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Georges Van Vrekhem

Hitler and his God

The Background to the Nazi Phenomenon

The author thanks the Dutch Foundations De Zaaier and Aurofonds; without their financial help this book could not have been written. He also thanks Friederike Werner for providing him with essential texts, and Martin Sobieroj, who let him read the manuscript of his book on Hitler. Finally he thanks Norman Bowler, Gilles Guingan, Jason Inamorato, Guy Ryckaert, Wolfgang Schmidt-Reinecke and Martin Sobieroj for reading the manuscript.


Part One: When Hitler became the Führer

1. Turnabout

2. Masters

3. Mentor

4. Wolf

5. Settling Accounts

6. Mein Kampf

Part Two: The Roots of Nazism

7. Superior People

8. Long Skulls and Broad Skulls

9. The Völkisch Movement

10. The Jewish Question

11. The German Aspiration

Part Three: Hitler and His God

12. The Vision of Adolf Hitler

13. Medium

14. Sri Aurobindo’s Vision

15. “The Lord of the Nations”

16. Two Poems

17. A World in the Balance

Postscript: Churchill’s Mission


Biographical Note

Part One: When Hitler became the Führer

1. Turnabout

“I guarantee you, gentlemen, that the impossible always succeeds. What is most improbable is most certain.”

Adolf Hitler

A Corporal Watching Mice

He had not come back marching among the endless grey, weary throngs of soldiers carrying the smell of mud, gun powder and rotten human flesh in the folds of their uniforms. For shortly before the armistice he had been blinded by gas near Wervik, on the French-Belgian border, and transported far northwards to a military hospital at Pasewalk, in Pommerania. There he had touched the depths of his ordeal when hearing the announcement that the fighting had stopped on 11 November, that Germany had lost the war, that the Kaiser and all German princes had abdicated, and that a German republic had been proclaimed. Now he was waiting in Munich, in the barracks of what remained of his regiment, to be demobilized.

Although Austrian by birth and still by nationality, Adolf Hitler had in August 1914 been allowed to enlist in the 16th Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment, the “List Regiment”. He had served most honourably from the first weeks of the war until the last days, a full four years. As a battle dispatch runner (Gefechtsmeldegänger, to use his own designation) in the regimental headquarters he had participated in a great number of murderous battles in France and Belgium; he had escaped death narrowly on several occasions, and was awarded the Iron Cross Second and First Class for bravery. “Nobody who has known [Hitler] from nearby will doubt his courage”, testified the Adjutant of the Regiment later on. “In the field he has proved himself to be a brave, exceptionally reliable dispatch runner who really deserved the Iron Cross First Class, and who several times had been mentioned for it before he was awarded with it. He was the example of the unknown soldier who quietly and unassumingly performed his duty.”1

The war had been “the most unforgettable and greatest time of his earthly life”2; as Hitler himself would write, he had been “passionately happy to be a soldier”. He was now twenty-nine years old. What would become of him? He had no prospects, no future. Therefore he did everything possible to postpone his demobilization, for the army still gave him a bunk to sleep and a chunk of bread to eat. Once on his own, he could only slide back into his dreams of becoming a great architect, while having to earn a living selling water colour paintings of picturesque buildings and monuments. For that was what he had done in Munich before the outbreak of the war, as it was what he had done in Vienna, where he had led the life of a tramp. “He always looked so starved”, remembered people who had known him at the time.

He might have to change into civilian clothes any day now. War heroes there were aplenty. Nobody cared for the columns of bedraggled soldiers, ill-fed and shabbily clothed, still carrying their weapons, with the reflection of unspeakable horrors and death in their eyes, moving through a civilian world they no longer recognized and deeply despised. The food situation in Germany remained so bad that nobody cared about the starvation of others. A few crumbs could be spared for the mice, though. “Since I regularly woke up before five o’ clock in the morning”, wrote Hitler in Mein Kampf, “I had got into the habit of putting a few left-overs or crusts of bread on the floor for the mice which amused themselves in my little room, and watching the droll little beasts chasing around after these choice morsels. I had known so much poverty in my life that I was well able to imagine the hunger, and hence also the pleasure, of the little creatures.”3

But, lo and behold … not that many years later there stood that selfsame Adolf Hitler, triumphantly, as the new Chancellor of Germany on the balcony of the Reich Chancellery in Berlin, acclaimed by thousands of enthusiastic German citizens! And then he stood, all by himself and with the Iron Cross First Class on his chest, high above huge, neatly drawn up columns of uniformed Germans on the Zeppelin Field in Nuremberg. They hailed and revered him as their Leader, their Führer, even as their Messiah, who had come to make them great again, greater than they had ever been before in their history, rulers of the earth. Deutschland über alles, über alles in der Welt. The one-time desperate corporal-without-a-future had become “Leader of the nation, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Head of Government and Supreme Executive Chief, Supreme Judiciar and Leader of the [NSDAP] Party”.4

Not only had he become master of life and death in the country he ruled, where his will was law and his word gospel truth, he also “changed the map of Europe, destroyed empires, and promoted the rise of new powers, evoked revolutions, and brought the colonial age to an end.”5The “man from nowhere” united Austria with Germany and entered as conqueror into Prague, Warsaw and Paris. He conquered, enslaved and killed – and intended to conquer more, kill more and enslave more.

How had this come to pass? How had the former Austrian corporal, once compared to a worn out stray dog, reached such a pinnacle of power that Joachim Fest could write: “If Hitler had succumbed to an assassination or an accident at the end of 1938, few would hesitate to call him one of the greatest German statesmen, the consummator of Germany’s history”?6

Libraries have been written about Hitler and Nazi Germany, yet several of the best-known and most widely read historians agree that he remains enigmatic. “The more extensive the material at our disposal and the greater the historical distance, the more puzzling Hitler seems to become”, writes Christian von Krockow.7Alan Bullock, author of such essays like Hitler – A Study in Tyranny and Hitler and Stalin – Parallel Lives, admits in a conversation: “The more I learn about Hitler, the harder I find it to explain … I can’t explain Hitler. I don’t believe anybody can.”8And to H.R. Trevor-Roper “after fifty years Adolf Hitler remains a frightening mystery.”9

“At one time I have within myself chosen my way in spite of totally inimical surroundings”, said Adolf Hitler, “and I, an unknown and nameless man, have kept walking until the final success. Often declared no longer existent and always wished to be non-existent, in the end I was the victor.”10

There must have been a time “when Hitler became Hitler”, when the nonentity turned into a seer and a politician who, in a very short time, accomplished feats deemed impossible: wipe out the humiliation of the Versailles Treaty, build up a prostrate and despondent Germany, and unify the country into an efficient war machine for his megalomaniac and criminal overt and covert goals. There must have been a source of the power supporting this rootless, often ridiculed and always underestimated man to build up a powerful and ruthless political party, inspiring him to overcome the most critical situations, and impelling him to take his stand above all those superior to him inside and outside Germany. There must have been a fountainhead of the evil that through this man tried to ravage humanity and make it regress into a state of barbarism supposed to belong definitively to the past.

Germany in Turmoil

“Caste” is generally associated with India and fossilized backwardness. Little does the common awareness in the West realize that caste did and to a considerable extent still does determine the patterns of its social structures. In the Middle Ages – not so very long ago – caste was a fact of life. There was the Catholic Church with its clergy (brahmins); there was the nobility with its feudal hierarchy (kshatriyas); there was the upcoming and very diligent class of the merchants (vaishyas); and last and very much least there was the class of the workers (shudras), mostly serfs without any rights, on a par with the animals and other possessions.

Because of the Renaissance this social pyramid, which had shaped the Western outlook on life for centuries, was put into question, together with everything else in life. Acquiring the ideals of the Enlightenment – among them equal rights for all human beings – the “third estate”, the merchant or bourgeois class, grew conscious of itself. The French Revolution would be the revolution of this “third estate”. To work out the impetus of its ideas the revolution of 1789 needed subsequent revolutions in the nineteenth century, the high time of the bourgeoisie, of reason, liberalism, materialism and progress. These subsequent revolutions (in 1830, 1848 and 1870) were made necessary by the resistance of the clergy and the nobility, fighting for their survival, and because of the resistance to any kind of change in the nature of the human being.

But what about the “fourth estate”, the class of labourers, servants and peasants, of the workers of all kinds? They too were human beings, after all, and therefore entitled to equal rights like anybody else. When in parallel with the unexpected French Revolution a no less surprising Industrial Revolution came about, the role of the workers, of the shudras, grew in importance: they were the manpower with which to make that gigantic industrial development possible. Fed up with their peasants’ existence, the toilers of the land left their ploughs and their cows and migrated to the towns, expecting heaven but stumbling into a hell worse than their soil-bound labour. They became the “proletariat”. Only the blind could fail to see that this down-trodden, struggling, exploited human masses would soon arise in an effort to take their due place in humanity, that they would strive for an equal footing with those who had for so long used and abused them.

After a preparation and build-up of almost a century, the “proletariat” resolutely took the fore of the stage of history in the Russian Revolution of 1917. The German Army High Command, by that time de facto rulers of the country, had supported the Russian revolutionaries in the hope that the collapse of tsarist Russia would free them from the burden of their eastern front, and allow them to deal a decisive blow to the Allies in the west. Their calculations proved almost correct, for the German “spring offensive” in 1918, made possible because of the Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, threw the Allies back and even threatened Paris again, creating the exhilaration of impending victory among the population in Germany. But the Allies recovered, partly thanks to the fresh American troops, and from 8 August, Germany’s “black day”, the Hindenburg-Ludendorff duo knew that defeat was inevitable and informed their Kaiser accordingly.

All this has a direct impact on our story. The German proletariat, represented by the “German Socialist Party” and the more radical Marxist “German Independent Socialist Party” – which would soon become the “German Communist Party” – formed a considerable part of the population. The German Socialist Party had in the 1912 general election, just before the war, won the highest number of votes. This had caused unease and fear among the traditional classes who were, in that Prussian dominated country, extremely aware of their social status, in other words class-conscious. There was place for the workers beneath them, not beside them, and surely not above them as members of a government, administrators, or whatever. Germany had not assimilated the ideals of the Enlightenment; it had remained a Prussian, autocratic, hierarchically structured society where all looked up to those above and down on those below.

Yet the war had shattered many a certainty. The Germans felt that the Bolshevik revolution in Russia threatened their existence directly. Had the Marxist doctrine not predicted that Germany, the foremost industrialized country in Europe with a massive proletariat, would be the country best prepared for the great proletarian revolution? And did the Russian Bolshevik leaders not do everything in their might to light the fuse of revolution in other countries, especially in Germany? Russian refugees arrived in droves in Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig, Munich, every one of them with his or her tales of horror about the Reds, and with dire warnings. Along with them infiltrated Bolshevist agents, teleguided by the Third International, and in the eyes of the German Marxists adorned with the halo of heroes who had accomplished a historical feat that would change the world.

The traditional German higher and middle classes were, in the last months of 1918, more fanatically nationalistic than ever, misled as they were by the propaganda of the Supreme Army Command and the narrowness of their own convictions. The hell of the battlefields they knew only from hearsay. But so many young men would not come home anymore; the food was scarce and procuring it often the main occupation in life; the tension of the war was hard to bear and gnawed at the roots of all certainties. The Left, less socially inhibited and incited by the events in Russia, no longer hesitated to go on strike at the end of October and in the beginning of November 1918.

Then came the coup in Munich: Kurt Eisner, a Jewish journalist, proclaimed Bavaria a Socialist Republic on 7 November. The Wittelsbach king, Ludwig III, abdicated that very day, the first of all eighteen still ruling German princes to do so. (Kaiser Wilhelm II would follow suit on 9 November. It had been one of the peace conditions formulated by the American President Woodrow Wilson that all authoritarian and military structures and institutions in Germany should be abolished.) Eisner, a bearded intellectual who did not look the part of a revolutionary, was not a fanatic; he was a pacifist, idealistic-humanitarian socialist, carried forward by the enthusiasm of his comrades and the war-weariness of many different-minded but starving citizens. Bavaria would be governed by a council of inexperienced workers, soldiers and farmers who had to improvise an administration in harsh circumstances. The most inexperienced was Eisner himself. This he proved soon at a socialist congress in Bern, where before the world he declared Germany guilty of starting the war, thereby pronouncing his own death sentence.

Like a Worn Out Stray Dog

This was the Munich corporal Hitler arrived in on 21 December 1918, discharged from the hospital at Pasewalk. He was assigned to the Reserve Battalion of the 2nd Infantry Regiment, a battalion marked for immediate demobilization. But demobilization was what Hitler tried to prevent by any means for, as we have seen, he really “stood before the Void”.11He managed to be detailed to a prisoners of war camp in Traunstein, between Munich and Salzburg, to guard the last Russian and French soldiers there before they were sent home. Towards the end of January 1919 Hitler was back in Munich, where he joined a military guard unit at the Central Railway Station.

He was also elected Vertrauensmann, i.e. representative, of the lower ranks of his battalion. This is not surprising considering his war record and the impression made by his occasional outbursts of oratory, when provoked, which testified to a certain level of intellectual capability. But his election is startling because the whole army garrison in Munich was governed by Eisner’s socialists, which means that Hitler went along with the leftists, something diametrically opposed to his later beliefs. He even became a member of the propaganda section of the Soldiers Council. And when Kurt Eisner had been murdered, on 21 February, Vertrauensmann Hitler was one of the hundred thousand mourners following the remains of the Jewish prime minister to the burial ground.12

“With a probability bordering on certainty Hitler has, till May 1919, chosen the side of the people [i.e. the socialists] of whom he later untruthfully said ‘that already in November 1918 he had found out that they possessed no honour’.”13Many students of Hitler’s life have been surprised by these recently discovered facts because they took for granted Hitler’s statement in Mein Kampf that “the granite foundation” of his world view had already been laid in his years in Vienna (from 1907 till 1913). But Brigitte Hamann and others in her tracks have shown “how much Mein Kampf is political propaganda and how little a biography”.14In the beginning of 1919 corporal Hitler would have done anything to stay another day in the army, for he had nowhere else to go.

“He was after the First World War one of the many thousands of ex-soldiers who roamed the streets looking for work … At that time Hitler was willing to accept a job from anybody who was kind towards him. He would have worked as eagerly for a Jewish or French employer as for an Aryan”, a certain ex-captain Mayr remembered later on. And he added: “When I first met him he resembled a worn out stray dog looking for a master”15– words he would come to regret.

The Russian Revolution had been a two-phase event: in February 1917 the socialist, humane Menshevik revolution with Alexander Kerensky as its leader; in October of the same year the Marxist, ruthless, Bolshevik takeover led by Lenin. A similar evolvement was tried out in Berlin, where the radical Spartacists led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg tried to take over from the socialist government. But the Spartacist coup was put down by the socialist government with the help of Freikorps, independent and ultra rightist armed units mainly consisting of war veterans and commanded by charismatic officers with condottiere allures. In Munich, though, the communist follow-up to Eisner’s socialist government succeeded, albeit only for a short time. The “dictatorship of the proletariat” was proclaimed on 7 April 1919 and a government of army and workers councils installed, after the Russian example of the “soviets”. A “Red Army”, under a twenty-three year old sailor, would be this government’s power base to change German society into a proletarian paradise.

It should be kept in mind that Germany in those early post-war months was in complete distress. The shock of the unexpected defeat, the thousands of jobless, aimless military men hanging about everywhere, the new social-democratic regime, called “The System”, felt as foreign to the body of the “real” Germany and resented from the very beginning, and above all the food shortage undiminished because of the continuing Allied blockade – all this contributed to the mental and physical disarray. Like Eisner and his political amateurs the young communist leaders proved too small for their boots. At first it was an enjoyable game for them to scare and steal from the clergy, the rich, the petty bourgeois and all those who were considered enemies of the people. But soon the blundering councils succeeded in causing such confusion that the Reichswehr (the national Army), supported by several Free Corps units, had little trouble defeating them. By 3 May the last Red resistance was crushed, often brutally.

This object lesson in “dictatorship of the proletariat” so much increased the fear and passionate rejection of Communism, and of leftism in general, that Catholic Bavaria now became a haven for all factions, ideologies, groupings and individuals of the Right. Moreover, and no less important: Bavaria would never forget that, like Eisner, several of the most active leaders of the Red Councils had been Jews, and that at the command of those Jews German nationalist hostages had been murdered. This was at a time that the leadership of the Russian Revolution, including Lenin, was generally (but incorrectly) supposed to be entirely Jewish, that the Jew Bela Kun had started a short-lived Marxist revolution in Hungary, that the Jews Rosa Luxemburg, Leo Jogisches and others had sparked off the Spartacist revolt, and that Marxist revolts were brewing throughout Germany. The more the stomachs hungered, the more the ingrained German anti-Semitism found abundant nourishment.

Captain Mayr’s Discovery

After the obliteration of the Munich Republic of Councils, an officer appeared in the city who was to play an important part in the making of Adolf Hitler: Staff Captain Karl Mayr. It was the intention of the central government in Berlin as well as of the Army High Command to wipe out all leftist indoctrination in the minds of the soldiers and to replace it with correct patriotic, nationalist ideas. To this end an “information service”, in fact an intelligence and propaganda section, was created by Army Group 4 which covered the whole of Bavaria under the command of the powerful General Arnold von Möhl. Captain Mayr was appointed chief of this propaganda section.

Mayr, “very much radical Right”, was “ambitious, intelligent, a talented organizer and politically involved”; he was also an opponent of the Weimar Republic and an anti-Semite.16His network of connections seems to have extended to the most influential centres of German society. He was extraordinarily active, brimming with ideas and initiatives, and his influence was much greater than his rank and function would suggest. Not only did he have access to the highest levels of the Army through General von Möhl, with whom he stood on a confidential footing, he undoubtedly had direct links with the mighty Pan-German League and the Germanenorden, two organizations we will meet further on.

Soon Mayr’s attention was drawn to Corporal Hitler. Not only had Hitler been elected representative of his battalion under the socialist regime, he had also been elected “deputy battalion representative” under the regime of the communist soldier councils. Then, after the Republic of Councils was crushed, in a new turnabout Hitler surprisingly became a member of a commission of inquiry, whose task it was to report on the patriotic fidelity of the soldiers of his battalion under the ephemeral communist regime, to which he himself had acquiesced! No doubt, he was able to turn with the wind and go to any end in order to stay in the army. But his comrades in arms undeniably looked up to him; and as he also had the gift of the gab, Mayr put his name on the list of participants in a “oratory course” for army propagandists, to be held at Munich University from 5 till 12 June 1919.

The teachers of the course were learned doctors and professor-doctors like Karl Alexander von Müller, Karl von Bothmer and Michael Horlacher. Their themes were “the political history of the war”; “Socialism in theory and practice”; “our agricultural situation and the peace conditions”; and “the relation between internal and external politics”.17It was there that Hitler for the first time heard educated intellectuals speak on subjects which interested him, and that he learned how those opinions could be fitted together into something like a coherent opinion or world view. The general trend of the lectures was obligatorily social-democratic, as the government was social-democratic, but the deeper tendency was doubtlessly nationalistic, pan-German and anti-Semitic.

Hitler’s mind, at the age of thirty, was not a blank sheet, of course. During his youth in Austria he had imbibed the pan-Germanic ideas of his father, of his history teacher Leopold Pötsch and of Georg von Schönerer, and anti-Semitism was part of the air one breathed there. Besides, young Adolf had always been interested in politics, mainly to voice his spiteful disagreement. In Vienna he had attended sessions of the Austrian parliament and avidly read the newspapers in the cafés, as well as any tract or pamphlet he could lay his hand on. Now the physical presence and the discourse of the esteemed doctors and professors made a lasting impression upon him and put many of his opinions into context.

The lectures were followed by discussion groups. Here Hitler came into his own. He had always been what one might call a profuse “monologist” when agitated, unstoppably pouring the flood of his words over any individual listener as if addressing a crowd. His one close friend during the days in Linz and Vienna, August Kubizek, tells in his reminiscences about Adolf’s frequent outbursts of oratory, and many of Hitler’s companions in the asylum and in the trenches recalled how easily he could be egged on into a thundering diatribe when his opinions were contradicted. Hitler now got the occasion to express his newly acquired knowledge in the discussion groups. Speaking was no longer an idiosyncrasy; it became his assigned duty as an army propagandist who had to educate wrong-thinking leftists into right-thinking German patriots.

K.A. von Müller has narrated how, after one of his lectures, his attention was drawn to a group “spellbound by a man in their midst who, with an unusually guttural voice, talked to them uninterruptedly and with increasing passion. I had the strange feeling that their excitement was caused by him and simultaneously caused him to speak in return. I saw a pale, lean face under an unmilitary strand of hair, with a clipped moustache and striking big, light blue, fanatically cold eyes.”18When Müller pointed the man out to Mayr, the captain said casually: “Oh, that’s Hitler from the List Regiment”.

Hitler became Mayr’s star orator. In the middle of August he was sent to Lechfeld, where there was a camp with German soldiers who had been brainwashed in Russian captivity; they were to be mentally turned around before being released into civilian life. The camp had a permanent unit of Mayr’s “information service” under another trained propagandist, Rudolf Beyschlag, a non-commissioned officer who was to be Hitler’s superior for the duration of this assignment. The themes of the lectures were essentially the same as those taught to Mayr’s trainees during the course in oratory. Hitler was praised by his audiences as “a very good and passionate speaker”, “an outstanding and temperamental orator”.19It was to this period that he himself referred when he wrote in Mein Kampf the often quoted words: “I could speak.” What he meant was not that he could formulate and orally express his thoughts, for he had done that in countless monologues since his early youth. He meant that he was able to carry along an audience, and this would be of crucial importance for his and Germany’s future.

Another noteworthy fact during his mission in Lechfeld was that Hitler, for the first time, began to attack the Jews, so vehemently that he had to be restrained by his superiors, who, however much they might agree with him, were after all serving a social-democratic government. The commandant of the Lechfeld camp wrote to Army Group 4: “Concerning a very beautiful, clear and temperamental lecture on capitalism by Corporal Hitler, who on this occasion touched upon the Jewish question … The thought was uttered that the [propaganda] section had been founded by Gruppenkommando Möhl to function as a military unit. Yet as the Jewish problem was very clearly expounded [by Hitler] with special consideration of the Germanic standpoint, then such a discussion could easily give the Jews a pretext to label the lectures anti-Jewish propaganda. I found it therefore necessary to instruct that the utmost care should be taken in the discussion of the problem, and that too explicit references to the race that is foreign to the German people should be omitted as much as possible.”20

Although anti-Semitism was imprinted upon the German mind, the subject was not mentioned by the instructors at Munich University. It has, moreover, been shown by Brigitte Hamann that Hitler was not an actively conscious anti-Semite during his Vienna years, where he had friendly relations with Jews among the inmates of the men’s hostel and among the shopkeepers who sold his water colour paintings. Where, then, or by whom had he been infected with these vehement anti-Judaic feelings?


by that time he was regarded an authority on anti-Semitic matters is documented by a short letter written to him by Captain Mayr on 10 September 1919. In this letter Mayr asks Hitler to answer a question put to him in writing by Adolf Gemlich, another of Mayr’s military propagandists. The question was: “What is the attitude of the social-democratic government towards the Jews? Are the Jews also included in the socialist programme of “equal rights” of the peoples, even so when one considers them to be a threat to the Volkstum [the people as a race]?”21In his request to answer in his place Captain Mayr addresses his subordinate, a corporal, as Sehr verehrter Herr Hitler. This is usually translated as “Dear Sir”. But the tone of the German formula is much more reverential, for it says literally: “Very respected Mister Hitler”. Joachim Fest, a German, finds this “an unusual salutation from a captain to a corporal”,22and so does Werner Maser, also a German, who writes that it is “unusually respectful”.

Hitler’s answer not only reflects the sources of his newly acquired thoughts, it also documents the fact that his thinking had now been ordered into a pattern which will remain, as far as the Jews are concerned, the basis of his ideology, his real “granite foundation”, till the last day of his life. There is the foreignness and the danger represented by the Jewish people; there is the affirmation that the Jews are a race, not a religious community; and there is the statement that the ultimate aim of the struggle against the Jews must be, “unshakeably”, their elimination – whatever this word my have meant to Hitler in 1919.23

Mayr has written that he had daily contact with Hitler for more than fifteen months, i.e. from June 1919 till September of the next year. Hitler, acting on his innate despotic impulse, had already managed to push Beyschlag aside. He was “a frequent visitor to the War Ministry and ranked as a member of Mayr’s political staff … Mayr decided to use his discovery for greater things.”24Indeed, on 12 September 1919, Hitler was sent to a conference room in a Munich beer house to report on a small loge-like group that called itself “German Workers Party” (DAP). As the saying goes: the rest is history.

A comparison of the dates is telling. Mayr’s respectful request to his corporal was written on 10 September; Hitler’s answer was sent to Gemlich on 17 September; Hitler’s first contact with the DAP, founded by the Thule Society, took place on 12 September. Clearly Hitler had covered a considerable stretch on the road of his ambitions since 6 June, the day Captain Mayr had reacted so casually: “Oh, that’s Hitler from the List Regiment” and the day he treated his corporal with such respect. “The process [of the formation of Hitler’s ideology] started in the year 1919, or becomes for the first time discernible in this year. In no earlier notes does one find even the smallest hint of the later concepts … One may even conclude that Hitler did not have any interest in politics [before 1919] … One is not even sure that at that time he was already an anti-Semite …” (Eberhard Jäckel25)

It is evident that in the summer months of 1919 an important change took place in Hitler’s life. Sebastian Haffner calls this period “an unexplainable gap”. Konrad Heiden writes: “In these months a transformation took place in Hitler”, and he wonders about “the mysterious circumstances that transformed him”.26John Lukacs is of the same opinion: “The year 1919 was a decisive milestone, indeed a turning point in [Hitler’s] life.”27While Ian Kershaw writes that “without Captain Mayr’s ‘talent spotting’ Hitler might never have been heard of”.28“In this period in Munich lies the key of Hitler’s entrance into politics”,29confirms Joachim Fest. Finally, there is Hitler’s own confirmation in 1941, in the course of a conversation in which he unwittingly contradicted several untruthful statements in Mein Kampf: “My programme originated in 1919.”30By “programme” he did not mean the NSDAP party programme, which was composed in 1920, but the basics of his personal thinking, his ideology.

2. Masters

The Thule people were the first to sacrifice their lives for the swastika.

Hermann Gilbhard

“It was to members of Thule that Hitler first came, and Thule members were the first who allied themselves with Hitler.”31Rudolf von Sebottendorff wrote this statement in his book Before Hitler Came, published in Germany in 1933, shortly after Hitler had become Chancellor. Many years before, in 1917, Sebottendorff had founded the Thule Society in Munich and been its Grand Master till 1919, during the eventful months of the Red governments of Eisner and the Republic of Councils. He had then left Germany and found a new home in Turkey. That Sebottendorff had not followed Hitler’s ascent to power from nearby may have been the reason for the ignorance or candour with which he published Before Hitler Came. He should have known that Hitler never acknowledged any debt towards a former helper, guide, teacher or superior – with the exception of Richard Wagner and Dietrich Eckart. Those who dared to remind him of such a kind of relationship soon found themselves muzzled and in some cases dumped into a concentration camp. Which is what happened to Sebottendorff. But he was lucky: Rudolf Hess, once a member of Thule and now a man near the top in the Third Reich, saw to it that his former Grand Master was set free, with the suggestion that the air outside Germany might be better for his health.

The Thule-Gesellschaft was a secret society, extensively and sometimes fancifully treated in books on the occult side of Nazism. This must be the reason that until recently academic historians have approached the subject which caution. Peter Levenda writes: “To hear most historians speak of the Thule-Gesellschaft, one would think that it was a slight aberration, an anomaly that does not deserve close scrutiny.”32Yet the body of historical facts concerning the Thule Society is so large that it must be accorded its proper place in any history of Hitler’s life and of Nazism. Without this information an indispensable episode in Hitler’s life remains lacking. It may therefore be apposite to state at this point of our tale that the facts in the present chapters are historical, not the result of freewheeling fancy.

Austrian Visionaries

Around 1880 a remarkable change took place in the European consciousness. The acquisitions of the Enlightenment had already been questioned by the Romantic movement at the beginning of the century. Now a powerful wave of vitalism and intuitionalism restated the rights of the emotional components of human nature. This change was initiated in the arts, foremost by the Impressionist “light explosion”. In quick succession Nietzsche, Freud, Bergson and Proust – to name only a few of the important innovators – appeared on the cultural scene. All contended the sole rule of reason; the human being burst out of the straight-jacket of the rational mind. The result was that it felt in some ways disoriented in its newly acquired liberty, while in other ways it felt dizzy because of the new perspectives and possibilities. It was the time that the coming of one kind of “superman” after another was proclaimed to be the destiny of humanity. Nietzsche’s “re-evaluation of all values” created a euphoria and simultaneously a deep fear, for most customary and trusted beacons seemed to vanish.

An important role in this cultural upheaval – which would create the tension that led to the First World War – was played by the Theosophical Society, founded by H.P. Blavatsky and H.S. Olcott in 1875. That Theosophy spread so fast and so widely proves that it provided some answers to deep and unfulfilled needs in the human being. The human being is more complex than thought by Descartes and his philosophical progeny: rationalism, materialism, positivism, scientism, reductionism. In the human being there is of course the material part, but there is also the vital part with the life forces, the mental part (considered no more than an “epiphenomenon” by Descartes) and a soul. Theosophy borrowed from the Eastern wisdom a view of the multi-layered nature of our being, of the corresponding layers of the cosmos, and of a history of mankind going back much further than the improbably short time span accepted by the academic sciences at present. Reincarnation gave a new value to the small number of years of the human life, suggesting that it had meaning after all. And, not least, Theosophy proposed a new, no longer anthropomorphic image of God, asserting that all was “That” and that That could be directly contacted and even realized, for that That was the living Presence in the soul.

“The modern German [and Austrian] occult revival owes its inceptions to the popularity of Theosophy in the Anglo-Saxon world during the 1880s”, writes Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke.33He situates this revival in the period 1880-1910 and notes that Theosophy “made a deeper impression in Germany than in other European countries”. The reason was that in Germany a strong opposition was growing against the ideals of the Enlightenment due to the particular development of a German nationalistic spirit, in the margin as it were and even contrary to modern cultural acquisitions in other West-European countries. This specifically German path is sometimes called Sonderweg, Germany’s “road apart”.

In Austria were invented some fundamental beliefs and convictions which would lead to Nazism. This is not always recognized because this beautiful country is usually associated with Tyrolean hats, yodelling and Gemütlichkeit, and also because in the tense political situation between the post-war occupying powers Austria escaped its own Nuremberg trial. The feeling of cultural and racial superiority in the Austrian Germans, leading to pan-German fanaticism, was the result of the hostile relations between the various races and language communities in the ever less governable empire-cum-kingdom of Austria-Hungary. There the German speaking population had to fight for the preservation of their leadership status against no less patriotic or racist Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Ruthenians, Slovenes, Serbo-Croats, Italians, and others. “In Vienna there lived at the time more Czechs than in Prague, more Jews than in Jerusalem and more Croats than in Zagreb.”34

The new ideas of Theosophy together with the growing self-awareness of the Austrian Pan-Germans explain in part a figure like Guido von List (1848-1919). List was a romantic visionary whose writings glorified a mythic Germanic past. The Ario-Germanic god-man was the highest type humanity had ever produced and would again become “the highest form of life ever to evolve in the universe”.35The Ario-Germanics had known an exoteric and an esoteric form of religious practice, the former Wotanist, the latter Armanist. In the far North the line of Armanist initiates had continued to exist uninterruptedly from times immemorial until the present day. This elite, the Armanenschaft, had to be revived and made conscious of its sacred task to create the future race of god-men.

List supported his visions with pseudo-historical narrations, created interest in the remains of the great Ario-Germanic past in the monuments, landscapes and archaeological discoveries of central and northern Europe, wrote volumes about the sacred runes – and doing all that revivified the anti-Roman, anti-Catholic sentiments which had been present in the German conscience from times before Luther. The titles of his books are instructive: German Mythological Landscapes; The Original Language of the Ario-Germanics and the Language of Their Mysteries; The Religion of the Ario-Germanics – Its Esoterics and Exoterics; The Armanenhood of the Ario-Germans; The Secret of the Runes …

List’s influence spread widely; List Societies and secret Armanen loges were founded in many towns in Austria and still more in Germany. No doubt, his books bolstered the Germanic ego by the evocation of a glorious past and a radiant future. And in List many read for the first time about reincarnation and karma. Much that the brutish imposition of the Christian faith had suppressed in the German psyche found resonance and expression in List’s visionary writings, which would become a substantial element in the völkisch, i.e. Germanic racist, movement. “List became virtually the guru of the pan-Germans”, writes Peter Orzechowski. “In a contemporary biography he was lauded as ‘the rediscoverer of age-old Aryan wisdom’. With such publicity there could be little delay before the mythical glorification of Germanhood was also spread, through the members of the List Society, in the empire of William II.”36

List’s revelations were supported and in a way complemented by the publications of another Austrian, Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels (1874-1954). Not only was Lanz acquainted with List, Brigitte Hamann sees Lanz as his “closest disciple and follower”.37It was Lanz who coined the term “ariosophy”, applicable to his own and List’s teachings (and showing the influence of theosophy). Ex-monk Lanz was also a learned student of the Bible, for the “true” understanding of which he invented a new key, and he felt a deep longing to realize the ideals of the Knights Templar, or what he supposed those ideals to have been. In later years he would found the “Order of the New Templars”.

He wrote books with titles like Theo-Zoology or the Lore of the Sodom-Apelings and the Electron of the Gods (1905). But his most influential essays appeared in his periodical Ostara, actually a series of brochures on single themes. Some titles of these booklets are: Race and Woman, and Her Preferences for the Male of the Lower Species; The Dangers of Women’s Rights and the Necessity of a Superior Morality Based on the Right of Men; The Sexual and the Love Life of the Blonds and the Dark Skinned; Introduction to Sexual Physics; The Blonds as Creators of Language … As these titles tell us, the obsessions of the former monk were more vicious than List’s. He seems to have been a badly frustrated man. No wonder that one of the reasons for his expulsion from the Cistercian Order was formulated as amori carnati captus, meaning that he was taken by carnal love, apparently homosexual.

Lanz’s fundamental revelation was the existence of an unbridgeable gap between the higher, noble, god-like beings, and the lower, monstrous, animal-like beings whom he called Chandalas, apelings or Schrättlinge, i.e. mongrels, monstrosities. The higher beings were “the blond Ario-heroic races of all peoples and nations”. Alas, the women of these exalted beings let themselves be seduced by the mongrels, who delighted in thus contaminating the blood of the noble races. They steadily degraded all that was blond, and consequently noble, pure and creative, into the transmogrified image of themselves, nearer to the animal than to the human being. It was through the women that sin had come into the world, for they were far more prone to bestial lust than men.

The ravings of Lanz did not remain confined within an obscure group or sect. The Ostara was printed in great numbers and widely read. In Lanz’s ideas, as in those of List, resounded the feelings of racial superiority, supported by Darwinism, but also inspired by the longing for the realization of higher ideals that were rife at that time in Germany and Austria. Such feelings were among the driving forces of the multifarious völkisch38 movement, and they will form an integral part of Nazism.

It should be mentioned here that several authoritative writers give credence to Lanz’s statement that Hitler was a reader of Ostara during his years in Vienna. Lanz himself wrote in 1932: “Hitler is one of our pupils.”39He was, just like Sebottendorff, silenced for his impudence. The saddest fact, however, is that so many of Lanz’s ideas were put into practice by Nazism, especially by Himmler’s Black Knights, the SS. Lanz von Liebenfels even found pleasure in imagining that his quasi-human mongrels would be sacrificed as a holocaust, a burnt offering, to the gods. And he wrote: “Amid the jubilation of the god-men we will conquer the whole planet.”40

The Germanenorden [Order of Germanic People]

It was around 1880 – an axis in European cultural history – that the self-consciousness of the Germans, not to say their superiority complex, took on inflated proportions. Thanks to the statesmanship of Bismarck they had finally succeeded, in 1871, to build a German nation, which they considered to be the Second Reich. (The First Reich, the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, had ended in 1806.) But the more the Germans became convinced of their exceptional qualities as a nation, and more particularly as a race, the more they felt inclined to look down on peoples who were in their opinion less favoured by the Creator. These were also the years in which Darwinism became accepted even by religious persons, who managed to combine an outlook based on chance with the omnipotence of their God and with Providence. Social Darwinism suited racism admirably and gave it a new impetus.

That this is not one jot exaggerated may be shown by a paragraph from a propaganda leaflet of the Germanenorden: “The most highly talented and gifted race is the Nordic-Ariogermanic race, of which the main external characteristics, in their purest form and distinguishing them from all other human races, are: blond hair, blue eyes, and a rosy-white colour of the skin, together with a noble stature. This race has been, according to the most recent research, from olden times the one and only originator and owner of the noblest moral notions and of all highly developed forms of culture. It is the age-old noble race of humanity that, because of its innate gift of intelligence, richness of feeling and honour, because of its sense of justice and human benevolence, and because of its creative capacity and power of execution, is chosen to be the leader of humanity.”41This was the fundamental belief of all German nationalists and Pan-Germans, as it was the conviction that impelled the Nazis to power and the German armies to conquer the world.

If the Germans were the best, the divinely chosen people, then one should understand that they had reason to feel annoyed by people foreign to the body of their Germanic, or Nordic, or Nordic-Germanic, or Ario-Germanic race. Such non-Germans there had been among them for centuries, industrious, intelligent, even occupying high places in their society: they were the Jews, now representing about one person out of every hundred in the country. Like the populations of other European nations, the Germans had a long-standing tradition of deep-seated anti-Semitism, centuries ago transmitted to them by Christianity, which taught that the Jews had killed their incarnated God, and that they had been dispersed throughout the world by way of punishment. The bigger the German ego, the less place there was for “foreigners” and the more ardent, or virulent, their anti-Semitic feelings grew.

On this well-prepared soil the Germanenorden was born, the brainchild of a mechanical engineer, Theodor Fritsch (1852-1933). Some consider him to have been “the most important anti-Semitic before Hitler”.42It was Fritsch who compiled, in 1887, the Catechism of the Anti-Semite; its twenty-seventh impression in 1907 was renamed Handbook of the Jewish Question and remained till the end of the Third Reich a source of reference and inspiration for all Jew-haters. Fritsch launched the “Anti-Semitic People’s Party” in 1889. In 1902 he started a periodical, the Hammer, which became such a success that Hammer Associations sprang up everywhere in Germany. And it was with these associations as a basis that Fritsch founded, in 1912, the Germanenorden. “The most important carriers of Listian ideas across the border [between Austria and Germany] were the members of the List Society in the German Reich who were involved in the founding of the Reichshammerbund and the Germanenorden”, writes Goodrick-Clarke.43Fritsch’s multiple initiatives, which found broad resonance in Germany, leave no doubt that his influence was enormous; he was the person who undertook the step to convert the vague though widespread anti-Semitic sentiments into clearly formulated anti-Semitic concepts, slogans and actions.

The Germanenorden was a sister-organization of the Hammerbund; it was, in fact, its secret twin. Detlev Rose tells us: “The activists in the Germanenorden founded the first anti-Semitic lodge, a secret association which would consciously counteract the Jewish secret associations … They tried to gain influence through information and instruction, in order that the control of the destiny of the Germanic countries would return into German hands.”44For there was supposed to exist a Jewish conspiration to obtain the mastery of the world and more specifically of Germany. This was a popular rumour long before the fake Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion started on its devastating career.

It is rather amazing that the Germanenorden was structured in lodges, for Freemasonry would be one of the main targets of all Germanic-minded organizations, most of all of the Nazis. The reason for this enmity was that the sources of inspiration of Freemasonry were the ideals of the Enlightenment, and that the Masons were consequently internationalist in principle. From this the Germanic zealots concluded that Freemasonry could not but be an instrument of Jewish world power. For, firstly, the Enlightenment had been a Jewish bid for power over the peoples’ minds through the imposition of the rule of Reason. And secondly, internationalism was an offshoot of the Enlightenment, as were individualism, democracy, liberalism and socialism – all of which were directly or indirectly under the control of World-Jewry. Given such logic, it would not take long before the Jews would be the cause of all that ached in the world. The revered Herr Professor Treitschke had already coined the formula: “The Jews are our misfortune.”

Still further went the Germanenorden in its imitation of Freemasonry by prescribing rituals which an outsider might find slightly bizarre. Such a ritual was for instance “The Return of the Wayward Aryan to the German Halgadom”.45The master of the lodge which was to receive the wayward Aryan in its lap had to sit under a baldachin, flanked by two knights in white robes, wearing a helmet with horns and leaning on their swords. The brothers of the lodge stood before him in a semi-circle, while in the background music was played on a harmonium or piano, accompanying a choir of forest elves. The brothers sang the “Pilgrim’s Choir” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser. The ritual had to take place by candle light. And so on. This goes to show that the Germanenorden was still deeply stuck in the naïve imaginings of a romantic past. It is not that simple to create a new culture with new myths. Hitler will do much better.

Still, if a certain aspect of the Germanenorden may appear jejune, its anti-Semitism was fanatical, aggressive and malignant. The order has been the breeding ground of the horrors committed by the Nazis. And it will be in the secrecy of the order that killer commandos will be formed. According to Hermann Gilbhard: “From the ranks of the Germanenorden extremely dangerous terrorists have gone out, as proved by the murder of Matthias Erzberger. For both murderers who shot the former finance minister in August 1921 belonged, together with Manfred von Killinger who gave the order of the murder, not only to the Organisation Consul in München, but beyond it to the Germanenorden in Regensburg…”46

Occult organisations are prone to splits and schisms. The reason seems to be that perception of the occult reality is a subjective experience – and who is to say who has the highest or the most powerful subjective experiences among the decision makers of the organisation? In autumn 1916 the Germanenorden broke up into two separate orders, one under Philipp Stauff, who had been a personal disciple of Guido von List, the other under Hermann Pohl. Pohl called his fiefdom “Germanenorden-Walvater” after Wotan (or Odin), “the Nordic All-Father or Walvater who determines the heroic death of the humans on the Walstatt, the battle field”.47And it is here that we meet another of the main personages in our tale: Rudolf von Sebottendorff. For Sebottendorff came into contact with Pohl, and seems to have had such impressive credentials that shortly after the schism he was appointed Grand Master of the Bavarian province of the Germanenorden-Walvater in Munich.

Rudolf von Sebottendorff

Adam Glauer, alias Rudolf Freiherr von Sebottendorff von der Rose, was born in 1875 as the son of a locomotive driver. Machinery and all kinds of technical gadgets interested the son as much as the father, for Adam became a skilled technician; he even undertook engineering studies but never brought them to a successful end. He wanted to see the world and signed on for various technical jobs on ships with destination New York, Naples and Australia. He did not hesitate to desert one ship for another if he found the new destination more alluring. In Australia, in the year 1900, he even went on an adventurous search for gold, but had to abandon the project because of the sudden death of his partner. Soon Glauer found a new job on a ship which took him to Egypt. And it was in Cairo that a new leaf in the book of his life was turned over: in the presence of the pyramids he became interested in the reality behind the surface of things, in matters which are called by the generic name “occultism”.

“Glauer began a serious study of occultism”, writes Goodrick-Clarke. “His interest in exotic religions had been kindled when he saw the Mevlevi sect of whirling dervishes and visited the Cheops pyramid at El-Giza in July 1900. His companion Ibrahim told him of the cosmological and numerological significance of the pyramids and aroused Glauer’s curiosity about the occult gnosis of ancient theocracies. Hussein Pasha, his wealthy and learned host, practiced a form of Sufism and discussed these matters with Glauer. At Bursa he made the acquaintance of the Termudi family … Old Termudi had retired from business to devote himself to a study of the Cabbala and collecting alchemical and Rosicrucian texts … The Termudis were Freemasons … Glauer was initiated into the lodge by old Termudi and subsequently inherited his occult library. In one of these books Glauer discovered a note from Hussein Pasha, describing the secret mystical exercises of traditional Islamic alchemists, still practised by the Baktashi sect of dervishes.”48

In 1902 Glauer was back in Germany, but Turkey remained on his mind, the more so because his marriage and some financial matters did not turn out well. By the end of 1908 he was back in Turkey, where he “continued to study Islamic mysticism, which in his opinion shared a common Aryan source with the Germanic runes”. One result of his study was an essay on the Baktashi dervishes, “an antinomian mystical order widely spread and influential in Turkey and connected by legend with the origin of the Janissaries.”49The secret organization of the Baktashi resembled that of the Freemasons; they played an important role in the transition from Ottoman absolutism to a modern Turkish state, for the revolution of the Young Turks had now established a constitutional monarchy and the rule of parliament. Glauer was, according to his own attestation, naturalized as a Turkish citizen in 1911 and adopted by a German baron who lived in Turkey, Heinrich von Sebottendorff von der Rose, whose name he would wear.

Sebottendorff returned to Germany in 1913, a year before the outbreak of the First World War. What he found there “was a materialistic land without any orientation, and that seemed to be on the verge of spiritual collapse … the disappearance of the former simple manners and customs, seeking consolation in consumption, empty churches from which nobody drew any confirmation of his faith anymore, the venom of jealousy and hatred … a boom of false prophets and spiritist circles where ‘hysterical women’ and ‘anaemic men’ desperately looked for help, but became the victims of nothing but cheats. ‘Nothing was too stupid not to be believed.’…”50

What was it that made Sebottendorff a fervent German nationalist and anti-Semite – he who had been steeped into the occult tradition of the Near East? Maybe it was the very discipline of inner values, of concentration and the awareness of an invisible but elementary hierarchy, peculiar to all true spiritual exploration. In his reaction to the superficial Western way of living and his rejection of it, Sebottendorff actually joined the mentality of the adherents of the völkisch movement, turning back towards the past and concentrating inwardly on the glow of “the German soul”. “Sebottendorff’s political views were primarily inspired by a religious orientation: the anti-materialism of pan-Ottoman mysticism, alchemy, and Rosicrucianism, combined with a post-war hatred of Bolchevism, which he identified as the acme of materialism, led him to embrace anti-democratic ideas.”51It was this kind of mental make-up which rendered Sebottendorff receptive to the writings of Guido von List and Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels (whose actual names were Guido List, without the ennobling “von”, and Georg Lanz, tout court).

Sebottendorff, like List, was fascinated by the runes. Knowledgeable people write that the phonetic runic alphabet dates from the first centuries CE, and that it may be derived from the Etruscan script. Yet numerous runic inscriptions from prehistoric times have been found, especially in Scandinavia. “Prehistorians generally accept that the runes had possessed a symbolism over and above their phonetic value and use in writing, so that they were accordingly used for divination, the casting of lots, magical invocations, and the preparation of amulets and charms.”52List had written extensively on the runes and declared them to be sacred glyphs of the Armanen, the Ario-Germanic initiates and godmen of yore. It was this subject that brought Sebottendorff together with Philipp Stauff, a Listian and, as we have seen, since recently Grand Master of the Germanenorden-Walvater.

We have now an idea of the credentials which made Stauff place Sebottendorff at the head of the Bavarian province of the Order. Sebottendorff would go on to write two semi-autobiographical novels and no less than seven astrological text-books between 1921 and 1923. He was one of the most looked up to astrologers at a time that “Germany counted more astrologers per square mile than anywhere else in the world.” If one adds to these publications his essay on the Baktashi dervishes and his articles in the publications under his supervision, then one cannot but conclude that Sebottendorff was a person out of the ordinary. This is confirmed by the fact that so many prominent members of Munich society joined the Germanenorden. In this light one takes with a pinch of salt statements like: “[Sebottendorff] was a political adventurer with a rather unsavoury past” (Fest53) and Detlev Rose’s title of his chapter on Sebottendorff: “The Adventurer from Hoyerswerda”54(the name of his birthplace). Such partial statements put a label on Sebottendorff which hampers understanding him. Goodrick-Clarke’s conclusion is much more objective, because better informed, when he writes: “Without this man it is likely that the Germanenorden and Ariosophy would have been condemned to oblivion.”55

The Thule Society

The Germanenorden-Walvater was not in good shape when Sebottendorff took charge of the Bavarian province in 1916. This was in the middle of “the Great War” which the Germans at the outset had expected to last only a few weeks or months, but which had turned into unending hell at the front and dire hardship in the homeland. Many of the members of the Germanenorden were bearing arms, and everyone’s ideals were put severely to the test. Goodrick-Clarke says that the Germanenorden was then “moribund”; one finds this confirmed in Sebottendorff, for he writes that the members who had stayed behind in the homeland must make an effort “to bring the order to life again”.56Sebottendorff, though, proved to be a vigorous and inspirational organizer, and soon the order numbered 1500 members in Bavaria, of whom 250 were residents of Munich.

Grand Master Sebottendorff chose a new seat for the Munich chapter: the prestigious Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten (Four Seasons). (This hotel is still one of the topmost in the city.) The new rooms of the order were inaugurated on Christmas Day 1917. On this occasion Sebottendorff launched two periodicals, one typically titled Runes, for the friends and sympathizers of the order, the other called General News of the Order, for initiated members. Sebottendorff, who had come into money by marrying the daughter of a wealthy businessman, also bought a barely surviving newspaper, the Münchener Beobachter. This newspaper would later be retitled the Völkische Beobachter and be the flagship of the Nazis. As the emblem of the Thule Society was chosen a swastika backed by a sword and crowned with oak leafs.

The directives and goals of the Germanenorden were the following: 1. One had to be a German “who could prove the purity of his blood up to the third degree; by this would be prevented that descendants from Jews would infiltrate the order”; 2. “Special value would be attached to the propaganda of racial science”, understood in the Darwinian sense; 3. “The principles of the pan-Germans were to be extended to the whole Germanic race; a unification of all peoples of Germanic blood should be prepared”; 4. “The battle against everything un-German, a fight against internationalism, against the Jewishness in the Germans, should be stimulated with all possible energy.” Members of the order also had to sign an attestation concerning their blood: “The signatory assures, to the best of his knowledge and conscience, that no Jewish or coloured blood flows in his veins and in those of his wife, and that there are no members of the coloured races among his forebears.”57

On the occasion of the inauguration Sebottendorff revealed the new name of the Munich chapter of the order: Thule-Gesellschaft, Thule Society. From then onwards the secret Germanenorden would act in the open under this assumed name. “Since the ritual Germanenorden activities were supplemented by overt right-wing meetings the term Thule Society was adopted as a cover-name for the order to spare it the unwelcome attentions of socialist and pro-Republican elements”, explains Good-Clarke.58This cover name sounded “sufficiently mysterious”, found Sebottendorff, and at the same time “told those-who-knew what it was about”.59The lineage of the Thule Society leaves not a shadow of doubt: Fritsch’s Reichshammerbund had created a secret twin-organization, the Germanenorden, of which the Munich chapter of the Bavarian province was named “Thule Society”. In Bavaria the Germanenorden and the Thule Society were one and the same.

“Thule”, mentioned by some ancient historians, was a legendary country beyond the British Isles, somewhere in the misty regions of eternal ice and snow near or at the North Pole. The romantic völkisch imagination turned that country into “the myth of the North”60. It was “the homeland of the soul of the Nordic race … the remembrance of paradise …” (Sünner61); it was “the mysterious country of origin of the Aryans, a superhuman race with god-like capacities and knowledge no longer accessible to modern man”.62In short, all dreams and frustrations were projected back onto that legendary country in a mythic past, with the deep longing that they might be realized again in the future of the Germanic people. “Thule was concurrently the expression of a spiritual aspiration with which many Germans reacted to the modern tendencies, experienced as puzzling and frightening, to economic liberalism, materialistic utilitarianism and scientific positivism … Thule represented a symbolism of life-denial, eternity and solace, a symbolism of death and conquest of death at the origin of the race.”63

Thule was inevitably mixed up with the memory of Atlantis, time and again resurgent if not from the waves of the ocean then from the eddies of humanity’s memory. “All Germans stand in the depth of their unconscious with one leg on Atlantis”, according to Chris Amery. And Franz Wegener writes: “The Nordic-racist myth of Atlantis was understood to be the common starting point of German culture.”64The importance of these matters for our tale will be apparent in the following lines by Sebottendorff: “One has tried to convince us, and the world still believes it today, that the place of origin of the [Aryan] people is the Asiatic highlands or Mesopotamia. The light is supposed to have come out of the East. But more recent research has shown that this supposition is wrong: Northern Europe, North Germany is the rootplace of the bearers of culture. It is there that, from the dark prehistoric times till the present, streams of fertilizing German blood have poured forth, that waves upon waves have gone out to bring culture to the whole world.”65This was much more than a personal opinion. This kind of thought was given currency in the nineteenth century by a succession of esteemed publicists, scientists as well as litterateurs, and became gospel truth to all völkisch-oriented, racist Germans in the first decennia of the twentieth century. Hitler, for one, held exactly the same opinion, as did Alfred Rosenberg, the ideological supervisor of the Third Reich, and consequently the official ideology of the Nazis.

Thule had also become familiar in the imagination of the völkisch Germans by another way: the publisher Eugen Diederichs had chosen the word “Thule” as the title of a series of twenty-four volumes of translations of the Nordic myths and sagas, the Sammlung Thule, published from 1911 onwards. Few means are so powerful for the spreading of an idea as the publication of a carefully selected book or collection of books at an affordable price. The Eddas and other Nordic myths, legends, songs and epics could for the first time be read and studied by a large public. Diederich’s initiative strongly influenced “the turn northwards” of the German mind, away from the Orient but still more away from southern Europe, more specifically from Rome, symbol of the ancient Roman empire and its culture, and of the Catholic Church. “Thule is not the past: Thule is the eternal German soul”, proclaimed a prospectus of Diederich’s collection.66

“In the Thule Society it was like in a dovecote”, reminisces Sebottendorff, “there was in Munich no association representing some national interest or other which did not find shelter in Thule.”67As Munich, with its beer halls and its beer culture, was (and is) the kind of city where social interrelation is a way of life and “everybody knows anybody else” – an important factor in the emergence of the Nazi movement – the influence of the Thule Society in the Bavarian capital must have been considerable.

Besides meetings of the nationalistic and anti-Semitic associations, Thule organized a great variety of activities of its own, for it was after all registered as “Study group of Germanic antiquity”. There were lectures on runes, on German history and prehistory, on the Eddas and the Song of the Nibelungs, on other völkisch subjects accepted and promoted by the Germanenorden. Astrology, numerology, and the use of the pendulum and the dowsing-rod were studied. There were artistic evenings with vocal and instrumental recitals. The highlights of the Germanic calendar, especially the summer and winter solstices, were celebrated – all this taking place in clouds of cigar and cigarette smoke en cheered up with sausages and beer.

But there was another side to the Thule: the occult activities, covered up by the outward bustle. Thule was after all a secret society whose members were sworn to silence.68In the first place there were the sessions of the pseudo-masonic Germanenorden-Walvater: the return of a “wayward Aryan into Halgadom”, the routine meetings of instruction and proposal of activities extra muros, or the promotion of a member to a higher grade within the order. And there were the meetings of Thule members interested in occultism of various sorts. We know about Sebottendorff’s Middle Eastern background and he will have sought or been requested to share his knowledge. The readings of Walter Nauhaus, a close collaborator of his, “ranged from Guido von List’s ‘researches’ to astrology, chiromancy, and the writings of Peryt Shou. In a letter to List he admitted to an interest in the Cabbala, and in Hindu and Egyptian beliefs. Like Sebottendorff, Nauhaus was fascinated by the mystical ideologies of ancient theocracies and secret cults.”69

We find another echo of the goings on in Thule in the memoirs of Walter Schellenberg, the SS chief of foreign intelligence: “Hitler’s racial mania was one of his characteristic features. I discussed this several times with Dr. Gutbarlett [correctly: Gutberlet], a Munich physician who belonged to the intimate circle around Hitler. Gutbarlett believed in the ‘sidereal pendulum’, an astrological contraption, and claimed that this had given him the power to sense at once the presence of any Jew or persons of partial Jewish ancestry, and to pick them out in any group of people. Hitler … had many discussions with him on racial questions.”70Wilhelm Gutberlet, a medical doctor, is mentioned in Sebottendorff’s list at the end of Before Hitler Came as a member of Thule’s Kampfbund, one of its two Free Corps to which belonged also a certain Rudolf Hess.

Taking all this into consideration, there can hardly be any doubt that another focus of interest in Thule was spiritism. Philipp Stauff, one of the founders of the Germanenorden, “was involved in a series of spiritualist séances which claimed to have communicated with long-dead priest-kings of the old religion.”71In Germany the evocation of otherworldly spirits was then at an all-time high because so many sought consolation in a contact with their son, father or brother killed on the battlefield. Spiritism was, moreover, more than what it is now commonly supposed to be, namely a pursuit of hair-raising sensationalism: it was the search for “a new form of transcendental experience” based on a holistic interpretation of reality.72

In Before Hitler Came, Sebottendorff reproduces some of his writings in the Thule publications. Some brief quotations will have to do: “The German needs a Führer who imposes himself on him … We don’t acknowledge any international brotherhood, but only the interests of our race; we don’t acknowledge the brotherhood of men, but only the brotherhood of the blood … Struggle is the father of everything … We don’t want to be the anvil anymore, we want to be the hammer [an allusion to Fritsch’s Hammerbund] … Democracy is Jewish, any kind of democratic revolution is Jewish … There are higher and lower races. If one attributes the same value to racial bastards, the Chandalas, as one does to the Aryans, the noble people, one commits a crime against humanity. Humanity needs leaders and leading races for its upward evolution…”73Sebottendorff’s own proud comment: “This was a language one had not yet heard in Munich until then.” The position taken by Thule represented “a fundamental change in the attitude of the Germans towards the Jews … Now research and proven facts leave no more doubt that the Jewish problem is a racial problem which has nothing to do with religion. The question is the following: shall we, German companions-in-race [Volksgenossen] let ourselves in the future be dominated politically, economically and culturally by a decreasing minority of a people of a foreign race, that feels itself as such and keeps itself carefully apart and of pure blood through law and religion, which to the Jews are one and the same?”74

In the first days of November 1918 sailors of the German fleet at Kiel and Wilhelmshaven, following the example of the Russian Kronstadt Revolt, rose against their officers and thereby started the German revolution. They spread through the country, inciting the population to join them in their protest against the war, the war mongers and the catastrophic consequences for Germany. They raised the red flag and preached the international revolution of the proletariat. On 7 November, Kurt Eisner, before a huge crowd on the Theresienwiese (a large open space) in Munich, declared Bavaria a social-democratic republic. The Wittelsbach king abdicated and went into exile. On 11 November Germany put down its weapons. Its “grasp for the world power” had failed, its “war of illusions” had been lost. The shock to the psyche of the Germans and their feelings of superiority was numbing. This was a chance for the Thule Society to prove that it could do more than promulgate grandiloquent proclamations.

Sebottendorff reacted immediately to the revolutionary situation in a speech to the members of Thule: “My Brothers and Sisters: Yesterday we experienced the collapse of all we were used to, of all we loved and valued. In the stead of our princes, related to us by blood, reigns our deadly enemy Juda. We do not yet know what will develop out of this chaos. We can guess it … All of us who are involved in this struggle are in danger, for the enemy hates us with the boundless hate of the Jewish race. Now it is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth … It will be my aim as long as I am holding this iron hammer [as Grand Master] to involve the Thule in this struggle … From today we will act…”75

And act they did. Hermann Gilbhard writes: “The Thule represented, at the time of the [German] revolution, the umbrella organization of nearly all nationalistic and anti-Semitic forces in Munich.”76Detlev Rose agrees: “The Thule Society became a centralising organization for pan-German, patriotic and similar associations and tried to harbour all groupings which became threatened by the political upheaval … The significance of the Society in this phase of turmoil cannot be overestimated … Many invisible threads met in the Vier Jahreszeiten.”77

The Thule Society ran an active propaganda campaign against the Reds and printed tens of thousands of leaflets, one of the principal means of political action at a time that the “media” were not what they have become today. Weapons, massively available after the return of the armies from the front, were bought and stacked in hidden places. The Thule Society formed its Kampfbund Thule in the very first days of the Republic, and the Society would equip a second fighting unit, the Freikorps Oberland. Both Free Corps units were commanded by demobilized officers with years of front experience; they would distinguish themselves in the liberation of Munich from the communist Republic of Councils as well as in the battles against the Russian Bolsheviks in the Baltic region. When Kurt Eisner was murdered on 21 February 1919, he was on his way to step down as president. His murderer, a young student Anton von Arco auf Valley, was allegedly connected with Thule.

