, in German) held the center-right of the spectrum and generally represented the Catholic minority of Germany. They were the ancestors of today’s Christian Democrats. The German People's Party and the German Democratic Party, two small parties of free-market liberals, were also willing to work within the democratic system. Together these four parties were called the Grand Coalition and collected 56% of the vote in December 1924, but they still bickered over precise methods and goals.
With parliament hopelessly deadlocked most of the time, the president usually took over governing Germany by executive order. He was not technically supposed to do this – he was supposed to be just a figurehead - but Germans had a tradition of autocratic strongmen like Bismarck so everyone went along. The first president was Friedrich Ebert of the Social Democrats, former chancellor under the Kaiser who was elected to the presidency in February 1919, a month after he unleashed the Freikorps on the Spartakists. Much of his term was spent staving off civil war and listening to the Reichstag bicker. Ebert was a squat, froggish, middle-of-the-road statesman of the old school, firmly committed to preserving the republic, but he died in office from a burst appendix in February 1925, leaving Germany without even a president to run things.
The first round of voting for a new president took place on March 29, 1925. None of the 17 candidates running for president got a majority, so Germany tried again, hoping to thin the herd. The far right wing coalition that had come closest to winning the first round now replaced its original candidate with Paul von Hindenburg, the bristly and doddering former field commander of the German Army in World War One. An unapologetic monarchist who was unimpressed by democracy, Hindenburg had not run in the first round. In fact his commitment to democracy was so tepid that he asked the former Kaiser for permission to run for president before he agreed to it this time. Hindenburg’s name drew in a number of splinter conservative parties that had originally run their own candidates. On the far left, the Communist candidate, Ernst Thälmann, stubbornly stayed in the race, which prevented the Social Democratic candidate (who had come in second in the first round) from boosting his vote leftward, so the Social Democrats dropped out and threw their support to the candidate of the moderate right-wing Zentrum or Center Party (#3 in the first round). Even so, when the second round came on April 26, the far right still polled ahead of anyone else, and Hindenburg became president at the age of 77.
While all this was going on, Germany was being hit with problems from all different directions. The First World War had left Germany with a mountain of debt – a double debt, in fact. Germany had paid for its own war effort purely by borrowing, expecting to pass the cost onto its defeated enemies. Now, not only did the government find its own war debt still hanging over it, the victorious Allies expected the Germans to pay their national debts as well with reparations, which included costs, damages and punitive fees. Rather than pay these debts with real money by raising taxes, Germany chose to print more money to pay the internal debt, and then borrow enough foreign cash to pay the foreign debt. None of these solutions created real wealth; they merely undermined the value of German money.
In January 1923 after the Germans fell behind on one of their reparation payments, French and Belgian troops crossed the border to occupy the major German industrial centers in the Ruhr Valley and extract the payment by direct confiscation. Germany had no army strong enough to oppose the French directly, but the government encouraged workers in the Ruhr to go on strike. A general air of non-compliance and passive resistance spread throughout the conquered populace. In March, German workers blocked French soldiers from seizing trucks from the Krupp factory in Essen. A long standoff stretched across many hours until an impatient French machine gunner opened fire on the strikers, killing 13. This was the first of several clashes across the whole period of occupation which would eventually kill some 130 Germans, so it was definitely not a bloodless occupation.
With 2 million workers on strike and starving, the German government tried to help out by giving the strikers a small stipend. Unfortunately, the economy was already crippled by the occupation and strike, so Berlin could only pay for these subsidies by printing new money; however, flooding the market with more unsupported paper money inflated away all the fixed incomes, contract prices and bank accounts in Germany. It impoverished the country. The Weimar Republic’s hyperinflation is legendary in economic history. Four trillion German marks could buy one American dollar. A wheelbarrow of cash bought a loaf of bread. Paper money was cheaper than wallpaper and ended up pasted on people’s walls. The price of a meal could multiply exponentially between appetizers and dessert. To say that this undermined faith in the system is an understatement.
