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A Sobering Look at How Quickly Hitler Transformed Germany

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Fritzsche describes an era that has been covered by other booksnot least his own — many times over. As an esteemed historian of how ordinary Germans accommodated themselves to the Nazi regime, Fritzsche is neither revising his scholarship nor breaking new ground here. But there’s something particularly clarifying about the hundred-days framing, especially as it’s presented in this elegant and sobering book, which shows how an unimaginable political transformation can happen astonishingly quickly. Fritzsche quotes the newspaper clippings, diary entries and correspondence of the time to give a sense of what everyday life was like in Germany during the spring of 1933, when the political impasse of Weimar’s divided democracy gave way to decisive, state-sanctioned brutality.

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Credit…Sarah Scully

Transformation came from both directions. From above, the Nazis deployed coercion, terrorizing their opponents and eliminating dissent. Violence was key, though it was presented as a defensive reaction to “intellectual instigators” and dangerous provocateurs, which allowed the Nazis to paint themselves not as cruel thugs but as servants of “justice.” There was a national debate over whether those charged with capital crimes should be executed with the hand axe or the guillotine; the guillotine was derided as “soulless, impersonal” and indicative of a lamentable “humanitarianism.” The Dachau concentration camp was opened in March. Political prisoners were subject to what Fritzsche succinctly calls a “licensed sadism.”

From below, the Nazis courted support by cultivating the electorate’s paranoia and gullibility — two traits that are more compatible than they sound. Nazi propaganda helped to stoke a general feeling of unease, or what the chief propagandist Joseph Goebbels called dicke Luft, the ambient sense that “trouble is brewing.” Traveling circuses had shuttered with the Depression, and the pageantry of marches offered replacement entertainment. Hitler also promoted the idea of Volksgemeinschaft, or “people’s community,” and appealed to a gauzy nostalgia for the outset of World War I, which Germans remembered as a time of national unity and collective strength. The calls for violence and calls for renewal went hand in hand: Only by purifying Germany of undesirable elements (Communists, Socialists, centrists, Jews), the Nazis declared, could they bring about the glory of the Third Reich.

Indispensable to the Nazi takeover was the radio. Before 1933, Nazi politicians didn’t have access to the airwaves, and after Hitler’s appointment as chancellor they resolved to make the most of this direct channel to citizens. Fritzsche describes how the broadcasts were calibrated for maximum emotional effect. More immediate and intimate than newspaper reports, the radio emitted an aura of authenticity, even if what was broadcast was a mix of theatrics, hyperbole and brazen fabrications. Goebbels pressured manufacturers to mass produce a “people’s radio,” or Volksempfänger; by September 1933, Germans could purchase a VE 301, with the three digits standing for January 30, when Hitler’s hundred days began.


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