Thule’s antirevolutionary endeavours became still more intensive after the communist Republic of Council’s had succeeded Eisner’s socialists and increased the general confusion. The Bolsheviks were a direct challenge to every single article of the Thulean creed, and they did not hesitate to requisition, ransack, imprison and kill. In a tragicomedy of errors seven Thule members were arrested and executed, some say in a gruesome manner. One of them was Walter Nauhaus, who had proposed the swastika as Thule’s emblem; others were Baron Karl von Teuchert, Countess Heila von Westarp and Prince Gustav Maria von Thurn und Taxis. The eighth person to be executed together with those anti-Semites was a Jew, professor Ernst Berger, arrested by mistake; he had insisted on being led to his execution thinking that they were taken to be interrogated and that he would be able to prove his identity. The news of those executions quickly reached the units of the Reichswehr (the national army) and the Free Corps who had encircled Munich and who, when executing their attack, took bloody revenge on the communists.

As Grand Master of the Thule Society Sebottendorff did not survive very long the six months of the revolutionary events in Munich (from November 1918 till May 1919). As he himself puts it: the socialist newspaper the Münchener Post had printed a pamphlet accusing him of living under a false name; of having deserted the Thule cowardly at the time of the murders; of having acquired the Turkish nationality to be exempt of military service and thus escape being sent to the front; of having embezzled certain sums of money; etc.78Sebottendorff claims that he refused to defend himself to prevent that the Order’s secrets would be exposed, and that he preferred to take his leave: “He had to go so that the delicate plant would not be smothered” – the delicate plant, that is, of the political movement he had initiated. But this brings us to our following chapter.

3. Mentor

The German soul, like the light of the suns,

Conquers the night with a new dawn!

Dietrich Eckart

Thule Reaches Out

Bismarck had not been able to suppress the social-democratic upsurge, feared and hated by the reactionaries. In 1912 the Socialists obtained 110 seats in parliament, more than any other party. In 1914, carried on the wave of general euphoria with which the war was greeted, the social-democrats temporarily put aside, or betrayed, their internationalist principles, but most of them, under pressure from the Communists and the 1917 events in Russia, reverted to their original ideals when the war turned sour. Since the 1918 revolution, which made Germany from a monarchy into a republic, the country was fissured into two hostile blocks and “the menace of civil war hung like a black cloud over Germany”.79

The Thule Society, “probably the most powerful secret organization in Germany”,80had become aware of the potentially catastrophic gap between Right and Left, and decided to do something about it by trying to win over the workers for the nationalist ideas. In the following words of Hitler, in Mein Kampf, one hears an echo of Thule’s concerns: “The bourgeoisie has misjudged the importance of the mass and therefore of the social problem. Because of this the bourgeoisie has estranged the workers from their own Volkstum [racehood] and driven them into the arms of their Judeo-Marxist leaders. This has been an unforgivable mistake … It is decisive for the success of the Party to reach out in the first place to the large masses.”81

Thule’s awareness of the necessity to gain the workers for the nationalist (and anti-Semitic) cause may have been prompted by politically active elements in the Reichswehr like General Arnold von Möhl and Captain Karl Mayr. “There was a personal and ideological relationship between the Reichswehr and the Thule”,82according to Orzechowski. This is corroborated by Joachim Köhler: “Mayr was a confident of the Order.”83There was, in fact, a close interaction between all rightist activists to whatever organization they belonged, be it the Germanenorden or the Reichswehr, the Pan-German League, the Free Corps, etc. In the confused and tense atmosphere of those years the Right felt that they, and with them German culture, were besieged from within by “Bolshevism”. The civil war was rarely fought out in the open, but for the most part on countless fronts by secret associations in hidden ways.

To gain the proletariat for their cause, the Thule Society founded towards the end of 1918 two front organizations. The first was named “German Socialist Party”, for which the propaganda was launched on Christmas Day. This was meant to be a political party in the classical sense of the word, “German-völkisch and socialist”, but not accessible for Jews. Its newspaper would be the Münchener Beobachter und Sportblatt – a title intended to allure the lower classes by the addition of Sportblatt, which means “sports magazine”. The president of the new party, Hans Grassinger, was a member of the Thule Kampfbund.

The Thule Society was less ambitious at the cradle of its second offspring, the “German Workers’ Party”, German initials DAP, founded on 5 January 1919. The president of the DAP, Karl Harrer, a member of Thule, conceived his party more like a lodge, a secret völkisch club where members of the working class would be introduced to the Thule ideals. Thus the DAP would be something like a proletarian annexe of the more select Thule Society. Ironically, it was the DAP which grew into the NSDAP, Hitler’s National Socialist Workers’ Party, and which would swallow up its fledgling sister organization, the German Socialist Party.

“Brother” Karl Harrer (1890-1926), “untiring fighter for justice and truth”, was a sports journalist by profession. The evening paper for which he worked, the München-Augsburger Abendzeitung, had once published an article in favour of continuing the war by one Anton Drexler. In March 1918 Drexler had founded a “Worker’s Committee for a Just Peace” in Bremen, and had invited Harrer to one of the meetings. And so it happened that, when Harrer was entrusted with his assignment by the leadership of the Order to create an instrument “to win the workers for the völkisch politics”84, he sought out Drexler, who was now employed as a locksmith with the German Railways in Munich.

Anton Drexler (1884-1942) certainly was no ordinary proletarian, taking into consideration his previous activities in Bremen, his writings, including My Political Awakening, and his political initiatives. He became a “guest” of the Thule – the designation of persons who had close dealings with the Order without being initiated – and founded in collaboration with Harrer “a workers’ circle” of which he was the president for Munich and Harrer the “national president”, and of which at first most of the members were recruited among Drexler’s co-workers. “The persons who were accepted as members by the executive committee were sworn to silence about the activities and membership of the group.”85This circle soon became the DAP. “While the political workers’ circle was clearly meant to be a creation of Thule, the German Workers’ Party, for tactical reasons, had to be presented as an initiative of Drexler’s.”86“The German Workers’ Party gained no great influence at first and remained mainly limited to Munich. Only when through an intervention of Destiny Adolf Hitler joined the still thinly populated ranks of the Party, in the autumn of 1919, came the turnabout which gained great historical significance for the whole German people.”87

The Corporal Joins a Party

In Mein Kampf Hitler tells his first and fateful contact with the DAP, on 12 September 1919, as follows: “One day I received an order from my superiors to investigate the nature of an association which was apparently political. It called itself ‘The German Labour Party’ and was soon to hold a meeting at which Gottfried Feder would speak. I was ordered to attend this meeting and report on the situation … I decided to attend the meeting of this Party which had hitherto been entirely unknown to me.”88These few lines have lived on as part of the Hitler myth, suggesting that his first contact with the DAP was coincidental. Yet there are sound reasons to see Hitler’s debut in politics in a very different way.

The Thule was a secret society and so was, as we just saw, its “workers’ circle” which had become the DAP, contrived by Harrer more as a lodge than as an ordinary political party. A footnote in Ralph Manheim’s English translation of Mein Kampf reads: “As part of the party’s policy deliberately to restrict membership so as to maintain its esoteric quality, attendance at its meetings was usually by invitation…”89Hitler was now no longer only a Reichswehr propagandist, he was also an agent in military intelligence, commissioned to spy on the frenzied and often shady political hustle and bustle in Munich. How had he been informed about the date and venue, the Sterneckerbräu, of the secret DAP’s meeting on 12 September? Moreover, how could he enter that meeting without an introduction? He was but a corporal still wearing uniform. And he was accompanied by three other military men, for we find in Joachimsthaler: “On that day, Friday 12 September 1919, 43 persons were present, according to the attendance list, among whom, as companions of Hitler, Sergeant Alois Grillmeier and two propagandists of the Gruko [Gruppenkommando], Ewald Bolle and Alois Knodn.”90

The chief speaker at the meeting in question was Gottfried Feder, author of a Manifest for the Breaking of the Interest Slavery of Money, a cranky theory which at the time made a deep impression on the German anti-Semites, including Hitler, who remarks: “Feder’s lecture was known to me from the courses [for propagandists at Munich University].” In fact, Feder was standing in for Dietrich Eckart, a “guest” of Thule who had recently become a member of the DAP and was well known to Captain Mayr. “The speaker was to have been Eckart, but he was ill.”91And here we meet again with an old acquaintance, the inventor of the sidereal pendulum, Wilhelm Gutberlet. “Dr. Wilhelm Gutberlet (1870-1933), medical doctor at Munich, member of Thule and eminent astrologer, sat by the side of Hitler [at the 12 September meeting], and wrote a long report on him for Dietrich Eckart.”92

Hitler’s flaming retort towards the end of the meeting to a certain professor Baumann, who had dared to defend the idea of an alliance between Bavaria and Austria, both Catholic, against Protestant Prussia, may have been less impromptu than Hitler himself would have us think. “At this juncture I felt bound to ask for permission to speak and to tell the learned gentleman what I thought. The result was that the honourable gentleman who had last spoken slipped out of his place, like a whipped cur, without uttering a sound. While I was speaking the audience listened with an expression of surprise on their faces.”93The corporal had demonstrated his oratory skill and passed muster. He was invited to become a member of the DAP and joined the party a few days later.

Most of the recently published experts on this period in Hitler’s life agree that he, in his appearance on the political scene, was supported by the Reichswehr and by the Thule Society. “Hitler wanted to conceal”, in his chapter on the German Worker’s Party in Mein Kampf, “that the initiative of his joining the DAP had not been taken by himself”, writes Ralph Reuth.94Ian Kershaw, in this connection, refers to Captain Mayr: “In a little noticed piece of evidence, [Hitler’s] Reichswehr boss Captain Mayr later claimed that he had ordered Hitler to join the German Worker’s Party to help foster its growth. For this purpose, Mayr went on, [Hitler] was provided at first with funds … and, contrary to normal practice about members of the Reichswehr joining political parties, was allowed to stay in the army.”95Anton Joachimsthaler also says that Hitler was ordered by Mayr to have a look at the DAP “and even to establish contact with them … One may accept that Captain Mayr has advised Hitler to join the DAP, if he has not instigated him to do so, that he generously supported him in his subsequent political activities in the DAP, and that he gave him further assignments”.96“Hitler was as representative of the Reichswehr smuggled into the DAP”, according to Orzechowski, who also writes: “The members of the occult Thule Society helped Hitler into the saddle.”97

All this is undeniably confirmed in letters from Captain Mayr to Wolfgang Kapp, the front man of the rightist “Kapp Putsch” in 1920. (The letters, by the way, prove again that Captain Karl Mayr was one link in a wide nationalist network, and that there existed a coordinated interaction between the nationalist organizations against the social-democratic government.) It is here that Mayr writes that he had daily contact with Hitler for more than fifteen months. And he continues: “We are building the organization of national radicalism. The national worker’s party (DAP) must constitute the foundation of the strong storm troop we hope to form … I have been trying to strengthen the movement since July [ 1919] … I have set going very tough young people … Hitler has become a moving force … I agree fully with Mister Hitler that what is called the social-democracy of the government is completely at the mercy of the Jews … All harmful elements must, like breeders of illness, be expelled or isolated – which goes for the Jews too…”98

Hitler’s first visit to the DAP was not the casual occurrence it is still generally supposed to have been. This can also be deduced from some statements in his autobiography in spite of the smokescreen with which he tries to conceal the truth. The last words of chapter 7, “The Revolution”, are the often quoted: “As to me, I decided to become a politician.”99This decision is supposed to have been taken in the Pasewalk hospital, at the end of the deep depression which overtook him on learning that Germany had lost the war and that the country had become a republic overnight. Hitler’s statement is untrue and even nonsensical. At Pasewalk his social isolation was nearly absolute; at the age of twenty-nine his heroic years as a soldier were wiped out by the German defeat; he had no future, no professional competence, no relatives or friends who could help him, and no means whatsoever. He himself confesses: “That I was poor and without means seems to me the most bearable part, but it was harder that I was numbered among the nameless, that I was one of the millions whom chance permits to live or summons out of existence without even their closest neighbours condescending to take any notice of it. In addition, there was the difficulty which eventually arose from my lack of schooling.”100We may find a clue to what really happened at Pasewalk further on in our story.

But then the providential turnabout happened to Hitler, and now, in September 1919, he was entering politics. Surprisingly, “on joining the DAP he had very concrete ideas about the aims he was going to pursue”.101“This absurd little group with its few members [the DAP] seemed to me to possess one advantage”, he writes, “that it had not frozen into an ‘organization’, but left the individual an opportunity for real personal activity. Here it was still possible to work, and the smaller the movement, the more readily it could be put into the proper form. Here the context, the goal and the road could still be determined, which in the existing great parties was impossible from the outset.”102And he declares: “I had no intention of joining a ready-made party, but wanted to found one of my own.”103Max Amann, who had been Hitler’s sergeant in the army, met the corporal by chance “somewhere in the spring of 1920”. “He was still wearing his military uniform”, remembers Amann. “To my question what he was becoming, he answered that he was now an educational officer in the Reichswehr … He did, however, not find any satisfaction in this occupation. It was his intention to enter the political life and to found his own political party.”104(What we have seen before allows us to adjust Amann’s recollection and to place the encounter in early autumn 1919.)

Where had Hitler got the idea to found a party – he who was “a man from nowhere”, and who was himself very much aware of the fact? “The so-called ‘intelligentsia’ still looks down with infinite superciliousness on anyone who has not been through the prescribed schools and allowed them to pump the necessary knowledge into him. The question of what a man can do is never asked, but rather: what has he learned? ‘Educated’ people look upon any imbecile who is plastered with a number of academic certificates as superior to the ablest young fellow who lacks these precious documents.” (Mein Kampf105) This feeling of social inferiority was ingrained in Hitler and he will, in spite of his authoritarian predispositions, always bear a grudge against ‘educated people’.

From where did he have the idea that “it was a new ideology and not a new election slogan that had to be proclaimed”? How came that he, who initially participated in meetings attended by no more than thirty, forty people, “thought from the very beginning on the scale of a party for the masses”?106There are secrets in between the lines of Mein Kampf which are part of the “enigma” that keeps the historians guessing. Why would, for Hitler, joining an insignificant group of rightist fanatics and their sympathizers be “the hardest question of my life” – he for whom survival from one day to the next had been the most urgent problem on his mind? And has joining a political party, especially one hidden in the dingy darkness of a second-rate beer hall, ever been for anybody “a decision that would be for good, with no turning back”, as Hitler says it was for him?107A man who had some answers to these questions was Dietrich Eckart.

Dietrich Eckart

Brigitte Hamann, in her highly rated Hitlers Wien (1998), calls Dietrich Eckart the “closest friend and mentor” of Hitler.108In this she is not alone. Actually, most students of Hitler’s life say the same and use identical words. A “mentor”, according to the dictionaries, is “a wise and trusted adviser and guide”, “a wise and trusted counsellor or teacher”.

One obtains a somewhat different impression about Eckart from Joachim Fest: “A roughhewn and comical figure, with his thick round head, his partiality for good wine and crude talk, Eckart had missed the great success he hoped for as a poet and a dramatist … In compensation he had thrown himself into that bohemian group which indulged in politics.”109And John Toland writes: “Dietrich Eckart – poet, playwright, coffeehouse intellectual – was a tall, bald, burly eccentric who spent much of his time in cafés and beer halls giving equal attention to drink and talk.”110The correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung Konrad Heiden, though, who was an eye-witness and an opponent of the rise of the NSDAP in Munich, reports: “… The recognized spiritual leader of the small group [around Hitler] was Eckart, the journalist and poet, twenty-one years older than Hitler … He had a strong influence on the younger man, probably the strongest anyone ever has had on him”.111

In The Crisis of German Ideology, George Mosse agrees that Dietrich Eckart was “the man who exercised the greatest influence on Adolf Hitler in the immediate postwar years”. In his opinion “this important figure in the völkisch movement played the key role in crystallizing Hitler’s attitudes … The two formed a team in which Hitler was the avid and quickly learning disciple”. And Mosse adds quite rightly: “Thus it is indeed surprising that historians have failed to give Eckart due credit for his contribution to the viability of National Socialism.”112François Delpla puts it bluntly: “History has not been interested in Eckart.”113In their Hitler biographies Fest (1973) dedicates to Eckart one page, Toland (1976) one and a half paragraph, Steinert (1991) two paragraphs, and Kershaw (1998) also two paragraphs, although he thinks that “Eckart’s role was crucial.

This gaping lacuna in the life of Adolf Hitler and the history of Nazism is still more amazing as there is no lack of documents. Eckart’s considerable literary and journalistic oeuvre could have been studied if sought for; Ernst Nolte, one of the dominant German historians, has drawn attention to the relevance of Eckart’s Zwiegespräch, a so-called dialogue with Hitler, in 1969; and Margarete Plewnia’s biography of Eckart was published in 1970. But the main source indicating Eckart’s historical importance was Adolf Hitler himself. Here the abundance of references is really overwhelming, taking into account that Hitler as a rule blotted out all traces leading towards his pre-public past and in many cases eliminated the persons connected with it. (“A Führer can never admit that what he advocates, he got from others.”114)

The greatest honour Hitler did to Eckart was highlighting his name as the last two words of Mein Kampf: “Here at the end of this second volume115 let me again bring those men to the memory of the adherents and champions of our ideals, as heroes who, in the full consciousness of what they were doing, sacrificed their lives for us all … Together with those, and as one of the best of all, I should like to mention the name of a man who devoted his life to reawakening his and our people, through his writing and his ideas, and finally through positive action: Dietrich Eckart.”116

Hitler bought, with funds provided by an industrialist supporter, the Barlow Palace on Briennerstrasse in Munich and had it renovated into the local Nazi headquarters by his favourite architect, who was soon to die, Paul Troost. Two busts were installed in what was called the “Senate Hall”: the one of Otto von Bismarck, the other of Dietrich Eckart. In the canteen of that building was a seat permanently reserved for the Führer, under a bust of Eckart.

The person most often mentioned in Hitler’s monologues at his Head Quarters in Rastenburg, on the eastern front, was Dietrich Eckart, some twenty years after his death. One of Hitler’s secretaries has said that tears would well in Hitler’s eyes every time he remembered the man he once called his “fatherly friend”. “Eckart’s merits are imperishable”, he said, and: “It is deeply tragic that Dietrich Eckart has not lived to see the rise [of the Nazi Party].”117He reminisced about his discovery, thanks to Eckart, of the Obersalzberg and the house there that would become his villa k, and how one night he had woken Eckart up unannounced, and how Eckart had opened the door in his night-shirt, showing his hairy legs. “Today, we have all come a step further; therefore we do not realize what [Eckart] was at the time: a polar star.”

When the Reichstag building had burned and the Reichstag, the German parliament, met for the first time in the Kroll Opera House, its president Hermann Göring opened the session with a memorial address on Dietrich Eckart. A statue of the poet was inaugurated in his birthplace, Neumarkt, by the Führer himself, as was an open air theatre, named after Eckart, in Berlin. There were Dietrich Eckart Societies and Dietrich Eckart Homes in Dortmund and in many other places. His poems were learned by heart in the schools and university students wrote theses on his oeuvre; his birthday was commemorated in the press; his plays were, sometimes at the instigation of the Führer, revived in many theatres. Eckart was made posthumously into “the symbolic figure of the young [NSDAP] Party”.118

Dietrich Eckart was born in Neumarkt in 1866 as the son of a royal notary.119He studied medicine – and also law for some time, according to Hitler – but he never finished his studies because of illness. Delicate health will remain a factor throughout his life and be the cause of his dependence on pain-killing morphine. In 1899 Eckart went to live in Berlin, where he tried to realize his literary ambitions and led the bohemian life in literary circles and cafés. This and the fact that he was a generous, uncalculating man, at times even a spendthrift, soon finished the money he had inherited after his father’s death and turned his Berlin period into “twelve hungry years”. It was then that he wrote most of his plays, such as Father of a Family, A Fellow who Speculates and King of the Frogs. The plays were put on the stage but met with no more than moderate success. In the meantime he kept himself afloat with journalistic work and by writing literary and political essays – besides his production as a poet, which he essentially was.

However, one of his plays, The Hereditary Count, was attended by Emperor Wilhelm II, who liked it so much that he went to enjoy the next performance. It was at this time that Eckart’s adaptation of Ibsen’s Peer Gynt obtained an unprecedented success and became the most often performed play of the Hofbühne¸ the Court Theatre, of which the emperor was the protector. As a consequence the emperor commissioned Eckart to write a play for the marriage of his daughter with the Duke of Brunswick. The play, Heinrich the Hohenstauffer, had its premiere in 1915.

1915, the second year of the Great War, was also the year that Eckart shifted from Berlin to Munich, where he felt much more at home and where he became involved in political circles and in journalistic skirmishes with leftist newspapers, for during the first war years he had turned into a fervent nationalist and a rabid anti-Semite. The reasons for this portentous change in his mental outlook are not clear. A spiteful reaction to the non-acceptance or the critical failure of some of his plays does not seem a sufficient explanation. Contact with circles like the Thule Society may have been a more adequate reason. Eckart is mentioned as a “guest” of Thule in Before Hitler Came, and many of the new features of Eckart’s thought fit closely with those of the Thule as presented by Sebottendorff in the same book. That both men knew each other is confirmed by Sebottendorff’s words about the publication of Eckart’s magazine In Plain German: “The launching of this magazine was the cause of Eckart’s enmity towards Sebottendorff” (Sebottendorff writes here in the third person), because the latter could or would not provide the former with the necessary finance.120The underlying cause of the friction may have been that both strong characters refused to cede part of their turf to each other.

The first issue of In Plain German came out on 7 December 1918, less than a month after the armistice and during the short-lived presidency of Kurt Eisner. Among the first well-wishers of the new magazine, in principle a fortnightly but reflecting Eckart’s character by its irregularity, were, significantly, Wolfgang Kapp and Captain Karl Mayr. Mayr bought clandestinely a great number of copies for distribution among the military. How well-known Eckart actually was is shown by the names of the collaborators to his magazine. They included many prominent nationalist and anti-Semitic writers, and In Plain German was praised by Theodor Fritsch himself, the founder and supreme Grand Master of the Germanenorden. The main themes of the polemical publication were: 1. the spreading of the Dolchstosslegende: Germany had not been defeated but stabbed in the back by the internal enemy, Jewish Bolshevism; 2. the Jews, who in a worldwide conspiracy were striving for world hegemony and were focusing particularly on Germany; 3. democracy, socialism and communism, all Jewish inventions and machinations to bring chaos into the world and destroy the German soul; 4. Germany, which had to become a strong and self-conscious unified nation; therefore the traditional Bavarian tendency towards separatism was to be condemned and the feeling of national unity promoted.121All four themes would become pillars of Hitler’s thought. (It was the fourth point which provoked Hitler’s fiery intervention on the occasion of his first contact with the DAP.)

It is difficult to say who determined the political course of the Thule Society – probably to a great extent Sebottendorff himself. Yet it is striking that the goals of the Society intimately agreed with those of an independent personality like Eckart. The exchange of opinions between the dominating Thule members must have been frequent and intense. Eckart also vividly felt the need to reach out to the workers and convert them from socialist internationalists into nationalistic Germans, because the primordial requirement of a unified Volk and nation could not be attained otherwise. He did not see the body of the German Volk as consisting of Volksgenossen (racial compatriots) but of Bürger, a body of “citizens” forming a natural hierarchy, based upon the individual state of psychological perfection, which would constitute the nation of all Germans. To that end Eckart founded a “Citizens’ Association” for the unification of all “workers of the head and the hand”. The association never took off. Still Eckart tried to make himself useful by participating in the Thule resistance against the communist Republic of Councils. The result was that the Reds caught him, and that his name could very well have been on the list of the executed Thule members, had he not managed to talk himself out of a risky and totally unnecessary situation.

It was around this time that Alfred Rosenberg, a German Balt who had emigrated from Russia and arrived in Munich in November 1918, went knocking on Eckart’s door, looking for support and possibly a job. Rosenberg describes Eckart on that occasion: “From behind a desk covered with papers rose a tall man with a shaven head, a deeply furrowed forehead and horn-rimmed spectacles before blue eyes. The slightly curved nose was rather short and fleshy. He had a full mouth and a broad, one might say aggressive chin.”122Eckart took Rosenberg under his wing, improved his knowledge of the German language, made him a collaborator of In Plain German, and got in return a fanatical anti-Semite who would be the main advocate of the Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, the faked, widespread anti-Semitic pamphlet which has done so much damage.

This brief biographical sketch of Dietrich Eckart would remain incomplete without mentioning another aspect of his personality, the side turned towards the philosophical, the occult and the spiritual. He was, like Hitler, an admirer of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860). (Hitler has said that during the war he always carried in his knapsack the five small volumes of the Reclam edition of Schopenhauer’s work.) The thought of this philosopher is one long but well-written lamento on the misery of all existence, supported and ever impelled by Desire, which he names “Will”. Because of his stress on the Life Force and his disparagement of reason, Schopenhauer became an inspirer of the völkisch movement. He was also the philosopher who, as one of the first Westerners, discovered Buddhism and its techniques of world-negation as a means of escape from an absurd, blindly desire-driven world subjected to Maya.

Eckart was, moreover, a devoted admirer of Angelus Silesius (1624-77), of whom he could quote whole passages by heart. Eckart was of the opinion that what counted in life was “to wake up the Divinity in man”, and that nobility was not a matter of birth but of the spirit. In his hierarchical view of humanity he was strongly anti-materialistic, and therefore against the ideals of the Enlightenment, modernity, industrialization and progress. (Plewnia defined him in the title of her book as “a völkisch publicist”.) The more spiritual and the greater the portion of the Divine in man, the higher the degree he will occupy in the human hierarchy. Eckart, like others at that time, conceived of a higher, internalized man, a “superman”, i.e. a chosen being, child of the Light, who would react against all forms of materialism. If the Germans became aware of their superior soul quality, they would become such supermen. They had to fight against the increasing materialism and cultivate their superior Aryan soul. The German people were destined to redeem the world.

As high as the Aryan Germans stood on the hierarchical ladder of humanity, so low stood the Jews. “The Jew has no sense of the experience of what is eternal or of the need of immortality. Ergo: he has no soul, and is therefore the opposite pole of the Germans, who are always striving for something higher. They are as light is to darkness.”123The Jews are materialistic, intellectual, world-bound, egoistic, children of darkness; the Aryans (read: Germans) are noble, pure, idealistic, aspiring for the light, selfless world-negators, worthy of ruling the world.

This kind of thinking was common among the German nationalists and volkists, whose sources were Luther, Wagner, Houston Chamberlain and Theodor Fritsch, to name only four of the most influential. Less common was Eckart’s “dualism”, his conviction that idealism and materialism, light and darkness, the Aryan and the Jewish side of the scale, were present in humanity since its beginning and therefore in every individual. In the eternal struggle between good and evil for dominion over the world the Germans constituted the vanguard. This battle must not only be fought in the open, between the opponents in society, but first of all in every individual, for only mastery within himself of the Aryan over the Jew could lead to mastery over the world. The Jews “belong to ‘the organism of humanity’ as certain bacteria do to the human body. … We have to endure the Jews among us as a necessary evil, who knows for how many millennia more.”124Hitler will take over Eckart’s ideas to a certain degree and speak about an “anti-Semitism of the reason” in contrast to the impulsive anti-Semitism of the pogroms, but he will found his eschatological world view on a crude racist, Darwinian theoretical basis.

All this makes one see Eckart in a way quite different from the usual manner of depicting him as a Bavarian Stammtisch hero. This he was also, but this aspect of his character would certainly not suffice to explain his influence on Hitler and on the budding Nazist movement. A crude, impulsive and comical beer swiller would not have built up the wide network of prominent people throughout Germany which could be contacted by Eckart. Nor would a cultured man-of-the-world like Ernst Hanfstängl have written: “[Eckart] was a man of education, a poet, whose German version of Peer Gynt remains the standard translation … He it was who had first taken Hitler under his wing in the Party … Eckart has always been one of my favourites, a big bear of a man with sparkling eyes and a genuine sense of humour.”125

Eckart made the existential choice to try out the realization of world-negation in the world. We will follow him there for a while.

4. Wolf

The best would be if one could liquidate all pessimists.

Adolf Hitler

A Mental Make-Up

Hitler is still often represented in the popular media as a madman obsessed by a few fixed ideas. There is truth in the obsession, but he was not a madman. “Hitler was not mad”, writes John Lukacs, “he was responsible for what he did and said and thought … He had very considerable intellectual talents”.126He had, for one, an excellent memory, which was a principal instrument in his exercise of authority in all phases of his political career, and which he used to impress his interlocutors. He had also the gift of simplifying and summarizing complex matters. As Fest puts it: “Hitler had the knack of translating into simple images the abstract character of political and functional relationships.”127

When reading some biographies one might gain the impression that Hitler studied, in his Viennese years, some of the most influential philosophers – an impression furthered by Hitler himself by dropping their names in his writings and speeches. Yet it is hardly believable that a twenty year old, unsystematic autodidact could grasp the intricacies of philosophers like Nietzsche, Marx and Schopenhauer. Hitler would no doubt be able to quote striking sayings and passages from philosophers which accorded with his prejudices, but this is not exactly the same as insight into a philosopher’s thinking. “It must be understood that young Hitler in no way drew from primary sources, which means that mostly he did not have his knowledge from let us say Darwin, Chamberlain, Dühring, Le Bon, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer or Schiller. He drew his knowledge in the first place from articles about all this in newspapers, brochures and popular writings.” (Brigitte Hamann128) “In actual fact, knowledge meant nothing to Hitler; he was not acquainted with the pleasure or struggle that go with its acquisition; to him it was merely useful, and ‘the art of correct reading’ of which he spoke was nothing more than the hunt for formulations to borrow and authorities to cite in support of his own preconceptions …” (Joachim Fest129) “Ideas held no interest for Hitler as abstractions. They were important as tools of mobilization.” (Ian Kershaw130)

“Books, always books! I cannot think of Adolf Hitler without books. Books were his world,”131writes August Kubizek, Hitler’s close friend in Linz and Vienna until somewhere in 1909, when Hitler failed his entrance examination to the Academy of Fine Arts for the second time and disappeared into the anonymity of the metropolis. Hitler read about the subjects that interested him: Richard Wagner, the theatre, the technical aspects of stagecraft, architecture, military equipment and war, German history, and the political background of the events he witnessed in Vienna. But another and no less important source of his mental make-up were the newspapers, at present still a familiar feature in the Viennese cafés, where it was warm and where Hitler could pass hours reading behind a cup of coffee. “He learned especially from newspapers”, writes Hamann, and Hitler himself mentions “so much reading of the newspapers when I was quite young”. “Earlier Hitler biographers tended to confine their surveys of Hitler’s supposed sources of inspiration to intellectually respectable writers on racial superiority and anti-Semitism such as Gobineau, Nietzsche, Wagner and Chamberlain. But there is no evidence that Hitler read their scholarly works. It is altogether more likely that he would have picked up ideas to rationalize his own dualist outlook and fixation on Germany from cheap and accessible pamphlets in contemporary Vienna.”132

André François-Poncet, the French ambassador in Berlin who knew Hitler well and who was the only foreign diplomat to gain his esteem, writes in his memoirs: “He is an autodidact whose curiosity goes out to the subjects which catch the attention of the public mind, the attention of the man in the street … Hitler’s talent consists in absorbing what the brain of the common man might absorb, in linking the various elements with one another by apparent logic, and in presenting them in a simple and vivid way, comprehensible to a rudimentary intelligence.”133“[Hitler] read not for knowledge or enlightenment, but for confirmation of his own perceptions”,134writes Kershaw echoing Kubizek’s remark: “He found in the books only what suited him.”135“Amateurishness was one of Hitler’s dominant traits”, remembers architect Albert Speer. “He never learned a profession and basically always remained an outsider to all fields of endeavour. Like many self-taught people, he had no idea what real specialized knowledge meant.”136And Speer writes in another context: “We all knew that he firmly believed in reading only the end of a book, because everything important was to be found there.”137

All of the above is confirmed in the passage in Mein Kampf where Hitler lectures his readers on the art of reading. “I know people who read interminably. book after book, from page to page, and yet I would not call them ‘well-read’. Of course they ‘know’ an immense amount, but their brain seems incapable of assorting and classifying the material which they have gathered from books. They lack the faculty of distinguishing between what is useful and useless in a book … For reading is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. Its chief purpose is to help towards filling in the framework which is made up of the talents and capabilities that each individual possesses. Thus each one procures for himself the implements and materials necessary for the fulfilment of his calling in life…”138

There was, however, another side to Hitler’s mind: a kind of intuition which made him remarkably perceptive and able to react instantly to the attitudes and arguments of the persons or situations he had to deal with, using the mental material at his disposal and charging it with the power of conviction. SS-General Walter Schellenberg, who worked with him, writes: “There was his extraordinary dialectical ability which enabled him to out-argue even the most expert authorities in any field of discussion … He threw them so off balance that they did not think of the appropriate replies until afterwards.”139Few were Hitler’s interlocutors who could keep a clear mind in his presence and did not leave him convinced or at least impressed.

Persisting Memories

Hitler’s mind was certainly not a tabula rasa when, after the war, Captain Mayr picked him out, aged thirty, for the course at Munich University. He had lived through many very strong experiences, stronger than those of an average person, especially in turbulent, overcrowded, decaying Vienna and in the unending hell of the trenches. His authoritarian father, whom Adolf hated but who as a customs inspector was a uniformed official (in that society a matter of importance), may have communicated to him his fanatical preference for all things German, although the customs inspector always remained faithful to his supreme superior, the Austrian Emperor. “Racial hatreds dominated politics in the Hapsburg Empire, where both Hitler and Adolf Eichmann spent their formative years. From 1882 through 1914 constant demonstrations and riots were mounted by ethnic groups fighting for power within the multinational Austrian state. Already in 1848 Catholic anti-Semitism flourished among Austro-Germans … In 1911, the last election before 1914, two-thirds of all Austro-Germans voted for anti-Semites. It is not surprising that Austro-German participation in the Holocaust was higher than that of Germans in general.” (John Weiss140)

The pages in Mein Kampf written on Georg von Schönerer and Karl Lueger, mayor of Vienna, bear testimony to the influence both men had on Hitler. Karl Lueger (1844-1910), mayor of Vienna, impressed Hitler because of his oratory skill and his power over the masses, capacities which appealed to Hitler’s own, as yet latent, capabilities. Lueger was not only the mayor, he was also “the Lord of Vienna”, an uncrowned king powerful enough to stand up to Emperor Franz Joseph. It was not so much Lueger-the-politician and his party, the Christian-Socialists – by 1895 the most powerful anti-Semitic party in Europe – who attracted Hitler, as his towering personality, an example of what young Hitler dreamed of becoming.

More concrete was the influence of Georg von Schönerer (1842-1921), the proclaimed Führer of the Austrian Pan-Germans, who strove for unification of their country with Germany. “Schönerer held no brief for either Catholicism or the Empire. Leader of the Austrian pan-German movement, a racist pure and simple, supporter of Anschluss [the joining of Austria with Germany] and an enemy to the death of both Slavs and Jews, he would become Hitler’s ideological model.”141A failure Hitler would never make, though, was Schönerer’s open belligerence against the Catholic Church in anti-Semitic but predominantly Catholic Austria. Schönerer’s “Away from Rome” movement cost him the adherence of so many supporters that he fell from power.

A young vagabond like Adolf Hitler during his Vienna years could never meet with a rich and revered pan-German Führer, but “the young Hitler experienced with certainty the cult of the idol of the Pan-Germans, especially in the newspapers of their party”.142Schönerer’s speeches, moreover, were printed as brochures, and the terror exerted by the Pan-Germans against Jews and Czechs in the streets of Vienna was a fact of everyday life. Schönerer had become “the idol of German shopkeepers, artisans and clerks, his photo was displayed in countless shops, his paper was available for reading in nearly every pub. A brisk business was done in watch chains with images of hanged Jews … The party program was depressingly familiar: Jews must not teach or serve in the army or the civil service, and there should be quotas in law and medicine … Artisans and peasants must be protected [against the Jews] and Jews kept out of the empire; those already there were to be treated as aliens with special legal and tax burdens.”143“It is indeed beyond question that Hitler not only took over Schönerer’s political principles, but that he nearly copied them,” writes Hamann.144

Another pronounced influence on Hitler’s mind, preceding the role of Schönerer and Lueger, was that of his history teacher Leopold Pötsch at the Linzer Realschule (gymnasium), which young Adolf left without finishing his studies. The beloved history teacher made an indelible impression on Hitler – headstrong and rebellious towards the other members of the teaching staff – so much so that he dedicated to his memory no less than two and a half pages of Mein Kampf. “To study history means to search for and discover the forces that are the causes of those results which appear before our eyes as historical events … Perhaps my whole future life was determined by the fact that I had a teacher of history who understood, as few others understand, how to make this viewpoint prevail in teaching and in examining. This teacher was Dr Leopold Pötsch, of the Realschule in Linz. He was the ideal personification of the qualities necessary to a teacher of history in the sense I have mentioned above. An elderly gentleman with a decisive manner but a kindly heart, he was a spellbinding speaker and was able to inspire us with his own enthusiasm.”145

Hitler, when in power, honoured Pötsch in many ways. “You have no idea what I owe that man”, he said to his entourage after having met privately with his old teacher at Klagenfurt in 1938.146One of the effects of Pötsch’s influence upon Hitler, together with that of his veneration for Wagner, was his love of the German myths and legends, often held to be historical fact. “The volumes of the Sagas of the German Heroes were his favourite reading which he never lent to anyone else”, remembers Kubizek. “He identified always anew with the great men of that bygone world … It remains a fact that Adolf Hitler did not find during his lifetime another ground on which he, with something like pious devotion, could dwell than the world to which the sagas of the German heroes had opened the gate.”147

All these influences were stored in Hitler’s memory when he was “discovered” by Captain Mayr, who soon afterwards introduced him into the DAP. But the process of Hitler’s mental development in matters of pan-Germanism, nationalism and anti-Semitism seems less articulated and rectilinear than Brigitte Hamann would have it with so much certainty. If Hitler’s mental make-up had already been configured to the degree she suggests, then it would be incomprehensible that several people he was acquainted with at the men’s hostel in the Meldemannstrasse were Jews, as Hamann herself found out. She also writes: “The decisive question when anti-Semitism became for Hitler the crucial point cannot be answered from his time in Linz and Vienna.”148

When Hitler in the hostel and in the frontline dugouts launched into one of his rhetorical outbursts, his vehemence was not directed against the Jews; he was angered because Germany and his pan-German feelings had been offended by a scathing remark sometimes expressly made to get him going. Some officers in his regiment were Jews, one of them the captain who cited him for his Iron Cross First Class. And there is also the fact that Corporal Hitler wore the red armband under Eisner and the Republic of Councils. The influence of Schönerer and Lueger, as well as that of List and Lanz von Liebenfels, must have been revived and reformulated at the time of his instruction and his activities as a propagandist. And here all the evidence converges on the well-read, well-informed, well-connected and fanatic anti-Semite Dietrich Eckart.

Before carrying on with our story, a last and rather surprising source of influence on Hitler’s mind should be mentioned: the German author Karl May, fertile writer of some seventy adventure stories for the youth. “Adi” (Hitler’s pet name) had also liked Don Quichote, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Arabian Nights, but May remained his favourite author even in adulthood. “Hitler’s cult of May weathered time unscathed. It is said that even when Chancellor of the Reich he took the time to read May’s complete works. In 1943 he had, in spite of the paper shortage, 300 000 copies of a Winnetou book printed for the soldiers, this notwithstanding the undeniable fact that May’s heroes belonged to a foreign race, for they were ‘Redskins’, [American] Indians.”149“He might well mention Napoleon and Old Shatterhand in one sentence”, writes Speer.150

Karl May belonged to the Christian faction of the German völkisch movement. He gave in March 1912, shortly before his death, a talk in Vienna which Hitler, if he knew about it, will not have missed. May’s subject was Empor ins Reich der Edelmenschen,151which means something like “Up towards the Reign of the Noble Human Beings”. Edelmensch was an often used synonym of the Arian-Nordic-German in his purest state – one of the many forms of expectation of the “superman” around the previous turn of the century. Whatever the ideology behind his literary production, Karl May’s fantasies have kept innumerable children spellbound, not only in Germany. His suggestive writings – especially about the skills of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand in dangerous situations – may have contributed to saving Hitler’s life in the First World War when he was a dispatch runner, one of the most risky assignments in battle.

A Sudden Burst of Energy

After the collapse of the Republic of Councils and still more under the rightist regime of Gustav von Kahr, Bavaria became “a haven for right-wing extremists from all over Germany, including many under order of arrest elsewhere in the country”.152There were “the Bund Oberland (Oberland League), the officers’ association Eiserne Hand (Iron Hand), the Escherich Organization, the Deutschvölkische Schutz- and Trutzbund (Defense and Defiance League of the German Race), the Verband Altreichsflagge (Flag of the Old Reich Association), the Bayreuth, Würzburg and Wolf Free Corps, and a variety of other organizations” – including the Thule Society and the (NS)DAP.

The ranks of the rightists in Bavaria were swelled by the defeated participants in the Kapp Putsch (March 1920) who had to flee Berlin, among them the figurehead of the putsch Wolfgang Kapp himself, the national German hero Erich von Ludendorff, and some very dangerous elements of the Ehrhardt Brigade, including its commander Captain Ehrhardt and his right-hand man Lieutenant Klintzsch, respectively founder and leading member of the murderous Organization Consul. There were “vigilante killers, adventurous and nationalist revolutionaries of various ideological shades … They were able to exploit the traditional Old Bavarian separatism, for the [Catholic] Bavarians had a long history of intense dislike for Prussian Protestant Berlin”,153lasting to this day. It was on such a scene, still more garbled by the disoriented and dispirited social conditions in post-war Germany, that Dietrich Eckart met Corporal Hitler.

Anton Drexler, with Karl Harrer founder of the DAP, “knew the völkisch-nationalistic and aggressively anti-Semitic [Eckart] … since early summer 1919”. Eckart himself remembered later: “At the beginning of 1919 I received the visit of Anton Drexler shortly after he had founded the National Socialist German Workers’ Party” – it was, in fact, still only the German Workers’ Party – “and who acquainted me with the ideas. I found them at once interesting and decided to make myself useful for the young movement to the measure of my possibilities. A few weeks or months later I met with Hitler for the first time.”154

Taking into account that Wilhelm Gutberlet had to report to Eckart about Hitler’s doings at the DAP meeting on 12 September, when illness prevented Eckart from speaking, it stands to reason that the first Eckart-Hitler encounter took place before that date, probably several weeks before. We recall that Captain Mayr became interested in Corporal Hitler from the List Regiment in the last days of May or the first of June, before the start of the oratory course for army propagandists. Mayr knew Eckart, from whom he bought copies of In Plain German for distribution among the military. We may presume that Mayr introduced Hitler to Eckart in June or at the latest in July, and that both agreed that this Austrian Corporal with the Iron Cross and the gift of the gab might be an asset for the Thule Society’s floundering DAP.

Hitler was not an anti-Semite (at least not outspoken) in May, under the Republic of Councils, when he wore the red armband; the course he attended at Munich University was not openly and still less expressly anti-Semitic, for it was an initiative of the social-democratic government. As towards the end of July Hitler was told at Lechfeld to tone down his anti-Semitic diatribes, and as on 10 September Captain Mayr considered him an authority on the Jewish question, sufficiently so to illumine an army propaganda colleague on the subject, the simple conclusion is that Hitler’s mind was turned during the months of June and July in 1919, and that the person under whose influence this happened was his “mentor” Dietrich Eckart.

With Eckart, Hitler came into his own. The loner who had been living in hostels, dugouts and barracks was suddenly accepted into the warmth and cosiness of a civilian home by a well-known man who was a poet, dramatist, journalist and the publisher and editor of a magazine. Hitler’s interests concurred with the main themes of In Plain German: Germany’s greatness and revenge, and the battle against the ideals of the Enlightenment which, according to the völkisch-German view, were turning the world into a nightmare of crass materialism. Moreover, Eckart knew so much; he had read all the books and was able to knit ideas together. And he was an outgoing man, a jovial character who felt at home in Munich and particularly in Schwabing, the bohemian part of the city frequented by half of the then living writers and artists. “The two formed a team in which Hitler was the avid and quickly learning disciple”,155writes Mosse. Reuth agrees, saying that Eckart imparted to Hitler the coherence of the ideas he had acquired until then, and that Hitler’s theory of a worldwide conspiracy took shape “under Eckart’s influence”.156

Now the seeds germinated which were stored in Hitler’s subconscious mind. “Eckart was very influential in the development of the anti-Semitic dynamic within the ranks of the Workers’ Party”, writes Mosse. “He reinforced Hitler’s abhorrence of Jews as a mysterious, strange and conspiring people, supplementing Hitler’s ideas in some areas, while creating a more fanatical foundation for their development in others. While Hitler had already shared some of Eckart’s beliefs, most of them were as yet only vague, unformulated convictions. Eckart plumbed deeper and connected the removal of the Jewish menace with the resuscitation of the Volk. He was to make Hitler view the problem as he himself viewed it: it transcended all others in importance, and its solution would bring to an end the Volk’s period of trial. Or, as he stated it: ‘The Jewish question is the chief problem of humanity, in which, indeed, every one of its other problems is contained. Nothing on earth could remain darkened if one could throw light on the secret of the Jews’.”157

What happened between Eckart and Hitler during their frequent meetings remains unknown. It is nonetheless undeniable that Hitler generated a sudden burst of energy which would make him within a short time the undisputed leader of a dynamic party out of what had been a tame affair when he was introduced to it. This is the more astonishing because Adolf Hitler was an outsider and apparently a rather laughable or pitiable figure, still wearing his grey army uniform (until the end of March 1920), with uncouth manners, a submissive air when not aroused into eloquence, a deep-throated voice, a waxen, hungry face, and a moustache he would soon reduce to “a ridiculous little smudge”. From the moment he took him under his aegis, Eckart, “who played the key role in crystallizing Hitler’s political ideas”,158stood always beside or behind him and steered his career as a true mentor or “godfather” would do.

When Hitler became a member of Drexler and Harrer’s DAP, he was given the innocuous post of Werbeobmann, i.e. in charge of propaganda. Little did the leadership realize that they had taken a wolf into their pen, and that it was Hitler’s intention from the start to change the small political club into a dynamic political party. He set to work at once, increased the number of invitations to the meetings (the average attendance had been from thirty to forty), had defiant red posters printed to show that the DAP was taking up the gauntlet against the leftists, and hired ever greater venues for the meetings till they were held in the centrally located Hofbräuhaus and he could fill Circus Krone to capacity.

Hitler’s drive inevitably created friction within the DAP, especially between him and Karl Harrer. Harrer had always seen his creation as a quiet, civil club more or less after the example of a masonic lodge. He could in no way agree with Hitler’s approach and even belittled the oratorical gifts of the Werbeobmann. But the other DAP members realized that they did not mean much without Hitler, and Harrer, the “national chairman”, had to give way. “The problem ‘loge’ or active party was decided already on 5 January 1920. On that day Karl Harrer left the German Workers’ Party.” (Gilbhard159) It did not take Hitler more than four months to push him out of the nest.

The twenty-five points of the party programme, formulated by Hitler and Drexler, were presented to the public on 24 February 1920. The Lexikon Nationalsozialismus mentions the four main points as follows: “1. the unification of all Germans into a Greater Germany; 2. the abolition of the Treaties of Versailles and St. Germain; 3. the right of Germany to the necessary territories and colonies; 4. the expulsion of all Jews from Germany.”160Before long the name of the German Workers’ Party (DAP) was changed into “National Socialist German Workers’ Party” (NSDAP) – quite a mouthful, but no problem in a language in which words like Bauchspeicheldrüsenentzündung (inflammation of the pancreas) are common. Hitler, from his Schwabing headquarters in “Café Heck”, “Osteria Bavaria”, “Bratwürstglockl” and “Schelling Salon”, planned, organized, created symbols, standards and labels, wrote articles, decided authoritatively on propositions and choices made by others, and sought for means to collect funds. Most of this he did on the advice of Captain Mayr and Dietrich Eckart, or after consulting them.


In a Germany in turmoil and with something like half the population inimical towards its social-democratic government, there was a spate of national and local coups by the Far Right as well as by the Far Left. Besides the revolutions in Munich there were other leftist bids for power in Berlin (the Spartacus Revolt), Hamburg, the Rhineland, Swabia, Thuringia and elsewhere. The “Kapp Putsch” in March 1920 was a right-wing, reactionary revolt against the Weimar Republic. The pan-German journalist Wolfgang Kapp (1868-1922), whom we have met as an acquaintance of Mayr and Eckart, was its figurehead, but its military leader was General von Lüttwitz, supported by one of the most ruthless Free Corps, Captain Ehrhardt’s Marine Brigade.

The Ehrhardt Brigade marched into Berlin; the government troops refused to fire on the Free Corps soldiers who had been their comrades during the war; the government fled and Lüttwitz proclaimed a new, revolutionary government with Kapp as Chancellor. But the legal government called for a general strike of all workers against the right-wing putchists: “Strike, stop working, prevent the return of bloody reaction. Not a hand must move, not a single worker must help the military dictatorship. General strike all along the line! Workers, unite!”161For once all the workers, Socialists as well as Communists, took heed and acted in unison. Berlin was paralyzed. Five days later Kapp announced his resignation and fled to Sweden, as did Erich Ludendorff who had supported him, while most of the other putschists trekked southwards, to Bavaria.

The relevance of this event to our story is that Mayr and Eckart deemed the putsch sufficiently important to contact Kapp in Berlin, with the intention to coordinate with his coup an eventual rightist revolt in Bavaria. Mayr borrowed a light airplane from the Reichswehr, and Eckart, with “his collaborator” Hitler, flew to Berlin on 16 March. (Toland writes: “The weather was so turbulent that despite the pilot’s skill Hitler kept vomiting … When they touched down at Berlin the wan Hitler vowed that he would never, never fly again.”162) But on their arrival at the centre of the capital the coup was already fizzling out and the Ehrhardt Brigade was marching in the opposite direction, back to their quarters on the outside of the city. Eckart profited of the occasion to introduce Hitler for the first time to some influential friends in Berlin. Afterwards they will travel there on several occasions.

When in December 1923 the financial situation of the Völkische Beobachter became so critical that the newspaper had to be sold, Hitler jumped to the occasion. He alerted Drexler, but the person who directed the operation of gathering the necessary funds was again Dietrich Eckart. The Völkische Beobachter (a title sometimes translated as “Racial Observer”) will later on be the main organ of the Nazi party till the very end. Its first editor was – who else? – Dietrich Eckart.

In Rosenbaum’s Explaining Hitler we obtain a glimpse of the political atmosphere in Munich at the time of Hitler’s rising. The written histories of Hitler’s life and of the Nazi party always zoom in so closely on their subject that it seems to occupy the whole stage, or at least centre stage, of life in Germany at the time. But the movement launched by Mayr, Eckart, Hitler and others was one of the many irrational undertakings in an irrational time – irrational not only in matters of politics but also in matters sociological, ideological and religious. The times were out of joint, not only in Germany, but all the same very much so in the land of Goethe and Kant. Hitler, driven by the power of his “obsessions”, was an intriguing figure of the kind which fascinated the masses. And the more his fame spread, the more he was attacked by the enemy on the left, in Munich particularly by a socialist newspaper, the Münchener Post.

The Nazis called the Münchener Post “the poison kitchen”. “The journalists of this newspaper were the first to focus sustained critical attention on Hitler from the very first moment this strange spectre emerged from the beer-hall back rooms”, writes Rosenbaum. “They were the first to tangle with him, the first to ridicule him, the first to investigate him, the first to expose the seamy underside of his party, the murderous criminal behaviour masked by its pretensions to being a political movement. They were the first to attempt to alert the world to the nature of the rough beast slouching toward Berlin … Their duel with Hitler lasted a dozen years and produced some of the sharpest, most penetrating insights into his character, his mind and method, then or since. Much of their work has been forgotten, but not much has been surpassed. And, as the name Poison Kitchen suggests, they succeeded in getting under Hitler’s skin.”163One of the first actions of the Nazis during the putsch of 1923 was the destruction of the offices and presses of the Münchener Post, as it was again in 1933 as soon as Hitler had become Chancellor.

The Corporal Becomes the Führer

It was in the Münchener Post that in July 1921 the text of a pamphlet was printed with the title “Adolf Hitler, Traitor”, accusing Hitler of all kinds of misbehaviour within the NSDAP, and of acting in the same fashion as the people he ranted against in his speeches and articles, the Jews. The pamphlet was written as an angry reaction against Hitler by a group of NSDAP members. The broader background was that Drexler and others, during a prolonged absence of Hitler in Berlin, had approached other small nationalist parties with the intent of an amalgamation in order to increase their political effectiveness. Hitler had not been consulted and reacted, “prima-donna-like”, with a fit of rage. He had already in those days “rapid resorts to extraordinary outbursts of uncontrolled temper”.164He resigned brusquely from the party on 11 July.

For a person without other means of support, who had been convinced on entering the party that “there was no turning back”, this resignation was a risky move. Or was it? Hitler knew full well that “the loss of its sole star performer would be a major, perhaps fatal, blow to the NSDAP”.165His apparently impulsive resignation looks more like a well-planned manoeuvre to obtain the absolute power in the party – which was entrusted to him thanks to the mediation of, once again, Dietrich Eckart: Hitler re-entered the party on 26 July and was elected “chairman with dictatorial power” three days later. He obtained, moreover, that the party programme would be regarded as inviolate and that there would be no more merger attempts with other parties or organizations.

Here the real Hitler stood up for the first time. He alone knew what he had been missioned to accomplish (and what he will never reveal to anyone); he considered the NSDAP his instrument; and he would never let anyone, under any condition, thwart his mission. In his inner mind Adolf Hitler was an absolute autocrat from those days in the summer of 1919, when an as yet unexplained change took place in him, till the moment he put a bullet through his head. Only the circumstances of his improbable rise made him temporarily hide or adapt his constant ambition. “Hitler is the extreme example of a politician who put his personal conviction of being missioned above everything else and practised politics according to the norms of his personal biography”, writes Sebastian Haffner.166

One of the legends abroad in the land of Historia is that Hitler, in the first years of his public life, thought of himself as an announcer, a precursor, a “drummer”, assembling the people for the coming of “the Strong One from Above”, the Führer who, at the head of the German Volk, would at last lead them toward their glorious future as the Master Race. The legend that Hitler was a “drummer” until the time of his imprisonment at Landsberg and the writing of Mein Kampf originated in works like Albrecht Tyrell’s From ‘Drummer’ to ‘Führer’ (1975) and had Ian Kershaw as its chief promulgator.

It is true that Hitler called himself a “drummer” on a few occasions, but these occasions were always public addresses or conversations with outsiders, especially journalists. The reason of these acts of apparent humility is simple: at that time Hitler was to the general public no more than an upstart, a funny-looking, pretentious, fanatical newcomer on a crowded political scene in Munich, a place somewhere in the south-easterner corner of Germany. At that time the country’s Right had no shortage of leaders with dictatorial aspirations. There were the business and press magnate Alfred Hugenberg, the pan-German eminence Heinrich Class, and the commander of the Reichswehr General Hans von Seeckt. And there was above all Field Marshall Erich von Ludendorff, hero of Tannenberg and, with Paul von Hindenburg, co-dictator of Germany during the last half of the war, “who within the völkisch-nationalist camp was generally seen in the role of a future dictator” (Peter Longerich167).

“Hitler was elaborately modest when it came to comparing his position in [the unsuccessful 1923 putsch] with Ludendorff’s. It was Ludendorff who held first place, he told the court [during the trial following the putsch], while he, Adolf Hitler, only led the political battle. For him to pretend to first place in a common enterprise with Ludendorff at his side was ‘unthinkable’.”168And so it was indeed. Hitler was obsessed but not crazy, not to the degree of proclaiming himself publicly as the Führer of the German people when he was still “a lonely wanderer out of nothingness” (his own words), a practically unknown Austrian, a lowly former corporal, a political backstreet adventurer and beer hall orator – while Ludendorff “was regarded as the symbol of the national struggle”.169

But Hitler’s attitude was quite different within the Party: there, from July 1921 onwards, he acted throughout as the Führer, the one and only person in the last instance responsible for all decisions. “… By a unanimous vote at a general meeting [of the NSDAP on 29 July] the entire direction of the party was entrusted to my own hands. At the same time a new statute was passed which invested the sole responsibility in the chairman of the movement …” wrote Hitler in Mein Kampf. “When the new statute was approved and I was appointed as president, I had the necessary authority in my hands and also the corresponding right to make short shrift of all that nonsense [i.e. the democratic process]. In the place of decisions by the majority vote of the committee, the principle of absolute responsibility was introduced.”170He had obtained, thanks to the mediation of Dietrich Eckart, the “dictatorial powers” which suited his ambitions, and he would never let go of them. “With a mixture of cold-bloodedness, cunning, and resolution, with that readiness to take great risks even for small goals, which he was to exhibit time and again in crucial circumstances, he succeeded in gaining control of the NSDAP while strengthening his claim to leadership of the entire national-racist movement.” (Fest171) Kershaw himself writes: “[The July coup within the NSDAP] was the first step on transforming the NSDAP into a new-style party, a ‘Führer-party’.”172This is confirmed by Heiden: “From that day”, 29 July 1921, “Hitler was the leader of Munich’s National Socialist Movement.”173

“That same evening, at the Krone Circus, Hermann Esser hailed Hitler as ‘our leader’ – unser Führer. It was Esser, too, who held forth with cynical sentimentality in restaurants and taverns as the most zealous preacher of the Führer myth. Simultaneously, Dietrich Eckart in the Völkische Beobachter began a well-orchestrated campaign to purvey the same myth. On August 4 he sketched a profile of Hitler as a ‘selfless, self-sacrificing, devoted and sincere’ man, forever ‘purposeful and alert’. A few days later came another account, this one written by Rudolf Hess, which further spiritualized the manly picture. It glorified Hitler’s ‘purest intent’, his strength, his oratory, his admirable fund of knowledge and clear intellect. The fantastic growth of the Hitler cult is evidenced by another essay, written by Hess a year later, in connection with a contest on the subject: ‘What will be the nature of the man who will lead Germany back to the summit?’ Hess’ piece took first prize…”174

As such it was, as “the man who one day will set Germany free”, that Eckart introduced his protégé to the higher strata of Munich society. Some of its well-heeled members were Brothers and Sisters of the Thule Society; others were prominent and moneyed nationalists and Pan-Germans, like the publisher Julius Lehmann; still others belonged to the wealthy circles to which Eckart had access in his personal name and in the name of Ernst Hanfstängl, an admirer and supporter of Hitler who had studied at Harvard, was acquainted with T.S. Eliot, Walter Lippman and President Franklin Roosevelt, and ran an international arts business.