Finally, new currency was printed and issued in November 1923. It was tied to the price of rye grain, which had a steady supply and demand that would not fluctuate wildly. This stabilized the German economy and stopped the runaway inflation. Meanwhile, by August 1924, all the Western powers had agreed to a new plan negotiated by the American banker Charles G. Dawes which eased up Germany’s reparations payments and ended the occupation. Dawes won the Nobel Peace Prize for this in 1925.
Meet the Nazis
Among the aimless, unemployed veterans bumming around Munich was former corporal Adolf Hitler. An Austrian by birth, he hated the multiculturalism and modernism of Weimar Germany, and he imagined that Jews were conspiring behind the scenes to undermine everything that was good and decent about his adopted homeland -- an unfortunately common belief among the ultra-nationalists. The hard right wing nationalists also found it significant and shameful that the very first action by the new republican government of Germany in November 1918 was surrender. They would never accept it as the legitimate government of Germany.
After the war, Hitler stayed in the German army as an undercover informant joining radical groups and spying on them for the authorities. When the 1919 Versailles Treaty cut the German army down to 100,000, Hitler didn’t make the cut. After being discharged, he lived in Munich and kept his membership in the fascist German Workers Party (DAP), which he eventually took over. He had a natural gift for oratory, and was a master at working a crowd. To broaden his party’s appeal, he tacked on a couple of vague ideals that everyone likes and renamed it the National-Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) which was soon whittled down to “Nazi” from the German pronunciation of National-Socialist (Not.see.annul sought.seal.list). After Hitler discovered his knack for public speaking, he practiced constantly and refined his skills. He soon gathered quite a following.
However, during the 1920s, the dominant party among extreme conservatives was the German National People's Party (DNVP) under Alfred Hugenberg, a wealthy newspaper tycoon who used his media empire to promote the party line. The DNVP was antidemocratic and strongly backed by business interests. It got much of its rank-and-file voting strength from rural districts that didn’t trust modern urban society, and from older middle class voters who didn’t trust change.
Unlike the DNVP, however, the Nazis were fascist. That word gets overused today, but as a specific political movement, Fascism began in Italy under Benito Mussolini, who had seized control of his government in 1922. At it’s most basic, fascism was hardcore patriotism. The whole of society was devoted to the strength and well-being of the nation, the people, the state and the leader, all of which were the same thing to fascists. The people worshipped the supreme Leader as the soul of the nation. Fascism was ultra conservative, deeply rooted in national traditions. Unlike ordinary conservatism, which favored order and stability against the radical populism of the poor, fascism was radical populism mobilized in favor of conservative ideals. Like the Communists on the far left wing, fascists rallied the masses with promises of full employment, consumer gratification, and national unity of purpose, but they were very un-Communist in their support of the homeland, God, and the natural order of things. For a while it was uncertain whether Germany would swing hard left or hard right, but when it came down to choosing sides, the right wing offered the most and made fewer demands. It promised a return to the good old days without taking away anyone’s property or God.
In November 1923, at the height of the French occupation crisis, Hitler tried to imitate Mussolini’s successful seizure of the Italian government the previous year. After working the mob into a frenzy and recruiting the popular General Ludendorff as frontman, the Nazis tried to seize control of the Bavarian state government in Munich, hoping to start a chain reaction across the country. This was later ridiculed as the Beer Hall Putsch for the site of their rallies and the hard-drinking beer-bellied reputation of Bavarians. The coup failed when the police lined up across their path and fired into the mob. Several marchers were shot dead, including a bodyguard who took the bullet meant for Hitler.
After Hitler was captured and put on trial, he took control of the proceedings and made passionate speeches to the court which earned him even more followers among the spectators. His secret worry was that Germany would deport him back to Austria, but the judge was rather sympathetic to the Nazi point of view, so he let Ludendorff go and gave Hitler a light sentence in a minimum security prison resort. With plenty of time on his hands, Hitler wrote his political manifesto and autobiography, entitled My Struggle (German: Mein Kampf), but his talent at oratory didn’t translate well onto the written page. His dry and turgid writing sold few books. Hitler faded into obscurity and was never heard from again.