It was at the house of Hanfstängl’s sister Erna that the historian K.A. von Müller saw Hitler arrive one day: “… The bell rang. Through the open door I could see him in the narrow hallway politely and almost servilely greeting our hostess, laying aside riding whip, velour hat and trench coat, finally unbuckling his cartridge belt with revolver attached and likewise hanging it on the clothes hook. It all looked very odd, reminiscent of Karl May’s novels. As yet we did not know how precisely each of these trivialities in clothing and behaviour was even then calculated for effect, as were the strikingly close-cropped moustache, which was narrower than the unpleasantly wide-nostriled nose.”175

Eckart introduced Hitler to the same kind of circles in Berlin and to the Wagner clan in Bayreuth, whom he knew well, for he had been a newspaper critic at the Festspiele for several years. Hamann, in her recent book Winifred Wagner, or Hitler’s Bayreuth, calls Eckart “a Wagnerian”, which reveals another interest he shared with Hitler. Winifred Wagner, the Englishwoman married to Siegfried Wagner, had spent several years of her youth in the house of the Bechsteins, the manufacturers of the famed pianos, whom she considered her stepparents. The Bechsteins had provided Eckart with funds for his magazine In Plain German. In June 1921 he introduced Adolf Hitler to them and they became “passionate friends of Hitler”, sticking by him through thick and thin. What Hitler during his climb to power owed to supporters like the Bechsteins, the Bruckmanns and the Wagners is for the greatest part still unwritten history. And at every stage of that climb, behind every move of his pupil, we perceive the hand of Dietrich Eckart, who kept up a front of the rowdy Bavarian beer drinker, jumping on tables and bellowing his poem: Sturm! Sturm! Sturm! – but who seems to have seen the real Hitler in the corporal long before anybody else did, and who guided his first steps on his fateful way.

“As Führer we need a man who does not run away when he hears the sound of a machine gun”, Eckart is reported to have exclaimed at a Stammtisch one night in early 1919. “We cannot use an officer: the people do not respect them any more! The best would be a worker with the gift of the gab – surely not a learned professor who shakes like a leaf and does it in his pants when the Reds start brandishing table legs. He does not need much brains: politics is the stupidest business in the world, and every market-woman in Munich knows more than the gentlemen in Weimar [the seat of the social-democratic government]. And he must be a bachelor, then we will get the women.”176In later years the existence of Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun, was kept a secret from the German people. To them their Führer was that lonely figure perorating on the rostrum of the Zeppelin Field in Nuremberg or reviewing, with his right arm raised, an endless armed parade. Hitler fitted Eckart’s prerequisites, but the mentor could not suspect – or could he? – that his pupil would exceed them beyond all human bonds.

Mayhem and Murder

In post-war Munich one of the very first necessities for the propagation of an idea in public was protection from the rowdy beer hall mores, intensified by a nervous, explosive political situation. One of the traits of the Bavarian character, besides a maudlin sentimentality when in a romantic mood or drunk, is its physical exuberance often bordering on violence. In the time under consideration violence was in the air everywhere in Germany. The thousands of battle-hardened soldiers had brought the atmosphere of the front into the fatherland, with violence and death still marching by their side. Nothing could be more alien and despicable to them than the bourgeois world of civil “decency”. This was a generation of nihilists, whether the exalted, literary nihilism of an Ernst Jünger or the crude, physical nihilism of the street fighter whose only loyalty was to his comrades-in-desperation.

Moreover, Germany was a divided country where the tension of a possible civil war was almost palpable and where it ignited at times in the revolutionary bids for power mentioned before. It was impossible to take a public stand, and still more to propagate a new political party, without the physical force to confront any opposition. Hitler’s awareness of this fact from the very beginning may be ascribed to the obvious circumstances, but behind his stress on the necessity of physical force there was something more profound, something “metaphysical”. “While the programme of the ordinary political parties is nothing but the recipe for cooking up favourable results out of the next general elections”, he wrote in Mein Kampf, “the programme of a Weltanschauung [like his] represents a declaration of war against an existing order of things, against present conditions, in short, against the established Weltanschauung … In order to carry a Weltanschauung into practical effect it must be incorporated in a fighting movement … Any Weltanschauung, though a thousand times right and supremely beneficial to humanity, will be of no practical service for the maintenance of a people as long as its principles have not yet become the rallying point of a militant movement”.177

From the beginning this man was convinced that he was bringing a new “Weltanschauung”, a new world vision, and still more a new Faith to Germany and the world; he had seen at once that the insignificant DAP might be used as the seed-bed of a mass party to dominate all of society; and he knew that only physical force, in other words violence, was able to bring about the realization of his aspirations. “Since the first day of our foundation”, he wrote, “we were resolved to secure the future of the movement by fighting our way forward in a spirit of blind faith and reckless determination … We, by our aggressive policy, are setting up a new Weltanschauung which we shall defend with indomitable devotion … Terror cannot be overcome with the weapons of the mind, but only by counter-terror”.178Here is the origin of the barbarism, terror and cruelty which will be the hallmarks of the Third Reich. “Though these were violent times, this was from its inception an exceptionally violent movement”, observes Laurence Rees.179Konrad Heiden heard Hitler shout: “We may be inhuman! But if we save Germany, we have accomplished the greatest deed in the world. We may do wrong. But if we save Germany, we have ended the greatest wrong in the world. We may be immoral. But if our people is saved, we have reopened the road for morality!”180

The need for a gang of muscular bodyguards was obvious from the first occasions on which the NSDAP stepped into the open. Just like the Socialist and Communists, and like their rightist rivals, the Nazis needed at their meetings a Saalschutz, a trained guard to silence the hecklers or throw them into the street, if need be with bloody harshness. The use of beer mugs and table and chair legs was part of the political customs of that period. In this the Nazis were as industrious as their opponents, and Hitler himself received a prison sentence for breaking up, with the assistance of his cronies, a meeting of Bavarian monarchists at the Löwenbräukeller.

Many years later Hitler will reminisce in his monologues: “I could use only people who knew how to brawl. It was the same everywhere: people who were not ready to use their fists, but could only make plans, were of no use. I needed people who were ready to do what had to be done”181– which may mean anything. “What we needed and need”, he wrote in Mein Kampf, “were and are not a hundred or two hundred hot-headed conspirators, but hundreds of thousands and more hundreds of thousands fanatical fighters for our ideology. It is not in secret circles that one should work, but in gigantic mass manifestations, and the road of the movement cannot be cleared by dagger or pistol, but by the conquest of the street. We must teach Marxism that the future lord of the street is National Socialism, just as one day it will be the lord of the nation.”182

And so it was that the Sturmabteilung (literally “attack section”), SA for short, came into being. At first these desperados were recruited under the cover of a sports club, but things changed when professionals took matters in hand, more specifically the Ehrhardt Brigade. The full name of this notorious Free Corps, which fought after the war in Brunswick, Munich and Silesia, was “Marine Brigade Ehrhardt”, after its founder and leader, Korvettenkapitän (equivalent to Commander) Hermann Ehrhardt. “At the time of the mutiny in Kiel”, the event which at the beginning of November 1918 sparked off the German revolution, “the spade-bearded Ehrhardt had begun mobilizing antirevolutionary soldiers into a five-thousand man brigade, which one impartial expert later called the best combat unit he had ever seen.”183

Still, this Free Corps was only one of many “which sprang up like mushrooms after the rain”, and who numbered in the whole of Germany about 400 000 men. (Germany had demobilized six million soldiers.) “The Free Corps were latter-day condotierri”, writes Burleigh, “consisting of former shock troops, junior and temporary officers, university students who had missed the war experience and anyone still spoiling for blood or incapable of psychological demobilization”.184“Like the old mercenaries, they were possessed with an ‘insatiable restlessness, a determination to burn themselves out; they felt the primeval male urge permanently to court danger. As soldiers of fortune, they accepted the disdain of the corpulent sedentary bourgeoisie and returned it in full measure round their camp fires and in their quarters, in battle or on the march’”, writes Heinz Höhne, quoting Ernst Jünger.185Konrad Heiden called them “the armed human scum of five destructive years”.186

The link between the Ehrhardt Brigade and the Hitler movement was Captain Ernst Röhm, one of those, with Mayr and Eckart, who made Hitler possible. Longerich calls him the “foster father” of the SA. “His conceptions of society were dominated by military categories; he shared the contempt of everything civil and looked with expectation for the outbreak of a war.”187The military and the war, in which he had been wounded several times – part of his nose was shot away – were his life, and his mentality was that of the Free Corps toughs, with this difference that he was an officer in the legal Reichswehr, according to the Treaty of Versailles reduced to 100 000 men. Röhm was an amazingly influential officer, considering his captain’s grade. He could take decisions on a political level over the heads of his superiors, in the first place because he was the lynchpin in the movement of illegal stocks of weapons in Bavaria, so much so that he was called “machine-gun king”. “Röhm possessed the key to the weapons arsenal.”188Like Captain Mayr, Röhm had connections in many organizations, overt and covert. He was himself the head of the Reichkriegsflagge, the War Banner of the Reich, and played a dominant role in the Eiserne Faust, the Iron Fist. And there was, in addition, the homosexual boys’ network, an at the time most scandalous eruption of the latent homoeroticism in the youth movement and the Männerbünde, the men’s leagues, including Army and Free Corps.

Röhm had become a member of the DAP shortly after Hitler. Again the jovial Eckart played a role in attracting this powerful and capable officer who would organize the fighting troops of the Party and provide them with arms when the situation so required. In fact, officer Ernst Röhm will never unreservedly submit to ex-corporal Hitler, even if for a time they addressed each other with the familiar du; between them there remained an unresolved conflict which will lead ultimately to Röhm’s physical elimination. “Though Röhm had great hopes in the NSDAP leader, he felt in no way inclined to submit to Hitler unconditionally. On the contrary, to him Hitler, as the ‘political’ leader of the Kampfbund [a temporary coalition of nationalist organizations], was in the first place the publicly active ‘drummer’, who within the movement had to take his stand behind the military men. To the extremely self-conscious Röhm it was, in the relation between army and politics, always the soldier who took precedence over the politician.”189

“Röhm enrolled Ehrhardt’s soldiers in Hitler’s SA, of which they formed the real nucleus”, writes Heiden.190“The Ehrhardt Brigade simply turned into the Sturmabteilung Hitler”, confirms Heinz Höhne.191Of this fact we have an eyewitness, Ernst Hanfstängl: “Hitler worked more or less openly with the Ehrhardt Brigade people … When I first started going to the Beobachter offices, which was the headquarters of the plot, the two men on guard at Hitler’s door were not SA men at all, but members of the Organization Consul, that section of the Ehrhardt group which had been behind the murders of Erzberger and Rathenau … The SA usually marched together with the Viking Bund, who were Ehrhardt’s militarized formations.”192“Then there was a slightly mysterious man named Lieutenant Klintzsch”, remembers Hanfstängl, “who was one of the storm trooper leaders and had been and probably still was a member of the Organization Consul”.193Klintzsch, the right-hand man of Ehrhardt, was involved in the murder of Matthias Erzberger. “Organization Consul” was a secret cabal within the Ehrhardt Brigade charged with the execution of vehmic murders; “Consul” was the code name of Ehrhardt himself … Knowledgeable from personal observation about the association of the Hitler movement with this band of professional killers, journalist Konrad Heiden puts Erzberger’s murder squarely at Hitler’s door: “Erzberger was killed by Hitler’s own men.”194

Ron Rosenbaum’s search for an explanation of “Hitler’s evil” led him back to stains of blood and brains on the walls, to the residues of death. “After immersing myself in their reportage [of the Munich Post] on Hitler and the Hitler Party”, writes Ron Rosenbaum, “I came to see that ‘political criminal’ was not an empty epithet but a carefully considered encapsulation of a larger vision: that Hitler’s evil was not generated from some malevolent higher abstraction or belief, from an ideology that descended into criminality and murder to achieve its aims; rather, his evil arose from his criminality and only garbed itself in ideological belief. One sees this in the paper day by day, not so much in the big scandals, the head-line making events, but in the daily log of murders. “Vehme Murder in Thuringia’, ‘Brown Murder in Stuttgart’, ‘S.A. Killing in Halle’, ‘Brown Terror in Magdeburg’, ‘Nazi Murders in Lippe’. Scarcely an issue went by in those final two years without one and usually two, three or four brief dispatches reporting the blatant cold-blooded murder of political opponents by Hitler Party members … What is missing from the grander explanations is what one sees on the ground, so to speak, the texture of daily terror apparent in the pages of the Munich Post, the systematic, step-by-step slaughter of Hitler’s most capable political opponents, murdered by this party of political criminals.”195

But Captain Ehrhardt, the autocratic commander of an elite Free Corps brigade, refused, just like Röhm, to give in to a man who in his eyes was an amateurish and pretentious, if not lunatic, ex-corporal. (At that time Adolf Hitler’s name was in the ranks of his own people often mockingly abbreviated to “Ahi”.) According to Höhne’s sources, Ehrhardt not only withdrew his men from the SA, he turned against Hitler and his Party. “In close cooperation with Government circles and under nationalist cover, Captain Ehrhardt is preparing to form a [new] Free Corps; to judge from the manner in which it is being recruited and in view of Captain Ehrhardt’s former attitude, its object must be to destroy the NSDAP.” These doings will convince Hitler of the need of a bodyguard tied by oath directly to his person. He founded the “attack troop” Stosstrupp Adolf Hitler, which would be replaced later by the black Order of the Death’s Head, the SS.

(Hitler will not forget what Ehrhardt had dared to do to him, nor that he had sided with von Kahr at the time of the Munich putsch in November 1923.196In the “Night of the Long Knives”, in which Röhm together with the leaders of his SA power base were taken care of, “everywhere the SS robots were hunting down supposed enemies of the State … Captain Ehrhardt, Hitler’s reluctant ally in 1923, withdrew into the woods of his own estate, taking a couple of shotguns with him and, as soon as the Gestapo had left his house, got some friends to smuggle him across into Austria”.197He escaped with his life. Röhm and many others, including von Kahr, were not so lucky.)

“Fortunate Wolf”

“Hitler liked to be called ‘Wolf’ in his intimate circle”, we read in Fest. “The name, he decided, was the primitive Germanic form of Adolf. It accorded, moreover, with his jungle image of the world and suggested the qualities of strength, aggressiveness and solitariness. He also used ‘Wolf’ as a pseudonym occasionally and later gave it to the sister who ran his household.”198And Toland writes: “Hitler was living up to his own name, for Adolf was derived from the Teutonic word meaning ‘fortunate wolf’.”199(Another source says that “Adolf” means Adelwolf, noble wolf.) Could it be a coincidence that the H in Hitler’s signature, with the nick in the horizontal bar, resembles the rune Wolfsangel?

Hitler used his pseudonym quite frequently. Everybody on the Obersalzberg knew him as Herr Wolf before it became clear that it was the famous politician Adolf Hitler who had purchased Haus Wachenfeld, probably with money from the Bechsteins, and who was rebuilding the house into what would become the famous villa Berghof. “Wolf” was also his usual pseudonym in Bayreuth, where to Winifred and Siegfried’s children he was “Uncle Wolf”. Some of his headquarters in the field were called Wolfsschlucht (Wolf’s Gorge), Wolfsschanze (Wolf’s Lair) and Werwolf. The town where the Volkswagen, designed by Hitler together with Ferdinand Porsche, was to be build was called Wolfsburg, and has retained the name to this day. And so on.

It was on Hitler’s birthday, 20 April, in 1922 that one of his bodyguards, Christian Weber, presented an overjoyed Hitler with a German shepherd dog. (Hitler’s best friend during the war had been a small English fox terrier, “Foxl”. “The bastard who has stolen him doesn’t know what he has done to me!” he would say one night in the Wolfsschanze.) The shepherd was christened “Wolf” after his new master and became Hitler’s “constant companion … He was faithful and devoted. The Führer took the dog always with him on his walks and also to the meetings.”200The dog can be seen on some photos taken when Hitler was reviewing a parade or making an open air speech. He will be the first of a series of Hitler dogs, till the last one in the Berlin bunker, Blondi, will be used to try out the poison with which Hitler and Eva Braun are supposed to have ended their life.

Another constant companion of Hitler in the early years was his dog-whip. At a certain moment he seems to have had three whips! “Hanfstängl introduced Hitler to Frau Elsa Bruckmann, the wife of the publisher Hugo Bruckmann, a pan-German sympathizer and anti-Semite … Hitler’s ingratiating manners and social naivety brought out the mother instinct in her. Whether it was the wish to afford him some protection against his enemies that persuaded her to make him a present of one of the dog-whips he invariably carried around, is not clear. Oddly, his other dog-whip – the first he possessed – had been given to him by a rival patroness, Frau Helene Bechstein, while a third heavy whip, made from hippopotamus hide, which he later carried, was given to him by Frau Büchner, the landlady of the Platterhof, the hotel where he stayed on the Obersalzberg.” (Ian Kershaw201)

What may at first sight seem shallow details and anecdotes are indicative of an element that, as mentioned above, was inherent in Nazism, which took it as it were by mimicry from its supreme role model, the Führer: violence, terror, cruelty. (Sebastian Haffner saw the top Nazis, whisperingly called Goldfasane, “gold pheasants” because of their showy, bemedalled uniforms, strut around with their whips. “They had”, he writes, “this revolting way of playing with a whip without ever having sat on a horse”.202The first to follow Hitler’s example in this was the half-mad pervert Julius Streicher.

It looked like a remarkable coincidence that so many of the top Nazis, actors in the great German drama, converged at the same time on the Munich scene. “Men, whose encounter would start a new political and philosophical structure, destined to promote a civilization completely different from ours, began to converge toward Munich … All principal members of the future high governing strata of the Third Reich happened to be on the same stage.”203It has struck many that not even a perceptive person would have been able, at the time of the rise of the movement, to pick them out from among the average members of German society. After all, Hess was an honoured war pilot, student and friend of Professor Haushofer and winner of the prize for the first flight around the Zugspitze; Streicher was a teacher; Rosenberg was an architect; Himmler was an agricultural engineer; Hanfstängl was a former Harvard student and art dealer; Gregor Strasser was a pharmacist; Frank was a lawyer; Goebbels was a doctor in Germanic languages; Göring, last ace pilot to command the Richthofen squadron, had been awarded the highest German military decoration, Pour le mérite… Joseph Serpico wrote in his book on the first Nuremberg trial: “It would be hard to pick out most of these men as war criminals from a gathering of Rotarians or accountants.”204

But when you saw those people together, once they had made it, at “a peaceful, petty bourgeois coffee circle of Party comrades from places here and there in the country, in the company of the Chancellor of the great German people, then the subject of their conversations was: killing, insurrection, imprisonment, murder, robbery!”205Both Strasser brothers had belonged to that successful gang. In fact, Gregor was around 1930 seen by many as Hitler’s rival for the leadership of the NSDAP. Otto will write when in exile: “Göring is a brutal egoist who cares nothing for Germany as long as he becomes something. Goebbels is a limping devil and basically two-faced. Röhm is a pig. This is the old guard of the Führer.”206And Gregor said, shortly before he too would be murdered in “The Night of the Long Knives”: “From now on Germany is in the hands of an Austrian [Hitler] who is a congenial liar, a former officer [Göring] who is a pervert, and a clubfoot [Goebbels]. And I tell you the last is the worst of them all. This is Satan in human form.”207

“The only thing they all had in common were their petty rivalries and jealousies”, writes Hanfstängl, who as an old supporter, adviser and – he presumed – friend of Hitler thought he could continue to be frank with him once he had become Chancellor, but had to flee for his life. “Too many of us realized too late that the regeneration of the national life and economy was only part of the goal. Hitler and a majority of his followers really believed their anti-clerical, anti-Semitic, anti-Bolshevist, xenophobic catch-phrases and were prepared to keep the whole country in uproar in order to put them into practical effect.”208

5. Settling Accounts

I believe there are people who attract death, and Hitler certainly was one of them.

Henriette von Schirach

Annus terribilis

After a series of bad years, 1923 was a terrible year for Germany. In retaliation for unsatisfactory “reparations”, i.e. punitive payments agreed upon in the Treaty of Versailles, three French and Belgian divisions occupied the Ruhr, Germany’s industrial heartland. The German Government responded with “passive resistance”, stopping all production. Yet the industrialists and the workers had to be compensated in some way, and the Government began to print money, thereby causing galloping inflation. The victors of the Great War were now being paid with worthless money, but the consequences were catastrophic for the German population, in the first place for the middle classes, who lost all their savings.

Soon the “hyperinflation” took on nightmarish proportions. Stacks of banknotes were no longer counted but measured with a ruler. “It was cheaper to burn money than coal”, writes Weiss.209Heiden uses the term “starving billionaires”. One egg cost five million marks. “Practically speaking there was no money any more in Germany”, says Haffner.210Thousands lost their jobs; there was a spate of angry strikes and riots in which shops in the towns and farms in the countryside were attacked by hordes of hungry people; swindlers, black marketers and usurers thrived. The middle classes, who had their own code of honour in imitation of the respected nobility, the military and state officialdom, were severely shaken in their convictions, and turned as a consequence toward the extreme right-wing parties with their promises of drastic action to make Germany healthy, decent and self-respecting again. The membership numbers of the NSDAP shot up.

The Communists, now directly controlled by Moscow (which soon will mean Stalin), judged that the moment had come for the “second revolution” in Germany: the Bolshevik take-over of the Socialist (Menshevik) revolution which, as the Weimar Republic, was still in power. “Indeed, in Thuringia and in Saxony, where also since September a Popular Front was in power, the radical Left – as had been decided by the Politburo of the Russian Communist Party – made preparations for the great armed revolt. Military command groups were organized with the collaboration of Soviet instructors and the first ‘revolutionary centuries’ of armed workers were formed after the example of the revolutionary guards in Petersburg. Their task was … to spread the revolution that was to expand like a wildfire from the middle of the Reich, and to bring about a ‘German October’ in imitation of the Russian October.”211

Germany was split into Left and Right, with the looming possibility of civil war. But the Left was itself fatally divided into Socialists and Communists. The reason that the civil war in Germany did not break out in the years immediately following the armistice was in fact the bitter enmity between the two leftist ideologies, turned more fiercely against each other than against the Right. An ironical upshot of this situation was that the social-democratic government had to rely on the ultra-nationalist Army, the Reichswehr, to clamp down on the communist uprisings and keep itself in the saddle.

The social-democratic governments of Scheidemann and Stresemann, at times in coalition with the Liberals and Catholics of the centre, were capable and patriotic, dedicated not only to the improvement of the lot of the workers but also to the well-being of their country as a whole. But they had inherited an unmanageable situation, first in having to execute the clauses of the Treaty of Versailles and second in having to govern a nation on the brink of disaster – all the while being disdained and mocked by the rightist, reactionary, nationalist part of the population which considered itself the true Germany and the living incarnation of its values. This attitude of reactionary Germany, which may be called instinctive, towards the ideological values of Socialism and its representation of the fourth estate was a direct cause of the conditions that made Hitler possible, and will be exploited to the utmost by the man himself.

The general in command of the Reichswehr was Hans von Seeckt, a monocled officer of the Prussian school, very capable and very aware of his vital position and clout. Some counted him among the candidates for a rightist dictatorship. True, the German army had been reduced to 100 000 men, without a navy or air force. But there were the thousands of trained and fanatically nationalist men of the Free Corps and the state militias, which Seeckt himself cleverly incorporated into a “Black Reichswehr”, often camouflaged as youth organizations or sports clubs. It was now Seeckt’s job to put down the communist uprisings in Thuringia and Saxony, plus those in Hamburg, in the Ruhr and elsewhere. This does not seem to have been very difficult, maybe because he could count on the support of every non-communist German, as Communism, only six years after the Russian revolution, was still generally feared and abhorred.

A more serious problem for General von Seeckt, and for the government of the Weimar Republic, was posed by Bavaria, which was anything but communist. Bavaria was to all German reactionaries the bulwark of the nationalist spirit, and had, as we have seen, put its doors wide open for any activist rightist in distress or fugitive from justice. One should bear in mind that the German states still commanded a considerable degree of independence; the army and the police, for instance, were run by the state. Another important factor is that Catholic Bavaria was strongly separatist and involved in a battle for prestige with Protestant Prussia. Munich, “Athens on the Isar”, was synonymous with culture, while Prussian Berlin stood for boorishness and aberration. “Since Bismarck had founded the Second German Reich, Bavaria had been little more than a provincial vassal and here opportunity was being offered for Munich to assume the leadership of Germany and take it away from the despised Prussians in Berlin.”212

The tension between Bavaria and the federal Government increased when Chancellor Stresemann no longer tolerated the aggression against himself and the Republic in the Munich rightist press, especially in the Völkische Beobachter, and when the open Bavarian defiance of the law exceeded all tolerable bounds by giving custody to people like Ehrhardt and Klintzsch against whom there were warrants of arrest. When General Otto von Lossow, commander of the Reichswehr in Bavaria, refused to act on his instructions, the federal Minister of Defence deposed him. Both the State Government of Bavaria and the federal Government of Germany declared a state of emergency on the same day in September. The President of Bavaria nominated Otto von Kahr “State Commissioner” with dictatorial powers and General von Lossow was reinstated as head of the Bavarian Reichswehr. This was an act of mutiny: Bavaria was now in open defiance of the Weimar Republic.

Taking into account the occupation of the Ruhr, which the French tried to make into a separate state apart from the German fatherland, the communist uprisings instigated by Moscow, the red hot tension between Bavaria and the central Government, and the catastrophic state of the finances and the economy with the resulting riots and unemployment, it is no wonder that Sebastian Haffner writes: “In the autumn of 1923 the German Reich was on the verge of political extinction.”213Joachim Fest is of the same opinion: “The harassed [central] government might well see the events in Munich as the signal for total collapse.”214

A Putschist in Tail Coat

“The three vons”, State Commissioner Gustav von Kahr, General von Lossow, commander of the Bavarian Reichswehr, and Colonel von Seisser, head of the state police, formed a triumvirate with practically unlimited power in Bavaria. As rightist reactionaries they did not hesitate to further intensify the confrontation with the Weimar Republic and declared Bavaria “a stronghold of threatened Germanhood”. The Bavarian army had to swear an oath not to the constitutional central government but to the State. The triumvirate justified most of its rebellious actions as measures against the communist threat in adjacent Thuringia, but nobody doubted that they were planning another rightist coup against the Weimar Republic and that they were looking for support from nationalist circles anywhere in the country, even in Berlin. They were, however, not only separatists but also monarchists, who wanted to bring the Wittelsbach dynasty back on the Bavarian throne in the person of Crown Prince Rupprecht, as a field marshal the former commander of the Bavarian army during the war and still “enjoying an almost mystical respect”. Rupprecht was now pulling all possible strings to re-enter the royal palace in Munich which his father had hurriedly left in the middle of that November night in 1918.

There was no love lost between “the three vons” and Adolf Hitler. The ultra-rightist Hitler was, as a fanatical Pan-German, an arch-opponent of Bavarian separatism, with a deep resentment against royalty and nobility in general. The triumvirate, for its part, looked down on the Austrian ex-corporal who, in their eyes, was “a pretentious young man of obscure origin who seemed somewhat cracked”.215Ernst Hanfstängl will bear witness to the fact that “Hitler’s fight against this attitude [of disparagement] was to take him years.”216Writers on Hitler’s life usually mention some of his remarkable achievements, e.g. redeeming the economy, rebuilding the German army or the masterly strategy of the invasion into France; seldom, though, does one read about his fight against the social prejudices and obstacles during his climb to power. Yet it was this tenacity that made all the rest possible and that must have been rooted in an extremely powerful conviction, or inspiration, or vision, to take him where he ultimately arrived.

Kahr and his two acolytes did everything in their power to block Hitler’s ambitions, prohibiting some Nazi manifestations or occasionally the publication of his paper, the Völkische Beobachter. “The brown phalanx”, the SA, was expanding rapidly, as was the membership of the NSDAP, and rumours of a putsch were rife, still more so after Mussolini had become Duce of Italy as a consequence of the “March on Rome”. Who in Germany knew in those days that this “march” was largely mythical? And who took into consideration that the social and political circumstances in Germany differed totally from those in Italy? One has only to cast an eye on the map of Germany and consider the geographical distance between Munich and Berlin, plus the fact that Seeckt’s disciplined Reichswehr could easily halt whatever Bavarian phalanxes might move northwards, to ask oneself how the triumvirate as well as Hitler could possibly dream of marching on Berlin. But troubled times hatch troubled schemes.

Besides, Hitler had painted himself into a corner. He had accepted and exploited the comparison with Benito Mussolini and allowed himself now generally to be called Führer, i.e. leader, duce, of the Nazis. (Soon this designation will become obligatory in the NSDAP, and former acquaintances who habitually addressed him as “Herr Hitler” will incur his wrath when continuing to do so.) The growing ranks of the SA, now mostly recruited among the unemployed, had to be fed and kept occupied. Many of them, although enjoying the comradeship and the intimidating swastika armbands and uniforms (if they had one), were no idealists: they were just hungry and penniless. They could not forever be kept marching and chanting in the streets or collecting money for the Party – while doing a little mischief on the side, for instance beating up an old Jew. They were looking forward to what was promised to them – power, food and money – and this not in the long term but as soon as possible.

“Hitler had already for some time become the hostage of his own propaganda, in which he himself had announced time and again that he would soon settle accounts with the ‘November criminals’. If he did not risk the putsch now, he would be a boaster and vacillator in the eyes of his followers and sooner or later be overtaken by the dynamics of the situation.” (Ralph Reuth217) “The storm troopers were impatiently pressing for action. Their restlessness had various causes. Many of them were professional soldiers, who after weeks of conspiratorial preparations were all keyed up for action. Some of the paramilitary organizations, which had been on battle alert for weeks, had taken part in the ‘fall manoeuvres’ of the [Bavarian] Reichswehr, but now all their funds had been used up. Hitler’s treasury was also exhausted, and the men were going hungry.” (Joachim Fest218)

The Hitler Putsch on 8 and 9 November 1923 was one of the worst prepared, most amateurish and even comical events (except for the shooting) in German history. Hitler and his cronies tried to hijack, on the evening of 8 November, a meeting in the Bürgerbräukeller organized by Kahr, Lossow and Seisser, fearing that the trio might beat him to the putsch and proclaim an independent Bavaria under king Rupprecht. From the start everything went wrong.

Hitler, at the head of the helmeted and armed Shock Troop Hitler, appeared in the overcrowded beer hall in tail coat, which made him look like a head waiter. (Nobody has found out where he got the idea of donning this original dress to conduct a coup.) Brandishing his pistol, he silenced the crowd with a shot into the ceiling. “The national revolution has begun!” he shouted. He announced that a new national government had been formed with himself at the helm and Ludendorff as chief of the army (an arrangement about which Ludendorff had not been consulted and which he will never forgive). Hitler forced the triumvirate to swear an oath of collaboration with him, which they broke as soon as he made the mistake of leaving them, going somewhere else where he was not needed. They fled from the beer hall, declared all initiatives of the Nazis illegal and started organizing the suppression of the putsch. After a long and indecisive night in which many more blunders were committed and many a litre jug of beer (at a billion marks apiece) emptied, the Nazis, on Ludendorff’s initiative, started on a march towards the city centre around 11 am on 9 November.

“Most marchers wore ragged uniforms from old army stocks, combined with articles of civilian dress such as felt hats and shawls. One of the participants got the impression that he and his comrades looked ‘like a defeated army that had not been doing battle’. Another asked himself if these shabby figures would actually make an impressive effect on the population. But who could have expected more? None of the participants had known beforehand that they were to execute a propaganda march through the city, and in the bygone night they had slept little and drunk much beer. Many suffered from a nasty hangover.” (David Large219)

Hitler marched in the front row, behind the flags and banners, with Ludendorff on his left and Scheubner-Richter on his right; also in the front row were Göring as head of the SA, Kriebel, commander of the Kampfbund, Rosenberg, and Hitler’s bodyguard Ulrich Graf (butcher, wrestler and great brawler). Then there followed, in three columns side by side, the Shock Troop Hitler, the veteran Munich SA and the Bund Oberland, with behind them “the motley collection of men”, all together some two to three thousand.

Having arrived at the Marienplatz, Munich’s central square with the Gothic Townhall, Hitler proved again incapable of taking a decision and it was again Ludendorff, “in full regimentals”, who continued marching, this time in the direction of the Feldhernhalle, a famous Renaissance monument near Odeon Square. But the narrow street the marchers engaged into was blocked by a cordon of state police. Nobody knows who fired the first shot. When the exchange of fire ended after thirty seconds – a long time under fire – fourteen of the Nazi marchers and four policemen lay dead. Killed by one of the first shots was Scheubner-Richter next to Hitler. Graf had thrown himself on his prostrate Führer and was hit no less than eleven times. (He survived.) This is one of the many occasions on which Hitler was protected by Destiny, or whatever one cares to call it. He escaped with a dislocated left shoulder to Hanfstängl’s newly built villa in Uffing, in the countryside. There he tried to commit suicide, but was prevented from doing so by Hanfstängl’s wife, the beautiful Helene, who wrestled the pistol from his hand.

The day he “fell on his face” or “fell from the tightrope”, as he himself would say later, will remain a painful memory for Hitler throughout his life. It was also the day on which the learning phase in his political life came to an end. He would switch to completely different political tactics: the attainment of power by legal means.

Historians are still writing that the November putsch was an improvised occurrence. Brigitte Hamann in her book on Hitler and Winifred Wagner, however, makes us think otherwise. Hitler visited Haus Wahnfried in Bayreuth for the first time on 1 October 1922, a month before the putsch. All present were touched by his solemn first contact with the place where the revered Richard Wagner had lived, worked, and lay buried. “It is certain that Hitler told the Wagners also about the planned putsch”, asserts Hamann. “He had obviously planned his visit to Wahnfried with great care and went there at a time when he was already regarded as a special personality, even as the future ‘saviour of Germany’ who was awaited everywhere, and when he already occupied a leading position in the nationalist German associations. That he went there precisely at this moment, shortly before the putsch and the expected assumption of power, had the effect of something like a consecration. As religious people go on a pilgrimage before making an important decision, thus Hitler went to obtain the blessings of [Houston] Chamberlain and of the departed Master, Richard Wagner.”220Rumours were abroad, plans were made, the tail coat was rented, and the whole affair turned into a resounding fiasco – which made Hitler a figure of national importance.

“Bolshevism from Moses to Lenin”

Where was Dietrich Eckart during the Hitler Putsch? John Toland spots him at the Bürgerbräukeller, just before the marchers left there, and near the Isartor, watching them pass by singing the “Storm Song” which he had written for the SA.221He was already gravely ill in those days and must have followed the column of the putschists in a car. He was arrested after the failed coup and imprisoned, first in Stadelheim prison, then with Hitler and the others in fortress at Landsberg.

An important document in the Hitler saga is the unfinished “dialogue” Eckart wrote a few months earlier, in April and May 1923: Bolshevism from Moses to Lenin: A Dialogue between Adolf Hitler and me. This text is not the rendering of a real dialogue but of a fictitious one, no doubt based – and herein lays its special value – on conversations which must have taken place between the two men. If these pages were pure invention, Eckart would never have given them to others to read and they would never have been published after his death, certainly not by the Nazi Hoheneichen-Verlag.

The German historian Ernst Nolte was the first to draw attention to this document, in 1961, and Margarete Plewnia’s Eckart biography, in which the dialogue is comprehensively analysed and commented upon, appeared in 1970, but only recent authors begin to read it in earnest. Hitler’s first steps on the political stage have been insufficiently studied. Not only is this astonishing gap in the Hitler biographies the cause of a lack of understanding, or of a wrong understanding of Hitler’s mind, it allows also full play for the most extravagant imaginations.

Plewnia, from her point of view, shows how Hitler’s anti-Semitism took shape “between the autumn of 1919 and the summer of 1920” under Eckart’s influence, which can be traced in Hitler’s speeches, preserved in the files of the Munich police. The effect of Eckart’s brand of “metaphysical anti-Semitism”, mentioned in a previous chapter, is incontestable, e.g. in the following passages: “We do not want to be emotional anti-Semites who seek to create the atmosphere of the pogrom: we are driven by the relentless resoluteness to expose the evil at its base and to eradicate it root and branch. To attain our goal any means will be justified, even if we have to make a pact with the devil.” (6.4.1920) And: “We have to eliminate the poison [i.e. the Jewish spirit] outside and inside us when we want to become cured again.” (17.4.1920)

Hitler’s anti-Judaic ejaculations had become increasingly violent from the time of his propaganda pep-talks at Lechfeld and the Gemlich letter onwards. They will climax (for the time being) in a speech on 13 August 1920, less than a year after his entry in the Harrer and Drexler circle. The title of this speech was explicit: “Why are we Anti-Semites?” and Hitler gave a recital of his complete anti-Jewish repertoire. In the police protocol of the speech is noted the usual crescendo in the response of the audience: “laughter – applause – bravo and applause – tumultuous applause – long tumultuous applause …” Documents like this show, beyond any doubt, the preparedness of the German soil for the seeds sown by Hitler and his likes.

It is reasonable to assume that Eckart intended the “dialogue” as a lasting testimony to his mentorship of Hitler. One possible reason for putting everything down on paper was that his health was declining rapidly. Another reason may have been that Hitler remained no longer satisfied with Eckart’s “metaphysical anti-Semitism” and turned to more tangible justifications of his mission. True, Eckart was a blazing Jew-baiter, preaching a purification of the German race from the Jewish Evil and the advent of a Führer who would lead the Germans toward their glorious future; but his way of reasoning and his philosophical categories were too abstract for Hitler’s demagoguery. How could Hitler preach the elimination and extermination of the Jews while saying that their evil, the poison of a demonic race, was there in all of humanity, including every German in his audience? Darwinism, as interpreted by Chamberlain and Rosenberg, was much more straightforward and handier. Anti-Semitism, after all, is a matter of gut feelings, and any combination of simplistic arguments will do to justify it, even if very loosely stitched together. The assent of the audience was obtained by the power of speech, not by the reasoning behind it.

Still, so many terms (poison, parasite, bacillus) and concepts Hitler was using, and will keep using in the future, are there in the Eckart text, written in the form of a dialogue among equals not to offend the recently proclaimed Führer if he were to read it. There is the schizoid interpretation of the biblical narration about the Jews in Egypt: the Jews were not kept in bondage by the Egyptians, on the contrary the Jews did their usual subversive work in trying to overthrow the throne of the pharaoh. There is the assertion that it was the Christians, followers of Paul, the Jew of Tarsus, who undermined the Roman Empire and caused its downfall. (To Hitler – as to Wagner, Chamberlain, Rosenberg and most of the Nazis – Christ was not a Jew but an Aryan and an anti-Semite.) There is the fundamental Jewishness of the Catholic Church, for is their holy book not Jewish literature, and are many of their feasts and ceremonies not of Jewish origin? – this in direct contradiction to the anti-Semitism for which Christianity and the Catholic Church was primarily responsible. And there are of course the theories of the Jew Karl Marx, propagated to dominate the world and as such the inspiration of Lenin and his Judeo-Bolshevism.

One finds such convictions, which he had from Eckart, scattered through Hitler’s conversations and nightly musings also in later years. And he will proclaim on several occasions that Nazism has to wage a fight against Bolshevism on the left and against Capitalism on the right because both are strategic instruments of the attempt by the Jews to bring the world under their control. Eckart worded this as follows in his Dialogue: “Against left and right stands our front. This is the cause of the strange fact that we are attacked from two sides which fight against each other. The Reds shout at us that we are reactionaries, and the reactionaries that we are Bolshevists. From both sides it is the Jew who blows the storm clouds toward us.”222

When one reads such an accumulation of crankiness, one wonders how millions of people, belonging to the most cultured nation in the world (at least in their own eyes) could accept them as plain truth. And there was much more of the same alloy, e.g. the world ice theory, the theory of the hollow earth, and the official proclamation of an Aryan science in opposition to the Jewish science of Einstein and similar scatterbrains – not to forget the “scientific” murderous race theories.

The political, social and cultural fantasies of Hitler and his Nazis were bizarre, but the underlying fact, the base of the völkisch movement to which Nazism belonged, was a very important phenomenon on the European cultural scene: it was the refusal to accept the ideals of the Enlightenment, born of Reason, and the stubborn, instinctive resistance against them. It is in these ideals as a coherent whole that we find the target of the dark and spiteful aggression of all that was supposed to constitute the true, fundamental human values born from “the German soul” in an embellished past. Modernism, equated with enlightenment and progress, was to the fundamentalist völkisch reactionaries synonymous with materialism, capitalism, liberalism, internationalism, democracy, socialism, communism, Bolshevism, etc. Take any of these terms in the writings, speeches and conversations of Hitler and you will find them associated with “the Jew”. The words “Jew” and “Jewish” could be used for anything Hitler and his people found unpleasant, inferior, unjust, inimical or criminal. Philosophically, however, they always related to the changing world in progress, of which the Enlightenment was the cause and justification. Nazism as a völkisch movement was part of the general European reaction, born out of disorientation, insecurity and fear, against the coming into being of a new world.

How does one become an anti-Semite? The concrete reason or occasion in Eckart’s case is unknown, as it is in the case of many others. There was a poison in the air, a germ in the mental nourishment of that time which became virulent when the personal constitution proved receptive because of certain surroundings or a traumatic experience. The German mind – and not only the German – had become poisoned by what John Weiss calls an “ideology of death”. And Eckart had read all the books. In his Dialogue there are references to Otto Hauser, Werner Sombart, Henry Ford, Gougenot des Mousseaux, Theodor Fritsch, Friedrich Delitzsch, etc., plus a number of periodicals, and Eckart had chewed all that for Hitler to digest.

There was also a new factor which played an important role since 1917: the Russian Revolution. Lenin, Trotsky, Bolshevism, a Republic of Councils, Bela Kun, Spartacists, red flags, the hammer and sickle, new leftist terms and slogans: all of that became part of the popular awareness, and all of it was felt as threatening. The presence of these elements in Hitler’s thought structures is the surest indication that they were formed in Munich, directly by Eckart through his writings and his frequent contacts with Hitler, indirectly by the Thule Society and its related circles animated by Sebottendorff. What remains to be explained is the power which “the man from nowhere” commanded to pull off the impossible, and which made that “there was no viable alternative to Hitler”.223


Some students of Hitler’s life and of Nazism, who know about the decisive role played by Dietrich Eckart, are of the opinion that Hitler more and more distanced himself from his mentor in the course of 1923. One sign, they say, is the fact that Eckart was replaced by Alfred Rosenberg as editor of the Völkische Beobachter. This argument is not convincing because Eckart’s health problems had become very serious and because he was not the kind of steady worker to run the Beobachter, which had become a daily newspaper.

Another argument is the passage in Ernst Hanfstängl’s autobiographical book The Missing Years, where he writes that Eckart told him one night in Berchtesgaden: “You know, Hanfstängl, something has gone completely wrong with Adolf. The man is developing an incurable case of folie de grandeur. Last week he was striding up and down in the courtyard here with that damned whip of his and shouting: ‘I must enter Berlin like Christ the Temple of Jerusalem and scourge out the moneylenders’, and more nonsense of that sort. I tell you, if he lets his Messiah complex run away with him, he will ruin us all.”224Another symptom of a possible change in the Eckart-Hitler relation was Eckart’s reflection to Hanfstängl: “I am fed up with this toy-soldier stuff of Hitler’s. Heaven knows the Jews are behaving badly enough in Berlin and the Bolshevists are an even worse lot, but you cannot build a political party on the basis of prejudices alone. I am a writer and a poet and I am too old to go along with him any more.”225

It is nevertheless demonstrable that Eckart went along with Adolf till the very end. When the NSDAP held its first Parteitag, on 27 and 28 January 1923 in Munich, Eckart stood in the place of honour, one pace behind Hitler, to review the parade marching through the snow. This was also the day on which the first SA standards were consecrated, all of them carrying the slogan Deutschland erwache! (Germany awake), a battle cry coined by Eckart as the last line of both stanzas of his “Storm Song”. Plewnia reproduces a facsimile of this song written during a nocturnal session by the author in the guest book of the Bratwurstglöckl on 18 January 1923; Eckart has illustrated the song with a drawing of Hitler striking a martial pose as a flag-bearer, and both have signed the masterpiece.226On 20 April, Hitler’s birthday, the Beobachter published a poem by Eckart with the title “Führer of Germany”, announcing that that Führer had come: “Who want to see, can see! / The Force is there, causing the night to flee!”227

When in April 1923 Eckart had to go into hiding because there was a warrant of arrest out against him for libel against President Ebert, he withdrew incognito into the mountains above Berchtesgaden. “Eckart’s contact with the NSDAP was not interrupted during the period of his exile. Drexler, Amann, Weber, Esser and Hitler stayed with him as visitors.”228Eckart returned to Munich when the warrant was withdrawn and spoke two times at NSDAP meetings. During the November Putsch he met Hitler at the Bürgerbräukeller just before the march on the Feldhernhalle set off. After the putsch he tried for a while to keep the dispersed Nazi movement together, collaborating to this end with Rosenberg. But he too was arrested and wrote, in Stadelheim prison, a scathing poem on the Germans for deserting their Führer in his bid to save the fatherland: “Cowardly people! You despise anyone who faithfully cared for you! … You are born for the yoke of the slaves and think of nothing but gorging yourselves!”229Surely, this last instance shows that the tie between Eckart and Hitler was still there. Plewnia also quotes the words of a friend of Eckart’s, a certain Reid, who would have heard from Eckart’s mouth in the summer of 1923: “If there is a man whom Destiny has chosen to save Germany, then that man is Adolf Hitler, and no other.” And even after the November Putsch Eckart would have confided to Reid that “he continued to believe in Hitler, because he was under a Star”.230But the strongest confirmation of the unbroken tie between the mentor and his disciple are the numerous ways in which the Führer honoured Eckart’s memory once he had come to power, and the tears which came to his eyes whenever he remembered him. This was truly exceptional for a character like Hitler’s, who never forgot or forgave the least personal slight.

Dietrich Eckart was dismissed from Landsberg prison because of serious heart trouble. Hanfstängl writes that he collapsed during an alarm exercise. He died in Berchtesgaden on 26 December. Towards the end of his life he is supposed to have said: “Follow Hitler. He will dance, but it is I who wrote the tune. We have given him the means to communicate with Them … Do not mourn for me, for I will have influenced history more than any other German.”231Historical or not, hyperbolical or not, these words contain a great deal of truth.

Having been away from Germany for years, Sebottendorff seems not to have followed the events there attentively, and badly misread Hitler’s character. He published Before Hitler Came a few months after the Nazi Chancellor had taken office. The title attracted attention, in the first place of the Bavarian political police. There is little doubt that Sebottendorff wrote the book to present Hitler with the bill of formerly rendered services, and that he thought he might claim his share in the success of the movement he had aided to launch. Soon after the Munich Republic of Councils, when the Thule had been at its most active and several of its members had been executed, he recalled, the society started on its downward slide and began to disintegrate. “Heavy inner struggles began which would mean the end of the Society. It had accomplished its goal; it had to disappear in order that new things could come about which stood already on the threshold. A few weeks after Sebottendorff’s departure [he is writing in the third person], Adolf Hitler entered the rooms of the Thule, and he participated in the great propaganda days when under the leadership of Dannehl [Sebottendorff’s successor] the whole of Munich was covered with leaflets and posters.”232

This was not the kind of memories Hitler liked to be reminded of. “Hitler felt it as a personal offence when somebody, struck by the similarity of Hitler’s thought with that of others, drew his attention to precursors or like-minded thinkers. Hitler wanted to have thought out everything by himself and without examples. He considered it a diminution of his greatness when one pointed out analogous ideas.”233

Nor will he have liked the idea that it was Sebottendorff’s disappearance which had made his appearance possible: “Sebottendorff had to sacrifice himself”, writes Sebottendorff, “he had to go not to smother the frail plant” – of National Socialism, that is.234The former Master of Thule made matters worse by trying to relaunch the Society, perhaps envisioning a place of honour in the Third Reich for himself and his former adherents. “Today is fulfilled what those seven [executed members of Thule] and the Thule as a whole looked forward to … We recognize the greatness and the merit of Adolf Hitler. He has created what we longed for; we gathered the elements, he led to the goal! … It was to members of Thule that Hitler first came, and Thule members were the first who allied themselves with Hitler.”235Another grave mistake by Sebottendorff was that he called on the anti-Semitic ex-Jesuit Bernhard Stempfle to help resuscitate the Thule Society, for Stempfle, one of the readers and correctors of the Mein Kampf manuscript, had hurt Hitler, probably in the murky Geli Raubal affair, and would become another victim of the “Night of the Long Knives”.

The reader may remember that Sebottendorff, after his arrest by the Gestapo, was saved by former Thule-Brother Rudolf Hess. “Almost all collaborators of Hitler [in the Munich years] had to do with the Thule Society in one way or another, if they were not members themselves”, asserts Hermann Gilbhard.236The list of links between Hitler’s NSDAP and the Thule Society is indeed significant. The DAP was founded by Thule-Brother Harrer and “guest” of Thule Drexler; the swastika was Thule’s emblem; the Völkische Beobachter had been one of Thule’s publications before it was purchased by the NSDAP; many members of Thule’s Free Corps entered the SA (“the [Thule] Free Corps Oberland is the backbone of the present-day SA Hochland and anyway of the first SA units”237); there was, through Eckart, a direct connection between Thule’s ideology of German nationalism and anti-Semitism and Hitler; and many Nazis once belonged to the Thule Society or its affiliated circles.

“Rudolf von Sebottendorff’s life after 1934 has remained a mystery in spite of all kinds of speculations and rumours”, writes Gilbhard. “There are several unproved versions of his destiny, especially those originating in circles of the German secret service which were active in the Orient during the Second World War.” Herbert Rittlinger, biographer of Rudolf von Sebottendorff, alleges “without producing any proof that Sebottendorff was pulled dead from the Bosporus on 9 May 1945, and concludes from this fact that the founder of the Thule committed suicide.”238The date mentioned was V-E Day, the day the armistice with Germany was signed.

The November Putsch marked a turning point in Hitler’s life as well as in the history of the Nazi movement. What had for the most part been Bavarian history would now become German and world history. This may therefore be the point to take leave of another of the men who made Hitler possible, in this case the one who actually discovered him: Karl Mayr. He had been promoted to major and left the Army in March 1920, when Hitler became a civilian (on 31 March) because his backer in the Army was no longer there. Reuth has it that Mayr was discharged dishonourably.239He does not mention the reason, but says that Mayr used to act on his own to a remarkable degree. It may be that the social-democratic authorities finally caught up with the machinations of the rightist officer.

Yet, most amazing is the fact that Mayr made a complete turnabout and became a leader in the German Socialist Party and its paramilitary corps, the Reichsbanner (not to be confused with Röhm’s Reichsflagge), where a man with his capacities and experience was welcomed; he was also an editor of their journal for some time. When Röhm got in serious trouble because of his circle of homosexuals and some scandalous letters were published by the Munich Post in 1932, it was to Mayr that he turned for help. Heiden says that Röhm proposed to detach the SA from the Hitler Party and work towards a brotherly collaboration of all uniformed workers. This is not improbable in the light of what we have learned before. Mayr’s cynical but clairvoyant comment on this proposal was: “Would you like me to tell you the name of your future murderers?”240He meant Hitler and his henchmen, of course. And right he was.

When Hitler came to power, Mayr, like many others, fled the country into France. But his name was on Hitler’s black list because of his betrayal of the cause – and possibly still more because of an anonymous article of his, later on published in the American review Current History under the title “I was Hitler’s Boss – By a former Officer of the Reichswehr”. It was in this article that Mayr compared the Austrian corporal in the first months after the Great War to “a worn out stray dog” who would accept a crust of bread from anyone who wanted to be his master, even from a Frenchmen or a Jew. Mayr was caught and handed over to the Germans. He died in the Buchenwald concentration camp on 9 February 1945.241

6. Mein Kampf

Great liars are also great warlocks.

Adolf Hitler

Germany subjected itself to a religion it did not know; it followed rites it did not understand; it exulted and died for a mysterium in which it was not initiated. Only ‘the Führer’ had real knowledge, no National-Socialist doubted that. And the Führer kept to himself what he did not want to share with others.

Joachim Köhler

The Landsberg Retreat

The failure of the putsch came as a shattering blow to Hitler, in the first place because he felt covered with ridicule. On arrival in the prison at Landsberg he was given a spacious cell – some say more comfortable than his room in Munich at that time – vacated for him by Anton von Arco auf Valley, the assassin of Kurt Eisner. Hitler refused to eat for something like a fortnight. Afterwards several visitors claimed the honour of having talked their Führer into eating again, among them Anton Drexler, Hans Knirsch (a Czechoslovakian Nazi), the ever faithful and present Helene Bechstein, and Helene Hanfstängl, on whom Hitler seems to have had a crush.

From a local celebrity Hitler had become a national hero, and he was even occasionally mentioned in the foreign press, to announce his demise as a politician. “The New York Times printed his political obituary on the front page: ‘The Munich putsch definitely eliminates Hitler and his National Socialist followers’.”242Still, his foolhardy but courageous stunt had endeared him to many nationalists, especially in Munich, who felt nothing but contempt for verbose but impotent leaders of the kind of Kahr, Lossow and Seisser. “In Munich Hitler was still taken seriously. That Christmas a group of Schwabing artists in the movement celebrated the holiday season in the Blue Café with a living tableau, ‘Adolf Hitler in prison’. The curtain rose on a cell. Snowflakes were falling outside a small barred window. A man sat at a desk, face buried in hands, and an invisible male chorus was singing ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’. Then an angel placed an illuminated Christmas tree on the table. Slowly the man turned and revealed his face … A half-sob went through the hall”, so telling was the resemblance with Hitler of the actor on the stage.243

Hitler feared the trial for high treason, which opened on 26 February 1924, for two reasons. One was that he might be court-martialed, that consequently the trial would not be accessible to the public and that his means of defence would be limited. The other reason, and the most important one, was that he, as an Austrian citizen, would be extradited to his country of origin. 244 But his fears were allayed when he learned that he would appear before an ordinary, civil court and that the presiding judge, appointed by the Bavarian Minister of Justice Gürtner, was to be Georg Neithardt, “an ardent nationalist”. Hitler saw at once that “the disaster of the bungled putsch could be converted into a demagogical triumph … The defendants were Hitler, Ludendorff, Röhm, Frick, Pöhner [former police chief of Munich], Kriebel [commander of the Kampfbund] and four other participants [in the putsch], while Kahr, Lossow and Seisser appeared as witnesses”.245This was a flagrant injustice and a compelling argument which Hitler would not fail to use, for “the three vons” too were guilty of insurrection against the legal government.

Hitler managed to use the trial as a prolonged act of theatrical propaganda. “All of this helped Hitler turn the trial to his own purposes. Still, one should not fail to mark the boldness with which Hitler faced the proceedings, even after so recent a defeat. He assumed responsibility for the whole sorry operation and thus contrived to justify his actions in the name of higher patriotic and historic duty.”246

His powerful peroration, quoted in all Hitler biographies, still reverberates through history. “The army we have trained is growing from day to day, from hour to hour. At this very time I hold the proud hope that the hour will come when these wild bands will be formed into battalions, the battalions into regiments, the regiments into divisions … that the old banners will wave on ahead, that reconciliation will be achieved before the eternal judgment seat of God which we are ready to face. Then from our bones and our graves will speak the voice of that court which alone is empowered to sit in judgment upon us all. For not you, gentlemen, will deliver judgment on us; that judgment will be pronounced by the eternal court of history … I already know what verdict you will hand down. But that other court will ask us: did you or did you not commit high treason? That court will judge us … as Germans who wanted the best for their people and their Fatherland, who were willing to fight and die. May you declare us guilty a thousand times: the goddess of the Eternal Court will smile and gently tear in two the brief of the State Prosecutor and the verdict of the court: for she acquits us.”247

It was always hazardous to let Hitler speak because of the power with which his words were charged. Now he became a star. “The reading of the verdict was a real society event in Munich. The courtroom was crowded with spectators ready to applaud this troublemaker with so many friends in high places. The verdict once more laid stress on the ‘pure patriotic motives and honourable intentions’ of the defendant, but sentenced him to a minimum of five years in prison. However, he would become eligible for parole after six months. Ludendorff was acquitted. The law called for the deportation of any troublesome foreigner, but the court decided to waive this in the case of a man ‘who thinks and feels in such German terms as Hitler’.”248He would leave prison before the end of the year.

Events seemed to be timed in response to Hitler’s deeds and needs. While he was in Landsberg prison the conditions in Germany took a turn for the better, so much so that the period from 1924 till 1929 would be called “the golden years” of the Weimar Republic. The two men responsible for steering their country on a more propitious course were Premier Gustav Stresemann and the “financial wizard” Hjalmar Schacht, who created a new monetary system – and who would play a similar and equally important role in the Third Reich. The Nazi Party, now without its strong-willed Führer, went adrift and split up in several factions. Hitler had foreseen this and let it happen, for it might come useful when he would take up the reins again and decide on an action plan of strict law and order – or something like it.

He put Alfred Rosenberg in charge of the NSDAP, aware how little appreciated this pale-faced intellectual was among his brown-shirted comrades. Drexler had not forgotten Adolf’s disparaging conduct towards him, the founder of the Party, when shoving him aside in July 1920. “Drexler wanted to remodel the party along his own less revolutionary lines.”249And then there was the Strasser faction, including a very ambitious and still very socialist-minded Dr Joseph Goebbels, which will promote the Nazi Party in northern Germany and remain the most serious challenge to Hitler till he took up the chancellorship. And there was pompous Erich Ludendorff who had slyly denied any responsibility for the putsch; who had been slighted by Hitler proclaiming himself head of state and the field marshal his commander-in-chief of the army; and who wanted now “to centre the control of the nationalist groups in his own hands and take advantage of Hitler’s absence to neutralize him permanently”.250

Hitler had a great time in Landsberg, his “university at state expense”. He was honoured, even by the warden and the prison staff (most of whom converted to Nazism), as a king with his court of fellow Nazi-prisoners. He had plenty of free time without constantly having to make decisions, read books, received visitors, held his inevitable and dreaded endless monologues, and presided at the table. “The others waited behind their chairs until Hitler strode in, then someone called out ‘Attention!’ He stood at the head of the table until every man in turn came forward with his table-greeting.”251“He received favoured treatment which included freedom to accept gifts of food from outside, and this again gave him a further hold over his warders … He and Hess had not so much cells as a small suite of rooms forming an apartment. The place looked like a delicatessen store. You could have opened up a flower and fruit and a wine shop with all the stuff stacked there. People were sending presents from all over Germany and Hitler had grown visibly fatter on the proceeds.”252

Then came the day that he decided to write a book, which would become Mein Kampf, but which at first was titled Four and a half years of struggle against lies, stupidity and cowardice. “Without the time in prison Mein Kampf would not have existed”, reflected Hitler later, “and I may say that, during that time, I reached conceptual clarity about many things which before I had propagated more from intuition.”253Prison presented him with the occasion of prolonged introspection.

If one has not read the book, one should discard once and for all that idea that Mein Kampf is a kind of trivial, wacko oddity, written by an illiterate maniac. Certainly, it does not belong in the class of the belles lettres, and it contains the most improbable ideas as well as “utter amorality”, and lies, and sophistry in abundance, plus undisguised threats to Western civilization and disdain for the human being and human values in general – and much more of this sort. And there is that “curiously nasty, obscene odour” perceived by Joachim Fest as emanating from the book’s pages. But behind all that there is a vision by which Adolf Hitler had been and would continue to be driven, which was unprecedented and revolutionary, and which aimed at a new world and a new man. “He who writes this sees himself in his prison cell like Johannes in his cave on Patmos and is in his solitude open for inspiration”, writes Karin Wilhelm. “While writing Hitler too follows a voice which he hears inside himself in the act of writing, and meanwhile his eyes are clairvoyant.”254

The first pages of Mein Kampf were dictated by Hitler to his chauffeur and co-prisoner Emil Maurice. Maurice noted down the dictates and Hitler had to type them afterwards with two fingers on a Remington portable. This changed when another participant in the putsch, Rudolf Hess, gave himself up to the police and joined his adored Führer in prison. Now Hess, who was a student of Karl Haushofer, professor of “geopolitics” at Munich University, typed the dictates directly on the machine and helped with suggestions and corrections. “There was a very close bond between the two during this period, and for the first time I heard them speak to each other on ‘thou’ terms, although later in public they did not”, remembers Hanfstängl. The number of people Hitler ever addressed in the confidential manner can be counted on the fingers of one hand. “This was the period of Hess’s greatest and lasting influence”, according to Hanfstängl, who elaborates on “the emotional quality of the friendship that had developed with Hess”.255

There may have been truth in Hanfstängl’s impressions of the homoerotic, though not homosexual, relation between Hitler and his later deputy; homoeroticism is after all a common phenomenon among persons of the same sex sharing long-term experiences, and “male bonding” was widespread at the time of our story, when a more liberal sexuality was not even imaginable, and men’s associations and groupings were rife in Germany. But there may have been another element in the Hitler-Hess connection which Hanfstängl did not perceive because there were no receptors for it in his awareness: the occult dimension. Hess was, after all, not only a Brother of Thule, he was also intensely interested in all kinds of occult phenomena, and so was Hitler.

Toland describes how the Hitler court at Landsberg was distinctly divided into two levels corresponding to two classes, the one of the inner circle around Hitler with their cells on the upper floor, the other comprising the “commoners” and lodged on the lower floor. There is no doubt that Hitler’s Landsberg experience included a profound meditation on his life’s mission and a reactivation of it, in which Hess, constantly close to him, seems to have played a part. This may have been the main reason of the intimacy between the two men, and of the fact that Hess became Hitler’s secretary and afterwards the second man in the Reich, although there was a unanimous opinion among the top Nazis that Hess was a poor politician and organizer. Behind his back fellow Nazis sometimes called him Fräulein Anna, Miss Anna, for he read poetry and listened to chamber music and was therefore held to be a sissy – although he had been a fighter pilot during the war and was always the first to jump into a beer hall fray or street brawl at the head of his SA unit. He was, moreover, the intermediary between his Führer and his teacher, Professor Karl Haushofer.

Hitler Bares his Mind

William Shirer, the American journalist who has followed “the rise and fall of the Third Reich” from nearby, writes: “It might be argued that had more non-Nazi Germans read [Mein Kampf] before 1933 and had the foreign statesmen of the world perused it carefully while there was still time, both Germany and the world might have been saved from catastrophe. For whatever other accusations can be made against Adolf Hitler, no one can accuse him of not putting down in writing exactly the kind of Germany he intended to make if he ever came to power and the kind of world he meant to create by armed German conquest. The blueprint of the Third Reich and, what is more, of the barbaric New Order which Hitler inflicted on conquered Europe in the triumphant years between 1939 and 1945 is set down in all its appalling crudity at great length and in detail between the covers of this revealing book.”256We find Shirer’s opinion confirmed by Christian von Krockow, at present a popular author in Germany: “Actually one has to be astonished: what was said in Mein Kampf was exactly what Hitler afterwards did, but people had not read or not taken seriously what was written there.”257And Christian Zentner states simply: “The politics of the Third Reich cannot be understood without Mein Kampf.”258

Yet the book is often considered a nutty curiosity. And it is believed by many that nobody in Nazi Germany read it. Eberhard Jäckel, for instance, writes that Mein Kampf “was hardly read and still less understood”.259Both parts of Jäckel’s statement should be qualified. As to the first part: some ten million copies of Mein Kampf were printed till 1945; all couples were presented with a copy by the mayor as part of their marriage ceremony (many such copies are still gathering dust in German garrets); copies of the book were kept in all places where Nazidom was thriving; Mein Kampf was prescribed study material in all educational institutions, and the German youth had to learn by heart whole passages from it.

Moreover, the German media studded their propaganda with quotations from the Führer’s book, which was revered as the Nazi bible. How literally one should take this is shown by the fact that a copy of Mein Kampf was to be present at the SS-ceremonies of baptism, initiation into the Order, marriage and death. We find another confirmation in the following articles of the National Reich Church: “… 14. The National Reich Church declares that to it, and therefore to the German nation, the Führer’s Mein Kampf is the greatest of all documents. It not only contains the greatest but it embodies the purest and truest ethics for the present and future life of our nation … 19. On the altars there must be nothing but Mein Kampf (to the German nation and therefore to God the most sacred book) and to the left of the altar a sword.”260And there were of course Hitler’s speeches, Mein Kampf in action, obligatorily listened to by every German in a non-solitary situation at the time of their delivery, and bellowed from specially installed loudspeakers in all public places. It may be supposed that few people read Mein Kampf from cover to cover, for it is heavy fare for any reader – and how many ever take up ideological literature anyway? But its most accessible ideas were spread, repeated and commented upon all the time and everywhere in Naziland, and served as the mental framework of the life and work of its citizens.

One can agree with the second part of the Jäckel statement, that Mein Kampf was not understood, if this lack of understanding, or misunderstanding, refers to Hitler’s vision as a whole. On this point hardly any of the learned commentators, even with the advantage of present hindsight, are agreed – as little as the top Nazis around Hitler were agreed on it among themselves. This is the fundamental paradox of this book, which confers to it a special place in history. “Rarely and probably never in history has a ruler, before he came to power, put down in writing, as Adolf Hitler did, what he subsequently carried out” writes Jäckel, and he quotes Hans Gisevius: “If one reads Mein Kampf post facto, then one finds there everthing, really everything, what this man has done to the world.”261

Others speak of “an unreal candour”, which causes Zentner to label Mein Kampf a Bekenntnisbuch, a confession, which it was to the extent that Hitler in later years sometimes expressed regret of having written the book. Yet he gloated over the fact that most of his intimate thoughts were there for all to read, but – and this is the paradox – that hardly anybody understood or believed their meaning. One reason for the lack of understanding was that people in general are not capable of or interested in digesting theoretical, abstract thinking; another reason was that the book as a whole was the expression, albeit in a clumsy way, of a central vision in the author, the core of which he kept secret even from the people closest to him; and a third reason was that Mein Kampf, at the time it was written and read, aimed at the politically and ideologically impossible, and therefore not understandable, because incredible. If Mein Kampf is that important, then it is worth a closer look.

Mortal Enemy France

In the First World War the Germans were fighting on two fronts. This made the divided efforts of their armies indecisive, and the unending war caused ever greater suffering in the Fatherland. Because of this problematic situation the German power elite – the Army, the heavy industry and the banks – as one man supporting the military dictatorship of the duo Hindenburg-Ludendorff, did their utmost to bring about the downfall of the Russian empire. When Lenin came to power, it was thanks to the Germans – a fact conveniently forgotten by Hitler in his diatribes against Lenin and his “Judeo-Bolshevism”. The Peace of Brest-Litovsk, concluded on 9 February 1918 with the Ukraine and on 3 March with Russia, looks like the finishing off and robbing the corpse of a defenceless enemy.

The German troops were immediately transported from the eastern to the western front. Operation Michael, the great battle for France, was launched on 21 March. The first German successes were overwhelming and their armies, four years after August 1914, threatened Paris again. But the Americans had entered the war and the Allies, stronger and better armed than ever before, beat “the Hun” back. In August Ludendorff realized that defeat was inevitable and suffered a nervous breakdown. Now he and Hindenburg manoeuvred to let the politicians solve the enormous problem in which the German nation had got itself involved. The Kaiser, according to the armistice conditions laid down by the Allies, had to go. Left to themselves, the politicians of the German Socialist Party, the SPD, almost by accident proclaimed Germany a republic.

Such was the background for a catastrophic sequel to the First World War. After three years of frustration the Germans, because of Brest-Litovsk, had been certain of imminent and triumphant victory (“until the very end military censors had allowed only reports of victories; even the Reichstag was left in the dark”262); their armies had not been defeated; therefore the signatories of the armistice and afterwards of the “dictated” Treaty of Versailles, in the first place Matthias Erzberger, had betrayed their country. Germany was not guilty of starting the war; it had lost the war because it had been betrayed by the Social-Democrats, communists and Jews within its own house; the nation must become strong and powerful again and take revenge. These were the inexhaustible themes of Adolf Hitler, who had been as shocked as the rest of the German nation by the November debacle. We find them in all his speeches as a beer hall tribune, and they make up a substantial part of Mein Kampf.

But Germany was living a complex lie, which served as the justification for its hurt but not eradicated pride and unabated ambitions, and of which the importance and the consequences cannot be overrated. “The legend of the stab in the back”, the Dolchstosslegende, became widely accepted and was soon considered historical truth, which it remained for a generation and longer. Siegfried, the mythological hero, had slain a dragon and become invulnerable by bathing in its blood, except on one spot of his body. His wife Kriemhild found out that this spot was between his shoulder blades and foolishly told this to Hagen, who one day sneaked up behind Siegfried, plunged his dagger between his shoulders and killed him. Now, once again, “the fighting Siegfried [i.e. Germany] succumbed to the dagger plunged in his back [by the pacifist Social-Democrats and other ‘Jews’]”, wrote Hitler in Mein Kampf.263This untruth, a lie called legend, launched by Hindenburg before a commission examining the cause of the German collapse, was reinforced and propagated by Ludendorff, and was still believed in after Hitler had done his damage. “It has poisoned, as nothing else, the internal political atmosphere of the Weimar Republic.”264

The Treaty of Versailles, signed on 28 June 1919 in the Hall of Mirrors at the Versailles palace of Louis XIV, was another cause of German and Hitlerian wrath, and the author of Mein Kampf used his choicest vocabulary for lashing out at it. Versailles was “a scandal and a disgrace, and the dictate signified an act of highway robbery against our people”; it was “an instrument of unrestricted oppression”, “like a whip-lash on the [German] people”, “an instrument of unlimited blackmail and shameful humiliation”, showing “the sadist cruelty” of the dictators. “Each point of that Treaty should have been engraved on the minds and hearts of the German people and burned into them, until sixty million men and women would find their souls aflame with a feeling of rage and shame, and a torrent of fire would burst forth as from a furnace, and one common will would be forged from it, like a sword of steel. Then the people would join in the common cry: ‘To arms again!’”265

Many authors still assert that the harsh terms of the Versailles Treaty were an immediate cause of Nazism and the Second World War. They might ponder for a while the words of Fest: “The terms in fact could stand comparison with the conditions Germany had imposed on Russia in the treaty of Brest-Litovsk and on Rumania in the Treaty of Bucharest.”266Shirer gives some specifics concerning Brest-Litovsk, “a peace treaty which to a British historian, writing two decades after the passions had cooled, was a ‘humiliation without precedent or equal in modern history’. It deprived Russia of a territory nearly as large as Austria-Hungary and Turkey combined, with 56 000 000 inhabitants, or 32 per cent of her whole population; a third of her railway mileage, 73 per cent of her total iron ore, 89 per cent of her total coal production; and more than 5000 factories and industrial plants.”267But Brest-Litovsk is “the forgotten treaty”, though it was not forgotten by Hitler who, as an army propagandist, wrote “a circular” and gave several talks on it, as he did later for the DAP. “I compared the two treaties [Versailles and Brest-Litovsk] with one another, point by point, and showed how in truth the one treaty [Brest-Litovsk] was immensely humane, in contradiction to the inhuman barbarity of the other [Versailles].”268

In truth, the “war aims” (Kriegsziele) of the Germans, formulated by Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg in September 1914, after the war had started, and expanded by the Pan-Germans and the pressure group from the heavy German industry and the banks, were much more comprising and much more merciless than the dictate of Versailles. 1. Germany was to expand into a Mitteleuropa (a central European block) and exert political and commercial domination over France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Austria-Hungary, Poland, and eventually Italy, Sweden and Norway; 2. France would have to part with the coal and iron basins of Longwy-Briey and the Atlantic ports facing southern England; it would have to pay reparations “so high that it would not be able to finance its rearmament in the next fifteen to twenty years”; it would have to become permanently dependent commercially on Germany as a German Exportland; 3. Belgium would have to cede the region around Liege plus the port of Antwerp, at the time the busiest in Europe; commercially it would become a German province; 4. Some of the French colonies and most of the Belgian Congo would fall to Germany; 5. To the above should be added the necessary conquests which would give Germany access to the wheat fields and ore basins of Russia and to the oil fields in the Middle East, a war aim prefigured in the peacetime construction of the Berlin-Baghdad railway.269

This was the minimum programme the German leadership had in mind, to be carried out if they won the war; the conditions of the Peace of Brest-Litovsk were only part of it. One finds this programme seldom, if ever, mentioned in the history books meant for general consumption, although it illustrates with great clarity the objectives which caused on two occasions death and destruction on such a horrendous scale. Hitler kept these war aims in mind and executed them almost to the letter.

The historical awareness of Germany, and of the rest of the world, had to wait till 1961, the year Fritz Fischer published his Griff nach der Weltmacht (the bid for world power), to be reminded of the German intentions at the beginning of the 20th century. And the Germans had to wait to be told by the same Hamburg historian, fifty-seven years and another world war after the fact, that in 1914 Germany “carried the decisive part of the historical responsibility for the outbreak of the general war”,270and that article 231 of the Versailles Treaty, the “war guilt article” which stated this responsibility, was not unjustified. Fischer’s bold but unpleasant revelations, sober in their wording and erudite in their justifications, caused an uproar which has not yet died down completely.

Humiliation of an undefeated nation, the stab in the back, victimisation by an inhuman treaty and the wrongful accusation of having started the war: this arsenal of injustices, misrepresentation and offended patriotic feelings provided abundant ammunition for Hitler’s broadsides against “Germany’s enemies”, real or imagined, internal and international. (And exposing the whole lot as Jews always elicited consent from his audiences.) France, however, was his favourite target among the Allies. This country was “a victor which should not have been one”, for it was unjust “that such a highly developed cultural people as the Germans had lost the war”.271For Hitler France “was and would remain the implacable enemy of Germany”, “the mortal enemy of the nation”. “The French nation which is slowly dying out”, he wrote, “not so much through depopulation as through the disappearance of the best elements in the race, can continue to play an important role in the world only if Germany be destroyed. French policy may take a thousand detours on the march towards its fixed goal, but the destruction of Germany is the end which it always has in view as the fulfilment of the most profound yearning and ultimate intentions of the French.”272

The fanatical racist in Hitler had been stung by the French stationing, in 1923, coloured Senegalese troops in the occupied Rhineland. This was to him a direct attack on the blood stock of Aryan Germany aiming at its racial degradation, and he would never forgive the French for the dastardly act. (In 1937 the children of these African soldiers and German woman were among the first to be sterilized in the eugenic scheme of the Third Reich.273) “As long as the eternal conflict between France and Germany is waged only in the form of a German defence against the French attack, that conflict can never be decided and from century to century Germany will lose one position after another … Only when the Germans have taken all this fully into account will they cease from allowing the national will-to-life to wear itself out in merely passive defence; but they will rally together for a last decisive contest with France. And in this contest the essential objective of the German nation will be fought for. Only then will it be possible to put an end to the eternal Franco-German conflict which has hitherto proved sterile.”274

In the evaluation of Hitler’s actions, the war in Western Europe is nowadays often looked down upon as of secondary importance in comparison with the attempted conquest of Eastern Europe. Yet the putting down of France and its “civilization” by the Nordic Germans and their Kultur was a prime part of the German aspiration and of Hitler’s personal ambitions. He, who had spent four years of his youth in the dust and mud of trenches dug in French soil, would one day reverse the armistice signed on 11 November 1918 in that train wagon in the forest of Compiègne, and ride one early morning in June 1940 as conqueror through the streets of Paris.

“The System”

The language Hitler used when he wrote or talked about the government of the Weimar Republic was even worse than the way he talked about the hated French. “November criminals”, designating all Leftists and Jews allegedly responsible for the armistice and related events, was used by him on uncountable occasions and became a sort of political concept in Naziland. But there was much more, and better, also in Mein Kampf; for if the war with France had to be envisaged in the future, the struggle with the Left and their centrist partners in government was happening in the present; it had to be won before the power could be gained and the revenge against Germany’s mortal enemy prepared.

Hitler called the government “the present Jewish-Democratic Reich, which has become a veritable curse for the German people”; they were “those ruffians of Jews who came into power in 1918 and were able to rob the nation of its arms”; they were “a gang of bandits”.275“According to the laws that govern human history, it is inconceivable that the German people could resume the place they formerly held without retaliating on those who were both cause and occasion of the collapse that involved the ruin of our State. Before the judgment seat of posterity November 1918 will not be regarded as a simple rebellion but as high-treason against the country.”276

“On the most miserable of pretexts these parliamentary party henchmen filched from the hands of the nation and threw away the weapons which were needed to maintain its existence and therewith defend the liberty and independence of our people.” The Versailles Treaty abolished the German navy and air force, limited the army to 100 000 men and severely restricted its armament. “If the graves on the plains of Flanders were to open today the blood-stained accusers would arise, hundreds of thousands of our best German youth who were driven into the arms of death by those conscienceless parliamentary ruffians who were either wrongly educated for their task or only half-educated. Those youths and other millions of the killed and mutilated were lost to the Fatherland simply and solely in order that a few hundred deceivers of the people might carry out their political manoeuvres and their exactions or even treasonably pursue their doctrinaire theories.”277

What actually happened in that fateful month of November 1918? We know that Ludendorff and Hindenburg realized that the war was lost, that Germany had to come to terms with its enemies, that therefore the Kaiser had to go – and that the Supreme War Lord and his Quarter-Master General managed to shift this whole burden to the ineffective and powerless government of which Max von Baden was the chancellor at that moment. Then “Prince Max bowed out, handing over the government to the moderate leader of the Social Democrats, Friedrich Ebert, a forty-year-old saddler and trade union leader.

“Like many other Social Democrats, Ebert favoured the establishment of a constitutional monarchy on the British pattern, but his hopes were scuppered by his deputy, Philipp Scheidemann, who proclaimed a republic almost accidentally. Scheidemann had rushed to the Reichstag to tell his colleagues of Ebert’s appointment. Having done so, he was eating lunch in the restaurant when he was told that Karl Liebknecht, the leader of the extreme left Spartacus Party, was setting up camp in the Royal Palace, from where he intended to announce a soviet-style republic modelled on Lenin’s Russia … There was no time to lose. Leaving his meal, he strode out on to the small balcony outside the Reich library. The vast crowd cheered his appearance, then quietened as he began an off-the-cuff speech … Needing a rousing finish, he cried: “The rotten old monarchy has collapsed. Long live the new [government]! Long live the German Republic!’ And so it was done, almost as an afterthought.”278

The records are there to prove that Ebert the saddler and Scheidemann the journalist were men of goodwill who did their best to keep Germany afloat in stormy circumstances which were not of their making. The burden shoved unto their shoulders by the defeated and sneaky pin-helmeted warlords would have been too heavy for whomever. “Within Germany, the bitterness over the terms of the peace treaty increased the resentment against the republic, for it had proved incapable of sparing the country the distress and privations of this ‘shameful dictated peace’ … To a growing number of Germans the very term ‘republic’ seemed synonymous with disgrace, dishonour, and powerlessness. The feeling persisted that the republic had been imposed on the Germans by deception and coercion, that it was something altogether alien to their nature. It is true that in spite of all its drawbacks it held a certain promise; but even in its few fortunate years its was ‘unable to arouse either the loyalty or the political imagination of the people’.”279

The Versailles Treaty “was a peace that was no peace in the eyes of most Germans”, writes Maurersberger. “All at once it had become clear, also to the last German in favour of reconciliation, that the European Allies of the USA did not want to negotiate, but that their only objective was to annihilate the political and economic power of Germany once and for all.”280Matthias Erzberger, the minister who accepted to sign the Treaty of Versailles and thereby solve an otherwise insoluble situation, became the scapegoat. The nationalist press wrote: “It is on the majority wanting peace and their leader Erzberger that rests the responsibility for the blood of the millions who died since the summer of 1917, for the thousands of millions marks which were lost to Germany and the culture of the world, and for the shameful peace under which the German people are now sighing.”281Erzberger would be assassinated by members of Organization Consul; Ludendorff would be fêted in Weimar as “the völkisch king” and Hindenburg would be honoured as the Ersatz Kaiser, substitute emperor, and elected president in 1925.

“The Weimar Constitution was felt as something superimposed on Germany by the Western Powers – which would make Germany like the rest of Western culture – something alien to German racial and national tradition, making it cosmopolitan and rational, something which was foreign to its history.”282This explains the term “the System”, denigratingly used for the Weimar Constitution and its form of government, which were directly inspired by the ideals of the Enlightenment and therefore by Reason. The German rooted, traditional, völkisch, hierarchical sense of values and of belonging felt “the System”, the political contract, as unnatural and therefore inimical. “The fear of the bourgeois class for democracy and social change was so intense that it decided against the Republic and in favour of a new authoritarian state”283– which was to be the Nazi state.

“Germany, Awake!”

Dietrich Eckart’s pithy exhortation, embroidered on all Party banners, was an important component of Mein Kampf, which was after all the announcement and the programme of the man who intended to lead a resurrected Germany towards its glorious future. Yet the real meaning of this exhortation was not its literal meaning; having fought a war, mourned its dead, being shaken by revolts and obliged to fight for its daily sustenance, Germany had had no time to fall asleep. What the Eckart-Hitler slogan meant was that Germany must regain its place and power as the foremost nation of the world, that it must rebuild all means necessary to occupy its rightful place on the globe after having been humbled so shamefully by other nations. Pre-war slogans were still in use whenever national feelings welled up: Heute Deutschland, morgen die ganze Welt! (today Germany, tomorrow the whole world); Den Deutschen gehört die Welt! (the world belongs to the Germans); Deutschland über alles in der Welt! (Germany above all else in the world); and everybody still knew by heart songs like Die Wacht am Rhein (the guard on the Rhine). There were numerous nationalist and völkisch associations in the country and all published their literature, of which these songs and slogans contained the essential message in a nutshell.

At this phase of our story colonialism was at its zenith, the white race thought of itself as the finest fruit on the tree of evolution and its culture was the acme of the human mind. The Germanic peoples were convinced that they occupied the highest rung on the hierarchical ladder within the white race, and if they were not too sure of what “Germanic” meant they called themselves “Nordics”, and if they were uncertain about that they were “Aryans”. But all three terms were problematic. The word “Germanic” was of Latin origin, germanus, and may originally have meant nothing more than an amalgam of barbarians beyond the Rhine. This amalgam was complex, for even Hans Günther, the leading Nazi racial scientist, had to concede that the Germanic people consisted of Nordic, Alpine and Mediterranean elements. To these one should add the considerable part of the German population that was of Slavonic origin; for the original Prussians were a Slavonic tribe, and Germanic people had intermingled with Poles, Balts, Russians and many others during the centuries of their struggles and conquests on their eastern borders.

Some German racists, playing it safe, called themselves “Nordics” and included the Scandinavian and Icelandic peoples among the elect. Otherwise how to explain that the largest part of the “authentic” Germanic customs and traditions, so much admired by völkisch nostalgia and rendered visually famous by the costumes of the Wagnerian heroes and heroines, were in fact those of the Vikings, who were Scandinavians? And how to explain that most artefacts of the earliest “Germanic” times, many inscribed with runes, were found in Sweden?

Most problematical, however, was the term “Aryans”, for “originally the Aryan question was a linguistic question. It appeared in 1776 when William Jones was struck by the resemblance between several languages: Sanskrit, Greek, Latin, German, etc. These languages were then brought together into one family, and their resemblance was accounted for by the fact that all of them derived from the same original language, which in 1813 was baptized ‘Indo-European’ by Thomas Young … This original language was supposed to have been the language of a people which was also called ‘Indo-European’, and which was supposed to have lived in former times somewhere between central Asia and eastern Europe. (There were theories about many different locations, from India to northern Scandinavia.) This means that a language was made [illicitly] into a people, and that this people was made [illicitly] into a race.”284The Aryan race existed only in the imagination of some scholarly racists, who released their pure-bred chimera into the fields of the imagination of a presumptuous Germany. “Every manifestation of human culture, every product of art, science and technical skill which we see before our eyes today, is almost exclusively the product of the Aryan creative power”, wrote Hitler in Mein Kampf. “This very fact justifies the conclusion that it was the Aryan alone who founded a superior type of humanity; therefore he represents the archetype of what we understand by the term MAN. He is the Prometheus of mankind, from whose shining brow the divine spark of genius has at all times flashed forth, always kindling anew that fire which, in the form of knowledge, illuminated the dark night by drawing aside the veil of mystery and thus showing man how to rise and become master over all the other beings on the earth. Should he be forced to disappear, a profound darkness will descend on the earth; within a few thousand years human culture will vanish and the world will become a desert.

“If we divide mankind into three categories – founders of culture, bearers of culture and destroyers of culture – the Aryan alone can be considered as representing the first category … It is the Aryan who has furnished the great building-stones and plans for the edifices of all human progress; only the way in which these plans have been executed is to be attributed to the qualities of each individual race.”285The Aryan was “the standard-bearer of human progress”. “It will be a greater honour to be a citizen of this Reich, even as a street-sweeper, than to be the king of a foreign state.”286For the Aryan is “the highest image of the Lord,”287and the Aryans are “a race destined to become master of all the other peoples and which will have at its disposal the means and resources of the whole world.”288And Hitler said later in a speech to his youth at Ordensburg Sonthofen: “We want to take our Volk to the very first rang! Whether they like us, is of no interest to us, if only they respect us! Whether they hate us, is of no importance to us, if only they fear us!”289“They” were the others, the non-German humans on the levels below the Aryans, but also the Aryan Germans who misunderstood or withstood their Führer.

“Although much may be very questionable, the results of science cannot alter one important fact: that the ‘meaning of world history’, irradiating from the North, has spread over the whole earth, carried by a blue-eyed, blonde race, which in several cultural waves determined the cultural outlook of the world”, averred Alfred Rosenberg, the official theorist of Nazi ideology, in his Myth of the Twentieth Century. The Nordic-racist Atlantis myth of the people with the blue eyes, blonde hair, pinkish skin, dolichocephalic and tall “reached a public of millions through Blavatsky for the Theosophists, Steiner for the Anthroposophists, List and Lanz for the Ariosophists, and Rosenberg and Wirth [founder of the SS-Ahnenerbe] for the National-Socialists”.290

How was the Germanic-Nordic-Aryan race held together and how did it propagate itself? Through the blood. “What makes a people or, to be more correct, a race is not language but blood.”291In the veins of a pure race runs pure blood, or rather if pure blood runs in the veins of a race, this race is pure; the blood is the carrier of its life. For the racists the blood became a mystic concept, surviving from animistic times when humanity had no other idea of the way in which characteristics could be inherited. In matters of race, and therefore of basic existence, all depended on the purity or impurity of the blood. The existence of a people, of a Volk, could be degraded by mixing its pure blood with the putrid blood of degenerated races. This was one of the fundamental ideas of the völkisch movement, propagated in the literature of the Germanenorden and the Thule Society. “Keep your blood pure!” was one of their slogans, and Arthur Dinter’s novel The Sin against the Blood was a best-seller in Germany during the inter-war period. As sexual contact was the only way of mixing blood with blood, one finds here the nexus with the widespread sexual and even pornographic character assassination of those intentional spoilers of the Aryan blood: the Jews.

“If nature does not wish that weaker individuals should mate with the stronger”, one reads in Mein Kampf, “she wishes even less that a superior race should intermingle with an inferior one; because in such a case all her efforts, throughout hundreds of thousands of years, to establish an evolutionary higher stage of being, may thus be rendered futile. History furnishes us with innumerable instances that prove this law. It shows, with a startling clarity, that whenever Aryans have mingled their blood with that of an inferior race the result has been a downfall of the people who were the standard-bearers of a higher culture … In short, the results of miscegenation are always the following: (a) the level of the superior race becomes lowered; (b) physical and mental degeneration sets in, thus leading slowly but steadily towards a progressive drying up of the vital sap. The act which brings about such a development is a sin against the Eternal Creator. And as a sin this act will be avenged.”292

“Racism and Darwinism are entering into a symbiosis in Hitler’s Mein Kampf”, writes Zentner.293The link is obvious: pure blood means a healthy, strong, superior race; mixing of the blood results in degeneration. The fittest, the purest of blood survive. But here racism drew an un-Darwinian conclusion: the fittest-purest also have the right, conferred by Nature or “the Lord”, to dominate the others. Of course, their whole line of reasoning accorded with the inclusion of the human race into the animal kingdom, something which Linnaeus was the first to do and a theory which, if consequently applied, swept away in one go all humanistic, religious and spiritual values.

“The ideology which bases the state on the racial idea must finally succeed in bringing about a nobler era, in which men will no longer pay exclusive attention to breeding and rearing pedigree dogs and horses and cats, but will endeavour to improve the breed of the human race itself,” teaches Hitler in Mein Kampf. According to this “veterinarian ideology”, as one commentator calls it, “what is stronger must dominate and not mate with what is weaker, which would mean the sacrifice of its own higher nature”. This is “a fundamental law – one may call it an iron law of nature”. “The movement ought to educate its adherents to the principle that struggle must not be considered a necessary evil but something to be desired in itself.”294“War is what is most natural, most common”, said Hitler to Hermann Rauschning. “War is always. There is no beginning, there is no peace at the end. War is life.”295“Nature knows no political borders. She puts the living beings on this planet and looks on at the free play of forces. Who has the strongest courage and industry obtains then, as her dearest child, the right of the lordship over all beings.”296One Nazi leader summed it up: “National Socialism is applied biology.”297

The Leader and the Masses

In Mein Kampf Hitler left no doubt as to who was going to lead the Aryans in their struggle for supremacy. Although the book was written at a time when still several candidate-dictators were around, and Hitler never names himself, one does not have to cogitate much before finding out whom he means for instance in the following lines: “It is a characteristic feature of all great reforms that in the beginning there is only one single protagonist to come forward on behalf of several millions of people. The final goal of a great reformation has often been the object of profound longing on the part of hundreds of thousands for many centuries before, until finally one of them comes forward as a herald to announce the will of that multitude and becomes the standard-bearer of the old yearning, which he now leads to a new realization in a new idea.”298

To dominate the masses, Hitler-the-Leader had been gifted with the power of the spoken word and was very much aware of its potential; he had been able to test out “the superior oratorical art of a man who has the compelling character of an apostle” on audiences of all kinds, small and large. “The force which has ever and always set in motion great historical avalanches of religious and political movements is the magic power of the spoken word. The broad masses of a population are more amenable to the appeal of rhetoric than to any other force. All great movements are popular movements. They are the volcanic eruptions of human passions and emotions, stirred into activity by the ruthless Goddess of Distress or by the torch of the spoken word cast into the midst of the people. In no case have great movements been set afoot by the syrupy effusions of aesthetic litterateurs and drawing-room heroes. The doom of a nation can be averted only by a storm of glowing passion: but only those who are passionate themselves can arouse passion in others.”299The passionately spoken word was, with the tenacity of his convictions and the influence which at times emanated from his presence, Hitler’s trump card in his climb to power.

“The psyche of the broad masses is accessible only to what is strong and uncompromising. Like a woman whose inner sensibilities are not so much under the sway of abstract reasoning but are always subject to the influence of a vague emotional longing for the strength that completes her being, and who would rather bow to the strong man than dominate the weakling – in like manner the masses of the people prefer the ruler to the suppliant and are filled with a stronger sense of mental security by a teaching that brooks no rival than by a teaching which offers them a liberal choice. They have very little idea of how to make such a choice and thus they are prone to feel that they have been abandoned … They are scarcely conscious that their freedom as human beings is impudently abused, and thus they have not the slightest suspicion of the intrinsic fallacy of the whole doctrine. They see only the ruthless force and brutality of its determined utterances, to which they always submit.”300

What is so unsettling about Mein Kampf is the barefaced disdain with which Hitler wrote about “the masses” who were after all his own audiences – who were the German people. This may have been the main reason why in later years he expressed regret about having written the book, for on so many pages was set down that the leader of the German masses, their adored Führer, would not hesitate to use and abuse them, indeed that it was his intention to do so. He should not have bothered, though; the atmosphere created in a limited way at the meetings and afterwards in a general way when the whole of Germany had become his theatre and audience, proved prohibitive to the use of the faculty of reason. Hitler could write freely about “millions of German imbeciles”, “the dunder-headed multitude”, “the vacillating crowd of human children”, “the feebleness of their understanding and the quickness of their forgetting”: they would applaud him frantically nonetheless. This proved that his insight in the psychology of the masses was right, whether he got it from Gustave Le Bon or Georges Sorel via Eckart, from reading The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, or from his own intuition and experience. Hitler, the theatre man, was a genius at mass psychology, which made him a genius at propaganda; and when he picked out Joseph Goebbels as his right-hand man in these fields, his intuition was proved correct once more.

We are now at the heart of the German tragedy. Hitler sought not only to dominate the masses: his objective from the first to the last was to use them. “The readiness to sacrifice one’s personal work and, if necessary, even one’s life for others shows its most highly developed form in the Aryan race. The greatness of the Aryan is not based on his intellectual powers, but rather on his willingness to devote all his faculties to the service of the community. Here the instinct for self-preservation has reached its noblest form; for the Aryan willingly subordinates his own ego to the common weal and when necessity calls he will even sacrifice his own life to the community.”301Being against the acquisitions of the Enlightenment, Nazism was against all forms of individualism. The total uniformization of Germany, the forests of stiffly raised arms, the clicking of boot heels, the endlessly pulsating roars of Sieg Heil! – all of that was an unmistakable warning which was not heeded. “What Hitler had in mind”, writes Zentner, “was the inner unity of the nation, welded into a strictly organized marching column, prepared for self-sacrifice and ready at any time to execute any order of the National-Socialist leadership”.302Hitler compared the unified masses which were the nation to a sword, his weapon to wage war. “War and destruction were essential to restore the shaky balance of the world: that was the morality and the metaphysics of his politics.” (Fest303) He formulated these objectives quite openly: “To forge this sword is the task of the interior political leadership; to secure the forging and look for allies in the battle is the task of the exterior political leadership.”304

“One should seriously doubt if Hitler has loved the Germans”, ruminates Eberhard Jäckel.305“I know that I have to be a stern educator. I first have to create the Volk before I can think of solving the problems we as a nation are confronted with in the present time”, said Hitler to Rauschning. “We have to be prepared for the toughest struggle which a people ever had to wage. It is only through such a test of the will that we can grow ready for the overlordship to which we are called. It will be my duty to wage this war without concern for the losses. The blood sacrifices will be enormous. Anyone of us knows what total war means … Towns will become ruins, noble buildings will disappear for ever. This time our sacred soil will not be spared. But I don’t fear this. We will stand firm, we will not stop fighting. Germany will arise from these ruins more beautiful and greater than any country in the world, ever.”306

Blind Faith

Writing in Mein Kampf about his first contacts with the DAP in September 1919, Hitler says that, after long reflection, he came to the conclusion that “what had to be proclaimed here was a new ideology and not a new political slogan”.307That this reflection was not a solitary exercise has become evident in the first chapters of our story. May it be reminded that, amazingly, he entered the circle of Harrer and Drexler with an ideology apparently ready to be put into practice, that he “wanted to found a party” of his own, and that his plans were to use the insignificant DAP to this end.

In 1924, when writing the first part of Mein Kampf in the prison at Landsberg, his dreams and visions had already been concretized to a considerable extent. True, the beginnings of Hitler’s work seemed modest and the accomplishment of his ambitions questionable to most observers at the time, but not to Adolf Hitler himself. The effect the Landsberg retreat had on Hitler was that of a complete reassurance about his vocation and a total confidence in the execution of his mission. Discretion still prevented him from proclaiming himself Führer of the German nation, but in the pages of Mein Kampf he leaves no doubt as to who and what he was, without naming himself as such.

“Do you feel that Providence has called you to proclaim the Truth to the world? If so, then go and do it”, Hitler wrote. “But you ought to have the courage to do it directly and not use some political party as your mouthpiece, for in this way you shirk your vocation. [‘Using a political party’ here means using its programme without being able to proclaim an authentic, personal one.] In the place of something that now exists and is bad, put something else that is better and will last into the future.” “Out of the army of millions who feel the truth of these [völkisch, nationalist and anti-Semitic] ideas, and even may understand them to some extent, one man must arise. This man must have the gift of being able to expound general ideas in a clear and definite form and, from the world of vague ideas shimmering before the mind of the masses, he must formulate principles that will be as clear-cut and firm as granite. He must fight for these principles as the only true ones, until a solid rock of common faith and common will emerges above the troubled waves of vagrant ideas. The general justification of such action is to be sought in the necessity for it and the individual will be justified by his success.” There is no doubt which man the author had in mind. “Genius of an extraordinary stamp is not to be judged by normal standards whereby we judge other men.”308

Hitler saw himself as a man of ideas and their practical executioner bundled into one: “When the abilities of theorist and organizer and leader are united in one person, then we have the rarest phenomenon on this earth. And it is that union which produces the great man.” “Within long spans of human progress it may occasionally happen that the practical politician and the political philosopher are one. The more intimate this union is, the greater will be the obstacles which the activity of the politician will have to encounter. Such a man does not labour for the purpose of satisfying demands that are obvious to every philistine, but he reaches out towards ends which can be understood only by the few. His life is torn asunder by hatred and love. The protest of the contemporaries, who do not understand the man, is in conflict with the recognition of posterity, for whom he also works … The great protagonists [of history] are those who fight for their ideas and ideals despite the fact that they receive no recognition at the hands of their contemporaries. They are the men whose memories will be enshrined in the hearts of the future generations.”309Hitler was already building a mausoleum for himself and reserving his place in the Walhalla of the great.

“One thing is certain”, he declared, “our world is facing a great revolution”.310According to Jäckel, “Hitler considered himself to be the prophet of a new world vision.”311This is true but perhaps stated too mildly. In any case, Hitler himself repeatedly wrote that he stood for “a new and great idea”, “a novel missionary idea”. “Political parties are prone to enter compromises, but an ideology never does this. A political party is inclined to adjust its teachings with a view of meeting the teachings of its opponents, but an ideology proclaims its own infallibility. While the programme of the ordinary political party is nothing but the recipe for cooking up favourable results out of the next general elections, the programme of an ideology represents a declaration of war against an existing order of things, against present conditions, in short, against the established ideology.”312In sum, Hitler had a new message for the world, a new ideology or Weltanschauung “pure and absolutely true”, a new creed or gospel, a new Faith.

To give his vision a concrete shape in the world he needed an organized body of men who would execute his commands. Religious world-reformers call this a Church; Hitler will later call it “an Order”, and even say “we too are a Church”. In the beginning of his political career, however, he could not but call it a political party. “It is the task of such an organization to transmit a certain idea which originated in the brain of an individual to a multitude of people and to supervise the manner in which this idea is being put into practice.” “From general ideas a political programme must be constructed and a general ideology must receive the stamp of a definite political faith.” “That is why the programme of the new movement [the NSDAP] was condensed into a few fundamental postulates, twenty-five in all. They are meant first of all to give the ordinary man a rough sketch of what the movement is aiming at. They are, so to say, a profession of faith which on the one hand is meant to win adherents to the movement and, on the other hand, to unite such adherents together in a covenant to which all have subscribed.” “For the majority of our followers the essence of the movement will consist not so much in the letter of our theses as in the meaning which we attribute to them.”313This last phrase should be read: “as in the meaning which I attribute to them”.

Once the twenty-five articles of his creed had been formulated, Hitler never allowed them to be changed, although some of them became irrelevant as the national-socialist movement marched on. Their literal meaning was not really important. The creed was like a shell, symbolical, dogmatic, to be learned by heart and professed by the mass of followers, while inside that shell or behind the dogma there lived and acted the spirit that knew – and which was Hitler’s spirit. This explains why he kept his NSDAP separated so trenchantly from the völkisch movement, which professed for the most part some vaguely romantic and even sentimental notions, and which was a mass of motley trends from Wotanism to nudism. To Hitler, being völkisch was a pose or a game, if not a flight from reality; being a Hitlerite, on the contrary, was a matter of imminent worldwide revolution.

Hitler did not hesitate to pour ridicule on the völkisch movement, in which the Nazi movement had its roots and with which it was closely associated in the eyes of its own followers and of the general public. “Not less dangerous are those who run about as semi-volkists formulating fantastic schemes which are mostly based on nothing else than a fixed idea which in itself might be right but which, because it is an isolated notion, is of no use whatsoever for the formation of a great homogeneous fighting association and could by no means serve as the basis of its organization … At best they are sterile theorists but more frequently they are mischievous agitators of the public mind.” One might ask where Hitler had come by his ideas and how mischievous he was. “They believe that they can mask their intellectual vanity, the futility of their efforts and their lack of ability, by sporting flowing beards and indulging in ancient German gestures.”314The last sentence was aimed at such organizations like the Germanenorden and the disciples of Guido von List and Lanz von Liebenfels to whom, after all, Hitler was indebted, but from whom he now wanted to dissociate himself.

A Militant Movement

Hitler owed the successes of his NSDAP to his insight that, in the given post-war circumstances, no new party could make headway if it was not able to stand up to the other parties, the Socialists and especially the Communists, with brute force, for they ruled the streets and broke up any meeting or manifestation which was not to their liking. Humanity being what it is, Hitler was right in concluding from History that a revolutionary idea needs a revolutionary movement to make its physical appearance and growth possible in society.

He wrote: “Any ideology, though a thousand times right and supremely beneficial to humanity, will be of no practical service for the maintenance of a people as long as its principles have not yet become the rallying point of a militant movement … If an abstract conception of a general nature is to serve as the basis of a future development, then the first prerequisite is to form a clear understanding of the nature and scope of this conception. For only on such a basis can a movement be founded which will be able to draw the necessary fighting strength from the internal cohesion of its principles and convictions. From general ideas a political programme must be constructed and a general ideology must receive the stamp of a definite political faith.” “We had declared one of our principles thus: ‘We shall meet violence with violence in our own defence’. Naturally that principle disturbed the equanimity of the knights of the pen. They reproached us bitterly not only for what they called our crude worship of the cudgel but also because, according to them, we had no intellectual forces on our side. These charlatans did not think for a moment that a Demosthenes could be reduced to silence at a mass-meeting by fifty idiots who had come there to shout him down and use their fists against his supporters.” “We, by our aggressive policy, are setting up a new ideology which we shall defend with indomitable devotion.”315

“Faith” and “devotion” are religious terms, used by Hitler freely and intentionally, for the new ideology of which he was the prophet was not a political programme to be realized by a political party and with political objectives: it was a fundamental and therefore religious creed, intended to use the German nation as an instrument for conquest of the world and the establishment of a new world order. Hitler as a human being may have been petty and in some ways ridiculous, but the vision which had taken hold of him was world-encompassing and did cause global upheaval. “Do you now understand the depth of our national-socialist movement?” he asked Hermann Rauschning after having lifted a tip of the veil. “Can there be something that is greater and more comprehensive? He who has understood National-Socialism as no more than a political movement doesn’t know anything about it.”316

Hitler defended keeping his party programme unchanged by writing: “The function which dogma fulfils in religious belief is parallel to the function which party principles fulfil for a political party which is in the process of being built up … A doctrine which forms a definite outlook on life cannot struggle and triumph by allowing the right of free interpretation of its general teaching, but only by defining that teaching in certain articles of faith that have to be accepted and incorporating it in a political organization.” “The essentials of a teaching must never be looked for in external formulas, but always in its inner meaning. And this meaning is unchangeable.”317The essentials of Hitler’s teaching were indeed unchangeable – in his own head; so many of the people more or less close to him have testified to the fixity of his leading ideas, and to their secrecy. About his new gospel he wrote the following dreadful but revealing words: “A revolutionary conception of the world and human existence will always achieve decisive success when the new ideology has been taught to a whole people, or subsequently forced upon them if necessary, and when, on the other hand, the central organization, the movement itself, is in the hands of only those few men who are absolutely indispensable to form the nerve-centres of the coming State.”318The man foresaw all essentials of his future reign of terror, and they were written there for all to read.

“Since the first day of our foundation we were resolved to secure the future of the movement by fighting our way forward in a spirit of blessed faith and ruthless determination”, writes Hitler. “If the struggle on behalf of an ideology is not conducted by men of heroic spirit who are ready to sacrifice everything, within a short while it will become impossible to find real fighting followers who are ready to lay down their lives for the cause … In order to secure the conditions that are necessary for success, everybody concerned must be made to understand that the new movement looks to posterity for its honour and glory but that it has no recompense to offer to the present-day members.” “It is always more difficult to fight successfully against faith than against knowledge. Love is less subject to change than respect. Hatred is more lasting than mere aversion. And the driving force which has brought about the most tremendous revolutions on this earth has never been a body of scientific teaching which has gained power over the mass, but always a devotion which has inspired them, and often a kind of hysteria which has urged them to action.”319

In this connection Ralph Reuth quotes Goebbels: “Goebbels reflected once: ‘What we want is according to the laws of science not attainable and not to be achieved. We know that. But we act nevertheless according to our thought because we believe in miracles, in the impossible and unattainable. To us, politics is the miracle of the impossible!’” And Reuth comments: “In this irrationality, in this metaphysics of blind faith lay the actual essence of National-Socialism as a political religion.”320Because Hitler kept his most intimate thoughts a secret, “Germany subjected itself to a religion it did not know; it followed rites it did not understand; it exulted and died for a mysterium in which it was not initiated. Only ‘the Führer’ had real knowledge, no National-Socialist doubted that. And the Führer kept to himself what he did not want to share with others.”321

“Hitler has shown his political abilities also by the fact that he always discussed his political plans in detail only within a certain circle, and let only very few have a glimpse of the interconnection between his ideas as a whole. Before he came to power, the main reason for this was that only very few of those lower middle class bourgeois, who were his closest backers, could stretch their minds wide enough not to recoil before new ideas which surpassed all boundaries of a ‘reasonable’ nationalism and socialism. Hitler was already suspect as an illumined seer and fantast with the ‘realists’ in the party. That precisely the ‘fantastic’ ideas of Hitler would made it possible for him to go his peculiar way, which gave the lie to all sceptics, was in those days understandable only to a few.” (Hermann Rauschning322)

“Great Master of the Lie”

If the Aryan was “the Prometheus of mankind, from whose shining brow the divine spark of genius has at all times flashed forth”, his antagonist was the Jew. “The Jew offers the most striking contrast to the Aryan”, wrote Hitler. “There is probably no other people in the world who have so developed the instinct of self-preservation as the so-called ‘chosen’ people. The best proof of this statement is found in the simple fact that this race still exists. Where can another people be found that in the course of the last two thousand years has undergone so few changes in mental outlook and character as the Jewish people? … What an infinitely tenacious will-to-live, to preserve one’s kind, is demonstrated by that fact!”323In these words one may find why Fest writes that “[Hitler] admired the Jews … Basically, he regarded them as something like negative supermen.”324

However, on the globe there was place for only one chosen people, the Aryans. And if there was a rare touch of admiration for the Jews in Hitler’s writings, it was covered over by the much stronger, all-pervading feeling of hate which Hitler entertained towards them from the very beginning of his political career till the time he dictated his political testament, a few hours before his death. “His expansionist dreams for Germany, his concern with the fate of Europe as well as issues of world domination, and his advocacy of a single leader principle all involved a global messianic touch. What is more, this universalist-missionary touch appeared not only two decades later but also before Mein Kampf was written … It was part and parcel of a persistent ideological stance in which, with great grandiosity, Hitler placed himself in charge of the global battle that carried with it ultimate stakes. This had been the focus of his anti-Semitic worldview.” (Jay Gonen325)

It did not require a great effort from Hitler to find words for his hate of the Jews. Books like Theodor Fritsch’s Handbook of the Jewish Question provided him with an inexhaustible stockpile of anti-Semitic libel through the centuries, and Eckart, who had used much of it in his magazine In Plain German, was an admired teacher. If the Aryan was the highest being in a human form, the Jew was the lowest; in fact, he was not even subhuman and his human shape was only a deceptive appearance. “The Jew wriggles his way in among the body of the nations and bores them hollow from inside,” teaches Mein Kampf. He is “a parasite among nations”, “a parasite, a sponger who, like a pernicious bacillus, spreads over wider and wider areas”; “he is a real leech who clings to the body of his unfortunate victims and cannot be removed”.326The Jew is “a fission fungus of humanity”, “a bacillus spreading tuberculosis of the races”. He is a scavenger and “common prey attracts him”. As he is human only in appearance, “his activities are not hampered by moral considerations of any kind”; typical of him is “the general brutality and rapacity of his nature”.327This was the kind of language the Germans under the Nazi regime read daily in their newspapers and their youth imbibed in the schools. These were the notions imprinted on the minds of the Jew-exterminators.

“Jewry has always been a nation of a definite racial character and never differentiated merely by the fact of belonging to a certain religion.”328However confidently stated, this was flagrantly untrue, for the heterogeneous composition of the Jewish people was well established. Yet, to conceive of the Jewish people as a race was necessary for the coherence of Hitler’s theories about race and blood. “[The Jew] poisons the blood of others but preserves his own blood unadulterated … The religious instruction of the Jews is principally a collection of instructions for maintaining the Jewish blood pure.”329Therefore, what was at stake in the war between the Aryans and the Jews was nothing less than the life of humanity. “The Jew is the enemy of human existence. His ultimate aim is the breaking up of the nations, the intermingling and bastardization of the other peoples, the lowering of the level of the highest races and the lordship over the ensuing racial mixture through elimination of the peoples’ intellectuals and their replacement with members of his own people … If the Jew, with the help of his Marxist creed, is victorious over the peoples of this earth, then his crown will be the death-dance of the world; then this planet will again, just like millions of years ago, drift through the ether empty of human beings.”330

“Though bubbling over with ‘enlightenment’, ‘progress’, ‘liberty’, ‘humanity’, etc. [the Jew’s] first care was to preserve the racial integrity of his own people. He occasionally bestowed one of his fellow [female] members on an influential Christian, but the racial stock of his male descendants was always preserved fundamentally unmixed. He poisons the blood of others but preserves his own blood unadulterated.”331It is typical of reactionaries and fundamentalists that they think they are the “decent”, “healthy” people, whereas “the others” are degenerate and immoral. It is also typical to find behind the decent people’s façade much filth and rottenness, a condition compared by a great Teacher to “whitewashed tombs”. Hitler’s obsession about “the black-haired Jewish youth”, who “lies in wait for hours on end, satanically glaring at and spying on the unsuspicious [Aryan] girl whom he plans to seduce, adulterating her blood”,332is one example of the perversion at the bottom of his sick racism. Equally so was his obsession with syphilis, and his support for Julius Streicher’s lewd anti-Semitism in the latter’s magazine Der Stürmer.

In the first quote of the previous paragraph Hitler makes once again a direct attack on the spirit and the ideals of the Enlightenment and on “progress”, the slogan of the 19th century. “To mask his tactics and fool his victims, [the Jew] talks of the equality of all men, no matter what their race or colour may be. And the simpletons begin to believe him … During this phase of his progress the chief goal of the Jew was the victory of democracy, or rather the supreme hegemony of the parliamentary system, which embodies his concept of democracy. This institution agrees best with his purposes; for thus the personal element is eliminated and in its place we have the dunder-headed majority, inefficiency and, last but by no means least, knavery.”333If one realizes the measure in which the social-democratic way of life has become the norm by which humanity is organizing its societies at present, and that many are even prepared to give their life for the freedom it provides, one may sense in which direction Hitler was working out his reactionary goals: social hierarchy (the “Führer principle”) instead of equality before the law, and ultimately an order in which the master race of the Germanic-Nordic-Aryans rules over the other races, the subjugated subhuman slaves. It may be noted in passing that “no Jew played a noteworthy role in the [French] Revolution nor in the philosophical revolution by which it was preceded”.334On the contrary, leading writers like Voltaire were outspoken anti-Semites.

In his stance against the Enlightenment and progress, Hitler was as völkisch as could be and an exponent of the times in Germany. But he extended this oppositional attitude to everything deemed by him to be anti-German, which in point of fact meant opposed to Hitler and his new ideology. In this he followed his propagandist principle: to focus the whole attention of a movement, a mass or a people on a single opponent – who for Hitler was the Jew. Thus he created a thought-world of total paranoia, which he succeeded in developing into armed paranoia. Hitler’s Germany, isolated in its “parallel world”, became one enormous and enormously destructive instrument of deathly delusion.

Hitler’s apocalyptic view of the final global war between the deceitful and the true “chosen people” was in certain of its aspects still indebted to Dietrich Eckart, who had conceived of a struggle between good (the Aryan side) and evil (the Jewish side) in humanity as a whole and in each of its members in particular. But Hitler had now recast these principles in the Darwinian-racist mould, stimulated, especially after Eckart’s death, by Alfred Rosenberg, who “wielded a tremendous influence on Hitler” (Hanfstängl). From this man, steeped in the virulent Russian anti-Semitism of the turn of the century (which resulted in a massive exodus of East-European Jews), Hitler borrowed the reasonings to turn his “intellectual anti-Semitism” into an “exterminationist” anti-Semitism. Of this Eckart most probably would never have dared to dream despite his hardened prejudices; it may have been the cause of his suspicion that his pupil began to suffer from a serious case of folie de grandeur. The conviction that the Jews did not belong to the body of the German Volk, that they were obnoxious to it and therefore had to be eliminated from it, or at least confined and controlled within it, was current in Germany and propagated in violent slogans. People who drew the extreme conclusions from such propaganda are nonetheless generally supposed to have been few in number. Still the general feeling about the Jews would certainly facilitate the execution of what Hitler had in mind and what the executioners of his armed paranoia would be proud to implement.

The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion

Alfred Rosenberg was born in Reval (Estonia) in 1893. He studied engineering and architecture till the outbreak of the Russian Revolution in 1917. Staunchly anti-communist and anti-Semitic, which meant one and the same to him, he fled Russia and landed, towards the end of 1918, in a Munich in upheaval. There he became part of the community of Russian refugees, many of whom had connections with the rightist extremists. It may have been In Plain German which led Rosenberg to Dietrich Eckart, who accepted him as his collaborator, although Rosenberg’s first language was Russian and his German still very poor. And Eckart introduced him to Hitler. Rosenberg was strongly influenced by Houston Chamberlain’s The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, which had made its author the revered guru of the German nationalists, the favoured thinker of Emperor Wilhelm II and, as the husband of Eva Wagner, resident master at House Wahnfried in Bayreuth. But a still stronger influence on Rosenberg was exerted by The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion.

The Protocols pretended to provide a report of the instructions given by a mysterious Supreme Master to the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel at midnight on the Jewish churchyard in Prague. Their objective was Jewish supremacy over the whole world, their strategy a ruthless but surreptitious campaign against everything held sacred by the despised goyim, their ideology an unconditional materialism which would use the principles of the Enlightenment as its guidelines and ultimately result in the submission of a zombie-like humanity of slaves to the Jewish master race. The Protocols were a fake concocted by members of the Russian secret police in France to convince Tsar Nicholas II of the danger the Jews represented to his throne. It was one fake among many in a tradition of similar anti-Semitic writings, most probably written at the time of the Dreyfus Affair in France, which split that country into two, and of the first Zionist Congress held at Basel in 1897.335

“The Protocols and the myth of the Jewish world conspiration were exploited by the Nazi propaganda in all its stages”, writes Norman Cohn, “from the birth of the Party in 1919-20 until the collapse of the Third Reich in 1945. They were used successively to help the Party come to power, to justify its regime of terror, to justify the war, to justify the genocide, and finally to postpone the capitulation. The history of this myth, and of its utilization for various ends, reflects accurately the rise and fall of the Third Reich itself.” According to Cohn, “one may not be mistaken when writing that, exception made for the Bible, the Protocols were around 1925 the most widely read book in the whole world”.336

About the Protocols Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf: “How much the whole existence of [the Jewish] people is based on a permanent falsehood is proved in a unique way by The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion … What many Jews unconsciously wish to do is here clearly set forth. It is not necessary to ask out of what Jewish brain these revelations sprang; but what is of vital interest is that they disclose, with an almost terrifying precision, the mentality and methods of action characteristic of the Jewish people, and these writings expound in all their various directions the final aims towards which the Jews are striving. The study of real happenings, however, is the best way of judging the authenticity of those documents. If the historical developments which have taken place within the last few centuries be studied in the light of this book, we shall understand why the Jewish Press incessantly repudiates and denounces it. For the Jewish peril will be stamped out the moment the general public come into possession of that book and understand it.”337

“Hitler, in the depth of his feeling, if not of his intelligence, was surely convinced of the Jewish world conspiracy”, writes Konrad Heiden.338One finds this confirmed on several pages of Mein Kampf where Hitler writes about “the aspiration of the Jewish people to become the despots of the world”.339A direct and sad refutation of a Jewish world conspiracy were the inner divisions among the Jews during the war, their lack of cooperation to receive their co-religionists who had to flee Germany, and the way so many allowed themselves to be led “like lambs to the slaughter”. Cohn quotes the testimony after the war of SS-general Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, one of the notorious Jew-slayers: “Had the Jews only in the least been organized, millions of them could have been saved, but they were entirely taken by surprise.”340

In his book on Hitler, one of the earliest biographies ever written and still in print, Konrad Heiden states repeatedly that the Nazi Führer imitated the methods described by the forgers of the Protocols. Heiden’s assertion seems at first overblown and inspired by his hatred for Hitler and everything the Nazis stood for. But when one reads the Protocols again after having studied Mein Kampf, one finds analogies on practically every page. Hitler’s aim was indeed world domination, and to this end he would exploit “ruthlessly” (one of his favourite words) the foibles of the human condition, common to his own people as to all others, using exactly the same means and ploys as those recommended to the imaginary Wise Men of Zion.

A phrase which Hitler in Mein Kampf often applied to the Jews was “great masters of the lie”. This expression had been often used by Eckart, who copied it from their admired philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. The phrase is, in fact, perfectly applicable to Hitler himself. He had an instinct to sense and play on the weaknesses of human nature, of the mass as well as of the individual, and he had learned how to brashly mislead, distort and lie, something so obvious in Mein Kampf that it may be another reason why he regretted having written the book.

“The common people are credulous of everything, whether because of their ignorance or their simple-mindedness”, he wrote. “In the big lie there is always a force of credibility, because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily, and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than to the small lie …” Promises are made not to be kept, Treaties are signed to be betrayed. But Hitler’s greatest lie was to the German people, whom he pretended to be his bride, “Germania”, and therefore the reason for his remaining single. He gave them employment, bread, radios and self-esteem – for some time – and lots of martial and theatrical hoopla, but he did not tell them that they were fattened to be eaten by Death.

“The great master of the lie”, the great sophist, was Adolf Hitler, the persuader who distorted all terms and reasonings, but did so in a passionate and therefore convincing way which bypassed logical thought. If Mein Kampf has the nasty odour Fest writes about, it is because of its mendacious contents. This book is a true warning from history, but by most people who know of its existence it is unfortunately considered to be some sort of a curiosity.

What, in the final analysis, was the reason of Hitler’s anti-Semitism? Ron Rosenbaun asked the question of Alan Bullock, who answered, after all the years he had spent on studying the dictator: “I don’t know. Nobody knows. Nobody’s even began.”341“Hitler never suggested, not even with a single word, that he was planning the biggest autodafé [i.e. the Holocaust] in history”, writes Köhler.342“In spite of all the details we know, the cause of Hitler’s anti-Semitism is not completely explainable”, opines Maser.343And yet, Hitler’s intention to eradicate the Jews is written on every page of Mein Kampf; it was shouted by him from the rooftops and echoed from thousands of throats in classes, meetings and demonstrations, on radios in the homes and from loudspeakers in the streets, and it was printed in newspapers, magazines and a flood of books. But his bride Germania did not really believe it (nor did the rest of the world) – it was too horrendous to be true – or she preferred not to think about such disturbing things, or she kept her distance not wanting to think about her responsibility.