Well, we can dream can’t we. Although it’s true that he seemed like a has-been after this.
Germany in Big Trouble
The legend persists that Germany’s Weimar Republic fiddled while Rome burned and that it collapsed because apathetic and hedonistic Germans were unaware or indifferent to the dangers posed by the Nazis; however, 71% of voters turned out for the July 1932 elections in Germany, compared to, for example, 53% turnout in the November 1932 American presidential election, so it obviously wasn’t a lack of public participation that paved the way for the Nazis. Newspapers like the Munich Post (the Poison Kitchen, as Hitler called them) had been on the frontlines, reporting every crime, scandal and outrage committed by the Nazis throughout the 1920s despite violent Nazi retaliation. They took every opportunity to make the Nazis look ridiculous. They repeated every embarrassing rumor, and they kept trying to warn Germany what Hitler would do if the fools put him in charge.
By 1924, the German government had stabilized and survived most of its threats. They stopped printing crates of fresh currency whenever they needed more money. Germany became a member in good standing of the League of Nations, and new agreements signed in 1924 and 1929 made reparation payments less painful. Much of the credit for this recovery goes to Gustav Stresemann, a good-natured facilitator with a broad, jovial face like a big baby with a wisp of a mustache dabbed on. He was a member of the German People's Party (DVP), a small party of free-market liberals in the right wing of the Grand Coalition. Stresemann served briefly as Chancellor, then continuously as Foreign Minister through multiple cabinets, winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in 1926. He died in October 1929 a few weeks before the American stock market crashed and took civilization down with it.
More than the Versailles Treaty and all that, it was the Great Depression that killed the Weimar Republic. By September 1930, three million Germans were out of work, a number that climbed to 5 million by 1932. At the peak of the Great Depression, one out of every three workers in Germany was unemployed. As the overwhelming reality of the worldwide economic collapse began to sink in, the voters became even more desperate for any kind of solution. Throughout the Twenties, the screaming hotheads of the far right with their banners, uniforms, paranoid scapegoating and pie-in-the-sky schemes to return to the Good Old Days had been the butt of jokes. So was their silly leader with the Charlie Chaplin mustache. Now the Nazi vision of a revitalized Germany cleansed of its enemies was starting to look pretty good to the hungry workers.
At first, Germany had been split evenly between left and right. In the December 1924 elections, 42% of the German electorate voted for right-wing parties and the same percentage voted for left-wing parties. Then the electorate shifted rightward. In the 1930 election, the right wing collected 50% of the vote, while only 37% of the vote went to the left-wing.
In the election of May 1928, before the Great Depression, the Nazis had won only 3% of the vote, leaving them 9th in a Reichstag dominated by the Social Democrats of the moderate left who had 29%, or ten times the voting strength of the Nazis; however, after the crash, the German right wing shifted from the DNVP (half the right wing and 21% of the overall vote) to the Nazis (40% of the right wing and 18% of the overall vote in 1930). Now the Nazis were second to the Social Democrats in the number of seats in the Reichstag.
The shabby, ill-mannered hooligans of the Nazi Party worried the traditional German right wing. Hindenburg hated Adolf Hitler and talked about him as “that Bohemian corporal”, but with the Nazis gaining in popularity, something had to be done to bring them under control. In 1931, the German right wing met at the Nazi-controlled town of Harzberg where they joined into a coalition called the Harzberg Front. The non-Nazi right wing hoped that bringing Hitler into partnership with several of the more established parties would help control him, but instead, this granted the Nazis a cloak of legitimacy they hadn’t had before.