“For [the Jew] language is not an instrument for the expression of his inner thoughts but rather a means of cloaking them”, Hitler wrote. “He will stop at nothing. His utterly low-down conduct is so appalling that one really cannot be surprised if in the imagination of our people the Jew is pictured as the incarnation of Satan and the symbol of evil.” “As has so often happened, Germany is the chief pivot of this formidable struggle. If our people and our state should fall victims to these oppressors of the nations, lusting after blood and money, the whole earth would become the prey of that hydra. Should Germany be freed from its grasp, a great menace for the nations of the world would thereby be eliminated.”344

Living Space for the Master Race

“See to it that the strength of our nation does not rest on colonial foundations”, wrote Hitler in Mein Kampf, “but on our own native territory in Europe. Never consider the Reich secure unless, for centuries to come, it is in a position to give every descendant of our race a piece of ground and soil that he can call his own. Never forget that the most sacred of all rights in this world is man’s right to the earth which he wishes to cultivate for himself and that the holiest of all sacrifices is that of the blood poured out for it.”345Hitler left no doubt where that piece of ground and soil was to be found. The conquest of “the East”, actually the territories belonging to Baltic, Slavonic and other peoples in eastern Europe, had been drawing the Germanic tribes for centuries, so much so that the Drang nach Osten (the impulse to move east) was, except for rare periods of friendly relations, something like a cyclic instinctive urge. Waves of Vikings rowed down the Dnieper from “Gothland”, mainly Sweden, to Kiev and Constantinople; the Teutonic Knights subjugated Prussia and the territories of what is now called Poland, the Balticum and the Ukraine; later, German settlers became landlords in these regions and their descendants were still living there, proud of their Germanic ancestry. (Stalin will send them to Siberia.)

Hitler formulated his Lebensraum (living space) theory for the first time clearly and in detail when writing Mein Kampf, whereas before he had used predominantly German resurgence and revenge against the French arch-enemy as the main themes of his speeches and propaganda. Yet, Russia, the East and Lebensraum had always been on his mind, and it could not have been otherwise after the fear of Communism caused by the 1917 October Revolution and its aftermath in Germany, a fear made worse by the spate of Red revolts within the country. Important centres of anti-Communism and anti-Semitism were the circles of Russian refugees in France and Germany. Most of these refugees belonged to the nobility and upper bourgeoisie, were therefore right-wing and connected with right-wing extremists in the host country. They were the people who carried The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion in their luggage. Alfred Rosenberg was a typical example, and so was Erwin von Scheubner-Richter, who marched not without reason by Hitler’s side in the Beer Hall Putsch and whose name might be much better known if he had not been killed.

“The drive for Lebensraum was never just a Nazi goal.”346The conquest of the East had, in fact, always been a matter of Teutonic pride, arrogance and cupidity. The Catholic Teutonic Knights deemed themselves a superior breed compared with the barbaric, heathen Pruss and similar vile peoples. (It is ironic that their Prussian descendants would proclaim themselves God’s favourite people, carriers of the highest culture and by right – which right? – lords of humanity.) Fritz Fischer has shown how in more recent times Germany’s “epochal turn against Russia” was initiated by Bethmann Hollweg in 1913. This happened, writes Fischer, after the Chancellor had been travelling through Russia in the previous year and seen with his own eyes, “in a kind of revelation”, what enormous riches of human and natural resources were available there.

Once more the primal cause of this epochal turn was German arrogance, for at that time Germany had brought about its first Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle). “Germany sees how its population is increasing day by day; its navy, industry and commerce are developing without comparison; it needs expansion, it has a claim to ‘a place in the sun’”, said the German Chancellor.347“A place in the sun” was one of the nationalist and pan-German slogans at the time. Was an expansion at the cost of other nations, and justified with “scientific”, pseudo-Darwinist arguments, really necessary for Germany? The enormous industrial and commercial growth around 1900 proved that it was not; and Christian von Krockow writes about the new Wirtschaftswunder after the Second World War: “On a drastically reduced national territory [Germany was broken up into two] one got nevertheless and at last the longed for Lebensraum, without having to use anything but personal industry.”348

During his Landsberg retreat, Hitler’s views had not changed fundamentally: the Germans were to become the masters of the earth; they would avenge on France the humiliation of the Treaty of Versailles (he entertained the same irrational hopes for an understanding with Great Britain as the German leadership before the Great War); the protagonist of the Aryan race, the Jew, had to be discarded in one way or another. But now Hitler dared to express what could only have drawn ridicule when he was still known as the Austrian corporal: Germany must conquer the world for the Aryan race, and they would begin where they had left off six centuries ago, in “the East”. In Landsberg prison he had had the time to reflect, to meditate, to round off the vision of his mission. And he had been profoundly influenced by the opinions of Alfred Rosenberg and, through Rudolf Hess, by the geopolitical theories of Karl Haushofer. A few days after his release from Landsberg, Hitler was on a visit at the Hanfstängl home. “To my horror he spouted a still further distilled essence of all the nonsense that Hess and Rosenberg had been concocting”, remembers Ernst Hanfstängl. “I am sure that this is the point at which his latest radical tendencies started to crystallize … Hess had succeeded in pumping his head full of the Haushofer thesis…”349

Karl Haushofer, born in 1869, was a cultured military man who had become a major-general in the First World War. Earlier, he had been appointed military attaché to the German Embassy in Japan. At that time he had undertaken many travels in India, Tibet, Manchuria, China and Korea which would have a lasting influence on him. He was appointed honorary professor of geopolitics at Munich University in 1924 and published shortly afterwards his handbook Geopolitics of the Pacific Ocean. A close friendship tied him to Rudolf Hess, who adulated Hitler and was one of the most enthusiastic Nazis. Haushofer, acquainted with Hitler since 1921, visited Hess several times in Landsberg prison, where he inevitably also met with Hitler, for Hess had a cell next to Hitler’s on the upper floor and these cells gave out unto a common room.

There is no doubt among historians that Haushofer, through his confidant and mouthpiece Hess, played an important role in matters of Hitler’s ideological outlook, more specifically his plans for the conquest of Lebensraum. What Haushofer’s influence meant concretely is still under discussion. According to Martin Allen: “Basically, geopolitics was the theory, as promulgated by Haushofer, that in the future the world would be restructured into an age of great land-empires, dominated by ‘the Heartland’, an area ‘invulnerable to sea-power in Central Europe and Asia’. This, Haushofer asserted, would revolutionize the world’s balance of power, ushering in a new age of stability, peace and prosperity for all.”350

One finds in the works of the commentators on Hitler’s intentions conflicting versions of his plans of conquest. Some maps show Hitler’s Greater German Reich occupying the middle part of Europe, from Scandinavia to Italy, but other maps extend the Reich up to the Urals. Both land masses are supposed to be the base, established by Hitler, for future German world conquest. “Any thought of world politics is ridiculous as long as one does not rule the Continent”, Hitler is reported to have said in 1944.351Did he mean the European continent, or the land mass of which Europe is no more than a peninsula? He certainly stooped to having friendly relations with the Japanese, a coloured race of small stature, and declared them to be “honorary Aryans” to further his plans in Asia and the Pacific Ocean, in this relying on Karl Haushofer as the chief intermediary. The plans for his lifetime, as the founder of the Third Reich which others would have to build up and complete, did not include colonies. Water was an element Hitler disliked, and Ernst Hanfstängl, who maintains he tried to convince Hitler of the capacities of the USA, writes: “He thought only in European terms.”352

How did Hitler justify his demand for living space in Mein Kampf? The principle was unequivocal: “Only a sufficiently large space on this earth can assure the independent existence of a people.” From this he deduced: “We, National-Socialists, must stick firmly to the aim that we have set for our foreign policy, namely that the German people must be assured of the territorial area which is necessary for it to exist on this earth. Only for such action as is undertaken to secure those ends can it be lawful in the eyes of God and our German posterity to allow the blood of our people to be shed again …

“State frontiers are established by human beings and may be changed by human beings. The fact that a nation has acquired an enormous territorial area is no reason why it should hold that territory perpetually. At most, the possession of such territory is a proof of the strength of the conqueror and the weakness of those who submit to him. And in this strength alone lives the right to possession. If the German people are imprisoned within an impossible territorial area and for that reason are face to face with a miserable future, this is not by the command of Destiny, and the refusal to accept such a situation is by no means a violation of Destiny’s laws. For just as no Higher Power has promised more territory to other nations than to the German, so it cannot be blamed for an unjust distribution of the soil. The soil on which we now live was not a gift bestowed by Heaven on our forefathers; they had to conquer it by risking their lives. So also in the future our people will not obtain territory, and therewith the means of existence, as a favour from any other people: they will have to win it by the power of a triumphant sword.”353

Hitler drew of the Slavonic people a picture that was at the same time frightful and repulsive, and that would vindicate the barbaric invasion he seems to have envisioned even then. The main theme of his propaganda was that Germany had to be built up as a bulwark against the Danger from the East in its many shapes, that it was the knight in shining armour who would protect Europe and the values it stood for against the hordes from the Asian steppes (a metaphor already used by William II). The effects of this propaganda, developed and adapted by the SS, will attract thousands of idealistic young Europeans to join the divisions of the Waffen-SS and sacrifice their lives on the Russian plains. What Hitler really had in mind, and what he wrote in 1928 in a never published so-called “second book”, was “the idea that this Europe was not to arise as the result of a federation, but by the racially strongest nations [none other than the Germanic, of course] subjugating the others … National-Socialism will extend its revolution until the New Order has been achieved all through the world”.354

“As things stand today, vast spaces still lie uncultivated all over the surface of the globe”, wrote Hitler in Mein Kampf. “Those spaces are only waiting for the ploughshare. And it is quite certain that nature did not set those territories apart as the exclusive pastures of any one nation or race, to be held unutilized in reserve for the future. Such lands await the people who have the strength to acquire it and the diligence to cultivate it. Nature knows no political frontiers. She begins by establishing life on this globe and then watches the free play of forces. Those who show the greatest courage and industry are the children nearest to her heart and they will be granted the sovereign right of existence.”355

“We put an end to the perpetual Germanic march towards the South and West of Europe and turn our eyes towards the lands of the East. We finally put a stop to the colonial and trade policy of pre-war times and pass over to the territorial policy of the future. When we speak of new territory in Europe today, we must principally think of Russia and the border states subject to her. Destiny itself seems to wish to point out the way for us here … For the Russian State was not organized by the constructive political talent of the Slav element in Russia but was much more a marvellous exemplification of the capacity for state-building possessed by the Germanic element in a race of inferior worth … For centuries Russia owned the source of its livelihood as a State to the Germanic nucleus of its governing classes. But this nucleus is now almost wholly broken up and abolished … This colossal empire in the East is ripe for dissolution. And the end of the Jewish domination in Russia will also be the end of Russia as a state. We are chosen by Destiny to be the witnesses of a catastrophe which will afford the strongest confirmation of the nationalist theory of race.”356

Part Two: The Roots of Nazism

7. Superior People

War, then, and if needs must, war against everybody, to convince everybody and to win, that was what fate had willed. We were bursting with the consciousness that this was Germany’s century, that history was holding her hand out over us; that after Spain, France, England, it was our turn to put our stamp on the world and be its leader; that the twentieth century was ours.

Thomas Mann’s narrator in Doctor Faustus

Hitler Was No Accident

How was all that possible: Hitler, Nazism, the Second World War, the Holocaust…? The major tragedy of the 20th century has remained an unexplained mystery with a thousand explanations, justifications and refutations, especially among the people who started it all, the Germans. Were they not universally considered, before their nation plunged into its delirium, to be a people of Dichter und Denker, poets and thinkers, and perhaps still more essentially musicians? The previous chapters may have shown some force lines leading up to the tragedy (and we are not yet at the end of our story). But the historical concatenations are hardly known except to students of history, and Hitler is mostly represented in the popular mind as a devil or a clown, or both. The unusual dimensions of the movement he created, the admiration and enthusiasm he evoked, and the slaughter he caused, made some Germans explain away their guilt by positing that his apparition on the political stage and the subsequent global tragedy in which he starred were something out of the ordinary, irrational, and therefore an “accident” of history.

Several knowledgeable people have pointed out that Hitler was not an accident. So for instance George Mosse, who wrote: “National Socialism was not an aberration; neither was it without historical foundation. It was, rather, the product of the interplay of economic, social and political forces on the one hand, and human perceptions, hopes and longing for the good life on the other. National Socialism was successful as a mass movement precisely because it was able to turn long-cherished myths and symbols to its own purpose.”357Sebastian Haffner, who had to flee from Nazi Germany, wrote: “We overestimate Hitler’s capacities enormously if we believe that he has been able to produce this mass [of supporters] in a span of twenty years from nothing. He must have found them ready. Hardly perceptible from outside, the raw material for the national-socialist leadership stratum must already have been available in such a way that it was only to be brought to the surface from the amorphous mass of German people.”358And Joachim Fest observes: “Ultimately everything terminated in Hitler; he was by no means a ‘German catastrophe’, as the title of a well-known book asserted, but a product of German consistency.”359

Among the first to use the word “accident” in connection with Hitler seems to have been Thomas Mann, the great novelist, writing or addressing his radio messages from exile to the German people. He wrote in November 1939: “Hitler, wretched as he is, is no accident; he would never have been possible without the psychological preconditions which have to be sought much deeper than in inflation, unemployment, capitalistic speculation or political intrigue.”360In John Weiss’ Ideology of Death we find: “The two most popular intellectuals of late nineteenth-century Germany [Paul de Lagarde and Julius Langbehn] were indistinguishable from Nazi ideologists. Given this cultural fact, it is amazing how many still think that National Socialism had little intellectual connection with the German past … The future leaders of Germany and their supporters were created long before 1914. It was never just Hitler and a few Nazis … By 1914 significant numbers of upper- and lower-class conservatives welcomed the ideas we call Nazi ideology, and they did so even though Germany had not suffered the traumas of a lost war, inflation, or depression. Hitler’s themes were well known before he ever spoke…”361

It was also Thomas Mann who in 1934 pointed out the influence of Luther on the Nazi movement in general and Hitler in particular: “No, Hitler is no accident, no inexplicable misfortune, no derailment. From him ‘light’ reflects on Luther, and one has to recognise the latter to a large degree in the former. Hitler is a true German phenomenon.”362Another writer in exile, Hans Habe, expressed the same idea in one of his novels: “Everything has started with Luther … Luther is the inventor of National Socialism. The textbooks of National Socialism are no more than copies of the Wittenberg Theses … Luther’s Church is already the ‘German Church’ – and therefore no church any longer. The spreading of the Lutheran teaching started with a terrible war, and since then there has been no end to the splitting up of the world into two. Luther invented a church for one nation and he tried to hire the Lord God for his people. In all wars since then one finds the Lutheran germ – also in the [First] World War. The arrogant simplicity of Protestantism has gifted the German people with the delusion of their being the chosen people.”363

“National Socialism is the fulfilment of what the Germans call their ‘being’”, wrote Joseph Roth. “A direct path leads from Luther by way of Frederick II, Bismarck, William II and Ludendorff to Hitler and Rosenberg … As to me, I can, with all respect for the Protestants, not see any difference between Luther’s writings, for example those to the German nobles, and the writings of Mister Rosenberg. [Luther’s] ninety-five theses accord exactly with [Rosenberg’s] Myth of the Twentieth Century. A straight line leads from the famous inkpot, with which Luther is said to have had a go at the devil, to the equally famous ‘scrap of paper’ [Hitler’s disdainful designation of the neutrality treaty with Belgium]. Who cannot see already in Luther’s betrayal of the peasants, the princes and the Jews an early example of the betrayal by the Prussian-Protestant officers of their Church and the world as a whole, is no more than a naïve fool.”364

Superior People

There were even before Luther marks of a German road that would eventually lead to Hitler. An anonymous publicist, called “the Revolutionary of the Upper Rhine”, wrote the Book of a Hundred Chapters in 1510, at a time that European thought, stirred up by the revolution of the Renaissance, was in total turmoil. (Luther would pin his ninety-five theses on the door of a church at Wittenberg in 1517.) This elderly fanatic, writes Norman Cohn, “was thoroughly familiar with the enormous mass of medieval apocalyptic literature and drew freely from it”365. He wrote in German for Germans what was “a communication from the Almighty, conveyed by the Archangel Michael”.

The message of the Revolutionary of the Upper Rhine was that the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, asleep in the Kyffhäuser mountain, would wake up, appear on a white horse and lead “a new chivalry” to establish a reign, or Reich, of a thousand years. This would happen through massacre and terror in a crusade “to smash Babylon in the name of God”. Those to be massacred would be “the rich, well-fed, loose-living clergy”, the chief enemy, who must be annihilated. “‘Go on hitting them’, cries [Frederick] the Messiah to his army, ‘from the Pope right down to the little clerics. Kill every one of them!’ He foresees that 2300 clerics will be killed each day for four and a half years.” Others to be slain are the money-lenders, rich merchants, overcharging shopkeepers, unscrupulous lawyers. Then will start the reign of the common people in “abundance of bread and barley and wine and oil at a low price … All property shall become one common property; then there will indeed be one shepherd and one sheepfold”. These were the common expectations of the Middle Ages, a time of misery unimaginable, when the poor were at the mercy of illness, pest and famine, and of the greedy clerical and secular hierarchy pressing down upon them.

“But”, writes Cohn, “in one respect the Revolutionary of the Upper Rhine was truly original: nobody before him had combined such devotion to the principle of commercial or public ownership with such megalomaniac nationalism. This man was convinced that in the remote past the Germans had in reality ‘lived together like brothers on the earth’, holding all things in common. The destruction of that happy order had been the work first of the Romans and then of the Church of Rome … The Old Testament was dismissed as valueless; for from the time of the creation onwards it was not the Jews but the Germans who were the Chosen People. Adam and all his descendants down to Japheth [one of the three sons of Noah], including all the Patriarchs, were Germans speaking German … It was Japheth and his kin who first came to Europe, bringing their language [i.e. German] with them. They had chosen to settle in Alsace [then a German principality], the heart of Europe, and the capital of the Empire which they founded was at Trier.”

This amazing load of nonsense is not only typical of a feverish late-medieval brain: all its elements, and lots more, can be found in German writings throughout the following centuries. One finds much of it in Mein Kampf and still more in the Nazi publications, especially those of the SS. But the Revolutionary of the Upper Rhine had more to say. He defined for the first time the European “North-South divide” which will play such an important part in the German world vision. “Very different was the history of the Latin peoples. These wretched breeds were not descended from Japheth and were not numbered amongst the original inhabitants of Europe. Their homeland was in Asia Minor, where they had been defeated in battle by the warriors of Trier and whence they had been brought to act as serfs of their conquerors. The French – a peculiarly detestable lot – ought therefore by rights to be a subject people, ruled by the Germans. As for the Italians, they were descended from serfs who had been banished over the Alps … Roman law, the Papacy, the French, the Republic of Venice [in 1510 still flourishing] were so many aspects of an immense, age-old conspiracy against the German way of life … Emperor Frederick would restore Germany to the position of supremacy which God intended for her … The future Empire was indeed to be nothing less than a quasi-religious community of the German spirit. This is what the Revolutionary had in mind when he cried, jubilantly: ‘The Germans once held the whole world in their hands and they will do so again, and with more power than ever’.”

Norman Cohn comments: “In these fantasies the crude nationalism of a half-educated intellectual erupted into the tradition of popular eschatology. The result is almost uncannily similar to the fantasies which were the core of National-Socialist ‘ideology’. One has only to turn back to the tracts of such pundits as Rosenberg and Darré to be immediately struck by the resemblance. There is the same belief in a primitive German culture in which the divine will was once realized and which throughout history has been the source of all good – which was later undermined by a conspiracy of capitalists, inferior, non-Germanic peoples and the Church of Rome – and which must now be restored by a new aristocracy, of humble birth but truly German in soul, under a God-sent saviour who is at once a political leader and a new Christ. It is all there – and so were the offensives in West and East – the terror wielded both as an instrument of policy and for its own sake – the biggest massacres in history – in fact everything except the final consummation of the world-empire which, in Hitler’s words, was to last a thousand years.”366

The Quest for World Domination

“The Germans once held the whole world in their hands and they will do so again, and with more power than ever”, wrote that exalted anonymous German in 1510. Similar feelings were given vent in the following centuries (as we will see below), not in reference to the Book of a Hundred Chapters, which was discovered late in the 19th century, but expressing what had become a fixed emotional component of the German character. As Germany was a patchwork of principalities for centuries, also when constituting the basis of the Holy Roman Reich, and became a nation in the true sense only in 1871, there must have been some underlying ideological foundation for the feeling of “Germanness”, of belonging to a German Volk. It was this special sense of belonging which made them sing, long before they raised their right arm to Hitler: “Today Germany belongs to us, tomorrow the whole world”, and shout slogans like “Am deutschen Wesen wird die Welt genesen”, meaning that the rest of the world would regain its health if it shared in the German being.

The rest of the world could only become healthy on condition that all submitted to the Germans and polished their boots. Léon Poliakov calls this “the megalomaniac German delirium”, which would lead to “the Nazis’ dead-bringing delusion of being the masters of the world” (Rüdiger Sünner). “The German patriotism was the weakest point in the Germany of the pre-Hitler period”, writes Sebastian Haffner in 1939, “the spot where the toxin of National-Socialism could infiltrate. And that is still now the only point on which the Nazis and many civilized Germans agree.”367In this quotation everything depends on the meaning of the word “patriotism”, which can be no other, considering Germany’s fragmented past, than “völkisch ego” or, for the sake of convenience, “national ego”, in its numerous variants from “self-awareness” up to “feeling of superiority”. From the time of the Renaissance onward the Germans developed a chronically inflated or inflamed ego, which would in the end blind them to reality. This national ego was the main cause of the Hitler phenomenon and the disasters following in its wake. It made the Germans rally around their Leader; it made them go out and spill their blood for a Greater Germany to which the world would have to bow; it made them feel the true Chosen People, entitled and even missioned to exterminate the false pretenders, the Jews.

This development is rather surprising if one has a look at the history of the German master race. As a Volk they were a battered people for centuries, moving, in the words of H.R. Trevor-Roper, “from disaster to disaster”. The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), actually a series of wars between the Catholic, Lutheran and Calvinist religions, but exploited by all participants to further their material interests, was fought mainly on German soil by mercenary armies. It was so devastating that at its end all German principalities lay in ruins and one third (in some places more than one half) of the population had fallen victim to the war. Some say that Germany never recovered from this scourge. The patchwork of principalities and “free cities” was perpetuated by the Peace of Westphalia (1648) which concluded the war; their particularities and rivalries, which Hitler tried hard to efface, live mutedly on to this day.

“The very real difference that separated Germany from the West” (Mosse) was caused by the political and cultural isolation resulting from the Thirty Years’ War. Germany as a whole did not participate in the philosophical movement of renewal which is called the “Enlightenment”, although some of its thinkers and princes were open to it and even contributed to it; the body of the people remained stuck in its “sacred” traditions, mainly superstitions deeply rooted in the dark ages. Even if the names of the old gods were practically forgotten, a certain mentality from olden times survived, especially in the countryside, and Christianity was, on the more popular level, no more than a set of additional superstitions added to the ancient beliefs. The German tribes, Christianized by force, had been “badly baptized”. Even Hitler will compare the Christian culture in Germany to a veneer covering a world of ancient fears and impulses still very much alive. These were the hidden realities Romanticism fell back on, as did, in its wake, the völkisch movement which built up an imaginary world fed by deep instincts. “National Socialism was a völkisch movement”, states George Mosse. “Yet Hitler would never have succeeded in demonstrating the political effectiveness of the völkisch world vision had this perception of reality not already been shared by a great many Germans.”368

Hitler’s Global Ambitions

Several authors have expressed their doubt as to Hitler’s intentions to conquer the globe and make the Germans, literally, masters of the world. They interpret his sayings and writings as a claim to a place among the prominent world powers of that day, more specifically France, Great Britain and the USA. His claim would have been similar to the German demand for “a place in the sun”, the slogan of the great industrial and commercial nation Germany had become around the year 1900. Such opinions fail to perceive Hitler’s real intentions behind some of his sayings. Just as there was a time that he could not yet proclaim his ambition to become the dictator of Germany, so there was a time that he could not yet openly formulate his global ambitions, quite simply because the Germans in general and his most faithful supporters in particular would not have understood them, might have failed to follow him in such a dizzying adventure, and would have put his mission in jeopardy.

“It is certainly true that Hitler improvised in accordance with the measure of his political power”, writes Ralph Giordano. “All the same it is an indisputable fact that his last aim in foreign politics lay not in the East, but that it had global dimensions. The way leading to it was not traced out in every single detail, but the guidelines for the permanent struggle of the ‘movement’, to be waged over centuries, were laid down. Hitler saw himself as the founder of a new world epoch in which the German claims at absolute world mastery would be realized … The will to absolute dominion is inextricably bound up with the phenomenon Hitler. At the high tide of his victories, Hitler laid claim to the hegemony over Europe, and further on to Germany’s position as master of the world, which was to be its future task.”369

There is no other conclusion from Hitler’s words possible if one admits that they contain any truth at all. The Germans, as Aryans, were the foremost race on earth, being the “highest image of the Lord”, fountainhead of all culture and everything worthwhile in the history of humanity, and they were the Chosen People. If the false pretenders to the title of Chosen People were the Jews, if the ultimate aim of the Jews was world dominion, as documented in The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, and if Hitler’s Aryans had to exterminate them “to do the work of the Lord” and found the Kingdom of God as the Thousand Year’s Reich, then the stage of this eschatological event could be no other than the whole earth. To put this in doubt is to efface the perspectives of Hitler’s messianic vision, and a diminution of his vision leaves no place for an explanation of the worldwide historical tragedy which was its consequence.

But let us open Mein Kampf once again and see what the author himself had to say. “We all feel that in the distant future man may be faced with problems which can be solved only by a superior race of human beings, a race destined to become master of all the other peoples and which will have at its disposal the means and resources of the whole world … We, National Socialists, must stick firmly to the aim that we have set for our foreign policy, namely that the German people must be assured the territorial territory which is necessary for it to exist on this earth. And only for such action as is undertaken to secure those ends can it be lawful in the eyes of God and our German posterity to allow the blood of our people to be shed once again. Before God, because we are sent into this world with the commission to struggle for our daily bread, as creatures to whom noting is donated and who must be able to win and hold their position as lords of the earth only through their own intelligence and courage.”370We recall that it would be “a greater honour to be a citizen of this Reich, even as a street-sweeper, than to be the king of a foreign state”.

Mein Kampf was written in 1924-25, at a time when Hitler had to make a new start in order to give shape to his dreams and world dominion was an envisaged but still vague aim. How, then, did Hitler speak when he held the reins of power? For instance thus, to an assembly of deputies from the Länder, the federal states: “[What I have told you] is not about equality with others but about power over others … In all these conquered countries it will be your task to play the leading role in the name of the German people … As the Jews were able to become the all-encompassing world power from their diaspora, so will we today, as the true people of God, from our dispersion throughout the world become the omnipresent power, the master people of the Earth”.371

Walter Darré, Hitler’s minister of agriculture and prominent SS-ideologist, said in a speech given in the Führer’s presence: “Instead of a horizontal levelling of the European tribes, a vertical one has to be introduced. What this means is that a German elite is called to become the masters in Europe and ultimately in the world … What has to be done is the conscious reintroduction of an order of classes, or rather of a hierarchical order. This will, however, no longer be possible on such a small territory like Germany, but only on the whole continent, in the whole universe.”372Be it noted that in Hitler’s Ordensburgen, the highest Nazi elite schools, young people were trained to become the future governors of the conquered nations. Hardy Krüger, later starring in Hatari! and The Wild Geese, was one of the students. He remembers: “I took it for granted at the time that, after the final victory, I would become the governor of Moscow, at least … The teachers and educators needed nine years to hammer all that nonsense of German world dominion and superiority into my head.” Others were looking forward to similar posts in Siberia and Chicago.373

What spoke more than words of Hitler’s visions and intentions were the cities and buildings Hitler planned with his architects, one of whom, Albert Speer, was for years his closest confidant in such matters. In his biography of the young architect who would become the Reich’s minister of armaments and who directed a work force of twelve million, mostly non-German slave labourers, Fest writes: “That domed hall”, a prominent feature in Germania, as Berlin was to be renamed, “was ‘worth more than three victorious wars’, Hitler observed on another occasion, returning to his fixation about the psychological power of great works of architecture to overwhelm. He dreamt of addressing the nations of the Greater Germanic Empire from the Führer gallery and of imposing laws on a humiliated world. Similarly, the Triumphal Arch would ‘finally and for ever drive out the pernicious idea from the people’s minds that Germany had lost the [First] World War’, he proclaimed. Upon entering the Führer’s palace everyone was to ‘have the feeling that he was visiting the master of the world’. Psychological reflections of this kind combined with Hitler’s fantasies of omnipotence were similarly at work when, standing in front of the model in the early spring of 1939, he pointed to the top of the dome: ‘The eagle should no longer stand above the swastika here’, he said to Speer: ‘To crown the greatest building in the world the eagle must stand above the globe’.”374

Speer himself wrote about Hitler’s “strategic concept of achieving domination of the world step by step”.375In this, Hitler was very much aware that to himself he could accord no more than the founder’s role of one who launched a new Weltanschauung and to whom the concrete foundations of the Greater German Reich, incorporating this new world vision or religion, were to be the monuments he planned in proportions becoming of the world’s masters. From 1937 onwards Hitler had hypochondriac fears about his health and constantly drove his architects on to speed up the execution of his plans; he wanted “Germania” to be terminated by 1950. It may have been the same fear about his life span which made him commit the decisive blunder of exacting too big an effort from the German people in a series of invasions, most of all the one taking on Russia.

Speer writes in his memoirs: “These monuments were an assertion of his claim to world dominion long before he dared to voice any such intention even to his closest associates … I found Hitler’s excitement rising whenever I could show him that at least in size we had ‘beaten’ the other great buildings of history. To be sure, he never gave vent to these heady feelings. He was sparing in his use of high-sounding words to me. Possibly at such moments he actually felt a certain awe; but it was directed toward himself and toward his own greatness, which he himself had willed and projected into eternity … Hitler one day abruptly stopped me on the stairs to his apartment, let his entourage go on ahead, and said: ‘We will create a great empire. All the Germanic peoples will be included in it. It will begin in Norway and extend to northern Italy. I myself must carry this out. If only I keep my health’. That was still a relatively restrained formulation. In the spring of 1937 Hitler visited me at my Berlin showrooms. We stood alone in front of the nearly seven-foot high model of the stadium for four hundred thousand people … We talked about the Olympic Games, and I pointed out, as I had done several times before, that my athletic field did not have the prescribed Olympic proportions. Without any change of tone, as if it were a matter settled beyond the possibility of discussion, Hitler observed: ‘No matter. In 1940 the Olympic Games will take place in Tokyo. But thereafter they will take place in Germany for all time to come, in this stadium. And then we will determine the measurements of the athletic field’.”376

And Speer continues: “Hitler wanted a huge meeting hall, a domed structure into which St Peter’s Cathedral in Rome would have fitted several times over. The diameter of the dome was to be eight hundred twenty-five feet. Beneath it, in an area of approximately four hundred and ten thousand feet, there would be room for more than a hundred and fifty thousand persons to assemble standing … The station was to surpass New York’s Grand Central Station in size … The idea was that when visitors, as well as ordinary travellers, stepped out of the station they would be overwhelmed, or rather stunned, by the urban scene and thus by the power of the Reich.”377Fest quotes Hitler’s words, spoken in 1937: “Because we believe in the eternity of this Reich, its works must also be eternal ones, that is … not conceived for the year 1940 and not for the year 2000; rather they must tower like the cathedrals of our past into the millennia of the future.” “In 1938 he conceived the plan of converting Berlin into a world capital”, comments Fest, “comparable only to ancient Egypt, Babylon, or Rome”.378

Renaissance and Reformation

Whereas the so-called Revolutionary of the Upper Rhine thought and wrote in the tradition of the medieval eccentrics, the Renaissance scholars formed a network all over Europe, sharing their erudition, discoveries and enthusiasm for “the new learning”. They were, in a way, the first Europeans. But such were those turbulent times that the universality of their learning found itself obliged in each case to chose sides, religiously or politically, and that some paid with their lives for the refusal to bow to any particularism. It was still a time of dungeons, gallows and pyres. The Christian age which we call the Middle Ages was coming to an end; the age that followed, sub-divided by the historians in various periods, is not over yet. The Renaissance rediscovered the courage and art of thinking for oneself in the way the ancient Greeks and Romans had done, but this was a very suspect exercise in the eyes of the powers-that-be. They did not like questions because they did not like being put into question.

The movement called “Renaissance” was much more complex than commonly realized. Nowadays it is superficially associated with the art of geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, and with humanist scholars like Erasmus of Rotterdam. The art of the Renaissance was of course a most important aspect of the new way of looking at the world. A certain form of art always crowns a great cultural period. Yet it is little known that another current in the movement was the rediscovery of hermetism and magic, as shown in Frances Yates’ essay Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition and some of her other publications. She writes: “It cannot, I think, be sufficiently emphasized that these two Renaissance experiences [the intellectual and the magical] are of an entirely different order, using different sources in a different way, and making their appeal to different sides of the human mind.”379Marcello Ficino, who translated Plato, and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola were not only erudite classicists, they were also magicians, as was Giordano Bruno, who was burned for it at the stake in the year 1600. On the contrary, Desiderius Erasmus, Thomas More and John Colet, among many others, were literary humanists. Pico made the difference clear when he wrote to a friend: “We have lived illustrious and to posterity shall live, not in the school of the grammarians and teaching places of young minds, but in the company of the philosophers, conclaves of the sages, where the questions of debate are not concerning the mother of Andromache or the sons of Niobe and such light trifles, but of things human and divine.”380However, magic and occultism, although wellsprings of modern thinking and science, would remain an undercurrent in European culture and never reach the maturity they once obtained in Egypt and India. The intellectuals, “the grammarians”, would win the day and develop the “natural philosophy” we call science.

There was also a third component in the Renaissance movement, the “emotional”. In Thucydides, Demosthenes and Pericles, as in Caesar, Cicero and Tacitus, the Renaissance men rediscovered the pride and glory of belonging, of patriotism, of “the general weal”, of the heartening inspiration of tradition and the past of the body of which every citizen was a part, which was a greater ego to him and for which he was required to give his life in times of peril. The medieval society had been a caste-hierarchy in which a person had his fixed place and only a handful at the top did the thinking and made the decisions. Now the Renaissance and Reformation, examining the ways of antiquity, rediscovered the value of the individual and his faculty of thinking for himself. It would not take long before a monk at Wittenberg claimed the right for himself and for all individuals to think freely, even if he had to stand up against the highest authority. And together with the need of self-examination arose the need of a definition of the general body to which the self belonged: patriotism became part of the consciousness.

The complete edition of Tacitus’ Germania was published in 1510. “A codex containing Tacitus’ Germania had survived the Middle Ages in a monastery at Herzfeld and had been taken to Italy in the fifteenth century. The effect of the discovery of this manuscript on the image the Germans would form of themselves can hardly be overestimated, for the way in which the humanists interpreted Tacitus remained a steady reference even in the twentieth century.”381Germania was written in 98 CE. In this book Tacitus (c.56-c.120) composed a few sentences which would remain the pride of the Germans forever, the source of their patriotic imaginings, and the cause of much detriment. “The Germans themselves, I am inclined to think”, wrote Tacitus, “are natives of the soil and extremely little affected by immigration or friendly intercourse with other peoples … For myself I accept the view that the peoples of Germany have never been tainted by intermarriage with other peoples, and stand out as a nation peculiar, pure and unique in its kind. Hence the physical type, if one may generalize at all about so vast a population, is everywhere the same – wild, blue eyes, reddish hair and huge frames that excel only in violent effort.”382This text would become the principal document to justify the German claim to racial purity and superiority. Neither the obvious distance in time and space from which Tacitus wrote nor the conjectural phrasing of the sentences would deter even some of the best German brains from accepting Tacitus’ statement as the word of God. “Each one of the German humanists developed the theme of German greatness in his own way, and they were vying among themselves as to the variety and originality of their arguments.”383

As we saw, Tacitus wrote that the Germans had caeruli oculi, rutilae comae, blue eyes, reddish hair, and that they had “huge frames”. These characteristics, together with a dolichocephalic skull, would become, especially from the last decennia of the nineteenth century onwards, the famous standard image of the racially pure German, “the Blonde Bestie” and the ideal SS-man. How misleading Tacitus assertion in this matter was, as in others which were not of his own experience, was discovered not so long ago. Caeruli oculi, rutilae comae, scholars found out, was a “topos” used by classical authors to impress their readers with the curiousness of the barbarian people they were writing about; in other words, it was a historiographers’ cliché. The Greek historian Herodotus applied the same cliché to the Scythes, and Pliny the Roman used identical words to depict the Singhalese in Ceylon! In this way myths are born, perilous myths when they are held to be the truth by armed fanatics.

One of the great German Renaissance men was the adventurous knight Ulrich von Hutten (1488-1523), patriot, satirist and supporter of Luther’s cause. He made the historical figure of Arminius, the Cheruscian, into “a real cult figure” of German nationalism and Nazism as the German who had stood up to the Romans and dealt them, in the year 9 CE, a deadly blow in the Teutoburg Forest. Arminius, Germanized into “Hermann”, “came from a [tribal] princely family and was educated at the Emperor’s court in Rome”. He was a typical example of the assimilation of their conquered peoples by the Romans. Arminius even became a tribune of the Roman army, a rank equivalent to lieutenant-general, and fought, like many others, against the people from whom he originated, commanding German auxiliaries. He was therefore awarded, as the first German, Roman citizenship and knighted. The reason why he turned against Rome is unclear. He became the head of a conspiracy, led three of Rome’s crack legions under Varus into a trap and annihilated them. This was the heaviest defeat the Roman legions ever suffered and the reason that their conquest halted at the Rhine.384

The embellished story of Arminius, who was later murdered by his own people, became one of the main features in the German nationalist myth, built up from the Renaissance onwards. It became an argument in the establishment in the North-South divide which would give the Germans the feeling that they were different from the rest of the world, that they, the people in the middle, were surrounded and threatened, and that they had to stand up to the other nations. The humanists were the first to create “the Germany-Rome antithesis” (von See), which reached a climax in Luther. The Germans now felt themselves different from the Roman-Latin-Welsch peoples; Protestants would fight Catholics, Kultur would confront Zivilisation. Eventually the Germans would declare themselves the embodiment of the Spirit, some of them even affirming that they were the sole people with a soul. The Roman-Latin-Welsh, together with the coloured and all other kinds of peoples, were on the contrary “materialists”, not much more than material beings in an animal-like state, Untermenschen, i.e. subhumans, or lower humans, or half-humans, and even non-humans although human in appearance (such as the Jews).

The German stage was set for Martin Luther (1483-1546). “It fell to Luther to amplify considerably the rise of a nationalism which fused with the Reformation and gave to Lutheranism its specifically German hue.”385Luther had travelled to Rome and seen there with his own eyes the abominations around the Chair of the “Antichrist”. He had also felt deeply offended by the superior and disdainful attitude of the Southerners towards the backward Germans: “No nation is more despised than the German nation! Italy calls us animals; France and England mock at us; all the others do likewise.” “A certain German paranoia” (Poliakov) was building up and would be finally compensated by the conviction of being a special, superior kind of humans. In psychological language: an inferiority complex was compensated and turned into a complex of superiority.

Luther also made the German mother tongue into an honoured, well-sounding and malleable means of expression. “I thank God for being able to hear and find my God in the German language, for neither you nor me would ever have been able to find him in Latin, Greek or Hebrew.” “German was promoted to the fourth holy language, more admirable than any other and comparable only to the Hebrew spoken before the confusion of Babel, the language of Adam.”386Luther was not the only German in those days to think that Adam and Eve conversed in their language.

“What we see converging from German humanism is a clearly defined German romanticism”, writes Paul Joachimsen, who points to the analogy with the Romantic movement around 1810. The concept of a German nation took shape. “This concept, while extending back to the German beginnings in time, led to the elaboration of a certain ideal of the German character.”387What in the eyes of others was German backwardness or inferiority, not to say barbarism, was taken up by the Germans and transformed, by means of a romantic interpretation of the past, into a source of pride and self-assertion. Just as Hermann the Cheruscian had defied the Roman colossus, just so was the German Volk, with its unadulterated strength, ready again to take on the racially weakened, feminine, over-civilized Roman-Latin-Welsh peoples, and on any others who dared to challenge it.

Romanticism (1770-1840)

The three trends we distinguished in the Renaissance continued to dominate the cultural and intellectual life in Europe – and do so even today, quite simply because they are elementary aspects of the human make-up. This consists of an emotional, a mental and a spiritual part, in whatever way they are mixed and expressed. To these three elements should be added the material domain of the human personality, which is its basis on this Earth, and which in most cases remains its principal interest. Intellect and emotion went on affirming themselves in the centuries following the Renaissance, more often in discordance than in harmony. (In Europe the magical, occult, semi-spiritual side of existence would remain in the background, although it was always present behind the other two elements of the triad.) Bearing this in mind, it is no simplification to state that the Romantic movement throughout Europe was a reaction against the preponderant role Reason played in “the Age of Reason”, as the century of the Enlightenment was called (in German Aufklärung, in French les Lumières).

German Romanticism presented the world with some of the greatest novelists, poets, philosophers and musicians: the literary men Herder, Goethe, Schiller, Novalis, Heine, Hölderlin; the philosophers Fichte, Schlegel, Hegel, all of them having to define themselves against Kant, paragon of the Aufklärung; and musicians of the stature of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann, who even today delight so many hearts with an art incomparably refined, profound and sublime.

The Age of Reason, especially in its French representatives, the philosophes Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, d’Alembert, d’Holbach, de la Mettrie, and others, dominated the European scene, making French the common language of the nobility, the intellectuals and the international relations between countries. It was the time that Voltaire stayed at the court of the Prussian King Frederick II, and Diderot held long conversations with Catherine II of Russia, emphasizing his words with forceful taps on her thigh. But Reason was a newcomer on this scene, in the sense that previously, in the Middle Ages, it had been no more than “the handmaid of faith”, whereas now it showed pretences to the throne of absolute ruler. True, Reason, after its long sleep since the heydays of classical Greece and Rome, had to regain its freedom to make the human personality, stunted without it, complete. But such fundamental changes or reorientations in the human condition do not come about easily; like all important changes in history they provoke resistance and often passionate enmity. The existential and ideological growth of humanity was mostly fought out on the battlefield (and so was its spiritual growth).

The role of the emotions or life-forces in humanity can be followed, in their dialectical battle with reason, from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance into the Romantic period. The importance of all this for our story is that this development leads directly to the völkisch movement, Fascism in general and Nazism in particular. Passions clashed with the effort to render humanity reasonable; nature was extolled against the modern city, farming and the corporate system against industrialisation, the traditional past against change and progress. The Volk, embodiment of a living soul, was put against the individual and individualization – and if the individual genius was so highly considered by the Romantics, it was because he or she was the channel through which the soul of the Volk could communicate with God, or with the World Soul, or with the universal Spirit. The greatest genius was to be the Leader of the Volk, the Great One sent to do great deeds. Such were some of the themes which later also dominated the mind of the many thousands involved in völkisch, nationalist and pan-German organizations.

The great hero of the romantic period was Napoléon Bonaparte, much admired and not less hated, riding through Europe at the head of his armies and implementing the ideals of the French Revolution, which were the ideals of the Enlightenment. “Napoleon burst upon the Germans like a hurricane. He dissolved the Holy Roman Empire, replacing hundreds of separate sovereignties with thirty-eight; outraging clergy, he abolished ecclesiastical states, church courts, tithes, monasteries, and convents and seized church property. Nobles fumed as he abolished their feudal states, feudal dues, and tax exemptions, broke up large estates, and cut their power over their peasants. Decreeing equality before the law, Napoleon opened public office to the middle class, guaranteed private property, established modern economic laws and institutions, and built public works, roads, canals, and bridges. He created secular public schools to spread the ideals of the revolution. Most shocking of all, he not only destroyed the ghettos, he gave Jews freedom of worship and the right to own land and practice trades.”388

All this happened at the time of dominance of the French culture and its vehicle, the French language. The political and cultural reaction against this “Welsh” imperialism grew vehement and became an important step in the evolution of the German self-consciousness. “The German wave of liberation against the French conqueror and ruler by force, Napoleon I, definitively awakened the national awareness in the German people. It awakened such a plenitude of national enthusiasm, force and longing … that whole future generations would be nurtured by its inheritance.”389

It is rather puzzling that some of the foremost mouthpieces of this heightened German national awareness were the philosophers, discoursing from their influential positions at the universities. Puzzling this is because as a whole they formed the school of “German Idealism”, which attained some of the most elevated and abstract thinking in the history of philosophy, and is therefore often compared with the Socrates-Plato-Aristotle period in classical Athens. Nonetheless, figures of the format of Fichte, Schlegel and Hegel were so much embedded in the German awakening that, in one way or another, they managed to regard their idea of Germany as the culmination of world history and world culture. “With the significant exception of Slavs and Jews, Fichte [ 1762-1814] believed all Europeans to be related by blood. But the Germans were the only people who retained their ancient spirit undistorted by foreign influences. While the French adopted a Latin language, Germans kept their original tongue, retaining the spiritual qualities as ‘the original race’. Still close to the ways of their tribal warrior-ancestors, they were free of Latin, French and Jewish individualism, obsession with property, and the crass pursuit of material well-being. We alone, Fichte said, still feel as did the ancient Germanic tribes: duties and rights are derived from subordination to the common will. Only Germans are fit for the new era of social cooperation and collective moral idealism.”390This anti-individualistic thinking will lead directly to the bonding of the völkisch youth organizations and the Nazi slogan Du bist nichts, dein Volk ist alles: you are nothing, your people is everything.

But Fichte went still further when in his Addresses to the German Nation (1807-08) he proclaimed: “It is you Germans who, of all peoples, possess most clearly the germ of human perfectibility, and to whom belongs the leadership in the development of mankind … There is no alternative: if you sink, then mankind sinks with you, without any hope of resurrection.”391“Fichte and other Romantics radicalized the Christian apocalyptic”, writes Michael Ley, “the salvation of humanity is no longer the task of God but of Man, in whom God incarnates himself. The new bringers of salvation and redeemers of the world are the Germans … The Germans will build a worldwide empire of the spirit … The Jews incorporate the Antichrist, who must be subjugated … To protect oneself from the Jews Fichte proposes either to cut their heads off or to send them into the Promised Land.”392

According to Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) the sense of history consists in the working out of the Idea of the Spirit, unfolding itself in phases. For there is a World Spirit which incarnates itself in world history, thereby aiming at a cosmic salvation. The dominant people in the ongoing phase of world history were, taught Hegel, the Germans. “The other peoples have no rights against the absolute right of the Germans to be the carriers of the present phase of the development of the World Spirit”, and the other peoples “do not count any longer in world history”. To the Germans fell the mission once entrusted by God to the Jews. On the shoulders of the Germans rested therefore the salvation of the world. And (once again) the freedom of the individual lay in the voluntary submission to the State, which was to be revered as something divine in an earthly form. Such a kind of thinking, comments Ley, “means factually the incorporation of the individuals in the state and encourages any kind of totalitarianism”.393

These are a few examples of a school of thought which has deeply influenced German thinking by positing the superiority of the German people and its mission for the salvation of humankind, the insignificance of the individual and the all-importance of the State. These ideas can be found, sometimes verbatim, in the völkisch publications, in those of the Pan-Germans and in the literature of the Nazis. In fact, several anthologies of sayings by the romantic and idealist thinkers were published in the later part of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century. Some such anthologies, for instance Treitschke’s Handbuch des Judentums, sold in enormous numbers and were reprinted till the end of the Third Reich.

What the nationalist literature did not promulgate were the visionary predictions of a Romantic like Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), who was a Jew. “Christianity – and this is its nicest merit – has somewhat softened the crude German fighting spirit but could not eradicate it, and when the taming Talisman, the Cross, falls to pieces, then the savagery of the old fighters will erupt again, the senseless rage of the berserker, of which the Nordic poets sang and spoke so much. That talisman is now corroded and the day will come when it will collapse. Then old stony gods will arise and rub the dust of millennia from their eyes, and Thor with his gigantic hammer will jump up at last and smash the gothic cathedrals …

“And when the time comes when you hear the cracking of a thunder as it has never cracked before in the history of the world, know: the German thunder has finally struck its aim. At this terrible noise the eagles will drop from the sky and the lions in the farthest deserts of Africa will draw their tails between their legs and crawl into their royal dens. A play will be enacted in Germany compared to which the French revolution was but an innocent idyll. And that time shall come.”394

List and Lanz

We have met Guido von List and Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels in the first chapters of our story. We recall that these Austrian mythic visionaries were widely read and exerted a direct influence on the Germanenorden, of which the Thule Society was a chapter. Both saw the Germanic race as a people of god-men who temporarily had forgotten their divine origin, but who would, in the near future, regain their status of world-dominators, using the other races as their slaves. “For his descriptions of the millennium [List] tended to make use of mythological materials drawn from medieval German apocalyptic, Norse legends, and modern theosophy in order to convey its fantastic nature. He related the medieval tale of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa who lay sleeping inside the Kyffhäuser mountain. Once he awakened, Barbarossa would unleash a wave of Teutonic fury across the world prior to the establishment of German hegemony. This tale owed its inspiration to a complex of medieval millenarian hopes which had originally crystallized around the Hohenstauffen emperors.”395(Hitler will call the invasion of Russia “Operation Barbarossa”.)

List also gave voice to a strong, profound expectation in the German people of the coming of a Saviour, a Herzog who would raise the people from their age-old misery and conduct them at last into their glorious future. This need for an all-powerful master was an important feature in the psychological make-up of the Germans long before the strong man became the paragon of Fascism in many European nations. The Führer (i.e. leader) was longed and prayed for; he was expected before he took shape in Adolf Hitler. It was not the least of Hitler’s intuitions that he knew exactly how to take on the part and act in a way to which the German masses subconsciously responded with religious fervour. “The cry for a leader”, writes Günter Scholdt, “arose from the searing wish for somebody who would provide meaning in a secularized time, which apparently burdened the individual with an excess of individual responsibility and made him feel lonely.”396And he quotes Bruno Brehm: “This is a dream dreamt by all peoples: when princes and lords, learned men and priests no longer know how to go on because the laws no longer obtain, the faith is troubled and the people confused, then appears, called by no one and longed for by all, from the despairing crowd a simple man to save them. The people see this man, feel that he has come at the very last moment, recognize themselves in him and suddenly know what they want.”397

“As early as 1891, List had discovered a verse of the Voluspa which invoked an awesome and benevolent messianic figure:

A wealthy man joins the circle of counsellors,

A Strong One from Above ends the factions,

He settles everything with fair decisions,

Whatever he ordains shall endure for ever.

This “Strong One from Above” became a stock phrase in all of List’s subsequent references to the millennium. An ostensibly superhuman individual would end all human factions and confusion with the establishment of an eternal order. This divine dictator possessed particular appeal for those who lamented the uncertain nature of industrial society. List eagerly anticipated the advent of this leader, whose monolithic world of certainties would fulfil the socio-political conditions of his national millennium.”398

“‘The Unconquerable’ was that heroic prince supposedly already prophesied by the ancient Germanic Edda. List considered it his life’s task to prepare this ‘Strong One from Above’ and the Germanic world domination”, writes Brigitte Hamann. “The longed for Germanic people’s leader, ‘the Strong One from Above’, would, according to List, rule as a god-man and be subject to no law. This heroic prince would be recognizable by the fact that he would be victorious in every battle. ‘The Strong One from Above’ would always be right. For List saw him attuned to the forces of Nature … He could make no mistakes. To him the ‘final victory’ was assured.” And Hamann reproduces a facsimile from one of List’s books in which he says: “I offer with this work the highest and holiest that has been offered for long centuries: the proclamation of the Ario-Germanic dawn of the morning of the gods – the Strong One from Above is coming again!”399

Lanz von Liebenfels, List’s disciple and friend, was not less outspoken. “Germany could no longer allow ‘the apish louts [the subhuman, animal-like Chandalas] to fleece the world’, since the entire planet was her natural colony with a farm for every bold soldier and, in accordance with the hierarchical principle of racial purity, a country estate for every officer.

“An apocalyptic battle would be released upon the corrupt and resistant world, in order to attain this racist millennium. Lanz’s words echoed List’s own prophecy of the First World War: ‘Amid the jubilation of the liberated god-men we would conquer the whole planet … the fire should be raked until sparks fly from the barrels of German battleships and flashes start from German cannon … and order is created among the quarrelsome Udumu-band [of subhumans]’. This envisaged order was a pan-German racist and hierarchical paradise, which included gnostic hierophants, a new caste of warriors and a world revolution to establish eternal German hegemony.

“This apocalypse fused several German intellectual traditions into a millenarian vision of the new fatherland. The bards and sages of early Romanticism marched with the princes and soldiers of pre-industrial conservatism into a religious paradise, defined by such [Lanzian] neo-gnostic symbols as the Holy Grail, the electron and the Church of the Holy Spirit. Its attainment was conditional upon the total subjugation of the inferiors.”400

A Place in the Sun

Germany as a coherent nation was born in 1871, strangely enough in the Hall of Mirrors of Louis XIV’s palace at Versailles. Its formation was the result of the political talent and unrelenting efforts of one man, Otto von Bismarck, who became its first chancellor. The emperor of the new nation was the Hohenzollern William I, king of Prussia, who thus became the primus inter pares of no less than eighteen German princes, including four kings, all continuing to wield the sceptre in their hereditary principalities. Prussia became not only the heartland of the new nation, to which it would impart its autocratic and militaristic peculiarities, it also accounted for something like two thirds of the total territory, comprising most of the Rhineland.

A profound change took place in the new Germany, clearly discernible in the last decade of the nineteenth century: the transition from an agrarian country into an industrial state. Sebastian Haffner writes: “Germany had already to a great extent become an individual state under Bismarck [who was Chancellor until 1894], but it was in the Wilhelmian period [i.e. under William II] that the industry developed as it did in no other land except far away America.”401The statistics provided for instance in Fritz Fischer’s Krieg der Illusionen are impressive. Germany in those years beat its neighbours in practically every field. It became the leading nation in the chemical, electrical and optical industries, backed up by the powerful banks. It planned and began building the Berlin-Baghdad Railway, aimed directly at the ever more important oil fields in the Middle East and at the heart of the British colonial empire, while securing a strong foothold in Turkey, on the southern threshold of Russia. It intended to challenge Great Britain also on the seas.

In step with “the enormous German economic upswing” (Fischer) grew its hardly less considerable self-esteem, which might also be called Prussian arrogance or conceit. Haffner says that “an excessive feeling of power” developed at that time. “The nation’s mood of conscious power could absorb unlimited bombast”, writes Barbara Tuchman sarcastically. “Germans knew themselves to be the strongest military power on earth, the most efficient merchants, the busiest bankers, penetrating every continent, financing the Turks, flinging out a railroad from Berlin to Baghdad, gaining the trade of Latin America, challenging the sea power of Great Britain, and in the realm of the intellect systematically organizing, under the concept of Wissenschaft, every branch of human knowledge. They were deserving and capable of mastery of the world. Rule by the best must be fulfilled. By this time Nietzsche, as Brandes wrote in 1909, held ‘undisputed sway’ over the minds of his countrymen. What they lacked and hungered for was the world’s acknowledgment of their mastery. So long as it was denied, frustration grew and with it the desire to compel acknowledgment by the sword.”402

The slogan of those years was that Germany, latecomer among the dominant European nations, wanted its own “place in the sun” – but then a rather ample one. Its industry consumed vast amounts of iron ore and coal, of which it had only limited reserves; therefore its industrialists and military planners cast a greedy eye on the iron ore mines and coal fields in Belgium and northern France. The myth of the lack of “living space”, launched at that time of a rapid population increase (and actually contradicted by the success of its industry and economy), initiated the first ideas of a conquest of spaces in Russia, sparsely populated by backward, inferior people. Germany should become at the very least the dominant nation in Central Europe, not only economically but also politically and culturally. “Since Bismarck’s departure a kind of big power awareness had manifested itself. Many Germans of the Wilhelmian time, including members from all social classes, saw suddenly a great national vision, a national goal: we become a world power, we spread over the whole world – Germany on top of the world!” All this led to an unbridled pride, reflects Haffner, but unfortunately also to “a bombastic, excessively self-conscious, self-loving attitude”.403

The members of “all social classes”, as Haffner would have it, belonged mainly to the middle class on the traditional, conservative right. They were the nurturing ground of the fanatically rightist university students at the feet of nationalist and anti-Semitic professors like Treitschke; and they constituted the reading public of authors like Lagarde, Langbehn, Bernhardi and Spengler who edged Germany on along its predestined glorious path of world hegemony. One finds the diverse trends represented by those authors merged in the writings of a curious figure, Houston Chamberlain (1855-1927), especially in his hugely successful book The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, published in 1899. Chamberlain was an Englishman, son of an admiral and cousin of the statesman Neville Chamberlain; he was educated in France, became a qualified biologist, and chose Germany as his second fatherland. He wrote (sometimes in trance) in German, and married Eva, the daughter of Richard Wagner, thereby becoming the master of Haus Wahnfried in Bayreuth, where the composer had spent the last years of his life and were he lay buried. Georges Mosse calls Chamberlain “the most influential of racial theorists”, and Joseph Goebbels praised him as “the father of our thought”.

“If from now on [the Germans abroad] remain closely bound to Germany, consciously, openly and proudly German”, wrote Chamberlain, “then the world conquest will mature with astonishing rapidity. To mention but one example: why should Germany have to conquer Australia? How would this conquest be begun? How would it be executed? But once even ten per cent of the inhabitants of that continent are conscious Germans, they will constitute nine tenths of the intelligence and education, and consequently provide the guiding mind.” Konrad Heiden, who quotes these words, comments: “Chamberlain writes ‘Australia’, because the vigilant military censorship forbade the intended ‘South America’ or plain ‘America’. Inspired by the mania of perfection, he foresaw a perfect Germany that would create a perfect world.”

And Heiden quotes Chamberlain again: “Once Germany has achieved the power – and we may confidently expect her to achieve it – she must immediately begin to carry out a scientific policy of genius. Augustus undertook a systematic transformation of the world, and Germany must do the same … Equipped with offensive and defensive weapons, organized as firmly and flawlessly as the Army, superior to all in art, science, technology, industry, commerce, finance, in every field, in short, teacher, helmsman and pioneer of the world, every man at his post, every man giving his utmost for the holy cause – thus Germany, emanating efficiency, will conquer the world by inner superiority.”404Race was for Chamberlain “the dominant principle of history. He saw the German race as the only one capable of creating culture and rising up, since the third century, from the ‘chaos of peoples’ caused by the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church. To this race belonged the future if it could free oneself from the anti-Germanic elements, in the first place from the Jews. Of all Germanic peoples it was specifically the Germans who were called to rule the world. If they did not succeed in this, they were condemned to perish.”405

Emperor William II was one of Chamberlain’s readers, considered him his intellectual advisor and even mentor, decorated him with the Iron Cross, a war medal, and decreed that a copy of Foundations should be present in every Prussian library. As late as 1922 the emperor would write in his memoirs: “Germanhood in its glory was first explained and preached to the enthused German people by Chamberlain.”406

Another admirer paying homage to Houston Chamberlain was Adolf Hitler when in 1923, a few weeks before his Beer Hall Putsch, he visited Haus Wahnfried for the first time. “It is clear that Hitler had carefully planned his visit to Wahnfried”, writes Brigitte Hamann, “which happened at a moment when he was already considered someone special, even the generally hoped for future ‘saviour of Germany’ … That he went there at that very moment, shortly before the Putsch and the expected breakthrough to power, took on the air of a sort of consecration. As religious believers go on a pilgrimage before making an important decision, so Hitler went to obtain the blessings of Chamberlain and of the deceased master, Richard Wagner.”407

By then Chamberlain was a bedridden man who could only hold Hitler’s hand and mumble some hardly understandable words. But afterwards he still managed to write a letter to Hitler in which he thanked God for having been able to meet, at the end of his life, the redeemer of Germany. “That in the hour of her deepest need Germany gives birth to a Hitler proves her vitality … May God protect you!”408Siegfried Wagner was equally impressed by Hitler’s first visit: “Hitler is a wonderful man, the real soul of the German people. He must succeed.”409

“Hitler appears as the specifically radical representative of a concept of German world hegemony that can be traced back to the late Bismarck period. As early as the turn of the century, it had condensed into specific war aims, and after the failed attempt of 1914-18 a fresh attempt was made to carry it out, with new and greater resolution, in the Second World War. An imperialistic drive nearly a century old culminated in Hitler.” (Joachim Fest410)

The First World War

“The tension of the present time must result in a discharge”, wrote Helmuth von Moltke, chief of the German general staff, a few weeks before the First World War began. When the explosion finally occurred, in August 1914, it was greeted in all concerned countries with jubilation, caused by an instantaneous inflation of the national egos. The Archbishop of Cambrai proclaimed in a pastoral letter: “The French soldiers feel more or less strongly and clearly that they are soldiers of Christ and Mary, defenders of the Faith, and that dying in the French way means dying in the Christian way. It is Christ who loves the French.”411And the English poet Rupert Brooke wrote on the occasion: “Now, God be thanked who has matched us with His hour …”

Nowhere was the enthusiasm greater than in Germany, convinced that, by way of a lightning-quick war, God was clearing its long-deserved and promised place among the peoples. Fritz Fischer quotes Max Lenz, his predecessor on the chair of history at Hamburg University, who wrote in the first days of the war: “Our youth, jubilant as if they went to a feast, submit themselves to the trial by ordeal of the battles. In our people the spirit of Siegfried has arisen in which the principal characteristics of all true religiosity are present: humility, loyalty, obedience, a sense of duty to the extreme, and the strength of our faith in the victory of a just cause … We will be victorious because we have to be victorious, for God cannot abandon his people.”412

The military men were not the only promoters of the war; they were strongly supported, not to say pushed, by the great industrialists and by the Pan-Germans – in fact by the whole block of nationalist reactionaries. They were also supported by the Protestant Church, which since the times of its founder, Martin Luther, had always been a nationalist Church. This Church, addressing the faithful every Sunday from the pulpit, was a very influential voice in the concert of opinions, which was already essentially nationalistic and inimical to the rest of an inferior but threatening world.

“In those days hundreds of war sermons were published as testimonies to the German spirit and faith”, writes Fischer. “There one reads time and again that persevering will be possible only if ‘the spirit of 1914’ remains alive. Together with these ideas there was the conviction that the Germans were the chosen people. In sermons without number the Germans were presented as God’s people because God had entrusted them with the task of lifting up the world, by means of this war, to a higher cultural level. The reasoning follows that God has proposed to them to become victorious and powerful also on the material level; they have to accept this proposal because God’s intention is the well-being of the German people.”413And Fischer quotes the words spoken at a ceremony in honour of William II: “If anywhere in history, then it is in our history that the divine providence is palpably present. God has come to meet us, it is God’s will that acts in world history. Being one with our history means being one with God.” Which goes to show that Hegel’s way of seeing things was very much alive. “The German people are frequently mentioned as the instrument of God”, writes Fischer. “One often reads: we believe in the task our people have to accomplish for the world.”414

As shown in the previous pages, the acme the German national ego reached in August 1914 was prepared throughout the preceding century, not as a vague sentiment but in clearly articulated thought and formulation. A time bomb had started ticking in the young, ambitious German nation. There were threats that it would light the fuse on several occasions in the first years of the twentieth century, for instance at the time of the Morocco crises and the wars in the Balkan. When in the end a handful of prominent Germans in sensitive political and military positions decided, somehow to their own perplexity, to do the decisive deed, the nation exulted.

Sharing in the exultation on the Odeonsplatz in Munich was a twenty-five year old painter of watercolours who had been rejected as unfit by the Austrian army, but who now volunteered to sacrifice his life for Germany in a Bavarian regiment. In Adolf Hitler’s later speeches and writings one can trace all the thoughts touched upon above, but fitted into his own peculiar frame of mind. The more one studies the two World Wars, the more one is intrigued by the parallels between the first and the second one: the drive for world hegemony in Germany, the intended conquests in Belgium and France, the unfulfilled hope of an agreement with Great Britain, the plans for a colonization of Russia, the two-front-war feared and nevertheless engaged into, the pretence of being the leading, superior people in the world … The First World War and the Second World war were actually two episodes of one and the same war.

8. Long Skulls and Broad Skulls

We will never be brutal or heartless when it isn’t necessary. We Germans, the only people in the world with a decent attitude towards animals, will also have a decent attitude towards these human animals.

Heinrich Himmler

The White Man’s Pride

We have met the noble Aryan – the “Prometheus of mankind”, “standard-bearer of human progress” and “highest image of the Lord” – when leafing through Hitler’s Mein Kampf. We recall that the discovery of an Aryan root language was made around 1800, in that fecund period of literary Romanticism and philosophical Idealism, and that this discovery went hand in hand with a keen interest in Indian culture and religion. The hypothesis of a language common to great parts of Europe and Asia was erroneously extended to the existence of an Aryan people which spoke that language and of which the best among the surviving human tribes descended.

All these complex intellectual exercises took place against the background of expanding colonialism, when a few West European nations were venturing all over the globe, encountered little resistance from peoples who looked so different, felt themselves to be their rightful conquerors and appropriated their possessions. This they did in the name of their racial superiority, their culture and their one true God. What is now called racism was for those West-Europeans at that time a normal component in their way of perceiving the world, based on the supposedly incontestable fact that some people (with white skins) were stronger, more intelligent and inventive, and more religious than other people (mostly with coloured skins). “What today we find abominably racist in the writings of Gobineau, Darwin, Haeckel, Büchner, Vogt, Gumplowicz, etc. … was then the prevalent opinion, common to the point that hardly anybody thought of criticizing it, either on the left or on the right”, writes André Pichot415. Dietrich Bronder is therefore right in reminding us that racism as such “did not actually originate in Germany, that it started in France and England”, but that the dimensions racism took in Germany resulted eventually “in such terrible political consequences”.416

Some sayings from that time will illustrate Bronder’s point. The Scottish philosopher David Hume “inclined to presume”, in 1754, that generally speaking “all other races of human beings were naturally inferior to the white race”. The other races had never developed a civilized nation or prominent individuals in any field. Even among the most barbarous white people, like the ancient Germans, something outstanding could be found. Such a constant and uniform difference between whites and non-whites “could not have existed if nature had not made an original distinction between the human races”. The German professor Christoph Meiners wrote that only the white peoples, especially the Celts, “possessed true courage, the love of freedom, and the other passions and virtues of great souls”. The “black and ugly people” were characterized by a deplorable absence of virtues and the presence of some horrible vices.

“What would the world be without the Europeans?” asked Johan-Christian Fabricius, a disciple of the Swedish botanist Linnaeus (1707-78). The European, called by Destiny to the hegemony over a world which he alone can enlighten with his intelligence and subjugate by his valour, is the human being par excellence and the head of the human race; the others, a vile mixture of barbarians, are by way of speaking no more than its embryo. Charles White, a surgeon in Manchester, was of much the same opinion, for he wrote in 1799: “Climbing up the ladder, we arrive at last at the white European who, being the furthest removed from the animal creation, can therefore be considered the most beautiful product of the human race.” Nobody would dare to cast doubt upon the superiority of his intellectual powers. Where else but in the European could one find such a well-shaped head, such a large brain, where such a straight stature and noble gait? “In which other region of the globe shall one find that exquisite blush spreading on the countenance of the beautiful European women, cynosures of modesty and delicate feelings?”417

Europe dominated the world, saw the world through its own eyes and felt as dominators do. By its own history it measured the history of all others; its scientific and cultural acquisitions – and they were many – were to be infused gradually and cautiously into other peoples; its economic exploitation was the legitimate rewards of its efforts; its God was the true God, and the idols of the heathen had to be broken. It would take a long time before this “Eurocentrism” would be put into question, before the rest of the world would awake from its temporal sleep, reassert its values and powers, and retake possession of its rightful material and cultural property. This process is still ongoing.

The Aryan myth was one of the consequences of the Eurocentric manner of perceiving the world. To have been the cradle of the Aryans was soon denied the brown-skinned, idolatrous Indians and the uncultured Iranians; the birthplace of the Aryans shifted successively to South, Central and finally North Europe, where the northern part of Germany and the south of Sweden became “the womb of the peoples”. Of course, nobody knew what actually had happened there as recently as two or three hundred years before Christ. This left the gates wide open for all kinds of speculations about Hyperborean, Thulean and Atlantidian origins.

The Nazi mythology was an extreme outcome of the European myths as construed by the feelings of superiority of the white people. Some haughty feelings in those myths were tempered by the Christian faith and morals, and by the ideals of the Enlightenment. Romantic and völkisch Germany, however, sought to renew its vitality through contact with its pre-Christian origins, through re-rooting itself in the powers of its old gods. It would take the fancies about being Herrenmenschen literally, and when it thought it had, under Hitler, built up the necessary military capability, try to turn them into reality.

Social Darwinism

Racism found itself justified by Darwin’s theory of evolution published in 1859 under the title The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. The racism deduced from Darwin’s revolutionary view of nature was that all life is a continuous struggle for existence in which the fittest (strongest, cleverest) win the upper hand and survive, and that their position has to be defended against constant challenge. Thought through, Darwinism declared nature to be the playground not of Life but of Death; in the words of a French biologist: “Life is the totality of functions which resist death.”

The racial egoism of the time, however, took a positive view of Darwinism as a daring, manly, quasi aristocratic attitude towards life. “To understand the obsession with war in Darwinian sociology, one has to know to what extent and in which way Darwinism influenced biology towards the end of the nineteenth century.”418As Poliakov mentions: “Max Nordau noted already in 1889 that Darwinism was becoming the supreme authority of the militarists in all European countries: ‘Since the theory of evolution has been promulgated they can cover their natural barbarism with the name of Darwin and give free play to their bloodthirsty instincts as their being the last word of science’ … The gospels of power were preached above all in imperial Germany and in the Anglo-Saxon countries. In the latter too ‘Social Darwinism’ was easily combined with the Germanic-Aryan idea, also called ‘theory of the Teutonic origins’.”419In fact, some biologists, and not only those of Anglo-Saxon origin, put the British side by side with the Germans, if not above them, at the top of the tree of humanity.

Darwinism was taken for granted as solid science – which it was not. André Pichot, a French epistemologist and historian of the ideas underlying science, shows in his essay La société pure – de Darwin à Hitler that Darwin’s evolutionary theory, based on his observations of nature, did not have a scientific leg to stand on. The reasoning supporting the theory was borrowed, he says, from British sociologists and economists, especially from Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus and Francis Galton. How the species evolved, which was the process of the changes and the mechanism of the mutations within the cell, Darwin simply could not know.

“His Origin of Species dates from 1859, and Darwinism took more than fifty years to work itself out, finding its definitive formulation only in the years 1900-15, after the rediscovery of the laws of Mendel and the beginnings of genetics. Before 1900, lacking a theory of heredity worth its name, and lacking a theory of variation (a mutation was then considered an exceptional perturbation without importance), Darwinism was a badly confirmed and formless theory. The only point on which there was a real agreement and some constancy was natural selection … Between 1900 and 1915 genetics gradually comes into its own … and agrees well with Darwinism … Thanks to this, Darwinism takes on a form which is somewhat more convincing and scientific. This is the form it has kept until now and which owns, all in all, rather little to Darwin himself.”420

Darwin’s theory of evolution, contrary to what is often thought, became an instant success and “the idea of applying Darwinism to society and politics was immediate”. “As soon as The Origin of Species had been published, perceptive thinkers understood that not only the ideas about history and the evolution of the human societies but even the bases of morals and politics could no longer be as they had been before … Darwin, by formulating the principle of the struggle for existence and selection, did not only revolutionize biology and natural philosophy: he transformed political science. Possessing this principle enabled to get hold of the laws of life and death of a nation, laws which had escaped the speculation of philosophers”, wrote Vacher de Lapouge.421The application of Darwinism to society and politics, to which Darwin himself might not have agreed, is called “Social Darwinism”.

According to Social Darwinism the human being is no longer created directly by God: it did and does belong to the animal kingdom and is the result of a long evolution. The human being is a higher animal, but still an animal. Linnaeus had been the first, in 1751, to determine the three kingdoms of nature: mineral, vegetable and animal; he classified man in the animal kingdom, in the order of primates, together with the apes. This idea was extremely controversial in a world still dominated by the Christian religion, and some biologists proposed a fourth kingdom reserved specifically for man. It was not Darwin but Lamarck who, in 1809, following the way shown by Linnaeus, made man descend from the ape. Darwin, shocked by the logical implications of his scheme of nature, did not write upon this subject in his Origin but waited till the publication of The Descent of Man, in 1871, when the animal origin of man had already been extrapolated from his thesis and become accepted knowledge among the general public.

The strife, no longer of individuals but of groups of humans – tribes, classes, races, nations – became now a “scientifically founded” and justified phenomenon, easy to accept because history had little else to show. Just as the fittest individual won the upper hand over the weaker one, so the stronger group of individuals would and should conquer the weaker group. This “law of nature” was universally applicable; not to follow it, for instance by letting the weaker compassionately survive and even procreate, would mean tampering with the order of nature, whether or not created by a God. (Eugenics – and ultimately the eradication of a people that was supposed to be harmful, like the Jews – was therefore a development in the logical order of things.) Such reasoning left no longer any possibility open for an upward evolution beyond animal man, into a future where the human being might rise above his animal characteristics. In a materialistic era Social Darwinism, however ramshackle the scaffolding of the science supporting it, won the day. It is still very much alive in some of its variants, e.g. socio-biology, and even recent philosophers and sociologists felt the inclination to submerge the individual into the mass, asserting that the individual is nothing but a cell in a social organism. (Yet, it is never social organisms which put together philosophical or scientific theories, or which write books.)

“Racism and Darwinism enter into a symbiosis in Hitler’s Mein Kampf”, writes Christian Zentner.422Some of the sources of Hitler’s book are now familiar to us, and we know that it became gospel truth in Nazi Germany, where it moulded the thinking of millions through political propaganda, education and the media. Moreover, its fundamental Social Darwinism struck a chord with contemporary German thought. The following sayings of Hitler will speak for themselves.

In Mein Kampf he writes: “Nobody can doubt that this world will one day be the scene of dreadful struggles for existence on the part of mankind. In the end the instinct of self-preservation alone will triumph. Before its consuming fire the so-called humanitarianism, which connotes only a mixture of fatuous timidity and self-conceit, will melt away as under the March sunshine. Man has become great through perpetual struggle. In perpetual peace his greatness must decline.”423At the end of Hitler’s Table Talk, Henry Picker has included a secret speech by Hitler, delivered in May 1942 to 10 000 young lieutenants, “his military successors”, to whom he said: “A deeply meaningful sentence by a great military philosopher [Clausewitz] says that struggle, which means war, is the father of all things. He who has a look at nature, seeing who she actually is, will find that these words apply to all living beings and to all that happens, not only on this earth but far beyond it. The whole universe seems to be dominated by this thought alone: that an eternal selection takes place in which the stronger keeps the right to remain alive and the weaker succumbs. Therefore some say that Nature is cruel and without mercy, but others will understand that Nature, in so doing, only obeys an iron law of logic.” This was the lesson Hitler had learned, and which he worded rather civilly in one of his nightly monologues: “One must not take pity on people who are marked by destiny to perish … One must in no way take pity on whoever lacks the necessary hardness in life.”424

“Life is cruel”, reflected Hitler, deep in the night reclining in a comfortable chair at his eastern field-headquarters. “To become, to be and to stop being: everything always means to kill. All that is born must die, whether because of illness, accident or war, it is all the same. Yet those who have been struck down by the war can find solace in the fact that their sacrifice has been made for the future of their people.” For he reasoned as follows: “If some reproach me that one hundred thousand or two hundred thousand people have died because I wage this war, then I can answer them: because of what I have done until now the German nation has increased by more than two and a half million people. If I demand ten percent of them to be sacrificed, then I have given them ninety percent. I hope that in another ten years there will be ten to fifteen million Germans more in the world – men or women, I don’t care: I create the necessary conditions for life.”425“War is what is most natural, most common. War is always, war is everywhere. There is no beginning to it, there is no peace, ever. War is life. War is in every contest, war is the primeval state”, said Hitler to Hermann Rauschning. And also: “Nature is cruel, that’s why we may be so too.”426

And yet Hitler did not believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution. In the composite arrangement of his mind the most irrational and contradictory ideas existed side by side (as they did in the ideology called “Nazism”); he accepted the practical interpretations of Darwin’s vulgarizers, but not the theory as such. For if Darwin had it right, all human beings originated from a common ancestor; how then could one justify the existence of superior and inferior people? In addition, Darwin had never said that natural selection would lead to a race of superior people; according to Darwin the mass of living beings was quite undifferentiated, and to be the fittest on a certain occasion did not imply any permanence of that status. Furthermore, Darwin’s theory applied only to individuals; its extension to social bodies was not of his doing and constituted in fact a distortion from the original theory.

In 1942, after having gone through “a book about the origins of the human races”, Hitler therefore said: “From where do we get the right to believe that man has not been what he is today from his very beginnings? The study of nature teaches us that in the kingdoms of plants and animals changes and developments occur, but we find nowhere within a species a change as big as the jump man must have made if he had to develop from the ape-like state to his present state.”427Ultimately he found a satisfactory explanation in the bizarre “World Ice Theory” of Hans Hörbiger, which held that the universe resulted from a battle between fire and ice, that the solar system was created by the explosion of a big cosmic body, and that the geological periods were to be explained by the crashes of successive moons upon our planet Earth.

Treitschke, Fritsch, Haeckel

It was to be expected that the self-affirmation of the Germans would reach high peaks at times when the material and racial feelings were singularly stimulated. Two such occasions were the foundation of the German nation in 1871 and the take-off of its industry and economy in the Wilhelmian period before the Great War.

The foremost nationalist representative of the first of these periods was Herr Professor Heinrich von Treitschke (1834-96). “He was active before the unification, but his influence was especially notable during the last decades of the century … Standing before packed audiences, Treitschke eloquently proclaimed his faith in a German morality and his deep feeling for the Volk. A note of militancy pervaded his lectures [at the University of Berlin], as if he were attempting to transcend his deafness and in his lectures accomplish the feats of courage denied him on the battlefield.”428

“Heinrich von Treitschke’s career mirrors the increasing racism and reaction of the universities”, writes John Weiss. “The favourite of the Prussian establishment, he was appointed royal historiographer by the Kaiser, and no middle-class household was complete without his famous German History of the Nineteenth Century [in five volumes and unfinished] … Idol of the German Student Federation, Treitschke gave scholarly sanction to establishment prejudices. For two decades his public lectures at the University of Berlin were attended by the highest-ranking members of the government and the military, his classes crammed with their sons and future schoolteachers, who, while their opposite numbers in France taught the virtues of republicanism, taught those of autocracy … His strident voice harshened by near deafness, Treitschke ranted like a demagogue, praised imperialism, denounced the Jews, and raged against democracy and socialism. Civilians, he insisted, should have no say over the sacred army budget; thank the God of Battles there had been no universal suffrage when Prussia unified Germany.”

Here were created or consolidated the elements of the German mind: Prussian nationalism and racism, autarchy, militarism, respect for the social hierarchical pyramid, unconditional obedience and a sense of duty; they would buttress the national ambitions and make belligerency part of the air the Germans breathed. This spirit was so pervading that even the Left gave in to it in 1914 and again in 1933. It was this spirit which would render democratic republicanism impossible, quite simply because the democratic principles were foreign and therefore incomprehensible to it. “Why give the vote to readers of a daily press that encouraged every ignoramus to utter opinions on matters best left to a few? Universal elementary education created discontent. If it must be, appoint retired non-commissioned officers as teachers to instil the right values. For Treitschke, socialism was the treason of the Jews, feminism the illegitimate offspring of Jewish socialism and Hebrew females. Violating nature, feminism also threatened the sources of Prussian greatness, the patriarchal family and the warrior ethic. As the Nazis would insist, woman’s role was one of childbearer for the race, nurse to the warrior, symbol of the gentler sentiments.

“Treitschke even criticized Bismarck for not completing the holy task of uniting all Germans in an imperial Weltmacht (world power). A people with the power to conquer and absorb weak states had a divine mandate to do so. ‘Brave peoples expand, cowardly peoples perish.’ Treitschke looked forward to the day when a German fleet would sail up the Thames and a German army occupy London … If Austria and Russia fought, Germany must support Austria [as it would do in 1914 and by so doing unleashed the war], for it was the racial duty of Germans to rule over ‘inferior’ Slavs. In politics, all was force. War united the race and fostered the heroic; peace mutilated the personality and brought the domination of vulgar commerce. Might did not make right: it was right. Treitschke said, as Hitler would say: ‘History is nothing other than the eternal struggle of race against race’.” John Weiss calls the Herr Professor “the crude voice of the barracks writ large”.

“The enormous popularity of Treitschke’s harsh simplicities illustrates how racism enabled so many upper-class Germans to reduce social and moral complexities to racial differences and take seriously those who later, in the midst of social trauma, preached racial revolution and war. Treitschke’s writings were revived by the radical right in the 1920’s, and he was one of the very few nineteenth-century writers to win a place in the official Nazi pantheon of required reading. Quotations from Treitschke were included in the small books of readings carried into battle by German soldiers during World War II.”429

During the second great spasm of German nationalism and racism in the Wilhelmian period, Theodor Fritsch was another powerful figure. He also acted through politics, yet he preferred the more hidden ways, which is why we met him earlier in our story as the founder of the Germanenorden. In all cases German racism was practically identical with anti-Semitism, for the Jews were the main foreign organism, often compared to a germ or a virus, in the living body of the Volk. (Compared to the numbers and the economical and cultural influence of the Jews, the Gypsies were hardly of any importance – if the murder of half a million of them can be said to be of little importance.)

Fritsch, called by some “probably the most important racist and anti-Semite before Hitler”, was a very capable and prolific organizer. We remember that he launched the periodical Der Hammer, from which resulted the local Hammer Societies, which were unified in 1908 in the Reichshammerbund. To counteract the presumed secret activities of the Jews, who wanted to bring the whole world under their power, Fritsch founded the equally secret Germanenorden as a sister organization of the Reichshammerbund – and the Germanenorden became the parent organization of the Thule Society, which introduced us in our early chapters to the lively but murky political world of post-war Munich.

Treitschke and Fritsch were not the only racists of their time, by far. The response they found proves that they were more symptoms than initiators of a mentality which cannot be called otherwise than “common”. Nor did this mentality belong only to historical and literary brains: one of the most powerful racist dynamo’s in Germany before the First World War was the Alldeutsche Verein, the Pan-Germans. They never numbered more than four thousand, but they were a kind of nationalist freemasonry to which only the most influential and high-ranked personalities had access. The historian Karl Lamprecht, advisor to Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg, was a Pan-German, as were the sociologist Max Weber, still studied to today, Gustav Stresemann, the future foreign minister, Ludwig Schemann, publisher of Chamberlain’s works, and many politicians, industrialists and bankers.

Sebottendorff called the Pan-Germans “the most important völkisch association of the pre-war period”. Had he written today, he would probably have used the term “pressure group”. “The development of the Pan-German Association is an example of the coming together of nationalist, völkisch and anti-Semitic circles through the gradual integration of racist thought and anti-Semitism justified by racism in the nationalist and imperialist policies.” (Hermann Gilbhard430) Besides being squarely racist, the Pan-Germans stood chiefly for the integration of all Germans into one Greater German Empire or Reich, and for the hegemony by this Reich over other nations within its sphere of influence. The German “war aims” were their brainchildren, adopted by the politicians and by the Hindenburg-Ludendorff tandem. We have seen that these war aims were actually realized in the East in February 1917, when Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and that they came very close to being realized in the West before the tide of the war definitively turned.

Another Pan-German was the zoologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919). Nowadays his name is seldom printed outside Germany, but during his lifetime he was the teacher to the German nation of the life sciences, and translations of his works appeared in many languages. Of Die Welträtsel, the riddles of the world, published in 1889, 400 000 copies were printed up to 1933. Haeckel was one of the first adherents of Darwinism, which he popularized in his writings. He was also an important scientist in his own right, and a many-sided one, for his research touched fields outside zoology and biology. As his basic outlook on life he conceived a kind of mystical pantheism, postulating that the organic and inorganic realms were ruled by the same physical laws. This led him to pioneering research in the border region between matter and life, and he was the first to surmise that the cell played an important role in matters of inheritance, although science had not yet invented the technical means to explore this field.

Of direct importance to our story were Haeckel’s theories about race, more specifically the way in which he thought the human being was related to the primates and the hierarchical order he surmised within the species homo sapiens. In Haeckel and in all his contemporaries, though they spoke with great authority and were believed with respectful amazement because of their astonishing revelations, “science” consisted mainly of cultural, political, and especially racial prejudices. “[Haeckel’s] criteria are among the most vague. They relate to the nature of the hair, the colour of the skin, the form of the skull and a number of biological characteristics [afterwards to be applied by the racial researchers of the SS-Ahnenerbe], but added to these are also all kinds of other considerations, intellectual, linguistic, social, etc. Haeckel’s classification is a taxonomic fantasy.”431

Haeckel found that humanity consisted of thirty-six races, divided into twelve species. He drew a human ancestral tree in which all of them fitted hierarchically. It will surprise no one that the Indo-Germans came out on top of the tree. What is surprising is that, when drawing the genealogy of the Indo-Germans, Haeckel placed the Anglo-Saxons next to the High-Germans (Hoch-Deutsche), apparently a degree more developed than the Low-Germans and the Dutch. The Negro tribes were hardly different from the “man-apes”. Like most of his contemporaries, Haeckel found a considerably greater “psychic” difference between the higher and the lower humans than between the lower humans and the apes.

“Haeckel and other authors like him would evidently have had a tough time explaining the degree of biological evolution according to which they classified the races, but the problem did not even come to their mind”, writes Pichot. “In fact, they hierarchized civilization and transposed this hierarchy into the biological domain because they gave to the civilizations a hereditary basis: the superiority of the Germans and the Anglo-Saxons in Haeckel is manifestly inspired by the greater progress of the industrial revolution in these peoples. Nevertheless, however fictitious the evolutionary degree may have been as a criterion of the hierarchization of the races, it worked perfectly within the social-Darwinian ideology of the time, and it supported its inherent racism by giving it a semblance of scientific justification.”432

Another surprise of Haeckel’s tree of humanity is that he, though a prominent Pan-German, put the Semites on a nearly identical level with the Indo-Germans. If the Jews were hated and feared, it was in part because they were secretly admired (also by Hitler) for their surviving qualities and purity as a race, and for their intelligence. The characteristics of the Jews, stereotyped by Christianity in general, were ingrained, “programmed” in the thinking modes of the people; yet it was during Haeckel’s lifetime that such thought attitudes would become virulent and aggressive because German nationalism and racism became virulent and aggressive. Even Treitschke wanted to give the Jews a chance to integrate into the nation, by converting to Christianism, before he became a militant anti-Semite and coined the slogan “The Jews are our misfortune”, which would resound through the coming generations. Ernst Haeckel seems never to have gone that far.

Gobineau and Vacher de Lapouge

At the beginning of every history of modern racism, in Germany as in the whole of Europe, one finds the name of the French aristocrat Joseph de Gobineau (1816-82). Some even call him “the father of racial theory”. His fame is based chiefly on his Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines, (essay on the inequality of the human races) published in four volumes in the years 1853-55. This major work met with little success for several decades. “Not until 1894 [i.e. after Gobineau’s death] was there a concerted attempt to introduce Gobineau’s ideas into Germany”, writes George Mosse. “In that year, Ludwig Schemann founded the Gobineau Society to honour his name and revive his theories both in Germany and France. The French branch received little support and never really flourished. It was not really popular in Germany either, but there it received the wholehearted support of the Richard Wagner circle, of which Schemann was a member. In addition, Schemann, active on the board of the Pan-Germans, was able to obtain the support of this significant conservative group for the cause of racial theory. In the end, his assertion proved correct: ‘Only Germany can be the receptacle for Gobineau and his ideas’.”433

The sequence of events as sketched here by Mosse has to be somewhat adjusted. According to Cosima Wagner, Gobineau, a very cultured and widely-travelled man, had obtained access into the circle around her husband, Richard Wagner, and had found compensation in the composer’s “enthusiastic response” for the general neglect of his racial theory. “It was thanks to Wagner that the Frenchman became the inspirational source of the future pure Aryan state. But it was soon forgotten that behind Gobineau’s popularity, as well as behind the popularity of Chamberlain, stood the Master of Bayreuth.”434According to Joachim Köhler, Schemann’s Gobineau Society was started with the blessings of Cosima, one of whose friends was Heinrich Class, chairman of the Pan-German League, of which Schemann was a member. So we meet once more, at the end of several converging lines, the Bayreuth Circle, which seems actually to have been a most active secret society for the promotion of nationalism and racism, and the well-heeled, influential, omnipresent Pan-Germans, who in their turn supported the Germanenorden. These were the three power centres without whose support nothing much of importance could happen on the nationalist-racist scene in Germany. They directed the events – visible like the Kapp-Putsch and invisible like many underhand dealings and “physical eliminations” – which led straight to Adolf Hitler, whom they thought would execute their designs and be the puppet dancing on their strings.

What did they find that was so special in Gobineau, whose name today hardly rings a bell? He was the first to explain that race was the determining factor in the evolution and composition of mankind; he taught that the mixing of pure with impure blood was the cause of race deterioration; and his reasonings pointed back to the existence of an original master race with uncontaminated blood. What suited the völkisch-minded Germans of the aforementioned societies also was that Gobineau was a through and through reactionary and anti-modernist. He was, moreover, a highly cultured writer who could muster a wealth of arguments and historical facts to confer an appearance of veracity to his theses. And his theories preceded those of Darwin, for the four volumes of his Essay on the Inequality of Human Races were written before the publication of The Origin of Species.

Yet, “Gobineau was not a biologist but a literary man of the nineteenth century, and his work [the Essay] contains not exactly what its title announces.”435He was “a diplomat of inferior rank who wrote novels and essays” and who acquired a permanent place in French literature with works like The Pleiades, Tales of Asia, History of the Persians and The Renaissance. “His Essay has in common with Darwin’s Origin that it is much more often mentioned than actually read … Gobineau’s racism really has not much to do with the biological notion of race. His inspiration is not so much taxonomy as a certain social order, and even an order of the world modelled on the principle of the Indian castes. This racism should therefore be seen in the context of the Aryan myth, which also relates to India.”436The white race, with its highly developed civilization, is evidently superior to the others; it is even the only truly civilized race. The black race is hardly capable of becoming civilized, and the yellow race has a place somewhere in between.

The nobleman Gobineau was a devout Catholic, shocked by the turn things were taking because of the French Revolution, the titanic actions of Napoleon and the industrial revolution. He, like so many others still deeply rooted in the ancient régime, felt like a fish out of water in a century which ideals had become secular and centred on the well-being and progress of humanity. Therefore Gobineau was a pessimist through and through, and, like the Catholic Church at the time, “terribly reactionary and retrograde”.

Taking all this into account, Gobineau could never agree with Darwin. As a Catholic he had to stick to the biblical story of the creation of man and could not try to provide a scientific explanation. He had no justification for the existence of a superior race, or races, for if all human beings originated from Adam and Eve, and some of them were of pure blood, then where might the others come from, the unpure contaminators?

There was no doubt in the minds of Gobineau and many of his disoriented contemporaries that the world was sliding towards its doom. It should be kept in mind what a traumatic series of events the French Revolution had been for the ancien régime, in the first place for the nobility and the clergy, and how firmly they were still anchored in the religious, social and cultural structures of the Middle Ages. The new rationalist philosophers no longer had faith in the Word of God and some of them put it outright into question or even ridiculed it. A world based on such principles of theistic, atheistic or materialistic modernism could only lead to perdition. To take an anti-modernist stance was a matter of life and death for the likes of Gobineau. And deeply felt convictions of the kind he and many others nurtured always find the intellectual, philosophical and “scientific” arguments with which to attire their essential nudity.

That humanity will “devolve” into a uniform miscellany of animal-like imbeciles and finally die out was, according to Gobineau, certain. What then about the German Herrenmenschen and the future glories of the Third Reich – the aspirations of a country in which a French count was honoured as a pioneer of racist thought? Honoured perhaps, but probably little studied. People’s movements thrive on slogans, and the thinking with which political parties justify their programmes and actions consists of little more than some elementary ideas, formulated in a few thoughts knitted together and not seldom contradictory. Although man is a rational being, thinking for himself is felt to be a burden, and it is astonishing to what extent even people who are trained, professional thinkers parrot the thoughts of others. The general trend of Gobineau’s world-view was diametrically opposite to the world-view of the Nazis, but they would nevertheless refer to him appreciatively in their racist writings.

Hitler was a “practical thinker”, in the sense that he picked out what fitted into his peculiar mental framework and memorized it, with the purpose of having those thoughts at his disposal when he needed them. He did this quite systematically and defended his way of acquiring this kind of knowledge in Mein Kampf. That he had heard of Gobineau is undeniable when one reads the following passage in Mein Kampf: “When men have lost their natural instincts and ignore the obligations imposed on them by nature, then there is no hope that nature will correct the loss that has been caused, until recognition of the lost instincts has been restored. Then the task of bringing back what has been lost will have to be accomplished. But there is serious danger that those who have once become blind in this respects will continue more and more to break down racial barriers and finally lose the last remnant of what is best in them. What then remains is nothing but a uniform mishmash, which seems to be the dream of our fine Utopians. [Here Hitler has a go at the democrats and socialists.] But that mishmash would soon banish all ideals from the world. Certainly a great herd could thus be formed. One can breed a herd of animals; but from a mixture of this kind men such as have created and founded civilizations would not be produced. The mission of humanity might then be considered at an end.”437

The most dangerous contamination in Hitler’s eyes was, of course, the Jew. (“He poisons the blood of others but preserves his own blood unadulterated.”) In the following paragraph of Mein Kampf, one of the most often quoted, one again hears an unmistakable echo from Gobineau: “If with the help of his Marxist faith the Jew is victorious against the peoples of this world, then his crown will be a dance of death of humanity and this planet, empty of human beings, will again wander through space for millions of years. Eternal Nature avenges inexorably the trespassing of her laws. This is why I believe that today I act in conformity with the intention of the almighty Creator: in acting against the Jews I fight for the work of the Lord.”438

A name often read in connection with Gobineau’s is that of Vacher de Lapouge. Strange to say, Georges Vacher de Lapouge (1854-1936) too was a Frenchman, a count, and not a qualified scientist. Mosse writes that “he was widely admired in Germany”, which is true. According to Bronder he was a “professor at the University of Montpellier”, which is not true: he was assistant-librarian at the university of Montpellier and in later years librarian at Rennes and Poitiers. He had actually studied law, but never practised either as a barrister or as a magistrate. He preferred to read books, acquired an enormous erudition and a steadily growing fame as “free lecturer”, and became the author of essays like The Social Selections (1896), The Fundamental Law of Anthroposociology (1897) and The Aryan – His special role (1899).

Like Haeckel and Gobineau, Vacher de Lapouge was convinced that race was the determining factor in the development of humanity and the relations between the human groupings. He too conceived a hierarchy of the human races and, of course, put the Aryans on top. We know now that all this racial “science” was actually the result of a very time-embedded and “Eurocentric” vision of the global relations in an era of colonialism. Yet Vacher de Lapouge surprises us by elevating not the Germans but the Anglo-Saxons on top of the human ladder as “the most Aryan people in the world”: “The British Isles are almost the only place to show us the physical type and the quite robust character of the first inhabitants of Europe.” Pichot writes: “In those days, the Aryan theories tended as much, if not more, towards the Anglo-Saxon mania as towards the German barbarians.” And he quotes Vacher de Lapouge: “The superiority of the Yankee [of Aryan stock], the Englishman, the Dutchman and the Scandiavian over the Frenchman, the Italian, the Spaniard and the South American is not only the consequence of the superiority of the race but also of the blood.”439

“The great future of the British Isles is the result of the fortunate fact that brachycephalics have never set foot there”, reveals Vacher. For it was he who drew the attention of the racial scientists to the distinction between people with a narrow, longish skull, the dolichocephalics, and people with a round skull, the brachycephalics – another of those zany racial specifications which have led to piles of learned nonsense and much injustice and suffering in the racists’ victims. “The main characteristic of the thought [of Vacher de Lapouge] is an obsession with the shape of the skull: he studied the dolichocephalic or brachycephalic character of all imaginable populations and in every possible manner. One of the most comical examples was the relation between the shape of the skull and the use of the bicycle, evaluated according to the taxes paid by the various populations.” Vacher’s conclusion was that longish skulls showed more interest for the new invention which the bicycle was at the time, and that round skulls remained immune to it, as well as to all other forms of progress. “Vacher de Lapouge is an extremely heterogeneous author, now lucid and prophetic, then again completely ridiculous. The least mistaken evaluation of him is that his works provide a fairly successful caricature of the socio-biological ideas of his time”, concludes Pichot.

What Vacher also shared with Gobineau was “an absolute pessimism”, for he was convinced that “the final catastrophe” and “the annihilation of the species” were unavoidable. He wrote: “An analysis of the social selections leads ultimately to absolutely pessimistic conclusions. The future does not belong to the fittest, but in the best case to the mediocre. The benefits of the natural selection change, as civilization develops, into scourges setting upon humanity … Civilization shifts ceaselessly. It has now reached the west and north-west of Europe, and we feel at present that the life of Europe is coming to a standstill and that the days of our world are numbered. [Oswald Spengler was already conceiving his Decline of the West.] There is no race which can withstand the inevitable decay … This is the last stage. It will last as long as the active elements of the race will last, and it will end when only the passive elements remain, however blond and dolichocephalic they may be. Humanity is in ferment. It has reached the threshold of a long period of convulsions beyond which the beginning of the decline can be perceived. The sum of knowledge and material means will increase into an ever greater accumulation, but man will stop growing in valour, and the shining future dreamed by utopians for generations yet to come will be lived only by mediocrities, fathers of still lesser mediocrities.”440

Houston Chamberlain and Rosenberg

“It is probably no exaggeration to say, as I have heard more than one follower of Hitler say, that Chamberlain was the spiritual founder of the Third Reich.”441With whatever proviso one quotes these words of the experienced journalist who was William Shirer, it is a fact that the influence of the Englishman Houston Chamberlain penetrated profoundly into Hitler Germany, where his Foundations of the Nineteenth Century was “a tremendous success”.

“By 1900 there were several rival racial theories,” writes George Mosse. “Most of them had grown with the refinement of the anthropological criteria and had incorporated elements of the ‘survival of the fittest’ axiom of Social Darwinism. They were correspondingly more optimistic about the direction history was taking. Instead of concentrating on the inevitability of racial contamination and the consequent decline of civilization, these theorists looked toward a developing race that would save Western culture and stamp it with its own uniqueness. Of these, Houston Stewart Chamberlain was the most important. Unlike Gobineau, Chamberlain analyzed the totality of civilization, not because he was concerned with its decline, but, on the contrary, because he yearned for a better, more beautiful racial future.”

As we have seen before, Chamberlain was a qualified biologist “fascinated by plant pathology, and he might well have become a scientist had it not been for his health. Instead, he fused his scientific training with a mystical love of nature and a Social Darwinism which was so typical of much radical thought. This transformation from scientist to radical racist was catalyzed by his encounter with the work of Richard Wagner … He provided the New Romanticism [völkisch and therefore racist] with a scientific base and thus lent the tone and the goals of science to his racial theories.”442This is a risky undertaking in which usually either science or mysticism loses out, or both.

According to Chamberlain, “on the one hand there was a German science which determined, with the utmost accuracy, that which existed empirically; on the other hand, there was a German religion which bestowed infinite vistas upon the German soul. In terms of importance the religion took priority, since it alone could fathom the true essence of things. As it also functioned in the realm of ideas, it served to keep science within its proper limits, and at the same time appropriated empirical evidence in support of itself. Through their inner selves, which were enveloped in a mystical Germanism, Chamberlain asserted, men could determine the meaning of the external world.”443This will lead straight to the official proclamation by the Nazis, Nobel Prize winners among them, of a true “German science” as opposed to a false “Jewish science” of which the world-famous Albert Einstein was the epitome. That this kind of irrationalities, or plain idiocies, did not prevent German engineers to produce an astonishing range of new inventions shows that the engineer does not need an ideological support of his work. It was “German science”, though, which accepted the “world ice theory” and the “hollow earth theory” – and the theory of the superiority of the Aryan race. Nazism was fanatical irrationalism, armed by technological engineering.

Houston Chamberlain was an admirer of Gobineau although, contrary to the Frenchman’s pessimism, he proposed a gloriously positive outlook. Like many of his contemporaries, including Nietzsche, Chamberlain had a problem with the descent of the human from the primates, which did not prevent him to accept Social Darwinism, “so typical of much radical thought”. Radicals do tend to deem themselves superior to others. Chamberlain found convincing support for his view in animal breeding. A race was in fact a soul seeking to incarnate, to acquire a material form dependent on the blood. Therefore a race could be improved, purified, even created by breeding from “a favourable mixture of blood”.444In this way Chamberlain evaded the thorny problem of the origin of the existing races, also of the Aryan or Teutonic ones. A race was to be made by breeding – a view which Hitler will adopt.

Chamberlain was a visionary, no doubt, a kind of rational racial mystic. (Shirer tells us that, when writing the Foundations, “Chamberlain was again possessed by one of his ‘demons’.”) Races are spiritual entities which have to be served by the individuals whose material bodies are the cells of the organism that is the race, and who are all of one blood. From this followed that the racial egoism could not accept the general humanitarian and internationalist ideals of the Enlightenment. What also followed was that the organism of the own race was sacred, a direct expression of the will of God, or the Universal Spirit, or Nature. It should therefore be kept in a state of purity, synonymous with purity of the blood, and must repel or expel anything foreign to it and contaminating it.

“In regard to race, Chamberlain used a scientific base to prove its absolute nature, its totality, which encompassed both internal and external appearances. At the end of the nineteenth century, he wrote, no scholar could ignore the fact that skull measurements and the external appearance of the brain decisively influenced the conceptions of aesthetic form that lay within. After all, went the analogy, a building was characterized by the materials used in its construction; they provided the outward form and expressed the ‘ideas’ inherent in the erection.” And Mosse goes on to tell how one Dr Burger-Villingen constructed an instrument, called a plastometer, with which he measured the “geography of the human face and thus the cast of a person’s soul”. Of course, it was the Germans who were the noblest race existing on earth, the saviours of the world and the creators and carriers of the supreme Western culture.

“The Aryan was distinguished by a physical form that typified the Germanic ideal of beauty; the Jew was his very opposite. Symbolically, only to be too deeply believed later on, the two represented the polarization of God and the devil … God was, so to speak, embodied in the German race, and the devil in the Jewish race. These were held to be the two pure races – and between flourished the ‘chaos of peoples’, bastard mixtures of various races.”445And Shirer writes: “Chamberlain claimed that the Teutons and the Jews were the only pure races left in the West.” Was he, then, not an anti-Semite? “The Jews, he says, are not inferior to the Teuton, merely different. They have their own grandeur; they realize the sacred duty of man to guard the purity of the race. And yet as he proceeds to analyze the Jews, he slips into the very vulgar anti-Semitism which he condemns in others and which leads, in the end, to the obscenities of Julius Streicher’s caricatures of the Jews in Hitler’s time. Indeed a good deal of the ‘philosophical’ basis of Nazi anti-Semitism stems from this chapter [on the Jews in the Foundations].”446It seems to have been impossible to be a German racist without being an anti-Semite.

But what about Jesus Christ? Although they had been “badly baptized”, the Germans considered themselves a Christian nation, in a way the only real Christians, as proclaimed to the world by Martin Luther. Was Christ, the founder of their faith, not a Jew? Chamberlain contended that he was not. At the time Christ walked upon the earth Galilee was inhabited by non-Jewish tribes. Christ had “a large proportion of non-Semitic blood”, and: “Whoever claimed that Jesus was a Jew was either being stupid or telling a lie.”447This irrefutable argument was duly repeated after Chamberlain by countless German Christians, while he himself was only repeating what Richard Wagner had said on the subject, who in his turn may have referred to Schopenhauer and Fichte. The Germans were not only the purest Aryans, they were the foremost in every field, also the religious, and “much more devout Christians than other peoples”.

Hitler too believed that Christ was not a Jew. “Christ was an Aryan”, he said in one of his monologues, “but Paul abused his teaching to mobilize the dark forces and to organize a proto-Bolshevism”.448How far speculations of this sort can be spun out is shown by the following quotation from The German Christ, a book by Max Brewer, published in 1907. “It is known that precisely around the time of the birth of Christ large armies from Schleswig-Holstein had appeared in northern Italy, whose blood, despite their defeat, will not have mixed with the Romans completely. Since the time of Caesar, the exchange of blood between Rome and the lands along the lower Rhine had become very intense. It is said that Pilate’s bodyguard consisted of soldiers from Lower Germany. In any case, shortly before the birth of Christ German blood had again been instrumental in Galilee. Everything Christ says about reincarnation seems to be inspired by the bodily reincarnated blood.”449

Alfred Rosenberg (1893-1946), the German Balt who had fled the conflagration of the Russian Revolution and been introduced to Hitler by Dietrich Eckart, was another admirer of Houston Chamberlain. The pale, zealotic intellectual Rosenberg fitted badly in the rude and crude entourage of Adolf Hitler, was loved by none and hated by many, and was in later years ridiculed even by the Führer himself. During the early years in Munich, however, his influence on Hitler was more important than is now generally appreciated. “Hitler was deeply under the spell of Rosenberg”, testifies Ernst Hanfstängl, who calls him “Hitler’s most dangerous mentor”.450It was the resentful Rosenberg who sharpened Hitler’s ideas about the lowly character of the Russians, who first drew his attention towards the wide-open Russian spaces available for the taker, and who systematically equated Bolshevism with Judaism.

It was also Rosenberg, a member of the Thule Society, who acted as the most anti-Semitic promoter of The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion, as well in his contributions to the Völkische Beobachter, the Nazi newspaper of which he succeeded Eckart as the editor in 1923, as in his other prolific writings, e.g. The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion and Jewish World Politics. Though Hitler spoke sometimes scathingly of him in private, officially he remained regardful of Rosenberg’s intellectual contribution to the formation of National Socialism, and called him “a man of whose integrity of personal intention I am absolutely convinced”.451He appointed Rosenberg general supervisor of National-Socialist ideology for the whole Reich and would later nominate him Governor-General of the Eastern Occupied Territories.

Rosenberg’s prestige rested, besides on his supposed closeness to Hitler, mainly upon a thick book he published in 1930, The Myth of the Twentieth Century. The title evokes at once Chamberlain’s Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, and Rosenberg did indeed intend his book to be a sequel. “Rosenberg sold his seven hundred page Myth in editions of hundreds of thousands”, writes Albert Speer. “The public regarded the book as the standard text for party ideology, but Hitler in those teatime conversations bluntly called it ‘stuff nobody can understand’, written by ‘a narrow-minded Baltic German who thinks in horribly complicated terms’.” Indeed, Rosenberg was still tougher reading fare than Mein Kampf, and Hitler “expressed wonderment that such a book could ever have attained such sales”.452

Rosenberg’s fundamental theses were not all that difficult to understand and resemble closely many of the ideas we have met with above. He too saw the development of humanity and the history of the world as the history of races in conflict, even on a wider scale than drawn by his predecessors. For him too the Aryan-Nordic-Germanic people were superior to all others and deserving of the others’ homage and submission. Northern Europe was, again, “the cradle of humanity”, “the centre of creation” and the origin of all cultures worth the name, an origin which went back to Atlantis.

The Nordic race had spread over the world in three phases or waves. – One wonders once more at the “Eurocentric” vision of these instructors. – First there had been the Indo-Germans who, fanning out everywhere (no longer from India or the Near East, but from the north of Europe), had started the classical cultures; then there had been the migrations of the Germanic tribes, who laid the foundations of all European nations; thirdly, there was “the colonization of modern times”, intended to encompass the whole globe.453

Race was sacred, the Nordic race that is, and a direct expression of the Creator; it should be made into a religion. The holy land was not Palestine, but Germany. Rosenberg bolstered the dualism of a world divided into Nordic people and Semites, more particularly Jews. As such, he deepened the “North-South divide”, all the same extending the south eastwards, for his hate of the Russia that had made him an expatriate never abated. The Nordics had been the masters of the world in former times and would become so again in the near future; their opponents were the Jews, the Christians and the Bolsheviks, three faces of the same enemy. For Christianity was the brainchild of the Jew Paul of Tarsus and had propagated a morality of compassion and love for one’s neighbour in order to weaken the nations and make them the Jews’ easy prey. And Bolshevism was preaching internationalism and universal brotherhood of the proletariat, which went straight against the competitive theory of the races. Were not Jews to be found in the vanguard of every socialist or communist revolution?

These racist themes have become increasingly familiar to us, but now they were part of the doctrine of National Socialism. From 1933 onwards they would be the official doctrine of the Nazi state, and it would be Hitler’s intention to implement them as soon and fully as possible. He would try to cement them during his lifetime into the foundations of a Reich that would last a thousand years.

Hitler’s Racism

Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf: “It would be futile to attempt to discuss the question as to what race or races were the original standard-bearers of human culture and were thereby the real founders of all that we understand by the word ‘humanity’. It is much simpler to deal with this question in so far as it relates to the present time. Here the answer is simple and clear. Every manifestation of human culture, every product of art, science and technical skill which we see before our eyes today, is almost exclusively the product of the Aryan creative power.”454For, as we know, the Aryan was “the Prometheus of mankind”. All the same, this is an intriguing statement by Hitler, the supreme racist: if one could not discuss what race or races were “the original standard-bearers of human culture”, how could he maintain that those standard bearers were the Aryans? Was this then nothing to him but a blunt political assertion, a pseudo-scientific fancy without any foundation?

“I know of course as well as all those pedantic intellectuals that in the scientific sense race does not exist”, said Hitler one day to Hermann Rauschning. “But being a politician, I need a concept which allows me to dissolve the order which until now was resting on historical interconnections, and to enforce a totally new, anti-historical order, providing it with an intellectual support … I have to free the world from its historical past. The nations are the manifest forces of our history. Therefore I have to re-melt the nations into a higher order if I want to remove the chaotic residues of a historical past which has become absurd, and to this end the concept of race is useful for me. It dissolves what is old and creates the possibility of new connections. It was with the concept of the nation that France took its great revolution across its borders. It is with the concept of race that National Socialism will conduct its revolution, which will lead to a new order in the world.”455Here again Hitler sees race as an abstraction, a “concept”, without any necessary foundation in reality, but to be used as a tool to build a new world-order out of the remnants of the nations. Who were those “pedantic intellectuals” whom Rauschning did not name? They may have been the linguists who pointed out the wrongful reasoning which extended the discovery of a common Aryan language to the factual existence of an Aryan race.

Hitler was, unbeknownst even to his closest paladins, cherishing a dream of world domination, of which the concrete foundations had to be ensured during the few years of his life. To this end he had been sent among the German people, unconsciously prepared by their history as the Volk which was to serve as his instrument. As he was placed in this situation, he had to accept, to a certain extent, the völkisch myths which the Germans had adopted as their past and the justification of their existence. But Hitler, although he himself was dreaming great dreams, understood perfectly well how unreal and in a way childish such legends and myths were. He could not bluntly reject them, for his own movement considered itself fundamentally a völkisch movement, and if he bared his inmost thoughts, he would have been taken for a madman. Moreover, an individual cannot all by himself create an new myth and turn it into a movement within the short lifetime of a human being.

This explains why Hitler was so ambivalent in his appreciation of völkisch matters, which on the one hand he had to encourage while on the other he often ridiculed them in private and even condemned some of their implications publicly. “It was not without good reason that, when we laid down a clearly defined programme for the new movement, we excluded the word ‘völkisch’ from it. The concept underlying the term ‘völkisch’ cannot serve as the base of the movement, because it is too indefinite in its application”, he wrote politely in Mein Kampf. “The word ‘völkisch’ does not express any clearly specified idea.” Then, less cautiously: “Not less dangerous are those who run about as semi-folklorists formulating fantastic schemes [at that time there were many such men in Germany, and Hitler was one of them], which are mostly based on nothing else than a fixed idea which in itself might be right but which, because it is an isolated notion, is of no use whatsoever for the formation of a great homogeneous fighting association and could by no means serve as the basis of its organization.”456For this was what Hitler wanted to forge the German people into: a well-organized, well-equipped and fully brainwashed weapon for the execution of his vision.

The völkisch leader in National-Socialist Germany was Heinrich Himmler. Himmler saw his SS, the exemplars and at the same time guardians of the Volk, as an embodiment of the völkisch ideals of his youth and hoped to found one day an SS state based on these ideals. Hitler knew exactly how to manipulate Himmler, yet he often made him the butt of his sarcasm, for instance in a conversation with Speer. “Why do we call the whole world’s attention to the fact that we have no past? It isn’t enough that the Romans were erecting great buildings when our forefathers were still living in mud huts; now Himmler is starting to dig up these villages of mud huts and enthusing over every potsherd and stone axe he finds. All we prove by that is that we were still throwing stone hatchets and crouching around open fires when Greece and Rome had already reached the highest stage of culture. We really should do our best to keep quiet about this past. Instead Himmler makes a great fuss about it all. The present-day Romans must be having a laugh at these relegations.”457Laugh they did, the Romans, Mussolini loudest of them all.

Hitler knew perfectly well that the knowledge of the “pedantic intellectuals” about the German tribes and races of the past did not go back much farther than one or two centuries before what is now called “the common era”, and that incessant contacts and interminglings with other races had taken place before and after that time. The largest territory of such racial blendings was the ever shifting border region with the Slavs, where the Teutonic Knights had spearheaded the Germanic colonization and Christianization.

The Prussians, practically identical with the modern German nation, were originally a Slavonic tribe, the Pruss. “Roaming along the coast of the Baltic Sea amidst furious slaughters, the Teutonic Knights seized Prussian lands and virtually exterminated the indigenous people. Building castles, forts and towns, they converted the remaining natives to Christianity, reduced them to serfdom and made themselves lords of the land.”458“Half of the German Reich was established on what originally had been Slavonic territory”, writes Christian von Krockow, “and what finally became the German nation arose from a mixture of Germanic and Slavonic tribes”.459In a conversation with Rauschning, Hitler talked about the danger for the German people of containing a too high percentage of Slavonic elements. This would alter the character of the people, he said. “We have already too much Slavonic blood in our veins. Doesn’t it strike you how many people in important positions in the Germany of today are having a Slavonic name?”460

The appearance of Hitler himself, as of most Germans, hardly agreed with the Aryan norm. Many tribes from the West and the East had traversed the Austrian Waldviertel, the region where he came from, and one of his grandfathers remains unknown. He was acidly mocked in the pre-1933 leftist press for his “emphatically non-Aryan appearance”, especially his fleshy nose.461The inanity of the Aryan myth in the Third Reich was glaringly demonstrated by the physical appearance of its top leaders: Göring was fat and a drug addict; Goebbels was stunted, big-headed and club-footed; Himmler had a mongoloid face; Hess had bushy dark eyebrows and buckteeth; Bormann was stocky and round-skulled. In Hitler himself one will look in vain for the blond hair, tall and forceful stature, and the longish skull, although some say he had blue eyes. There were countless jokes abroad about the non-Aryan features of the Nazi leadership, and many jokers ended up in a concentration camp.

In practice Volk was identified with Rasse, and Hitler will direct his propaganda towards a definition of both to fit within the framework of his intentions without bothering the völkisch romantics too much. “A race is what we have to become – at least consciously” is one of his pithiest formulations, reported by Henry Picker in the Table Talk.462We note again that Hitler omits to take the past of the glorious Aryan-Nordic-Germanic race into account. What, then, were they according to Hitler, the contemporary Germans, pride and fulcrum of humanity? The answer may surprise: they were an “adulterated” people. “Our völkisch stock has been so much adulterated by the mixture of alien elements that, in its fight for power, Jewry can make use of the more or less ‘cosmopolitan’ circles which exist among us, inspired by the pacifist and international ideologies.” Hitler, as we know, had notions of Gobineau: “The adulteration of the blood and racial deterioration conditioned thereby are the only causes that account for the decline of ancient civilizations; for it is never by war that peoples are ruined, but by the loss of their powers of resistance, which are exclusively a characteristic of pure racial blood … The Aryan neglected to maintain his own racial stock unmixed and therewith lost the right to live in the paradise which he himself had created.”

The Germans, just like any other race in the world, had neglected to keep their blood pure. “Unfortunately the German national being is not based on a uniform racial type. The process of welding the original elements together has not gone so far as to warrant us in saying that a new race has emerged. On the contrary, the poison which has invaded the body of the Volk, especially since the Thirty Years’ War, has destroyed the uniform constitution not only of our blood but also of our national soul. The open frontiers of our native country, the association with non-German foreign elements in the territories that lie along our frontiers, and especially the strong influx of the blood into the interior of the Reich itself, have prevented any complete assimilation of those various elements, because the influx has continued steadily. Out of this melting-pot a new race arose. The heterogeneous continue to exist side by side … Beside the Nordic type we find the East-European type, beside the Eastern there is the Dinaric, the Western type intermingling with both, and hybrids among them all.”

In due course this situation would lead, as it would for the peoples all over the world, to a complete mongrelization, and ultimately to the extinction of humanity as pictured by Gobineau. Yet the Germans – who would have expected otherwise? – were an exception, which Hitler explains as follows: “Though on the one hand it may be a drawback that our racial elements were not welded together, so that no homogeneous body of the Volk could develop, on the other hand it was fortunate that, since at least a part of our best blood was thus kept pure, its racial quality was not debased.” He explains nowhere how this miracle happened. “A benefit which results from the fact that there was no all-round assimilation is to be seen in that even now we have large groups of German Nordic people within our national organization, and that their blood has not been mixed with the blood of other races.”463These sentences would become the tenets of the Nazi state and are no more than a fictitious justification of a pseudo-historical process, concocted to demonstrate the primacy of the Germans as a race, a Volk, a nation.

But if the possibility to regenerate the German race still existed, how much time would this take? In Mein Kampf Hitler paints a rather grim picture of such an eventual regeneration, which was the main goal of the National-Socialist movement, as all its other targets depended upon it. “Look at the ravages from which our people are suffering daily as a result of being contaminated with Jewish blood. Bear in mind the fact that this poisonous contamination can be eliminated from the national body only after centuries, or perhaps never [!] Think further of how the process of racial decomposition is debasing and in some cases even destroying the fundamental Aryan qualities of our German people, so that our cultural creativeness as a nation is gradually becoming impotent and we are running the danger, at least in our great cities, of falling to the level where Southern Italy is today. This pestilential adulteration of the blood, of which hundreds of thousands of our people take no account, is systematically practised by the Jew today.”

Hitler also wrote the following, which may be taken as a summing up of his basic ideas on the subject of race: “Therewith we may lay down the following principle as valid: every racial mixture leads of necessity sooner or later to the downfall of the mongrel product, provided the higher racial stratum of this cross-breed has not retained within itself some sort of racial homogeneity. The danger to the mongrels [which is what the Germans had become at the time these words were written] ceases only when this higher stratum, which has maintained certain standards of homogeneous breeding, ceases to be true to its pedigree and intermingles with mongrels. This principle is the source of a slow but constant regeneration whereby all the poison which has invaded the racial body is gradually eliminated so long as there still remains a fundamental stock of pure racial elements which resists further cross-breeding … There is only one right that is sacrosanct and this right is at the same time a most sacred duty. This right and obligation are: that the purity of the racial blood should be guarded, so that the best types of human beings may be preserved, and that thus we should render possible a more noble development of humanity itself … The State should consecrate [matrimony] as an institution which is called upon to produce creatures made in the likeness of the Lord and not create monsters that are a mixture of man and ape.”464

“Even if it were proved that there never has existed an Aryan race in the past, we want that there be one in the future. This is what matters for men of action.”465These are not words of Adolf Hitler but of Houston Chamberlain, and they illustrate once more how certain force lines in the thought of the German people converge in Hitler. However abstract, dry or dull the above quotations from Mein Kampf may appear: it is these words which would be elaborated into the racial doctrine of the Nazi state, formulated in the directives of the SS, justify the teachings and experiments of the Nazis’ racial pseudo-science, and in the end result in the piles of corpses bulldozed into mass graves at Buchenwald and so many other places of unprecedented horror. Reasonably speaking Hitler’s convictions were balderdash, but they were made effective by a people’s neurotic pride, and lethal by its submission to a “genius” who proved to be an archangel of Death.