Throughout the Weimar era, politics was a soccer ball kicked around and head-butted by street-fighting paramilitaries. These uniformed bullies broke up rallies, beat up speakers, chased away voters and destroyed the presses of the opposition. No one could stop them because the army had been cut back to almost nothing by the Treaty of Versailles. The most infamous of them were the brown-shirted Nazi Stormtroopers (Sturmabteilung in German, abbreviated SA). Brawling alongside the Stormtroopers in a loose alliance was the Steel Helmet, technically a simple veterans’ society, but in reality the largest of all the paramilitaries with a half million members clubbing Commies on behalf of the ultraconservative DNVP. The Steel Helmet was pretty much the new face of the old Freikorps. On the other side was the Red Front Fighters' League, busting skulls for the Communists. Caught between the two extremes was the Reichsbanner Black-Red-Gold protecting the Social Democrats. Eventually, the Reichsbanner merged with other centrist paramilitaries into the Iron Front to defend sanity against the extremists.
Nazi Germany Arrives
As Hindenburg’s seven-year term as president was coming to an end, Germany’s leaders began elbowing each other for a slot on the ballot. The Communists could be counted on to run Ernst Thälmann, their usual spoiler candidate who would syphon votes from the Social Democrats and keep the left wing from winning as a bloc. Hitler’s popularity was steadily rising. By mastering new technologies like radio and airplanes, he could take his paranoid but compelling message directly and personally to a wider audience. He now stood a good chance of capturing the right wing. Hindenburg was old and just wanted to nap, but German moderates were convinced he was the only one in Germany who could stop Hitler, so they begged him to run again. This time, instead of being the candidate of the far right, the electorate had shifted so far that both the Center Party and Social Democrats supported Hindenburg. Two rounds of voting in March and April 1932 ended with Hindenburg getting 53%, Hitler 37% and Thälmann 10%.
From 1930 to 1932, while Hitler was starting to be taken seriously, the Chancellor of Germany was Heinrich Brüning of the Center Party. The longest serving of any Weimar chancellor, Bruning was probably the last leader of Germany to believe in democracy. Then one day in May 1932, Brüning suggested taking over some bankrupt estates of impoverished Prussian nobility and dividing the land among the peasants. Hindenburg, a Prussian nobleman himself, was furious and fired him. With Brüning gone, the fate of Germany now came down to which power-hungry right-wing politician would end up in control – either Hitler or someone else, hopefully not as bad as Hitler.
In the August 1932 election, the Nazis received 37% of the vote (13.7 million), more than anyone else. The Germans immediately suffered a collective panic attack once they realized what they had done, so Hindenburg arranged new elections in November 1932 to give everyone a chance to come to their senses. Two million Nazi voters now switched to someone else, so the Nazis only got 11.7 million votes, or 33%. Even though democratic support for the Nazi had topped out, they were still the largest party in parliament and hard to ignore.
For several months, the major power brokers of the German right wing tried their best to not put Hitler in charge. They tried to placate him with lesser positions while they elevated safer politicians to the top post. Franz von Papen of the Center Party was chancellor awhile, but when that didn’t work out, Hindenburg moved his nonpartisan advisor General Kurt von Schleicher into the position. Hitler refused to cooperate with any of them, and with the Nazis being the largest party in the Reichstag, this deadlocked the German government. Nazi mobs launched strikes and rallies. They intimidated the opposition with vandalism, threats and beatings, hoping to encourage German leaders to accept their man as chancellor. Finally the businessmen and generals behind the right wing convinced Hindenburg that maybe it would calm the country down if he just gave Hitler a chance – after all, how bad could he be? - so Hindenburg held his nose and appointed him as chancellor in January 1933. Papen was assigned the job as Vice-Chancellor to keep an eye on Hitler and make sure he didn’t do anything crazy. New elections were scheduled for March in any case, so Hitler shouldn’t be in charge too long.
On February 27, 1933, less than a month into Hitler’s term and less than a week before the elections, a fire in the late evening gutted the Reichstag Building. To this day, we don’t entirely know who was behind it, but Marinus van der Lubbe, a half-witted 24-year-old Dutch Communist and unemployed bricklayer was found wandering shirtless around the ruins. He happily confessed that he wanted to strike a blow against the system without harming people so he had set fire to the capitol at night all by himself using his shirt as kindling. On the other hand, the fire fit into the Nazis’ plans so neatly that it’s hard not to suspect they had a hand in it.