9. The Völkisch Movement

Politics consist less of rationality than of myths and mythologies.

Michel Winock

We must constantly bear in mind that it was precisely these fantasies that were taken seriously.

George Mosse

We have met the word “völkisch” time and again and found that it is directly related to, if not synonymous with, terms like race, people and nation. John Weiss says that “volkist”, his Anglicization of völkisch, “is a term derived from [the German] Volk, or people, 466 but indicating a tribal unity of blood, unmodified by ideas of a common humanity. Religious in the intensity of their beliefs, volkists had no real equivalent in other Western nations”.467

The völkisch movement forms an important part of George Mosse’s seminal essay The Crisis of German Ideology, in which he writes: “Volk is a much more comprehensive term than ‘people’, for to German thinkers ever since the birth of German romanticism in the late eighteenth century Volk signified the union of a group of people with a transcendental ‘essence’. This ‘essence’ might be called ‘nature’ or ‘cosmos’ or ‘mythos’, but in each instance it was fused to man’s innermost nature and represented the source of his creativity, his depth of feeling, his individuality and his unity with other members of the Volk. The essential element here is the linking of the human soul with its natural surroundings, with the ‘essence’ of nature.”468

Hermann Gilbhard sees it like this: “At the core of the völkisch idea is the thought that the Volk, as the supreme entity, stands above the state, that it precedes the state and surpasses it. In a way, only the Volk, in opposition to the state and to society, is considered sacred. The concept völkisch, which after 1918 became a widespread political slogan, is defined in the Brockhaus [an authoritative German dictionary] as ‘Germanization of the word “national” in the sense of a kind of nationalism which is based on the idea of race and therefore decidedly anti-Semitic’.”469

What a Volk generally has in common is its language, also held by many linguistic researchers as well as völkisch believers to be the sacred “mother tongue” and even capable, if not of creating it, at least of binding a Volk together. Most of the German literary men and philosophers mentioned in previous chapters have pronounced panegyrics on their language, some even declaring it to have been the language of Adam. Hitler stated in Mein Kampf: “What makes a people or, to be more correct, a race, is not language but blood.” Nonetheless, the Greater German Reich was intended to encompass all German- and Germanic-speaking peoples, whether Dutch, Flemish, Scandinavian, Alsatian, Swiss, Polish, Czech, or whichever. As we have seen, race, and still more blood, was practically indefinable, and so therefore was Volk. But language, the mother tongue, was very much definable and in fact the criterion of determining who belonged to the German Volk.

Throughout his career Hitler did a lot of juggling with the words Volk, race, state and nation, using them according to his mood and inspiration. “The word völkisch does not express any clearly specified idea”, we read in Mein Kampf. It is “a vague concept” which “everybody interprets in his own way”. We know, however, that he could not do without the völkisch multitude from which he had to recruit his own people and of which the concepts were so closely associated with Germany’s past and future, and with its greatness as a people and a nation. Therefore we find a few pages further on in Mein Kampf: “The völkisch concept of the world is in profound accord with Nature’s will because it restores the free play of the forces which will lead the race through stages of sustained reciprocal education towards a higher type, until finally the best portion of mankind will possess the earth and will be free to work in every domain all over the world and even reach spheres that lie outside the earth [?] We all feel that in the distant future man may be faced with problems which can be solved only by a superior race of human beings, a race destined to become master of all the other peoples and which will have at its disposal the means and resources of the whole world.”

“Contrary to Himmler, Hitler was sparing with esoteric and mythological speculations in public”, writes Rüdiger Sünner. “This is rather an indication of his tactical skill than of his vision of the world, which was anything but rational … His occasional digs at Himmler’s Germanic cult or at völkisch-occult organizations make clear that he did condemn the unearthliness of such groupings but not the ideas underlying them. Besides, Hitler was extremely discreet in matters of personal belief, and he always knew how to adapt his words to the opinions of his audience. When probing deeper into them, however, one discerns behind his ideology a supporting base of mythology without which his so often extolled mission of the Aryans would not be comprehensible. In this, together with apocalyptic Christian elements which we find sometimes in his sayings, legends, sagas and symbols relating to the Nordic myths played an important role.”470

For sure, Hitler had always been fascinated by the sagas and legends about the German past, even during his drab years in Vienna, as we know from August Kubizek. Perhaps the most formative element of his vision and his mission was the mythological world created by Richard Wagner. Considering the contradictions between his rejection of the völkisch lore and the importance some of it had for him, we cannot but conclude that at the bottom of both contradictory attitudes there lay something else but fundamental which he did not speak out – about which “he was extremely discreet”, as Sünner says – and which was of crucial importance to understand him. We will have to return to this later. For the time being, we have to remain satisfied with Mosse’s conclusion that, for Hitler, “the völkisch thinkers did not respond to ‘real’ developments in the manner of political commentators. In fact, the nature of their ideas tended to detach them from real events rather than compel them to take new developments into consideration … It was the genius of Adolf Hitler to wed the völkisch flight from reality to political discipline and efficient political organization.”471

Völkisch Romanticism

The importance of the völkisch movement can be deduced from its diversity, by which it adapted itself to all aspects of German life, and from the number of its adherents. This was a popular movement in the real sense of the word. It found much of its justification in the enduring appraisal of the literature of the great romanticists Herder, Goethe, Schiller, Novalis and others. A supposedly glorious past, the communication with that past in the sanctuaries of nature and at the sites of the prehistoric monuments, a contact with the deepest individual soul fusing with the soul of the Volk, and an experience of the forces of nature, which were the forces of gods thought to have been long dead and forgotten but in fact still very much alive – these main romanticist themes were now revived and felt to be more important than ever. The reason was the increasingly intense confrontation with the modern, urban way of living in the West. The German “new romanticism” corresponded exactly with the great European period of intellectual upheaval and innovation which started around 1880.

“Besides the orders founded by List and Lanz, dozens of other völkisch-esoteric groups shot up from the soil which began to fill the intellectual and religious vacuum … with a kind of secret underground movement”, writes Sünner. “Next to the Neo-Germanics appear also free religious movements, associations of vegetarians, nudists and Heimat-lovers along with theosophical and anthropological circles. The Wandervögel [migratory birds, sometimes translated as “birds of passage”] too belong to this large mass of people in search of meaning. In them a gradual development takes place from beginnings in romanticism and a mysticism of nature to an ever stronger ideological polarization, till in the end their members enter practically without friction into the youth movements of the National-Socialist regime … Dozens of such organizations are founded with names which most often already tell the way they intend to follow”. Sünner gives a few examples: Midgard Fraternity [in Nordic mythology “Midgard” is the garden at the centre of the world], Young Germans, Goths, Order of Young Germans, Nordic Tribe, League of Loyalty for an Uplifting Life, Friends of the Light, Vikings, Eagle and Falcon, Storm Bird, etc.472

All these groups of very dedicated and mostly young people – National Socialism too has been characterized as a youth movement – turned their back on the present and sought meaning and solace in the past. There were similar movements in other countries, but not on this scale or with this intensity. Most amazingly, Germany, at a time of an unheard-of economic and material expansion, turned inwardly away from a modern, progressive world with which it could not identify and to which it felt superior. Considering the dimension of this singular movement by an entire nation, soon to be equipped with the most advanced means for peace and war, a confrontation with its rival nations was practically inevitable – and would occur in the summer of 1914. Indeed, “the turning back towards the past is the political programme of all nationalists; they see in the revival of myth their political future”. (Michael Ley473) After all we have seen in the last chapters there can be no doubt that Germany identified itself as a nation with the future of the world, which it had to rule and lead on the right path – something which could only come about after a series of armed conflicts.

Considerations of this kind make Michael Burleigh quip that Germany was “going boldly into the future in search of an imaginary past”.474Volker Mauersberger, narrating the surrender to the Nazis of Weimar – as the town of Goethe, Schiller and Nietzsche a symbol of German culture – quotes a historian who said that the völkisch movement, culminating in Nazism, was “the reconstruction of a past which was resplendently gilded in the collective memory of the Germans”.475It is an amazing fact that so many learned and highly cultured intellectuals, expressing the spirit of a Volk, could turn a mostly fictional past into a sequence of manifestations of paradise upon earth, although they had the historical sources demonstrating the contrary at their disposal. To the insecure and fearful human species the future is a constant threat and the present a problem that is never solved, while the past becomes more and more embellished, “gilded”, the farther it drops away.

“O what a delightful time the Middle Ages were, when everything was learned under the guidance of masters”, mused Paul de Lagarde476– when knights in shining armour lived in draughty, crowded castles and died of the most common illnesses because there was no known cure, and when the major part of the population lived the miserable existence of serfs. Greatly admired by the German youth were the orders of fighting monks, especially the Knights Templar and the Teutonic Knights, because they put their lives unconditionally at the service of an ideal. It is typical for the admirers of olden times to fancy themselves in the most glamorous roles, where they never have to smell the stench of rottenness, suffering and death.

Another much sung period was that of the Vikings, who were not Germans but Danes, Norwegians and Swedes. Bands of marauding adventurers in their long boats, they were allotted by their völkisch-minded admirers the role of conquerors and dispensers of culture. It is true that, in spite of themselves, History knew how to use their bold spirit of enterprise. It were Vikings who, having become the French-speaking Normans, won the Battle of Hastings in 1066; who, as settlers in southern Italy, participated in the First Crusade under king Bohemund; who descended the great Russian rivers and traded at Kiev; who even became the palace guard of the Emperor at Constantinople.

“The German, in his historic reality, is hardly more than a fiction”, states Klaus von See.477In how far were the Nibelungs Germanic? Brunehild was “Norse”, probably Icelandic; Siegfried came from Xanten, in the present-day Netherlands; the good king Gunther and his knights were Burgundians; and Kriemhild married Attila the Hun. Nevertheless, the Nibelungen Treue, the legendary loyalty of the Nibelungs, would become the highest praised of German virtues, and Himmler had it embroidered on the sleeves of his SS: Meine Ehre heisst Treue, loyalty is what honour means to me – loyalty to the death.

Following the sources of the main German myths backward in time, we arrive at Arminius the Cheruscian, the illustrious Hermann, slayer of three Roman legions in the year 9 CE and later murdered by people of his own tribe. The völkisch attitude towards the Romans remained ambivalent, for the Romans, inheritors of the Greek culture, had been undoubtedly a civilized people; but they were “southerners” who had intended to conquer the Germans, which would have cut the latter from their racial roots and bastardized them. To quote Fichte: “If the Romans had succeeded in subjugating the German people too, and to annihilate them as a nation [which they were not], then the whole further development of humanity would have taken a different, probably less pleasant direction.”478Moreover, had not the Romans allowed Jewish Christianity to erode their strength from within, a neglect which would lead to the dissolution of their empire?

More securely appreciated than the Romans were the ancient Greeks, not only because they had never confronted the Germanic tribes but also because their culture was evidently of a higher order than the Roman civilization, which had borrowed so much from them and still remained practical and square. The Greeks, as well as the Romans, had been of Germanic stock. Indeed, the simplest logical reasoning showed you that, if all higher culture was originally due to the Aryans, cultured peoples like the Greeks and the Romans must have been of Aryan blood, and Aryan meant the same as Germanic. Hitler, borrowing from the völkisch tradition when it suited him or when he did not know better, was of the same opinion. “By the Greeks he meant the Dorians. Naturally his view was affected by the theory, fostered by the scientists of his period, that the Dorian tribe which migrated into Greece from the north had been of Germanic origin and that, therefore, its culture had not belonged to the Mediterranean world.”479When one asks who were our forefathers, we must always point back to the Greeks”, Hitler said.480

Everything belonging to this exalted but fictitious past shared in the völkisch adulation. The runes, used from the second century CE till the end of the Middle Ages, and brought back into the focus of völkisch attention by Guido von List, were widely studied as symbols and sacred signs of power. Most (in)famous would become the double sig rune which the SS wore on the lapels of their uniforms, while their honorific ring, designed by the magician Weisthor, a friend of Himmler, was also inscripted with runic signs. “Prehistorians generally accepted that the runes had possessed a symbolism over and above their phonetic value and use in writing, so that they were accordingly used for divination, the casting of lots, magical invocations, and the preparation of amulets and charms.”481To the followers of the völkisch movement, the runes became a sacred, quasi initiatory alphabet.

This sacral character was assigned to anything which had survived from ancient times or which was assumed to have any connection with those times. Former holy shrines, like the Extern Rocks, became places of pilgrimage and improvised neo-pagan rites. “You wander through the expanses of the German heath, where loneliness is most deeply felt, and you stand there fascinated by the remains of the mighty burial sites of your forefathers. Suddenly you hear whispered words, uttered in silent earnest, about your fathers, o German! These words keep resounding in your memory and you understand them, the silent language of life long past but eternally renewed … Names and pictures resurface from history and from the realm of legend, and you envision again their deepest meaning!” Sünner quotes these words from one of the völkisch periodicals, Nordland.

“Such thoughts were often found in books and reviews of the Third Reich”, continues Sünner. “Their aim was to replace gradually the Christian prayers and visits to the church by a new creed and ‘Germanic places of worship’. Especially the SS re-evaluated the megalithic burial sites as ‘sanctuaries of stone’ and ‘houses of eternity’ … The people of six thousand years ago, said the SS review Das Schwarze Korps, had piled blocks weighing many tonnes one upon another ‘to tell their descendants in times to come about their distant era before history and the greatness of their people. The eternal succession, passed on by the blood from father to son of the same Nordic leadership from millennium to millennium, found in these ancient family tombs – for this is what they were, the colossal megalithic structures in the North – its most meaningful symbolical expression. Born from the soil, built with material provided by Nature and with a gigantic combination of human strength, these structures of eternity are meant to survive millennia without number and to inform us about the dawn of history, when for the first time generations of leaders emerged and began to guide the people’.”

And Sünner concludes: “Today we know very little about the so-called ‘megalithic culture’ whose dolmen, stone circles and burial hills have been erected everywhere in Europe since circa 4000 BCE; they seem to tell of a religion which must have had command, before the Egyptian pyramids, of considerable technical and astronomical knowledge. To this culture belong not only Stonehenge in England and Newgrange in Ireland, but also similar megalithic constructions in Portugal, Spain and the island of Malta. Whether they originated in north-western Europe and spread from there towards the east, or vice versa, remains controversial among the experts … These stone relicts have hardly any connection with the early history of the Germanic tribes or with the Germans.”482

Back to Nature

Nature was the temple of God where, in ever varying beauty, harmony and grandeur, one could communicate with Him and contact one’s inmost soul. Nature was timeless and allowed one to transcend time. In nature everything was the visible expression of the life-forces; there one could come to rest from the frenzy and artificiality of the oppressive human conglomerates which were the modern towns and cities. Romanticism had been one big hymn to nature, conciliating man with suffering and death, and it was to nature that “the new romanticism”, refusing to yield to modern life, turned back. “Many of our generation sought such contact with nature”, wrote Albert Speer, the son of a stiffly conventional upper middle-class family. “This was not merely a romantic protest against the narrowness of middle-class life. We were also escaping from the demands of a world growing increasingly complicated. We felt that the world around us was out of balance. In nature, in the mountains and the river valleys, the harmony of creation could still be felt. The more virginal the mountains, the lovelier the river valleys, the more they drew us.”483

Joachim Fest, the biographer of Speer as well as of Hitler, comments: “His love of nature was even more formative, and probably also more typical [than his love for the great romanticist literature]. The mountain tours that he made with his future wife in those years and paddling in a canoe were, he later said, a form of ‘bliss’. This euphoria was inspired by the simple life in mountain huts and boat houses, the hours of silent harmony and being deeply moved by nature. The world was far away. Up on those heights there were unforgettable moments when he experienced pity for the ‘wretched people’ below and cloud banks who were subjected to the narrowness, the noise and the bustle of the city. This was the side of ‘the war youth generation’ that shunned reality … This rejection of reality was not an individual impulse but a widespread mood of the day.”484

The nineteenth century had been the century of the bourgeoisie. The ideals of the American and French revolutions had never gained the spontaneous adherence of the religious creed they had replaced. The result was a dry, conventional morality, of which the norms were constantly breeched by the vital urges in the human being. (It was on such soil that Freud’s perceptions arose.) The youth, fresh before the future, suffered from the hollowness behind the factitious façade of the bourgeois world, in Germany more than anywhere else, because there the militaristic hierarchization of society lend a touch of the grotesque to bourgeois everyday life.

“The beginning of the youth organizations is still idyllic and partly carried by the real utopian and emancipationist spirit”, writes Sünner. “They profit from the general crisis in which the family, the school and the Church are involved. The family ties form no longer a close unity which would be able to provide a seeking youth with aims and values. The younger ones long for enthusiasm, tests of courage and overwhelming experiences with which neither pastor nor teacher can provide them. It is in this no man’s land that student unions and other groups appear in which the restless and experience-hungry youth come together. The Wandervogel is founded in 1904; its groupings will become the main reception centre of all such expectations and longings, and they will expand fast. ‘Trekking should teach us to see and to envision’ is one of the points in their programme. The intense common experience of the landscape, culture, usages and traditions of the land of one’s fathers is at the centre of their excursions. They build tent camps and fires, prepare their meals together and sleep under the starry sky. Old-German feasts are brought to life again.”485

Fest sees the youth movement as a specifically German tradition, despairing of modernity. “Filled with terror the youth identified the dictates of the hour with the crisis into which their familiar world had plunged, and combined their reaction with the ‘world role’ they assigned to their country, although it had only just been united and attained power. That role consisted in the specifically German mission to preserve ‘culture’ against the destructive assault of ‘civilization’. The country’s defeat and the disgrace inflicted upon it merely intensified the pain of what was happening, lending it universal significance.”486Around the year 1900 this way of experiencing the world had already produced “a vanguard of associations and groupings, the most notable of which were the life-reforming groups which sprang up everywhere”. Vegetarianism became fashionable, as did naturopathy and the propagation of all kinds of “natural” diets. Nudism was practiced with abandon, and so were astrology and the other symbolical arts, stimulated by the teachings of theosophy, ariosophy and anthroposophy. Spiritism will become widely practiced after the Great War, when the countless bereaved ones sought communication across the material confines with their fallen husbands, brothers and sons. This was “New Age” avant la lettre, but as varied as in the nineteen-sixties and taken up with no less conviction.

“They rebelled against the bourgeois world and all that went with it: the neuroses and the high-flown banality, the hypocrisy and the sham, the operatic German myths and the indoor palm. They wanted to replace them with simplicity, love of nature, dedication and the values they engendered. These categories in themselves reveal how far removed from reality those who subscribed to these new beginnings were. None of the rebellious demands they made of their world contained a feasible model of society. It often seemed that they did not so much intend to change the state of affairs they all deplored as just to vent their anger at it … ‘Swayed by youthful passion and mindless’, is how Speer characterized himself, looking back on those years. But the description applied to his generation as a whole, and any ‘bliss’, no matter how deeply felt, merely amounted to empty self-satisfaction.”487

“There were already many youth organizations of this kind before the First World War”, Bronder too points out, “protesting against the satisfaction and the bourgeois mentality of their world, the end of which was greeted with jubilation in 1914. From the ‘German Youth’ originated the movement of the Wandervogel, many of whose best elements would later join National-Socialism … Their ideology was based on the “blood and soil” motto, hate against all civilization and liberalism, humanism and pacifism, social democracy and Bolshevism, as well as against Judaism.” After 1918 the youth movement became dominated by the “völkisch-anti-Semitic-pan-German” thought, says Bronder; the social-democratic Weimar Republic did no longer seem worthwhile to be defended, and they wanted to replace its humanitarian stance with values like communal life, egalitarianism, authority, obedience, and the “leadership principle”, the notorious Führerprinzip, which will become the backbone of Nazism.

Most members of the völkisch youth associations enlisted as volunteers for the front and created “the Langemarck Myth” of unconditional obedience to any command and the sacrifice of one’s life for the nation. (Langemarck is the name of a small place in Flanders were a bloody First World War battle was fought.) “Individuality was replaced by the collective, the separate group integrated into the ‘tribe’, common maintenance chores were called ‘service’, and all activities went accompanied by shouted orders, drum rolls, fanfares and militant soldiers’ and Landsknechts’ songs. Life in the Hitler Youth, the German Army and the SS presented their recruits with very little they had not already known in one or other of their youth organizations.”488

Whose soul was linked more closely with “the essence of nature” than that of the son of the soil, the countryman, the farmer, the peasant? To the völkisch eye the peasant was the original and true German, guardian of the knowledge of yore, in permanent contact and exchange with the forces of nature. The praise of the peasant is sung in many pages of Oswald Spengler’s Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West), a book that like few others mirrors the aspirations and desperations of the period in Germany which occupies us. The peasant, by living and working the way he does, “becomes a plant himself”, writes Spengler. He has his roots in the soil he tills. “The soul of the human discovers a soul in the landscape; a new tie of existence with the earth, a new way of feeling manifests itself. Inimical nature turns into a friend. The earth becomes Mother Earth. Between sowing and growing, harvest and death a deeply felt relation is revealed. A new devotion addresses itself in a chtonic cult to the fertile soil, which grows together with the human being.”489

Spengler’s book, written during the war and published in 1918, made a general impact on the masses of young people who wanted to find their bearings after the horrors of Langemarck, Paschendaele, Ypres and Le chemin des dames – together with those who had wanted to join their brothers in sacrifice on the battlefield, but who had been too young and were now without prospects in a time of unemployment and overall turmoil. To go and live as farmers on the land was the dream of many of the toughest members of the Free Corps. They went fighting in Poland and the Baltic lands not only to push the Bolsheviks back but also to find there a plot of land for them to till and spend the rest of their days in peace. This will remain an important factor in the German ambition of conquering the fertile lands of Russia, and Hitler will describe in detail the fortified farms he intended to build there for his warrior-farmers, lords over a population of Slavonic slaves.

Heinrich Himmler was one of those who kept the dream of the völkisch farmer alive, after having tried in vain to join the Army at the end of the war and to march under the flag of one of the Free Corps. Himmler became a member of the Artamanen,490 a völkisch league founded in 1924 by young men and women whose ideal it was to live on the land and till it with all their dedication and strength in the manner they supposed their forefathers had done in olden times. “This association was already known to me through their publications at the time I was still in prison, and I have given it the best of myself. It was an association of young, völkisch-conscious people, boys and girls, from the youth movements of all nationalist-minded political parties, who wanted to return to a natural way of living on the land, far from the unhealthy, confusing and superficial life in the towns, especially in the cities. They despised alcohol and nicotine – in fact all that is harmful to a healthy development of the spirit and the body. Guided by these principles, they wanted a complete return to the soil from which their forbears had come, to the fount of life of the German people, to the healthy way of living of the peasant.”491

The man who wrote these words, shortly before being executed by hanging, was Rudolf Höss, the former commandant of Auschwitz. Many prominent Nazis and SS-chiefs had passed through the völkisch and disciplined life of the Artamanen, for instance Walter Darré, leading SS-ideologist and Hitler’s Minister of Agriculture, and Martin Bormann, after Hess’ flight to Great Britain as Hitler’s private secretary one of the most powerful and dangerous men in the Third Reich. Bormann’s wife Gerda, a fanatical Nazi, wrote: “He [her husband] divided all the people in three groups: peasants, rooted in the soil, nomads roaming through the steppes, and parasites living from trade and commerce. The representatives of the peasants, rooted in the soil, are we [the Germans], the Japanese and the Chinese. Only the people who are rooted in the soil have real culture; they know that they have to protect the heritage of their forefathers, and that their labour will bear fruit for their children and grandchildren. Their whole being turns around the concepts of seed and harvest.”492It may be assumed that people talking like this were admiring the countryman from the comfortable position of not being one – of not being duty-bound year-in year-out to labour on the soil and care for the animals on the farm, day after unforgiving day from early morning till late at night.

If the country was good, the city was bad; a harvest was nature’s gift from the land, a city was man’s product from the mind; “culture” was related to the land and healthy, “civilization” was an artefact of man’s brain, rootless, and symptomatic of decline. This dualism is again abundantly expounded by Spengler in his utterly negative book. (For Spengler, as for Gobineau, humanity had no purpose.) “The colossus of stone that is the metropolis stands at the end of the lifetime of every culture”, he wrote. “This mass of stone contains the exalted symbolism of the death of what finally ‘has been’.” Cities are mind, nothing but mind, without contact with the soil, with the life-giving womb of nature. “Man becomes ‘mind’, free and similar to the nomads, but more narrow and cold. ‘Mind’ is the specific urban form of the apprehending awareness. All art, all religion and science become gradually mental, foreign to the land, incomprehensible to the earth-bound peasants. Civilization is the onset of the menopause of a people. The age-old roots of being are withered in the stone masses of their cities. The free mind looks like a flame which rises into the air in splendour and slowly evaporates.”493

Once more we meet with a thinker who condemns thinking as a symptom of decadence and would like to dispense with it, in order to return to a peasant-like existence free from the burden of reflection. Texts like this one by Spengler bear witness to the neurosis the German people were suffering from. A nation which was technologically the most advanced in the world was expressing doubt as to modernity and progress, and dreaming of going back to embellished values of a past which had never existed. But the powers responsible for and profiting from Germany’s first economic Wirtschaftswunder will not allow its industry and economy to stop in their tracks; on the contrary, they will bundle their strength to make their nation ever more prosperous and domineering over the rest of the world. But they will put their superior position at the service of what was essentially the völkisch vision, taking pride in their difference from a materialistic, hollow modernism, and feeling convinced that they stood above everybody else as a race, a culture and a nation.

A German Religion

The “North-South divide”, in fact a confrontation of the Germans and their Kultur with the humanist West-European spirit, was the expression of an attitude induced by a very old streak in the subconscious memory of the German people. It was fundamentally the same divide which had opposed the Roman civilization against the barbarian world of the Germanic tribes, who afterwards, in wave after wave, had poured over Europe in the first centuries of the Christian era. The Roman civilization had been felt as an imposition of a way of life which was foreign to the Germanic nature and soul. Still more so was felt the Christianization which Romanized rulers had imposed on the “pagans” by force; for if the Roman empire had sought to integrate the conquered peoples, the Catholic Church allowed for no compromise, and conversion was often a matter of life and death. (Charlemagne, “slaughterer of the Saxons”, had thousands of them killed for resisting baptism.) One German author puts it as follows: the Catholic Church was always considered “a foreign presence within the spirit of the Germanic people”.494The response with which Luther met in 1517 was much more than instant enthusiasm: the Germans had been ready for a long time “to recapture the fortress stolen by Christianity”.

To be sure, the Christianization of the heathen tribes had been a crude crusade. “Like it or not, this is what our sources tell us over and again: demonstration of the power of the Christian God meant conversion. Miracles, wonders, exorcisms, temple-scorching and shrine-smashing were in themselves acts of evangelization”, writes Richard Fletcher in his Conversion of Europe.495It had to be demonstrated to the barbarians that the Christian God was more powerful than their gods. The Christian God could command the weather, restore health, win battles and provide his worshippers with wealth and healthy offspring. The holy places of the pagans, whether natural sites or constructions erected by human hands, were to be destroyed and Christian churches built in their stead. (The cathedral of Chartres, the Notre-Dame in Paris, the Dom in Cologne and St Paul’s Cathedral in London were constructed on former sites of pagan temples.) The gods of the pagans were all declared to be demons. “The demons also persuaded men to build their temples, to place there images or statues of wicked men and to set up altars to them, on which they might pour out the blood not only of animals but even of men. Besides, many demons, expelled from heaven, also preside either in the sea or in rivers or springs or forests; men ignorant of God also worship these as gods and sacrifice to them”, wrote Martin, bishop of Braga.

Yet, to change one’s religion is a complicated long-term process. The instruction of the pagans in the articles of the creed was less than rudimentary, and the belief in the gods who had since times immemorial presided over their destiny lived on in secret. Ordinary religion is in the first place a matter of instinctive fear; if you fall short of your religious obligations the gods will punish you, make you or your kin ill, confuse your brain, lure you into a trap, strike you with cowardice in battle, have you killed or make you die in your bed and refuse you entrance into the heaven of the warriors, Walhalla. The Christian God had to prove that he was able to protect against such misfortunes, and if the newly converted remained unconvinced, they returned to their old gods, often clandestinely. “The Christian God is a god of the churches. The churches are his castles. Every seven days the people have to show up and he holds a speech to his faithful. Then they return into the indifferent field of everyday life. They still gibe for a while or mock for a while what the foreign god has told them; soon it is forgotten. They bring back the old gods from their hiding places, the wise old woman and the shepherd who knows the good old magic formulas. And they work according to the ten commandments of the Lord of their forefathers.”496

“The piety of the countryman in the present day is older than Christianity. His gods are older than any higher religion”, wrote Spengler.497Hitler too considered Christianity no more than a thin layer of veneer on a massive substance of old traditions and beliefs. Romanticism had directed the attention back to nature and to the powers the Germans had venerated for many centuries before being burdened with Christianity. Now the “new romanticism”, with a treasure of newly translated sagas and legends and new, visionary interpretations at its disposal – Guido von List’s foremost among them – upgraded what formerly had been inspired literature to the status of sacredness. For the völkisch movement it was “unbearable that their Nordic race had borrowed the god of another race, the Semites, and held on to him. Each people has its own God, they asserted, thinking of Nietzsche who once had stated that ‘the Nordic races should be embarrassed not to have produced a single own god in two thousand years’.”498

The authentic need of the völkisch Germans was for a personal, direct experience of the own soul and of God. This presupposed “a religion without dogmas” which should be without any intermediary to God. A Church always posits itself as the intermediary between the faithful and the Deity, even condemning as blasphemy the effort to approach or experience God directly. “Religion” is therefore the teaching of a Church summarized in the articles of a creed which has to be accepted; “spirituality” is the personal, direct approach of God through the soul or through the higher reaches of consciousness. All true mystics have followed one or other path of spirituality, although many of them were forced by their Church to bow to authority.

Martin Luther’s popular appeal lay in his claim that every individual had the right to approach God directly – “every man is his own priest” – but he could not prevent that this originally spiritual way also hardened into a Church, which broke up into a manifold of Churches, all based on some individual experience or other. That Luther was not a solitary phenomenon but the epitome of a German tradition is shown by the writings of Eberlin of Günsburg, whom Léon Poliakov calls “the most popular Lutheran propagandist of the years 1520-30”. “The ancient Germans, according to this former Franciscan, were ‘good and pious Allemans’, Christian people in the true sense of the word. They had long ago been turned away from the straight path by missionaries from Rome, who preached to them an adulterated and ‘circumcised’ gospel. This is how ‘the German people were fraudulently diverted from the [real] Christian faith to the papist law, from plenitude to misery, from truth to lie, from virility to femininity’. But Luther and von Hutten, sent by God, brought back the German people to the straight way. ‘It now pleases God to have the real Christian faith spread throughout the world by the German nation’, of which they will be capable thanks to their exceptional qualities.”499

A key-figure in this movement towards a genuine spirituality was Eugen Diederichs (1867-1930), the publisher, we remember, of the Sammlung Thule, the series of translations of old Nordic sagas and legends. Not only did Diederichs provide the völkisch movement with translations of the original texts, he was a real power centre for the spreading of a German mysticism adapted to the new times and going back to the in Europe unparalleled tradition of mystics like Hadewych, Meister Eckhart and Angelus Silesius. He recognized that the Protestant theologians after Luther’s death were “shallow quarrellers” who nipped Luther’s inspiration in the bud. “I have the strong feeling that I have to steer my publishing house in the direction of a deepened religion without dogmas, and that the coming period will produce the people needed for this purpose”, he wrote.500

What the youth wanted was “the God in one’s own heart”, “Christ in us”. “The human being obtains its own salvation: this is the new religion”, Diederichs wrote. It was only natural that they turned towards Meister Eckhart (c 1260-1328), the great German mystic whose words remain as fresh today as they were seven hundred years ago. If in the Christian West there is one example of the purest and highest mysticism, it is this experience of a Dominican Prior and Master of the Sorbonne who broke through all prescriptions and all dogmas of the Catholic creed, and through all religious conventions, to meet and become That in him. “That” could no longer be called “God”, for That was all and all was That, including the dissolved I of the mystic experiencer, whose words sounded so revolutionary because they originated from the Source. “It cannot be stressed with sufficient emphasis that Meister Eckhart means more for the Protestants in the future development of a German religion than Luther”, wrote Diederichs. “Despite the past four hundred years everything is still to be done: the Reformation is still in its beginning.”501

No doubt, around the year 1900 there was a sincere aspiration and an opportunity to start an authentic spiritual movement in Germany. Unfortunately, here too the fundamental German ego distorted the purest intentions and made them subservient to the general mentality of the nation. The religious leaders whom Diederichs expected did not show up, and he himself proved in the end not to be immune to the influence of the Pied Piper bearing the crooked cross. The Germans were the superior people – also in matters of religion and spirituality. “Christianity shows itself of such a strong vis formativa [power of formation] in no other Volk as in the Germans. Badly handicapped by the presence of a materialist science and held down by the claws of the unsocial people of the Jews, still at the bottom of the German heart the Christian spirit has remained as vivid as in the Middle Ages. At least, it fights nowhere so forcefully against the adverse forces as in Germany. There is no other Volk that has realized ‘the fruits of the Kingdom of God’ in more beautiful ways than the Germans, and no other Volk that tries in the same measure to produce still more such fruits … If one becomes aware of this highest harmony between the Germans and the Christian spirit, as shown so convincingly in the course of history, does one not have the right to apply to the Germans the words of Christ that other people [than the Jews] will once occupy a chosen position? All the rich fruits which the Christian spirit has borne among the Germans show that Christ’s heart itself is German, that it contains the sap of their sap, the blood of their blood.”502“We must declare ourselves [i.e. the Nazis] the only true Christians”, wrote Joseph Goebbels in his diary.503

Nobody was more convinced that the Reformation had remained unfinished than Arthur Dinter, founder in 1927 of a “Fighting League for the Completion of the Reformation”. One looks in vain for his name in the Enzyklopädie des Nationalsozialismus (1997) although Dinter played a significant role in the formative years of Nazism.504He would even claim to be a precursor of Nazism and not hesitate to assert this for all to hear. A militant anti-Semite, he had held one of the very first Jew-baiting speeches as early as 1914, at the Zirkus Busch in Berlin, to a crowd of five thousand. He befriended Dietrich Eckart in Munich and Julius Streicher in Nuremberg, and corresponded from 1916 till 1921 extensively with Houston Chamberlain, whose Foundations he considered a revelation.

Dinter had been an officer in the First World War, an experience which hardened his anti-Semitism into fanaticism. Seriously wounded, he was discharged from military service. He now wanted to propagate Chamberlain’s ideas in the form of a novel. The Sin against the Blood was written in 1917, published in 1921, and became “a phenomenal best-seller”. The novel “depicts a rich Jew who violates an innocent Aryan girl, polluting her blood. A volkist, Dinter believed that intercourse with a Jew destroyed the capacity of Aryan women to reproduce anything but racially polluted offspring”,505a theme which will be repeated ad nauseam by Julius Streicher.

Dinter became acquainted with Hitler through Eckart and Streicher. At one time he greeted the moustachioed ex-corporal as “the Führer by God’s grace, sent by heaven to the German people”. He would become Gauleiter, i.e. regional leader, of Thuringia, the German federal state which became a hotbed of National-Socialism after having been a centre of revolutionary communist activity, and perhaps in reaction to it. Dinter, now famous for his vicious hatred of the Jews, was also elected a member of the Thuringian parliament at Weimar. In 1928 he was the chief organizer of the first National-Socialist “Day of the Party” where the Nazis, under the stony gaze of Goethe and Schiller, showed their intentions uninhibitedly and the savage way they were to go about them.506It was on this “Day of the Party” that Hitler, after the debacle of the November Putsch in 1923 and his imprisonment, took the reins of the Party again in his own hand and put an end to the factional squabbles.

Dinter, however, was very much his own man, even when boasting about his early convictions and his closeness to Hitler. Deep within himself he could not accept that Adolf Hitler was the one and only God-sent Führer, for had he himself not been an anti-Semite long before the Austrian even had become interested in such notions, and had he not seen Hitler come to the fore among equals, even among mentally superior people who had acted as his promoters and mentors?

When Ludendorff was still a serious nationalist candidate for the leadership of Germany, Dinter had demanded at a public function that all present would swear to bring the social-democratic government down (this was an act of high treason) and that they stand as one man behind Erich Ludendorff. Now that Hitler was strengthening his grip upon the Party again, it must have become clear to Dinter in which direction the Führer had chosen to go and how he distanced himself from everybody else, also from those who had marched by his side.

Dinter would have none of this and protested openly. He resigned as Gauleiter at the end of 1927. In August of the following year he demanded that the Party should constitute a commission with the power to control Hitler, and was consequently excluded from the Party. A few months later he wrote: “Only the blind, uncritical admirers of Hitler or people who do not want to see the truth can doubt as yet that the Hitler Party is a party of Jesuits who, under the völkisch banner, are doing the business of Rome.” Dinter certainly knew that he was putting his life at risk, for so many had disappeared for far less, but he was not to be intimidated.

Now his zealous Christian side, the complement of his hatred of the Jews, came to the fore. He founded the Geistchristliche Religionsgemeinschaft, which may be translated as “Religious Community of Christian Intellectuals”. In 1930 he called Hitler “a sentimental dreamer and babbler”. The future of the nationalist-völkisch movement was not “in the hands of Hitler or of para-military organizations; the future lies with the German youth movement, the young, Spartan groups who are the bearers of destiny and the mortal enemies of the Western mentality”; and Dinter names as their examples Ernst Jünger, Otto Strasser and Ernst Niekisch. Otto Strasser was the brother of Gregor Strasser and a principled socialist, even as a member of the Nazi Party, who had caused Hitler a lot of trouble and ultimately broke with him. To put him up as an example sufficed to have Dinter casually executed by the SA or SS.

But Dinter went still further: a faction of National-Socialists, disillusioned by the not so nice happenings within their Party, pressed him to start a protestant Nazi movement as “the conscience of the völkisch freedom movement”. The result was the foundation of the Dinter-Bund, on 9 November 1932. Hitler would become Chancellor of Germany less than three months later and start at once to cut down everybody who had ever dared to withstand him. Dinter, since long ejected from the NSDAP, was forbidden any public form of activity. That after such a spectacular rebellion against Hitler he was not sent to a concentration camp or simply murdered is a riddle for which we may suggest a solution later on. He died in 1948, seventy-two years of age.

A revived Christianity, a pseudo-German Christianity or a genuine German religion: it was all the same quatsch, the same nonsense to Hitler, who had something totally different in mind but who kept such thoughts to himself for the time being. Once, when the subject of religion came up, he said to Hermann Rauschning: “Let Fascism [he meant Mussolini] make its peace with the Church. I will do so too. Why not? It will not prevent me from extirpating Christianity in Germany root and branch … The Old Testament or the New, or only the words of Jesus, as Houston Stewart Chamberlain prefers: all that is nothing but the same Jewish swindle. It is all the same and it does not set us free. A German Church, a German Christianity is rubbish. One is either Christian or German. One cannot be both. You may eliminate the epileptic Paul from Christianity. Others have done so before us. You may turn Jesus into a noble human being and deny his divinity and his role as an intermediary. Some people have done so in former and more recent times … All that is no use, you cannot get rid of the mentality, which is what really matters. We want free people who know that God is within them and who feel Him there.”507

The Light of Apollo, the Frenzy of Wotan

We had a look at some of the ideas which became ever more articulated in “the new romanticism” that was the völkisch movement. We met with a new German history favouring heroes whose actions and ideals seemed worthy of imitation; there was the Motherland with its natural beauty and the places where ancestors had dwelt; and there were the ancient gods, still alive among the people nearest to the soil – the gods who were revered and whose powers vibrated once more in the ranks of a youth who opened their hearts to them. The ways to approach these supernatural beings were not logical theorems and mathematical equations, but the fascinating mysteries of occultism, “sciences” based on experience, and wisdom.

“The irrationality of these cults, as well as the anti-rationalistic romanticism then in vogue, made an astonishing number of men receptive to equally, and at times more, outlandish theories of national heritage, race and religion”, writes George Mosse. “Occultism, in fact, became essential to another aspect of völkisch thought. For some thinkers it provided a link between the present and the past; it was a bridge that spanned a thousand years of neglect. The past, which Christianity had done its best to destroy, could be recovered and applied to the present needs of the Volk through occultism. Occultism was the chalice that quenched their thirst, and at the same time made irrelevant anything that historical scholarship might do to show events in an entirely different light.”508

Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, in his Occult Roots of Nazism, interprets the flourishing of occultism at the time as follows: “The wide range and confusing variety of racist occultism during the years of the Republic and the Third Reich might tempt one to dismiss the phenomenon as a crankish outgrowth of a larger occult movement in German society during a troubled period in history. While it is undeniably true that these astrologers, rune magicians and Edda mystics were occultists, to leave the matter there is to fail to understand the basic ideological and political motive of this special kind of occultism. All these thinkers were united in a profound reaction to the contemporary world. They perceived the German Republic as vulgar, corrupt, and the symbol of defeat. As cultural pessimists they lifted their eyes from the frustrations and disappointments of the present to behold a vision of high Aryan culture in a fabulous prehistoric past. Astrology, the myth of the Edda and the runes, whether mysteriously whispered or cut as strange magical characters, all represented a marvellous link with that golden age. They were all the promissory tokens of a new era, in which magic, mystical vision and world-power would be restored to all true-born Germans.”509

While to its practitioners occultism was a method, based on wisdom, to find out the laws of nature and to use them to certain ends, the pagan rites of power were almost exclusively put at the service of the barbarian urges of self-aggrandizement and the physical force to dominate others, gain honour in battle, a place in the heaven of the warriors, and, on the side, grab the property of others. The Catholic Church thought it had eradicated the cult of the “demons”, but now it found to its amazement that, suddenly, the demons seemed to be immortal and were reasserting their power with renewed vigour, writes Rüdiger Sünner in his chapter on the “Neo-pagan Outburst around the Turn of the Century”.

“German utopianism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries almost always meant a return to pre-Christian, pagan spirituality in some form”, declares Richard Noll. “Goethe exemplified this trend in the romantic movement by suggesting replacing the fairy tale of Christ-worship with sun worship. The romantic revival of the Greek gods in Germany also led to utopian visions of a Hellenic Germany, based on the best, most rational and most aesthetically superior Apollonian aspects of ancient Greek culture. In the 1870’s, Nietzsche and Wagner unleashed a stream of utopian fantasies that reversed these notions with their appeal to a return of an irrational, organic, Dionysian community of oneness of will and expression.”510Apollo and sun worship, and a Dionysian frenzy of possession: both trends were present in the völkisch movement.

Sünner summarizes an article in the völkisch periodical Die Sonne (the sun) to illustrate the hankering for light and warmth in the Germany of that period. “The metaphor of the rising sun and the onset of spring were used to express the unease with the present time and the hope for a fundamental change. In the German world something was falling apart, something was withering, and something new was coming up. The gods worshipped until recently, viz. capitalism and socialism, had become morally bankrupt.” The pure ‘pleasure principle’ had left the people cold, and there was an urge in all social classes and circles to become free of any form of intellectualism and to enter into a direct experience. The people felt civilization as something cold and dark.511“There has hardly been another period in history when there was so much talk of ‘light’ and ‘sun’ as in the period under consideration”, Sünner writes. “One really got drunk on these words, like hungry and freezing people who, in a gloomy dungeon, are longing for light and warmth.”

“The lightning-shaped SS-rune was interpreted as a symbol of ‘sun’ and ‘illumination’, and Himmler declared Hitler to be ‘one of the greatest Beings of Light’, destined by ‘the karma of Germanhood’ to wage ‘the battle against the [Slavonic] East’. Alfred Rosenberg, chief ideologist of the NSDAP, spoke of ‘the victory of the Nordic-Apollonian light principle’ at countless places where the fallen heroes were honoured and ‘eternal flames’ were burning. Reviews were called The Path of Light or The Sun, and an age-old ‘site of the solar cult’ was supposed to have existed at every real or hypothetical Germanic sanctuary. There was an almost obsessive thirsting for the power of the radiant celestial body, and the hope of rebirth in its rays after the alleged humiliations …

“The Nazis considered themselves the only rightful heirs of a hoary solar religion which must have originated in the North, because only the people there had experienced the return of the vernal sun as a special revelation. Proof of this were the swastikas and other spiral-shaped symbols, found on rocks and cult objects as early as the Bronze Age; they were without much ado interpreted as symbols of an ‘altaric’ solar cult … The Hitler Youth began to celebrate the solar solstices already in 1933, and similar celebrations were organized from 1935 onwards in all regional subdivisions of the Party, sometimes in big stadiums filled with 100 000 people. According to SS-Führer Reinhard Heydrich they believed, in this way, to draw from the same power source as their forefathers had done thousands of years ago. In the summer of 1935 there was even a ‘Reich solar solstice’ in which eight thousand fires were lit simultaneously along the Bay of Lübeck. In the winter of the same year chains of fires started from a big fire on the Brocken [Heath] in central Germany and ran in six rays to the borders of the nation, thus creating an imaginary solar wheel as big as the Reich …

In the darkness of the world the Aryans brought the light.

The great illumination came from the North …

Longer lasting and older than Rome, longer lasting and older is Germany.”512

The Artamanen also celebrated the solar solstices. “One wears the folkloric dresses and organizes dances and symbolic plays under old trees. Here too the solar celebrations are the most important feasts to bring the youth into contact with the soul of the forebears.” Sünner quotes a description of such a feast from The Book of the Wandervögel: “They assembled in silence around the pile of wood. The tarred torch is lit. ‘Arise, o flame!’ Not a word is heard when the last sounds of the song fade away. One man steps forward from the circle and speaks, turned towards the fire, of the true liberation, of the purifying blaze of the new ideals … Who does not know that this youth hides the intensity of their feelings under an outwardly boisterous joy does not understand why, after the harangue and the song, a circle of apparent madmen dances around the fire … When the pile of burning wood collapses all jump over the embers, as if they wanted to show that burning by the fire cannot frighten them.”513

The fabricated myth of the German past, of a Volk whose origins and therefore its very existence were arguable, had to fill the vacuum left by the rejection of Christianity and the disillusionment of the Enlightenment. The pathetic effort at imagining to be the superior people rested fundamentally on nothing. What Noll called the German “utopianism” was often a hysterical overreaction against the angst of nihilism. This explains the German fascination with Götterdämmerung, the twilight of the gods and the catastrophic end of a world – with the Nietzschean act of self-affirmation in a world without an essential meaning.

“It was in keeping with their divorce from reality that the idea of a ‘soldierly existence’ was based not on the real experiences of the war but upon vainglorious illusions; not upon dirt, disgust and the fear of death, but upon that myth of the front-line soldier with which the older generation compensated for defeat. The first steps towards a contempt for life developed by the Wandervögel, the battlefield romanticism with ‘mounds of dead’, the transfiguration of striking and stabbing and throttling, the whole aestheticization of violent death culminating in the intoxication of grandiose disasters, now underwent unlimited extension in an ignorantly blissful shudder before the Nibelungen and the Last of the Goths, before the Lost Warrior Bands of the Middle Ages, before Langemarck, Koltschak and the samurai ideal … All this was not merely the expression of a historicizing hero-worship but also a symptom of a deep-rooted tendency of German educational tradition to prepare the young for death rather than life. Rarely did the character of the Bündische Jugend, in its mixture of commonplace metaphysics, ego-assertion and pseudo-military spirit, find for itself a more apt formula than in the ‘German trinity’ proclaimed by one of its members: ‘God, myself and my weapons’.” (Joachim Fest514)

One of the works of art most popular with the völkisch movement was Albrecht Dürer’s engraving “The Knight, Death and the Devil”, of which an imitation in the form of a cartouche hung behind Hitler’s desk at his new Chancellery in Berlin.515The medieval knight, flanked by Death on one side and by the Devil on the other, is riding through a nightmare world towards his end, ready for to wage the battle without a stake. “The German people are inclined to believe in the moral superiority of dark and hard ideas over ideas that are clearer and gentler. This agrees with their deeper disposition for the tragic side of life and the necessity of evil in the world”, wrote Thomas Mann, the author of Doktor Faustus.516

As the völkisch protest movement against the modern world turned towards nature and the old gods, it was inevitable that the darker, vitalistic forces of life would seek an outlet through this youth. The youth associations were almost exclusively close bondings of groups of men; women had no access to these Männerbünde and were disdainfully relegated to the conventions and duties of the bourgeois world. If Greece stood as an example here, it was Sparta, not Athens. Their songs were martial ones, often those of the former Landsknechte, the drifting mercenaries who, like the Free Corps, obeyed only their captain, as long as he fed and paid them, and were in spite of their religious superstitions also nihilists marching on between Death and the Devil. The ultimate ideal of the völkisch youth was sacrifice, the sacrifice of life to Death, unconditionally accepted in total obedience to the command of the leader, the Führer. The expectation of a Great Leader, “a Strong One from Above”, to lead them into a future as glorious as the imagined past, was common at that time. But if the future nevertheless would turn out to be another Götterdämmerung, so be it, they were ready to lay down their life with dignity.

These were the realities as the völkisch youth saw them; they led straight to Nazism. “National Socialism was a völkisch movement”, states Mosse in the very first pages of his thorough study of the movement. We know about Hitler’s reservations on this point and will draw our conclusions later. It was part of Hitler’s remarkable intuition, however, to use the völkisch aspects of Nazism to the utmost. The same völkisch youth who had been marching and chanting in the Wandervogel and its numerous sister organizations, was now marching and chanting at the NSDAP rallies, but integrated (gleichgeschaltet) into the Nazi moloch and proudly wearing their carefully designed uniforms.

The testimony of Denis de Rougemont, written in 1936 after having participated in a mass rally of the NSDAP, is often quoted: “I had thought to assist at a mass demonstration, at a political rally. But they celebrate their cult!” He goes on to describe how he was physically affected, not to say crushed, by the force of the religious belief of the 40 000 present there, bawling out in unison their faith in the Führer and Germany. The French ambassador, André François-Poncet, present at one of the Reichstage at Nuremberg, writes in a similar vein: “Still more astonishing and actually indescribable is the atmosphere of collective enthusiasm in which this old town is bathing, the extraordinary drunkenness which has overtaken hundreds of thousands of men and women, the romantic fever, the mystic ecstasy, the kind of sacred delirium by which they are possessed.”517Heine’s prediction was coming true, Thor was swinging his hammer again.

The German youth, around their camp fires, during their treks and their ceremonies of initiation and dedication at sacred sites, was listening to seductive voices which also whispered to them in their dreams and impelled them to spend their energy, blindly, for the great Cause assigned to them by the charismatic Führer, that “Being of Light”. For these young men Wotan, whom others called Odin, was present again – he, the one-eyed god with the green hat, who leads the wild hunt of dead riders seen in times of upheaval, when storms are wailing or the moon makes the nights ominous. “Wotan” is from the same root as “Wut”, which means rage or fury.

“We have to become the berserkers of our inner being and our faith”, wrote Goebbels in his diary, and: “We are the berserkers of the new German idea.”518Spengler, at the end of his famous book, had pointed in a similar direction: “The race pushes itself once more to the fore, pure and irresistible … From now on a destiny of heroes in the style of ancient times is possible again.”519And René Alleau quotes the Austrian author Otto Höfler who wrote: “The most honored god of the German tribes was the lord of demonic possession … Wotan is the savage god of possession, the divine master of the ecstatic Männerbünde, the unpredictable god of war and tempest, of the runes and the dead, of rage and sorcery, of masks and human sacrifices.”520

The “ecstasy”, the possession by the vital forces of a god or an animal, was not a matter of escape, as nowadays sought in drugs, but of “a cultic identification” of the individual and communal existence. When a person opens himself to such powers, he leaves his normal personality behind and “accepts the obligations of the community of the dead-but-immortals”. This experience, with its relations to Germanic prehistory, can be understood only in the Third Reich, writes Klaus von See. National-Socialism was a movement, an existentially and ecstatically “moved movement”. And he shows how during the Nazi period the word “fanatic” is no longer defined as “passionately zealous” but as “filled with an idea, enthusiastic”.521

This brings us straight back to Hitler who in Mein Kampf repeatedly pressed for a “fanatical” faith in the National-Socialist movement, and who used fanatisch as a key-word in many speeches. No true Nazi who did not have the Glaube, the faith; no true Nazi who was not fanatical. To turn Germans into fanatics was an essential part of the education and training in the Reich, as it was of the propaganda-cum-brainwashing directed by Joseph Goebbels. The effort succeeded wonderfully well, alas, thanks to the völkisch preparation briefly related above. What counted was instinct, not intellectual reasoning or “causalities”, as Spengler names them. This falling back on animal instincts may also provide a clue to the cruelty with which so many Germans, citizens of one of the foremost civilized nations, treated and killed their victims.

It is an essential point in the understanding of Hitler that, while founding the Reich of a Thousand Years, he lived constantly under the shadow of the possibility of a new Götterdämmerung, which he consciously did try to bring down upon Germany when it was evident that his Thousand Year Reich would be stillborn. Supposing he had succeeded in building his Reich, which would have been its supporting ideology, the ground, the meaning of it all? Hitler had something in mind which he never expressed directly and which remains to be discovered. It was definitely not the völkisch dream of a return to imaginary olden times. But neither did he intend to build a Reich on “scientific-methodological” foundations. His mind-set was far too unscientific, not to say irrational, and his inspiration, as shown by his actions and realizations, was religious, occult, or, as many have maintained, demonic. Hitler “claimed to serve not the emancipation but the redemption of mankind”, writes Fest. If this is true, the question is legitimate: redemption in the name of what or of which god?

About the ritualistic events of the Reichstage at Nuremberg, Speer wrote: “When I saw Hitler virtually canonizing the ritual in this manner, I realized for the first time that the phrase [a Reich of a thousand years] was intended literally. I had long thought that all these formations, processions and dedications were part of a clever propagandistic revue. Now I finally understood that for Hitler they were almost like rites of the founding of a church … It now seemed to me that he was deliberately giving up the smaller claim to the status of a celebrated popular hero in order to gain the far greater status of founder of a religion.”522There were mass rituals, initiations, the swearing of sacred oaths, the magical transmission of the power contained in the Blutfahne, the banner sanctified by the blood of the Nazi martyrs fallen in the November 1923 Putsch in Munich; there were torches, and fires, and long silences, and music, and songs, and the rhythmic sound of many men marching. “‘Party’ is a wrong concept. I would prefer to say ‘order’ … Don’t you see that our Party has to be something similar: an order, the hierarchic ordering of a secular priesthood … I will tell you a secret: I am founding an order …” This, Hitler confided to Hermann Rauschning, lifted a tip of the veil over his inmost thought.

What kind of religion was it which Hitler wanted to launch? “The Order of the Death’s Head”, the SS, may suggest an answer. Many of Himmler’s hobbyhorses were not to Hitler’s taste, but the fundamental ideas behind this order of “black knights” were doubtlessly approved if not prescribed or inspired by him. Their ideals were exactly the same as those of the völkisch youth organizations: loyalty, sacrifice, heroism, the pride of being the superior race, unconditional obedience unto death. They were the elite legions of Death wearing the death’s head on their caps and conditioned “to give and take death” without questioning and without giving in to one’s feelings. The effects of the furor teutonicus, the Teutonic furor or “ecstasy”, can still be seen in the documentaries filmed at mass rallies of the Nazis, bellowing their mantra’s; they can also be read from places where the SS celebrated its cult of barbarian revenge, for instance the ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane and the wasteland where once Lidice stood; but among the most unbelievable consequences of that pagan frenzy are the piles of emaciated corpses found where the Order of the Death’s Head had implemented to the letter the regulations of their faith.

“Mass demonstrations on the grand scale not only reinforce the will of the individual but they draw him still closer to the movement and help to create an esprit de corps … [The individual] is gripped by the force of mass-suggestion which comes from the excitement and enthusiasm of three or four thousand other men in whose midst he finds himself. If the manifest success and the consensus of thousands confirm the truth and justice of the new teaching and for the first time raise doubt in his mind as to the truth of the opinions held by him up to now, then he submits himself to the fascination of what we call mass-suggestion. The will, the yearning and indeed the strength of thousands of people are in each individual. A man who enters such a meeting in doubt and hesitation leaves it inwardly fortified; he has become a member of a community.” Hitler wrote this in 1926, in the second part of the book known as Mein Kampf, where one also finds: “I was now able to feel and understand how easily the man in the street succumbs to the hypnotic magic of such a grandiose piece of theatrical presentation.”523

About the impressionability of the German “man in the street”, Pfeffer von Salomon, one-time commander of the SA, had this to say: “The sight of a large body of disciplined men, inwardly and outwardly alike, whose militancy can be plainly seen or sensed, makes the most profound impression upon every German and speaks to his heart in a more convincing and persuasive language than writing, oratory or logic ever can.” These words are quoted in Fest’s biography of Hitler, of whom we read there the following words: “We [the Germans] have another value: our fighting spirit. It is there, only buried under a pile of foreign theories and doctrines. A great and powerful party goes to a lot of trouble to prove the opposite, until suddenly an ordinary military band comes along and plays. Then the straggler awakes from his dreamy state and joins their columns. That’s the way it is today. Our people only have to be shown this better course – and you’ll see, they’ll start marching.”524

In Defiance of Reason

The rejection of reason as the guiding light of man, of the revolutionary changes the Enlightenment had brought about, and of the new world and the civilization it attempted to realize, are characteristic of all trends within the völkisch movement. The völkisch experience derived in a straight line from the great romanticist period which had declared that reason was an usurper of the authentic life experience, and that tradition, the racial roots and the soul of the Volk were the true sustenance on which that Volk should thrive. Sünner describes the general mood as follows: “The people felt civilization as something cold and dark … One heard of fatigue, coldness, decadence and darkness, of aversion for a rational world in which the traditional religion neither had any stamina left for new spiritual impulses.”525

Again there are some passages in Spengler’s Decline of the West worth mentioning if only because of the resonance this book had in Germany, also on people who were not markedly völkisch or Nazis. (The Nazis tried to win over Spengler to their cause, for at first he had greeted their rise with enthusiasm; when he openly professed his growing disillusion, he was allowed to withdraw in silence till his death, in 1936.) “The French Revolution”, wrote Spengler, “is no more than a result of rationalism. The Western races carry the dynastic sense in their blood, which is the reason why they loathe the mind. For a dynasty represents history, she is the incarnated history of a country, while mind is located outside time and is a-historical … The common rights of men, freedom and equality are literature and abstraction, not facts.”

We remember Spengler’s hymnal praise of the peasant and his abomination of the city, “made of stone and making everything into stone”. The city is the sure sign that mind has triumphed over life, that culture has been converted into civilization and that the end of civilization is near. “In stead of a world: a city, a spot, in which all life of large countries concentrates while the rest withers. In stead of a healthy Volk, grown one with the soil: a new nomad, a parasite, the inhabitant of the city, pragmatic man, without tradition, drifting in a formless, fluctuating mass, without religion, brainy, impotent, with a deep-seated repulsion against the peasantry – which means a decisive step towards the inorganic, towards the End.”526Hitler too will rail against the city, but only occasionally, for instance when in Mein Kampf he tried to get the proletariat on his hand, “those decent working people … who could not and did not grasp the downright infamy of the doctrine taught by the socialist agitators”.527It were of course the cities and towns who formed the basis of his movement – Munich, the “capital of the movement”, Dinter’s Weimar, Streicher’s Nuremberg, Winifred Wagner’s Bayreuth, Goebbels’ Berlin – and on the streets of which the Nazis did battle with the Reds, those “decent, misguided working people”.