Hitler blamed the fire on a Communist conspiracy and insisted that President Hindenburg grant him emergency powers to crush the Communists. The president’s Reichstag Fire Decree temporarily gave Hitler the authority to ban the opposition press and arrest thousands of Communists without much fuss, most of whom would never see the outside world again. When the elections rolled around a few days later, everyone knew this would be their last chance -- for the Nazis, their last chance to take power, and for the left wing, their last chance to stop Hitler. The Nazis needed to win by a clear majority in order to lock up power for good. Right wing militias supported by all the resources of the state were unleashed on the opposition, but even after an outburst of arrests, beatings and murders gutted the left wing, the Nazis still took in only 44% of the vote. Hitler had to make nice with the DNVP in order to add their 8% to his voting bloc for a majority.
This gave the Nazis enough power for ordinary government business, but to shift absolute power to the Chancellorship, Hitler needed two-thirds of the Reichstag to vote for it. Even with the Communist Party outlawed and its members arrested and expelled from the Reichtag, it proved difficult reducing the opposition to less than one-third. A few more percentages in favor of Hitler could be found with small ultranationalist parties, but the only accessible big bloc of votes was the 11% held by the Zentrum, the Center Party of the moderate right wing. They were worried because previous Prussian autocrats like Bismarck had vigorously persecuted Catholics, but by promising to leave the Catholic Church alone, Hitler got their support. The Enabling Act, which extended Hitler’s authority to rule by decree for “four years” (basically forever), passed the Reichstag on March 25, 1933. Only 84 Social Democrats voted against it, and most of them found it wise to leave the country soon afterwards. Opponents who stayed in Germany quickly ended up in the brand new concentration camp at Dachau. The Munich Post, Hitler’s most passionate critic throughout his career, was ransacked and shut down; its reporters were jailed, often for the rest of their lives. Hitler’s power was secure.
But first there was a bit of tidying up. The Nazis had two paramilitaries, the Stormtroopers (Sturmabteilung abbreviated SA), the brown-shirted bullies for intimidating the opposition, and the Protection Squad (Schutzstaffel or SS), Hitler personal bodyguard. The SA were uncompromising ideological bruisers and loose cannons. They had been useful in the street fighting days, but now that the Nazis were in charge, Hitler decided that leaving unattended ideologues wandering around was too dangerous. The army didn’t trust them either.
The SS was personally loyal to Hitler, so on the Night of the Long Knives, June 30, 1934 he sent the SS to kill the leaders of the SA and disarm the rank and file. This was also a perfect opportunity to remove former rivals and allies in the right wing who were starting to have second thoughts about putting Hitler in charge. Former Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher and his wife were murdered, as were many associates of Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen who had tried to keep Hitler sidelined. Papen was too visible to kill, but he kept quiet after this. Hitler spread the excuse that he had snuffed out an impending coup in the nick of time. Hindenburg, barely alive at this point, thanked him for his diligence and died of lung cancer in August, removing the last German who wasn’t Hitler from power.
You can never be sure how history might have turned out with just a few little changes here and there, but the popular consensus seems to be that even if Hitler hadn’t been there, someone would have filled the gap and done the same things he did - the mood of Germany would see to it - however, let’s not forget that it would have been very difficult for Germany to come up with someone else as bad as Hitler. In many ways, the rise of Hitler was unlikely. If Ebert hadn’t died… If Stresemann hadn’t died… If the authorities had deported Hitler back to Austria… If the Communists had cooperated with the Socialists in a Popular Front as they later did in France and Spain… If the DNVP had remained the dominant voice of the extreme right wing… if the army had cracked down on the paramilitaries… if parliament hadn’t panicked after the Reichstag fire… if the Center Party didn’t cave in…
The world just had a run of really bad luck is what I’m saying.