Klaus von See relates the saying of a classical Roman author that the Germanic tribes, at home in the woods, evaded the towns “as if they were tombs wrapped in nets”, and that they considered the walls of a town as “ramparts of servitude”. The aversion to the town and everything it stood for must have been a deep-seated trait of the German psyche to have remained so pronounced at the time Germany was the foremost industrial nation in the world and worked hard to make everybody else recognize this. It is a curious paradox that, while battleships and Zeppelins were being built, the German dreamt of a life-giving traditional “culture” in opposition to the detestable life-taking modern “civilization”; that while the Berlin-Baghdad Railway was being constructed he suffered from Kulturpessimismus; that, while the whole world was using his precision instruments, paints and chemicals, he felt himself “uncomfortable with civilization”. Here surely a psychological anomaly was festering which before long could reach a critical state, for the Germans did not see the split in their national personality as a threat to their country’s health but as a source of strength.

“[Germany’s] neurotic relationship with the modern world narrowed its view and made it primitive; it was always the German fields, the German forest or glistening snow-capped peaks that were played off against the urban scene, the philistine existence of peasants was played off against metropolitan civilization, the cult of Wotan against the conveyor belt, the ways of the Northmen against present-day social structures. It was with a false inwardness that it meditated upon essentials behind shuttered windows: the plough, the sword, and then in the evening happiness under the linden tree.”528

That Joachim Fest, who wrote this, was not exaggerating one jot may be shown by a paragraph from the German author Ernst Wiechert, written in 1949 (four years after World War II): “It has appeared to seers and interpreters of the present time and history that Western man of the last two hundred years has been committing the most disastrous sin of them all: the sin of the intellect. The intellect has left behind the grace of the Middle Ages and the ancient times in order to be like God. It has left the magical soil in which rest the primitive ones … It has enthroned the ratio which lives in the conscious mind and only in the conscious mind, and for which the unconscious is a stupidity and a source of irritation. As to me, however, I am certain that they, the “unconscious” ones, will remain as the last ones, when the purple mantle of the “clear-minded”, those who “know”, will slide from their shoulders as a worn-out piece of cloth. Those who shall remain will be the seers, the true artists, the true believers, and the children. They are the ones who will bring their works to the surface from the dark depths of the soil where no intelligence can reach, no mathematical or chemical formula, no philosophical theory, no human questioning”.529

This mentality, the essence of the völkisch movement, is strongly denounced by Joachim Fest: “National Socialism laid bare phenomena of which the movement itself was in turn only a symptom: the most consistent expression in the field of political power groupings of a multiplicity of pseudo-religious longings, a need for fundamental certainty, intellectual discontent, and impulses to escape from practical intellectual activity into the more hospitable semi-darkness of substitute metaphysical realms. These motivations in turn were permeated by the longing of the intellectual, isolated in the world of his letters, for solidarity with the masses, for a share in their unthinking vitality and closeness to nature, but also in their force and historical effectiveness as expressed in the myth of the national community. Fundamentally National Socialism represented a politically organized contempt for the mind …

“Its hostility to reason was intellectual, just as it was essentially a movement of failed intellectuals who had lost their faith in reason. It was intellectuals above all who made possible that intellectual façade without which, in a scientific age, it is impossible to win over the petty-bourgeois masses: even the denial of reason must be represented in intellectual terms …

“Such corrupting cultural and ethical criteria were the outcome of a long process reaching back far into the nineteenth century, in the course of which the mind turned away from itself in the name of a philosophy of life, of the will to power, of rough dynamic vitality, and continually renounced the European rationalist tradition. Generations of philosophers, historians, sociologists and psychologists had a hand in bringing the ‘mind as the adversary of the soul’ [this is the title of an influential book by Ludwig Klages] into disrepute and replacing it by intuition, blood, instinct, to which it gave a status that inevitably raised stupidity to the level of an authority and produced a moral indigence, a ‘defeatism of humanity’ such as had never been seen before …

“This vehement anti-enlightenment, fed by romantic impulses, was a phenomenon common to the whole of Europe; names like Carlyle, Sorel and Bergson underline this and at the same time indicate some of the main lines along which this reversal in the history of ideas moved. But nowhere did this critique of reason so fully expand into a ‘destruction of reason’, nowhere was it carried out with such a vengeful thoroughness as in Germany.”530These insights were formulated in 1963 and they retain their validity.

Let us now listen to what Hitler himself had to say to Rauschning on the subject. “We stand at the end of the era of the intellect.” “The mind, glorifying itself, has become an illusion of life. Our [National Socialist] revolution is not only political and social: we stand before an enormous change in the moral concepts and the intellectual orientation of the people. It is only now, with our movement, that the middle period, the Middle Ages, are brought to a conclusion. We put an end to a wrong path taken by humanity. The tables of Mount Sinai have lost their validity … A new era of a magical interpretation of the world is commencing, an interpretation by the will, not by knowledge.

“It is only in an upsurge of feeling and in action that one comes into contact with the true being of the world. I don’t like Goethe, but I am inclined to overlook a lot of him for one thing he has said: ‘In the beginning was the deed’. Only the man of action becomes conscious of the true being of the world. Man abuses his intellect. It is not the seat of a special human dignity: it is no more than an expedient in the struggle for life. Man is there to do things. It is only as a being in action that he fulfils his national destiny. Contemplative natures, retrospective like all religious people, are dead beings who miss out on the meaning of life. Precisely the Germans, who have spent so much time floating in thoughts and dreams, had to rediscover the truth that only action and unending movement can give meaning to life.”531

A Path Apart

Putting together the glimpses of German history which we could catch in our story about the roads that led to Hitler, we detect a certain outline, useful for the interpretation of the whole. The first contact of the Germanic tribes with the rest of the continent on which they lived was their confrontation with Rome. After having migrated over practically the whole European continent and part of North Africa, a second confrontation with Rome and its civilization took place about the acceptance of the Christian faith. Germanic tribes which had occupied Roman territory found little difficulty to convert, as exemplified in the story of Clodowech, alias Clovis, if only to consolidate their conquests or raise their status. (Many of them would become founders of the feudal family trees, later branching out into the blue-blooded and very Christian nobility.) They were actually the driving force behind the evangelization of the still pagan tribes who lived on the original pagan lands. Many Germans will find difficulty in forgiving Charlemagne, a Germanic king, for the slaughter of thousands of recalcitrant Saxons, and Himmler will have to issue an order compelling his SS to do so, after Hitler’s example.

We saw that German nationalism awoke as part of the “romantic” trend of the Renaissance, its most powerful voice being that of Martin Luther. Around this time, the awareness of a difference between the Roman-Latin-Welsh south and the Aryan-Nordic-Germanic north was mooted for the first time. “Luther detested the urban and humanistic culture of the Renaissance, which was a threat to the simple peasant piety he admired … Luther was the only religious reformer to identify himself narrowly with nationalism. In his most important work, an ‘Address to the Nobility of the German Nation’, he announced that he spoke only to and for Germans, demanding that German princes control ecclesiastical matters and throw off the subversive influence of Rome. He would often be cited later by German philosophers, politicians and theologians who interpreted the Reformation as the first great expression of the Germanic soul, rejecting Catholic Christianity as Latin, un-German and cosmopolitan, a threat to the Teutonic people second only to international Jewry.”532Luther’s attitude and the enthusiastic response it encountered resulted in the fact that, as Albert Speer noted, “fundamentally the Renaissance skirted Germany when it spread from Italy to France and England. Perhaps one of the roots of Hitler’s successes may be traced to this failure on Germany’s part to participate in humanistic culture.”533

In the series of religious wars following Luther’s reformation, the terrible Thirty Years’ War devastated the lands we call Germany and left them backward and exhausted for centuries to come. One of the consequences was that Germany remained a patchwork of principalities at a time that elsewhere in Europe the unifying idea of the “nation” began to take shape, mainly because of the innovative ideas put forward by the thinkers of the Enlightenment. “While in England and France the concept of the nation and the state had a rational-humanistic foundation, going back to Calvin on the one hand and the Enlightenment on the other, in Germany the concept of state and Volk was made into a sacred myth by the Romantic movement. The rejection of the Enlightenment and the mythicization of the Volk are the specific factors which led in Germany to a separate development [Sonderentwicklung] of which the consequences should not be underestimated.”534

The first effects of the specifically German idea of a nationalism based on race and Volk came about as a reaction to the stormy conquests of Napoleon and his imposition of the guiding principles of the French Revolution. The Germans fell back on what they considered their true origins, the rural, and the military temperament of their elders, thus creating the Prussian spirit and the Prussian state. “East Prussia, forged out of the bloodied and Christianized territories of the Teutonic Knights, never lost its feudal character … Prussian military and autocratic values were sanctified among the German elites and eventually the middle classes as well. Once again German history deviated from that of the liberal West.”535Prussia will be the core of the Bismarck state, the first political entity which may be called “German” in the full meaning of the word.

The innate German sense of duty and zest for work brought about the first Wirtschaftswunder, managed by a caucus of politicians, industrialists, bankers and military men, and demanding for Germany “a place in the sun” among the nations who looked down upon it as a newcomer. Inwardly, Germany was now divided into three: a group with the Pan-German League as its mouthpiece and which aimed at becoming a world power; the völkisch movement which turned its back on the modern world and its industrialism, and which created a self-enclosed imaginary world of medieval and primitive fantasies; and the sombre masses of the fourth estate, the proletariat, increasingly to be reckoned with and felt as a threat by the established social classes. These parts of the German body politic overlapped; they were also, in times of crisis, tied into temporary unity by the feeling of belonging to a superior people with a special mission in and for the world. For the Germans, writes Haffner, were “an ambitious people”.

Their sense of superiority was egged on by the unexpected and therefore staggering defeat of 1918, the fictitious “stab in the back”, and the feeling of injustice caused by several articles in the Treaty of Versailles. Revenge became the common motive as a means of self-affirmation, drawing its strength from the specific Germanic character and values. That the Germans were special, a Volk apart, capable of justifying its claims as leaders of the world’s destiny, would be proven – that, or nothing. The despicable Weimar Republic was a miscarriage of the Enlightenment fathered by the victorious Allies. Once a Leader was found to bundle and direct the energies of the Volk, it would put its inmost powers into effect, realize its ideals and, at last, create a world worthy of its existence.

George Mosse writes about “the very real difference that separated Germany from the West”, and which is often called Sonderweg, meaning “path apart”. “Was Germany unique in Europe?” he asks. “Other nations had movements similar to the New Romanticism. Barrès and Maurras in France also called for an internal renewal of their nation, a transformation that would entail both a metaphysical religious conviction and political action. But this impetus never penetrated as deeply as in Germany, nor did it lead to the same end. It is important to clarify this once again, since German historians, of late, have been happy to point out parallels with other Western nations. Yet, even though these may have shared certain elements with the New Romanticism, the chemistry of the German movement was quite different. In Germany, the romantic, völkisch ideology established a frame of reference which reached deeper into the nation.”536

Germany felt itself possessing true values and not modern mental constructs, a divine soul and not only an arbitrary mind, strength rooted in an ever-present authenticity and not the weakening morality of an alien Judaic creed, and pure blood that was not degraded. It felt itself as the chosen people and not a false pretender, as the heroes of the future against the impotent people of a civilization in decline. Having suffered much in its history, it had arrived on the world scene at a late hour, but it staked its claim to a worthy place, in fact to the prominent place which was its due and destiny. Rival powers were encircling it, intending to throttle its industrial life lines and the nourishment of its people. Undefeated on the battlefield, Germany would stand up again stronger than ever, and reach at last its ultimate fulfilment in a Third Reich. What was foreseen in the plan of God would be accomplished by the works of man.

10. The Jewish Question

It is indispensable for us to undermine all faith, to tear out of the minds of the goyim the very principle of Godhead and the spirit, and to put in its place arithmetical calculations and material needs … The King of the Jews will be the real Pope of the Universe, the patriarch of an international Church …

The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion

The Jewish Stereotype

In the previous chapters we had glimpses of the anti-Jewish aspect of the völkisch movement, because both were inseparable: being völkisch meant being racist, at least to some degree, and in Germany racism was practically synonymous with anti-Semitism. It was the aim of the völkisch movement to restore the health of the body of the Volk; this could only be done if all elements alien to this body, acting as enfeebling parasites or illness-causing germs, were discarded from it. Such an eliminatory attitude, caused by the inherent egoism of all closely bounded groupings, societies and nations, has been the common stance throughout history. In most of Europe the Jews became the suspects and victims of the Christians, who forgot that when the Christian movement was still young they themselves, for almost identical reasons, had been persecuted by the Romans, thrown to the lions, or crucified and lit as torches by Emperor Nero.

“Anti-Semitism became the chief vehicle for the diffusion of the völkisch movement”, writes George Mosse. “Those who were attracted primarily by anti-Semitism had no difficulty in accepting the basic völkisch ideas, and those already in the movement took readily to the precepts of anti-Semitic racism … The anti-Semitism embraced by Hitler was not just an opportunistic device, but a deeply felt conviction strengthened by the whole völkisch outlook. And even though it was part of a spiritual disposition and an attitude toward life that was founded on belief in an irrational cosmology, life forces and nature mysticism (and consequently could have been derided as the outlook of a mentally deranged person), it was real nonetheless.”537If this is correct, it should be added that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was a radicalized version of the most aggressive völkisch variations of anti-Semitism which covered the whole spectrum, from respectful coexistence to the views of outright elimination in whatever way. It remains nevertheless a subject of discussion that anyone but Hitler ever thought of doing away with the Jews physically.

The völkisch movement, especially through its youth organizations, became a gigantic instrument to propagate anti-Judaism in Germany; the mentality it stood for, imprinted on the minds of a great part of the German youth, will contribute in a substantial measure to the background which rendered the Holocaust possible. One propaganda technique, borrowed from the popular lore, is to make the “other”, whether enemy or just “not one of us”, into a stereotype. The völkisch stereotype of the Jew would afterwards be taken over by the propaganda machine of the Third Reich. “The Jew lacked a soul, all virtues, and the capacity for ethical behaviour for the reason that Judaism was a fossilized legalism. What a striking contrast this made with the German soul, steeped as it was in communion with the cosmos, the recipient of nature’s mysteries, striving to relate itself to the glorious deeds of its ancestors, and rooted in nature, the soil and the landscape …

“Slowly the stereotype took its effect. On the ethical and religious fronts, it was asked whether, if the Jew lacked a proper soul, he could be classed as human. On the economic and social front it was asserted that Jews had consorted in diabolical intrigues to seize power in order to dominate the Gentile world … In a whole series of novels Jewish characters lacked all human qualities and met miserable fates, victims of their egoistical power drives. The objectification of the Jew as evil by means of his inner drives was reinforced by an emphasis on his outward appearance. Race, after all, was a total criterion. The physical properties of the Jew were accordingly contrasted with the Germanic ideal of beauty; a contorted figure resting on short legs, a greedy and sensual corpulence, and, of course, ‘the Jewish nose’, were unfavourably compared with the aesthetically proportioned figure of the Nordic man. To be sure, such stereotypes had been in existence since the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but they were not as critical then. The Jew at that early date was still pictured as a comic, though grotesque, figure. In the image presented by the völkisch thought, he became a menace; he held the Germans in actual bondage.

“The racial stereotype attributed so many grotesque qualities to the Jew that he was in essence dehumanized”, concludes Mosse.538Dehumanization is the necessary condition for the superior man to activate and justify his feelings of superiority towards other humans or the rest of humanity as a whole. The “others” are then no longer human beings but a kind of lowly, despicable and expendable things, which can be treated at will and even done away with without psychological qualms. (Franz Stangl, former commandant of the Treblinka extermination camp, called the arriving trainloads of Jews “cargo”.539 It is one of the wondrous capabilities of the human being to be able to reduce his fellow creatures to things, even to nothings.


The literature about Nazism is abundant with instances of such absurdity – if “absurdity” is the right word. For instance, Anna Maria Sigmund, in her biographies of prominent Nazi women, quotes the father of Gerda Bormann as saying: “The Jew is not a human being. He is an element of decay. Just as the fission fungus chooses rotten wood to settle and destroys its tissue, just so the Jew has found the occasion to insinuate himself into the German Volk and do his mischief when, weakened by the loss of blood in the Thirty Years’ War, it began to degenerate.” Walter Buch, the father in question and chairman of the NSDAP committee of inquiry into internal Party irregularities, “never tired of preaching this to his children”. Another example provided by the same author: medical doctors at the Dachau concentration camp performed a series of experiments testing the reactions of human beings to rapid changes in air pressure at high altitudes. “For a short time experiments with animals had been carried out. But these were in contravention of the National-Socialist laws for the protection of animals and had to be stopped on the personal intervention of Reich Marshall Göring, the ‘Supreme Master of the Hunt’. This opened the way for experiments with human beings.”540

Hitler, another animal lover, said in one of his monologues when expressing his aversion to hunting: “I can swear that never in my life I hurt a little hare.” And Himmler boasted in one of his speeches to his black Captains of Death that the Germans were “the only people in the world who had a decent attitude towards animals”. They would therefore also adopt a decent attitude towards the Russian “human animals”, about whom he had just said: “If during the construction of an anti-tank ditch ten thousand Russian women do or don’t collapse from exhaustion, it only interests me in so far as the ditch is got ready for Germany … That other peoples live in prosperity or perish with hunger interests me only in so far as we need them as slaves for our culture, otherwise it does not interest me.”541

Eugen Fischer, a Nazi doctor who worked mainly with children, wrote in 1939: “If a people wants, somehow or other, to preserve its own nature, it must reject alien racial elements, and when these have already insinuated themselves, it must suppress them and eliminate them. The Jew is such an alien and, therefore, when he wants to insinuate himself, he must be warded off. This is self-defence. In saying this, I do not characterize every Jew as inferior, as Negroes are, and I do not underestimate the greatest enemy with whom we have to fight. But I reject Jewry with every means in my power, and without reserve, in order to safeguard the hereditary endowment of my people.” When Fritz Klein, another Nazi doctor, involved in the euthanasia programme, was asked how he had been able to reconcile his doctor’s oath with his activities in Auschwitz, he answered: “Of course I am a doctor and I want to preserve life. And out of respect for human life I would remove a gangrenous appendix from a diseased body. The Jew is the gangrenous appendix in the body of mankind.”542

“The Jew too is a human being, nobody has ever doubted this”, said a sarcastic Joseph Goebbels. “But the flea is also an animal, though not a pleasant one. And as the flea is not a pleasant animal, we don’t have the duty to ourselves and to our conscience to care for it and to protect it, and to make it prosper in order to let it sting and torture us, but to make it harmless.”543And Heinrich Himmler, again, reminded his troops in 1942: “From a biological standpoint [the Jew] seems completely normal. He has hands and feet and a sort of brain. He has eyes and a mouth. But, in fact, he is a completely different creature, a horror. He only looks human, with a face similar to a human face, but his mind, his soul is lower than that of an animal. A terrible chaos runs rampant in this creature, an awful urge of destruction, primitive desires and unparalleled evil. He is a sub-human and nothing else.”544

Along with the shaping of the Jewish stereotype the old vicious rumours were revived about the stealing of consecrated hosts, the poisoning of wells and springs, and the abduction and murder of Christian children. “In Germany, France and the Austrian Empire the ritual-murder legend was far from dead. It was revived periodically, especially encouraged by intellectuals, and grew to a popular clamour that took on the proportions of a movement. In the Austrian Empire alone there were no less than twelve trials for ritual murder between 1867 and 1914. … To the public at large, the trials and the sensationalism that surrounded them demonstrated the Jewish conspiracy against the Gentiles.”545These hateful notions of the Jews were so vivid in the memory of the German people that in Munich, “Athens on the Isar”, Rudolf von Sebottendorff could threaten the Commissioner of Police that he might unleash a pogrom by grabbing a Jew and dragging him through the streets on the accusation of having stolen a consecrated host.546

The Jew was ugly, dirty, stank with the foetor judaicus (which, some said, disappeared the moment he was baptized), and was a sexual pervert. The fear that the pure Aryan race would be contaminated by the Jews through sexual intercourse became an obsession. Lanz von Liebenfels had published pictures of buxom naked women, pure-blooded but weak and lustful, who were being sexually assaulted by ape-like monsters. Hitler had written in Mein Kampf about the black-haired Jewish young man who lay in wait for hours to disgrace the unsuspecting Aryan girl with his blood and steal her from her Volk; and in his early speeches he kept hammering on this theme, and spoke of the pimps, “merchants of young girls”, who were all Jews, without exception. The Jew was presented as a threat to German “decency” and to the effort at restoring the purity of the race. Race was a matter of breeding; breeding meant sexual contact; sex awakened basic instincts, often as base as basic. Der Stürmer, the widely read magazine launched by whip-flaunting Julius Streicher bears testimony to this. But Hitler appreciated its pseudo-pornographic contents and supported Streicher, the Nazi chief of Nuremberg, as long as possible. There is little doubt that this dark sexual component of Nazism, directed against the Jews, enforced the cruelty of the way in which they were treated.

One of the chief traits of the Jewish stereotype, current to this day, is its relation to money. The Jew as a banker, pawnbroker, usurer and miser has become proverbial in several European languages. “The stock exchange jobber, the corpulent banker, these were the stereotypes of the Jew that were widely accepted and disseminated through popular literature. The stock exchange in particular became the symbol of the nightmarish capitalism that had been foisted upon the Germans by the Jews. It came to represent the hub of their control system, and it was there, early völkisch thinkers proclaimed, that the world revolution to oust the alien money lords would emanate … But popular anti-Semitic propaganda was to go one better: it fused the images of Jewish hunger for money with the lust for Aryan women. The resulting image widely used as propaganda pictured a fat Jewish banker caressing a blond woman on his knee.”547

In his Histoire de l’antisémitisme, Léon Poliakov shows how the handling of money became, in the course of European history, the only occupation left to the Jews, and their lifeline. This was why their attitude towards money grew into “a sacral attitude, source of all life. Little by little each step and each action in the daily life of the Jew were subject to the payment of a tax: he had to pay taxes for coming and going, for buying and selling, for having the right of communal prayer, for marrying, for the child that is born, even for the dead who were taken to the cemetery. Without money the Jewish collective was inevitably doomed to disappear … It is in this sense, and in this sense only, that it may seem to a superficial observer that the Jews have been the prime agents of the ‘capitalist mentality’.” Poliakov also remarks that, far from being Rothschilds all of them, “the great majority of the Jews were small money lenders or dealers in second hand cloth, who earned their bread as circumstances permitted and lived in insecurity and misery without end”.548

“Without Christianity no anti-Semitism”

The popular anti-Semitic mentality, in the rest of Europe as well as in Germany, was the result of a historic process which went back all the way to the life and death of Jesus Christ, and which was closely connected with Christianity. The attitude of Europe, where Christianity became the chief element of the culture, rested on the assumption that the Jews had refused to accept Christ as the Messiah and that they had killed him. This was written in the New Testament, revered as holy scripture and therefore indubitable truth. In The Origin of Satan, Elaine Pagels shows how the authors of the four canonical Gospels – Mark, Luke, Matthew and John – gradually grew more inimical towards the Jews. In this they followed the footsteps of Paul of Tarsus, himself a Jew who had converted to Christianity, and who would transform the Judaic sect of the followers of Christ into a potentially universal (“catholic”) religion no longer bound to a particular people and its religious beliefs and customs.

Pagels demonstrates how the Gospel authors, who wrote one to two generations after the facts they claim to report, exempt step by step the Romans from the guilt of Christ’s execution by shoving the responsibility onto the shoulders of the Jews. The stern Roman governor, Pilate, “grows more and more mellow from gospel to gospel … The more removed from history, the more sympathetic a character he becomes”. In historical fact, Pilate seems to have been as ruthless an office holder as any other Roman governor or proconsul. “Mark’s benign portrait increases the culpability of the Jewish leaders and supports the contention that Jews, not Romans, were the primary force behind Jesus’ crucifixion.” Pilate washed his hands, according to Matthew, to indicate his innocence of bloodshed, and at that moment “the Jewish leaders as well as ‘the whole nation’ acknowledged collective responsibility and invoked what turned out to be a curse upon themselves and their progeny: ‘His blood be upon us and upon our children!’’’.549

Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus to the Romans and will be regarded as the typical representative of the Jewish people, was according to the Gospel writers possessed by the Devil before committing his loathsome deed. Before long, this diabolic possession will be transferred to the Jewish people as a whole. “If Judas isn’t singled out for his Jewishness in the New Testament (all the disciples were at least nominally Jewish), the identification was made official by papal pronouncement as early as the fifth century … Unofficially, elements of the Judas story in the Gospels have lent themselves – or helped create – the most pernicious stereotypes of the Jews: his treachery was mercenary (he sold Jesus to the authorities for thirty pieces of silver), he was a greedy embezzler (in the Gospel of John he’s filching from the disciples’ funds of the poor), and, above all, he was a dishonest, deceitful traitor, a smiling villain who kissed Jesus on the mouth while stabbing him in the back. Indeed, one can hear incendiary anti-Semitic echoes of the Judas story in the stab-in-the-back accusation Hitler manipulated to convince the German public that the heroic German army had not lost the First World War but had been betrayed, stabbed in the back, by treacherous Jews and Jewish-paid politicians on the home front.”550

“For nearly two thousand years”, writes Pagels, “many Christians have taken for granted that Jews killed Jesus, that the Romans were merely their reluctant agents, and that this implicates not only the perpetrators but (as Matthew insists) all their progeny in evil. Throughout the centuries, countless Christians listening to the gospels absorbed, along with the quite contrary sayings of Jesus, the association between the forces of evil and Jesus’ Jewish enemies. Whether illiterate or sophisticated, those who heard the gospel stories, or saw them illustrated in their churches, generally assumed both their historical accuracy and their religious validity … And because Christians as they read the gospels have characteristically identified themselves with the disciples, for some two thousand years they have also identified their opponents, whether Jews, pagans, or heretics, with forces of evil, and so with Satan.”551

This is thoughtfully worded. Hyam Maccoby, “an Oxford-educated literature scholar turned historian of religion”, puts the same conclusion much more bluntly in a conversation with Ron Rosenbaum: “Christians say the Holocaust is part of the evil of humanity. It isn’t the evil of humanity. It’s the evil of Christendom … Hitler was brought up to hate the Jews, particularly to hate the Jews as the people of the Devil. He lost his Christian faith, but he retained the hatred of the Jews as the people of the Devil … I don’t blame Germany for the Holocaust; I blame Christendom for the Holocaust.”552

The anti-Judaic standpoint arrived at by the Gospel authors was soon taken over and confirmed by the so-called Fathers of the Church, who turned it into Church doctrine, obligatorily accepted in the centuries to come. Origen (ca 185 - ca 254) wrote: “We can therefore assert with the utmost confidence that the Jews will not regain their former position, for they have committed the most heinous crime by hatching the complot against the Saviour of humanity … It is in consequence necessary that the city where Jesus suffered be destroyed from top to bottom, that the Jew be chased from his home, and that others [i.e. the Christians] be called by God to the blessed election.” Gregory of Nyssa, around the same time, preached in the true Christian spirit: “Murderers of the Lord, assassins of the prophets, rebels against and haters of God, they distort the Law, resist the grace and reject the faith of their fathers. Collaborators of the devil, race of vipers, informers, slanderers, with obscured brains, pharisaic yeast, sanhedrin of demons, accursed, despicable, stoners, enemies of all that is beautiful …” And from John Chrysostom’s golden mouth (the meaning of “chrysostom”) flowed this eloquence: “Brothel and theatre, the synagogue is also a cave of robbers and a den of wild animals … Living for their belly, their mouth always gaping, the Jews do not behave better than swine and billy goats in their lewd baseness and their excessive gluttony…”553

The Crusades and the Black Death

The Jews remained relatively unmolested – throughout their amazing history they were never secure – till the calling of the first crusade by Urban II in 1095. Taken by a sudden fervour, thousands of the most destitute people in Western Christendom left the little they possessed, if anything, and followed preachers like Peter the Hermit in the hope of finding lasting happiness, or a full stomach, beyond the forests which formed the horizon of their small and ignorant world. These hordes, fanatical in their ignorance and therefore dangerous, acted independently of the organized crusade of the princes and knights, and robbed and killed for their survival. It seems a rumour started circulating that duke Godfrey of Bouillon, one of the leaders of the crusade, had sworn to revenge the death of Christ in the blood of the Jews. “There was no shortage of preachers to incite at massacring the Jews without waiting for the confrontation with the Saracens.” The reasoning was simple: hadn’t the Jews killed the Son of God? Wasn’t the Antichrist to be born from them? Why march toward the Orient to kill the Saracens and leave this devil’s brood behind unharmed? The first Jews were murdered at Rouen, in the North-West of France, and the Judaic communities in that region sent warnings to their brothers in Germany, for the “crusaders” were expected to follow the Rhine upstream into central Europe. “But the communities in the Rhine Valley, well settled, prosperous and having acquired a special statute, did not heed the warning.”554This they would regret.

The first German victims were slaughtered in Speyer; then followed Worms, Mainz, and several villages where Jews had sought refuge. The chief instigator of the killings was a German count, Emicho von Leisingen, “a noble of low repute and a brigand” according to some, “a very noble and mighty man” say others. “The bishop of Würzburg collected butchered Jews. Fingers. Thumbs. Feet. Hands. Severed heads. He anointed these bloody pieces with oil and buried them in his garden since it is the nature of a man to perform his office. Count Emicho’s Jerusalemfarers marched along the Rhine to Cologne. Here, as elsewhere, Israelites scattered, disguised themselves. Some who were caught and refused to acknowledge ‘the light of the world’ were slain, their synagogues wrecked, burnt.”555And the hordes marched on, singing of Jerusalem with many a rapturous “hallelujah”, robbing and destroying, and leaving behind a trail of Jewish blood in Metz, Trier, Regensburg, Bamberg, Prague, Nitra …

Rather than letting themselves be baptized, which would have saved their lives, the German Jews first killed those who were near and dear to them, and then committed suicide. “This one killed his younger brother, that one his parents, wife and children. All accepted wholeheartedly the divine verdict [of their death]; recommending their souls to the Eternal, they cried out: “Hear, o Israel, the Eternal is our God, the Eternal is One!” Poliakov considers the slaughter by the crusaders “a capital moment” in the history of the Jews. In the course of that summer of 1096, he writes, the tradition was born of a heroical and total refusal adopted as the attitude towards a majority by a minority ready to give their lives “to sanctify the Name” – a tradition which will serve as an example to future generations.556

Henceforth the Jews were fair game for any mob, gullible and excitable, looking for a scapegoat and for loot. “More animal-like than the animals themselves / Are all the Jews, there is no doubt. / One hates them much, and I hate them … / And God hates them / And everybody must hate them”, wrote a chronicler. The Jews were now to wear a distinctive sign – a yellow patch, the Star of David, or, as in Germany, a yellow conical hat – as prescribed by the IVth Lateran Council in 1215. “In the countries where the Christians are not distinguishable from the Jews and the Saracens by their dress, relations have taken place between Christians and Jewish or Saracen women, or vice versa. In order that such enormities may no longer be excused as having been committed by mistake, it is decided that from now onwards the Jews of both genders will distinguish themselves from the other people by their dress, as has moreover been prescribed by Moses.”557

Poliakov tells of one of the worst pogroms in the small German town of Röttingen where the Jews, in 1298, were suddenly accused of desecrating a host. One Rindtfleisch led a mob against them and they were killed and burnt to the last person. But Rindtfleisch did not stop there, for this “butcher of the Jews”, as he became known, led his troupe of Jew-baiters from place to place, attacking and slaying the Jews wherever he found them, except when they consented to be baptized. The killer wave ran through Franconia and Bavaria, making tens of thousands of victims. “What is new in this case is that for the first time a crime allegedly committed by one or a few Jews was held to be the responsibility of all the Jews in the country … We can say in our modern language that it was (exception made for the excesses of the crusaders) the first case of ‘genocide’ of the Jews in Christian Europe.”558

The next phase in our ever darker tale was caused by the Black Death, which ravaged Europe for three years, from 1347 till 1350, and exterminated at least a third of its population. Many historians have been of the opinion that this was one of the lowest points ever known in the continuity of history, in a century which one historian calls “the Devil’s century”. “In the cities they became ill in their thousands and nearly all died for lack of care and assistance. In the morning one found their corpses before the doorstep of the houses where they had died during the night … It came to the point that one did not care more about a person who died than one does nowadays about the lowliest animal”, wrote Giovanni Boccaccio. But questions began to be asked: why this scourge, and how had it come about? Was it sent by God or by Satan? Didn’t everybody know who were the agents of Satan on earth? The scapegoats were found – the Jews! – and they would remain cast in this role for many centuries.

At Strasbourg two thousand Jews were burnt in their own cemetery and their possessions were distributed among the citizens. Colmar followed, and Worms, Oppenheim, Frankfurt, Erfurt, Cologne, Hannover … Then the flagellants appeared upon the scene, bands of organized fanatics who went in procession from place to place and beat themselves in public with whips and spiked thongs till their flesh was torn from their bones. They invoked God’s pity for this miserable world and preached general repentance, for the end was near. And as the end meant first the coming of the Antichrist, his accomplices, the Jews, were declared outside the law and often massacred after the flagellants had performed their pious acts.

“From the second half of the fourteenth century onwards”, writes Poliakov, “the hatred against the Jews reached such an intensity that we can unreservedly fix at that time the crystallization of anti-Semitism in its classical form, which later led to the statement of Erasmus: ‘If it is the sign of a good Christian to hate the Jews, then we are all good Christians’ … Even if the Jew is no longer present in some places [the Jews were banished from Spain, France and England], the people invent him, and the less a Christian population runs into Jews in its daily life, the more it is haunted by their image, about which it is told by its literature, at whom it stares in its churches, and whom it finds caricatured in its children’s games and miracle plays … The Jews will be despised in France and England no less than in Germany and Italy. The intensity of the feelings towards them seems to depend on the substratum on which rests the national culture, and to be more accentuated in the Germanic than in the Latin countries. In this way everything leads up to Germany becoming the predominant country of anti-Semitism.”559

Luther, the anti-Semite

Then came the Reformation with the towering personality of Martin Luther, who threw his long shadow ahead in German history. In a previous chapter we have seen him as the precursor of nationalism; here now we will have a look at his influence on the sentiment which is inseparable from nationalism, namely racism, in this case mainly manifesting as anti-Semitism. “It is true that, right at the beginning, the Jews welcomed the Reformation, because it divided their enemies”, writes Paul Johnson. “It is true also that Luther, in particular, turned to the Jews for support of his new construing of the Bible and his rejection of papal claims. In his 1523 pamphlet, On the Fact that Christ was born a Jew, he argued that there was now no reason at all why they should not embrace Christ, and foolishly looked forward to a voluntary mass conversion. When the Jews retorted that the Talmud conveyed an even better understanding of the Bible than his own, and reciprocated the invitation to convert, Luther first attacked them for their obstinacy, then in 1543 turned on them in fury. His pamphlet On the Jews and their Lies, published in Wittenberg, may be termed the first work of modern anti-Semitism, and a giant step forward on the road to the Holocaust.”560

Luther’s anti-Semitism grew into an obsession, as did everything which he thought justified his cause, and he became “the poison spitting author of strident anti-Semitic works”, a whole series of them. He wrote for instance: “O, how the Jews love the Book Esther, which agrees so well with their bloodthirsty, revengeful, murderous greed and hope. The sun will never shine on a more bloodthirsty and revengeful people, which therefore thinks that it is the people of God and that it has to murder and strangle the heathen.”561Or: “Cursed goy [i.e. non-Jew] that I am, I cannot understand how the Jews manage to be so skilful, unless I think that when Judas Iscariot hanged himself, his guts burst and emptied. Perhaps the Jews sent their servants with plates of silver and pots of gold to gather up Judas’ piss with the other treasures, and then they ate and drank his offal, and thereby acquired eyes so piercing that they discovered in the Scriptures commentaries that neither Matthew nor Isaiah himself found there, not to mention the rest of the cursed goyim.”562

“What shall we, Christians, do with this depraved, damned people of the Jews?” asked Luther. He had the answer ready: their schools and synagogues were to be burnt; their houses were to be flattened; all their prayer books and Talmuds were to be confiscated, for they were full of idolatry, lies, malediction and calumny; their rabbis should be forbidden to teach, on punishment of death; the Jews should be forbidden to walk freely in the streets; their usury should be forbidden and all their valuables in gold and silver taken from them; the young and strong Jews of both sexes should be forced to work in the sweat of their brows; they should compensate for all the money fleeced from the Germans, and be expelled from the country…563Several authors who mention this programme proposed by Luther remind their readers that it was exactly what Hitler, who called Luther “that powerful enemy of the Jews”, would implement – adding a point of his own which for others had remained unthinkable, at least to such an extent. “The historical connection of the Lutheran anti-Judaism with the National-Socialist anti-Semitism is clear for all to see.”564

“Luther was a racist pure and simple”, states John Weiss, “not at all bothered that his hatred of the Jews denied the power of Christ to redeem all humanity. To him the Jew was simply not human. As the Protestant ‘German Christians’ of the Nazi movement would later claim: the blood of the Jew was beyond redemption.”565“A line of anti-Semitic descent from Martin Luther to Adolf Hitler is easy to draw. Both Luther and Hitler were obsessed by a demonologized universe inhabited by Jews. ‘Know, Christian’, wrote Luther, ‘that next to the devil thou hast no enemy more cruel, more venomous and violent than a true Jew.’ Hitler himself, in that early dialogue with Dietrich Eckart, asserted that the later, anti-Semitic Luther was the genuine one. Luther’s protective authority was invoked by the Nazis when they came to power, and his anti-Semitic writings enjoyed a revival of popularity. To be sure, the similarities of Luther’s anti-Jewish exhortations with modern racial anti-Semitism and even with Hitler’s racial policies are not merely coincidental. They all derive from a common historic tradition of Jew-hatred.” (Lucy Dawidowicz566)

Luther, with all his talents but also with his obvious flaws, seems to have been the embodiment of the German national character. Sebastian Haffner finds that “he almost personifies the German character”, and Thomas Mann calls him “a gigantic incarnation of the German being”. There was in him the refinement, broad interest and great learning of the Renaissance; his inspired use of the written and spoken word practically created the German language anew; he had a feeling of music and liked to play within the circle of his family. There was the recognition of the use of reason, the refusal to accept what was felt to be erroneous, and the preparedness to stand up for the autonomy of reason within the individual domain. There was also the spiritual impulse, born from the soul and claiming the right of an unhampered individual development. In contradiction with all this there was in the same person coarseness, no doubt in accordance with the popular mentality of the time, but too often debasing itself to the boorish and scatological. The world of “this Germanic prophet of a Nordic religion” (Mosse) was filled more with the pestering presence of the Devil than with the consolation of the grace of God. And Luther’s few lilies of pure spirituality flowered on a compost heap of psychological conflict and desperation. The Germany which responded to the call of Adolf Hitler will suffer from similar internal contradictions, and it will be torn apart by them.

A Less Prejudiced Attitude

How, then, did the next stage in Europe’s history, the Enlightenment, treat the Jews? Its principle was a radical questioning of all certainties and dogmas formerly held to be unquestionable. The field of questioning was broadened constantly by discoveries of new lands and peoples, and the religious and political dogmas had already suffered a severe shaking in the atrocious wars of religion among supposedly civilized countries. Moreover, science had changed the way men looked at the cosmos and, in consequence, the idea they made of its Maker. Copernicus had long been accepted, Galileo had discovered new heavenly bodies, and Newton’s laws suggested a universe hardly compatible with the Biblical stories of creation. Besides, scholars like Richard Simon had shown that the Bible, when philologically examined like any other literary document, proved to be a much less consistent document than could be expected of the Word of God.

England, the country of origin of the Enlightenment, was the exemplar of tolerance. Names like John Toland, John Locke and David Hume, willing to draw the last consequences of the enlightening but fallible human reason, are an ornament to its culture. In France there was Pierre Bayle (1647-1706), “the great apostle of tolerance”, who in still very intolerant times had to flee to Holland, the continental haven of intellectual freedom at that time. His Historical Dictionary, composed in Rotterdam, “remains one of the most devastating indictments ever of the shameful behaviour and the mental confusion of men”, while his Treaty on Tolerance set the tone for a less prejudiced attitude.

But then there is the case of that other philosophe, as the thinkers of the Enlightenment were called, Jean-Marie Arouet, alias Voltaire. Strange to say, this man, who was one of the prominent champions of the new ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, was also “a vicious anti-Semite” (Weiss). The many barbs against the Jews in his Philosophical Dictionary are there for all to read, e.g. “the Jews, our teachers and our enemies, whom we believe and detest”, or: “The Jews thus treat history and ancient fables as their old-clothes-men threat their worn garments: they turn them and sell them for new at the highest possible price.” Etc.567The English editor and translator of the Dictionary tries to defend his author: “This sort of thing is common form in Voltaire, and the legend of his anti-Semitism has persisted … He did not dislike the Jews on ‘racial grounds’, but only because they were the people of the Old Testament and the precursors of Christianity” – which looks like a curious reason for his dislike.568

“I therefore ask, gentlemen, for the Protestant French as for all non-Catholics of the Kingdom, what you demand for yourselves: freedom, the equality of rights. I ask this also for that people torn from Asia, always on the move, always outlawed, always persecuted during more then eighteen centuries, which would take up our ways and customs if it were incorporated into us by our laws, and to which we do not have to reproach its morals, since they are the result of our own barbarism and of the humiliation to which we have condemned it unjustly!”569Thus resounded the voice of a Deputy in the French National Assembly during the Revolution. The Jews, not without wrangling, were legally emancipated on 27 September 1791. Napoleon based his Napoleonic Code (1804) on the principle that all citizens were equal before the law and implemented it in the lands he conquered, breaking with the tradition of ages and giving their peoples a first taste of equality in freedom. Like all new beverages it tasted strange and some rejected it. The ideals of the French Revolution pervaded the minds and the political practice only gradually, in the advancing and retiring waves of the nineteenth century revolutions with repercussions in all European countries. Hitler and Nazism, arisen on a soil which remained inimical to these ideals, attempted the ultimate effort to counteract and annul them.

“The Jews are our Misfortune”

“A Jew remains a Jew, in Germany or any other country. We can never change this race, even by centuries of residence among other people”, says the Handbook of the Hitler Youth, published in 1937.570This statement, a point of doctrine for Hitler’s young, rash and ready heroes, is a logical absurdity when put within the framework of their own beliefs. Isn’t race a matter of blood, and isn’t blood always changed, for better or worse, by mixing with other kinds of blood? If such a change were not possible, how could the Germanic race be purified by a gradual upgrading of its blood, a process which Hitler and Himmler wanted to bring about? Or how could Germans “sin against the blood” through sexual intercourse with the depraved race of the Jews or with other subhumans?

Fichte was “the philosopher of the German war of national liberation against Napoleon”, in which quality we have met him before. His famous Addresses to the German Nation (1808) were delivered while French troops still occupied Berlin. In these addresses he said as one of the very first that, if Germany went down, the rest of the world would go down with it. “Called the father of German nationalism, Fichte has also been called the father of modern German anti-Semitism. His celebration of German nationalism was matched by his denigration of the Jews. In 1793 he had argued against German emancipation, characterizing the Jews as a state within a state that would undermine the German nation. Jewish ideas were as obnoxious as French ideas. The only way in which he could concede giving rights to the Jews, he said, would be ‘to cut off all their heads in one night, and to set new ones on their shoulders, which should contain not a single Jewish idea’.”571

Lucy Dawidowicz sees the Jewish emancipation progressing from Napoleon onwards in cycles, closely connected with the heightening waves of nationalist feelings and German self-assertion. Every gain of freedom by the Jews was paralleled by a more intense and outspoken anti-Semitic reaction. “The stronger the longing for national unity, the more burning became the preoccupation with the Jewish question”, George Mosse too observes. One important focus of such a cycle was of course the unification of Germany by Otto von Bismarck in 1871. From that date onwards the open attacks on the Jews will no longer be felt to be a general matter of opinion or racial theory, but a necessary defence of the well-being of the nation. The seriousness of this defence was directly proportional to the seriousness of the Germans’ idea about their value as a Volk and the vocation of this Volk in the world. The Jewish “foreign body”, though a minority of one percent, was considered highly obnoxious to the health of the Volk – and came very convenient as a scapegoat for all the problems of a country which was deeply divided and under severe psychological stress.

Onto the Jews was projected everything reactionary Germany did not want to be, or pretended it did not want to be, or could not be, or actually was without wanting to be. The Jews were associated with a modern world in the making, while reactionary Germany persisted in looking inward, which was a good thing, but also backward, which was not. That it developed simultaneously into the foremost industrial nation in the world made it more schizophrenic, and the Jew still more guilty. And that the Jews were intelligent and some of them highly visible, did not help either.

A few quotes will have to do. They are intended to suggest the anti-Jewish atmosphere of a period in the German past when anti-Semitism became an organized movement in a structured, even if psychologically afflicted, society. Paul de Lagarde, a leading authority in Oriental studies who then became “the völkisch patron saint of the anti-Semitic movement”, published his German Essays in 1878. He had become convinced that the Jews of his own day “had lost all true connections with the ancient Hebrews; they were fossilized, a living example of the spirit run dry. Pharisaic fundamentalism was now the essence of Judaism, based as it was on the literal observance of the laws. Since such a sterile religious attitude was incompatible with a vital mysticism, it could never fuse with the living and developing Germanic religion. By the same token, the Jews could never be Germans … Lagarde attributed conspiratorial motives to contemporary Jewry. The lack of true religion meant a turning toward evil, a substitution of materialistic desires for inward faith.

“Lagarde seems to have believed that the Jews practised ritual murder and he even declared that the Talmud and its prescriptions rendered the Jews a powerful weapon in the unavoidable power struggle. The Jewish question was therefore not to be met with tolerance. Instead it was reducible to a mortal contest: either the Jewish or the ‘true’ German way of life must prevail in the end … The Jew became the incarnation of evil. Any humaneness Lagarde possibly possessed was eventually obscured by his call for the extermination of the Jews like bacilli”572– a simile which was to enjoy a long life. Be it once more remembered that these kinds of texts were published or quoted from not only by the Nazis, but also by all anti-Semitic organizations, and that pre-Nazi Germany was flooded with them.

The “Anti-Semitic League”, the first organization to bear an explicit anti-Semitic name, was launched in 1879. Eugen Dühring, philosopher and economist, published The Jewish Question as a Racial, Moral and Cultural Question in 1880, claiming that he was the first in Germany to consider this “question” in racial terms. “Dühring looked upon the Jews as a ‘counter-race’ separated from all humanity, whom neither conversion nor assimilation could affect because their basic nature was evil and unchangeable. He shared the Wagnerian thesis that Christianity was a product of ‘Hebraic Orientalism’, and that those who clung to the ‘entire’ Christian tradition could not truly oppose Judaism or defend the ‘Nordic tradition’.”573“Only the Nordic gods could help the German people to victory, for only the Nordic religion was able to combat Jewish infiltration. According to Dühring the battle lines were drawn between the forces of Jewish materialism and Old Germanism. With their inherent racial strength the Germans would triumph over the alien intruders. In this manner, the formulations of the völkisch thought began to be used as weapons in a widespread German anti-Semitism.”574

“1880 was a watershed year”, writes Dawidowicz, “the start of a torrent of anti-Semitism that did not abate for nearly twenty years. It was as if all the quiet streams of prejudice conjoined in a massive flow of anti-Semitic hate, inundating the whole country. It began at the end of 1879, when Heinrich von Treitschke, National Liberal and prestigious professor of history at the University of Berlin, started a series of articles on the Jewish question in the Preussische Jahrbücher, which he edited. ‘Even in circles of the most highly educated, among men who would reject with disgust any ideas of ecclesiastical intolerance or national arrogance, there resounds as if from one mouth: Die Juden sind unser Unglück! (the Jews are our misfortune) – the phrase was to ring down through the next German generations. Heinrich Class, a leading anti-Semite [and Chairman of the Pan-Germans] one generation later, wrote that ‘the phrase became a part of my body and soul when I was twenty years old; it essentially influenced my later political work’. Issued in pamphlet form, Treitschke’s articles gave reinforcement and professional authoritativeness to the anti-Semitic movement. Treitschke spoke, the anti-Semites said, ‘for thousands, perhaps millions of his countrymen’.”575Poliakov calls Treitschke le maître à penser of the German nationalist youth, which is how he became known to us in an earlier chapter.

It should in fairness be mentioned that Treitschke’s anti-Jewish writings caused a wave of disagreement. His foremost opponent in this was the great Latinist Theodor Mommsen, who warned that Treitschke had rendered anti-Semitism respectable and that it would lead to a conflict without mercy. “Till the end of his days Mommsen gave the best of his powers to a struggle against German chauvinism and racism, against ‘those nationalist idiots who want to replace the universal Adam with a German Adam, and bestow him with all the splendours of the human spirit’.” Directly or indirectly, these discussions became part of the common ideas and “anti-Semitism was integrated in the bourgeois way of life; anti-Semitic movements and parties multiplied; international conferences were called (Dresden 1882, Chemnitz 1883); numerous student organizations decided to exclude the Jews…”576

Theodor Fritsch, who played an important part in our story as the founder of the Hammerbund and the Germanenorden, became “a linchpin in the anti-Semitic movement, holding it together as a political organizer, publisher and author from its early political stirrings in the 1880’s until Hitler’s accession to power”. (Fritsch died in 1933.) George Mosse writes about him: “The racial stereotype attributed so many grotesque qualities to the Jews that he was in essence dehumanized. Fritsch’s work again demonstrates this ominous development, for in his Fireballs (1881) he explicitly denied human status to the Jews. Here he claimed that God had created the Jew as a buffer between man and ape. The Nazis assimilated this thought in their own propaganda when, in 1931, one of their speakers asserted that non-Nordic man occupied an intermediary position between Nordic man and the animal world. The non-Nordic man was not a whole man, for he still shared traits with the apes.”577

The Austrian Antisemitenbund was founded in 1889, in a country which was even more anti-Semitic than Germany, and where figures like Georg von Schönerer and Karl Lueger made a lasting impression on “Adi”. The next year saw the birth of the German Antisemitische Volkspartei, which received 48 000 votes, but three years later 260 000. “In fact, anti-Semitism became the chief vehicle of the diffusion of the völkisch movement. Those who were attracted primarily by anti-Semitism had no difficulty in accepting the basic völkisch ideas, and those already in the movement took readily to the precepts of anti-Semitic racism.”578

In 1890 Hermann Ahlwardt published The Desperate Struggle between the Aryan Peoples and Judaism. “Ahlwardt stated that a people who rid itself of Jews freed itself for the material development of the Volk, and thereby rose toward dominion over the world. For him, as for the romantic advocates of the Volk, Jewry was the Mephistopheles of world history. In dealing with the Jews, Christian mercy was decidedly out of place … Was this a plea for violence? Certainly! But, when it came to concrete proposals to effect such measures, he displayed an ambivalence which was, as yet, typical. When he drew up an actual programme, Ahlwardt could only advocate the imposition of stringent restrictions upon Jews, a decree proclaiming them foreigners on German soil and excluding them from all areas of German life and culture. He also proposed that eventually all Jews be deported from Europe and their surplus capital retained by the German nation. Curiously, this was almost exactly the same as the National Socialist programme for dealing with the Jews …

“Ahlwardts’s programme broadly foreshadowed that of the Nazis, for they also reflected an ambivalence. On the one hand, there were the fanatics who asserted that the ‘final solution’ must bring about a correct correspondence between ideology and action and that the deportation of the Jews to distant places only evaded the issue. On the other hand, there were those functionaries and leaders in the party who wanted to encourage Jewish emigration at all costs … The ultimate consequences of a glorification of merciless cruelty within völkisch ideology, and the Nazi extension of it, finally engulfed the minds of Germany’s leaders. Extermination became the literal fact, not just a rhetorical device to arouse human passions.”579

These examples leave little doubt about the general thrust of anti-Semitism in Germany at the end of the nineteenth century. The book that capped it all was the much admired “racist bible”, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, Houston Chamberlain’s blockbuster, published in 1899. “Convinced that all great creations stemmed from Teutonic blood, he believed the only flaw of the ancient tribes was their failure to destroy all peoples within their reach. We must correct this error, he insisted, and also breed for superior human types, as dictated by Darwinism. However stern the measures necessary, Aryan blood must be purified, liberating its martial spirit and creative power.

“The Jew was the most powerful foe. Other races were merely inferior, but Jews, the unnatural result of accidental crossbreeding in the ancient Middle East, through millennia of inbreeding had created a uniquely evil racial force … The Jews knew Germany was the last obstacle; elsewhere they had subverted civilization through the intellectual Judaization of Enlightenment ideas, ideas denying the reality of race, preaching cosmopolitanism, and denying blood loyalties. If purged, however, the race of Luther could not fail in the struggle with the race of money changers. Chamberlain, darling of conservative intellectuals, envisioned the future as Hitler would do: a racial battle to the death against Jewry.”580

In this context the racist extremism of most German university professors, secondary teachers and their students has to be mentioned. It explains, among other things, why whole batches of young men volunteered enthusiastically for the First World War, why the Nazis found such easy access to the universities, and why a “Germanic science” could be defined in opposition to a “Jewish science”. “There was nothing comparable in [other] Western nations. From 1890 to 1914 the generation that would support the Nazis found the superiority of Germanic racial stock a textbook cliché. Countless memoirs of German and Austrian Jews tell of harassment received from public school teachers, petty classroom tyrants enforcing the discipline of the barracks, spiritual warriors for the Germanic soul. Although millions of Germans supported liberalism and socialism, their ideas were not to be found in the schools. Jewish teachers might have contradicted stereotypes, but of some eight thousand teaching appointments from 1875 to 1895, about forty went to Jews. Prussia never had more than twelve secondary school teachers.”581

Most of the Burschenschaften, the traditional student societies, introduced “the Aryan paragraph”, a clause in their charters which excluded Jews from membership. Consequently “the exclusive and famous duelling fraternities” too refused to admit Jews, as “they had no honour to defend”. The curious tradition of duelling among students was upheld to bear testimony to their virility. No student was truly a man without a scar in his face telling anyone in his later life of his courage in the face of possible death. (Duellists died only, and exceptionally, by accident.) “Brotherhoods such as the Apollo, each with its own Gasthaus or beer-cellar, distinctive coloured cap and ribbons and duelling matches against rival fraternities, were the focus of student social life; they were at the same time initiation into manhood. The duelling was not so much a test of skill as an ordeal to be withstood without flinching, the sewing up afterwards a trial of self-mastery. Beer was drunk in the same spirit until it leaked from every flushed pore while songs of ‘knights and giants, of chivalry and wine and honour’ were roared out.”582

By this path, we arrive again at the powerful nationalist and anti-Semitic organizations, in part secret, which were the Pan-Germans, the Germanenorden and the more informal but very influential Bayreuth circle, three high roads to Hitler. From 1920 onwards The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion will exert their influence in the background; the traces of their poison are detectable on each and every occasion when anti-Semitism was involved. Their influence is made plain by the following entry in Joseph Goebbels’ diary, written as late as 13 May 1943: “I study once more in detail the Zionist Protocols. Until now I had always encountered the opinion that they were not useful for actual propaganda. Now I find, while reading them, that we can use them very well. The Zionist Protocols are today as modern as on the day they were published for the first time. At midday I talk with the Führer on this subject. The Führer is of the opinion that the Zionist Protocols can claim absolute authenticity.”583

This rough outline of the intensifying anti-Semitism before the First World War would remain incomplete without drawing the attention to one of the most potent inductors of the anti-Jewish sentiment, Richard Wagner (1813-83). His influence as a composer was enormous, not only in Germany but everywhere in Europe, especially in France. But, as so often happens, the everyday personality of the artist did not always fit with the greatness of his creations. The exceptional quality of the best of Wagner’s visionary music remains beyond dispute. (Léon Poliakov calls him “that medium of the nineteenth century”.) His character, on the contrary, was often egotistical in the extreme, violent, vindictive, and on occasion plain nasty.

He succeeded single handed in giving life and colour to the German national myth by recreating the legend of the Nibelungs and evoking in soul-stirring music the world of the Nordic gods, their powers, and their ultimate Götterdämmerung. He also played a crucial role in the integration of the myths of Christianity into the vision which confirmed the German people in their role as carriers of the destiny of mankind. Parsifal, “the sacred masterpiece of Bayreuth”, upon which Wagner meditated for a quarter of a century and which would become his apotheosis, was generally recognized as a symbolic play of the purity of the blood, Germany’s Holy Grail. Wagner too turned Christ into a German superhero, and Bayreuth into “the national sanctuary of the völkisch revival movement” (Köhler).

This symbiosis of the Nordic and the Christian religions, so typical for the Germany of that time, is a most amazing feat of intellectual inconsistency, confusion or schizophrenia. “The supreme god of the Germans [Wotan] did not necessarily have to make way for the God of the Christians”, wrote Wagner, “he could even be perfectly identified with him. It was sufficient to strip him of the superficial attributes which the various peoples, in accordance with their character, land and climate, had ascribed to him … This primitive, unique and national god, from whom the races originated, was not in the least abandoned and forgotten; for in him was found, as it was in Christ, son of God, the decisive analogy that he too had died and been mourned and revenged, as we now are revenging Christ on the Jews. The faith and adherence were more easily transferred to Christ because in him people recognized the primitive god.”584

“The Wagnerian heroes and the Wagnerian music have animated the German armies from 1914 till 1918, still more in their hours of misfortune and sacrifice than in their hours of triumph.”585This is even more true of the German armies in the Second World War, for they fought under the command of a Wagnerian, Adolf Hitler, who had seen to it that they grew up with Wagner’s music in their ears at every important public or political manifestation. Hitler had made Wagner into the official composer of the Third Reich; living composers, like Richard Strauss, only moved in Wagner’s shadow. The reason was that Wagner and his music had played such an important role in Hitler’s own life. From his years in Linz onwards, he had eaten and drunk Wagner, seen his operas an astonishing number of times and read every published word of him.

He knew Wagner’s music by heart, as is testified by many witnesses, and could whistle it faultlessly. A few measures of Wagner sufficed to calm him down in any circumstances and made him behave as if entranced. “This music affected him physically”, wrote Ernst Hanfstängl, “it had become part of Hitler’s being.”586And Hitler himself said one day: “When I hear Wagner, it is as if I hear the rhythms of the world in its beginnings.”587Hitler never hid what he owned to Wagner and he thanked him by taking Bayreuth and Wagner’s legacy under his special protection – as told by Brigitte Hamann in her Winifred Wagner, oder Hitlers Bayreuth.

Wagner’s art helped spreading his anti-Semitism, which intensified over the years to the point where he declared: “I hold the Jewish race to be the born enemy of pure humanity and everything noble in it. It is certain that it is running us Germans to the ground, and I am perhaps the last German who knows how to hold himself upright in the face of Judaism, which already rules everything.”588From him is also: “That the human race would perish, would not be a pity; but that it would perish because of the Jews would be an ignominy.”589Joachim Köhler puts it trenchantly: “Nobody will take from [Wagner] the merit of having been the first in German history to contribute with his writings to the advent of the ‘disappearance’ of the Jews.”590


When having read all this, it may come as a surprise how intimately the Jews felt integrated in Germany. Walter Rathenau, the epitome of the German Jew, declared: “I am a German of Jewish descent. My people is the German people, my fatherland is Germany, my religion that Germanic faith which is above all religions.”591Professor Heinz Moral committed suicide after being dismissed from his university post for racial reasons; in a letter to the dean of faculty he had written: “I am a Jew and have never made a secret of it, but my entire outlook is German, and I have always been proud to be a German whose religion is Jewish.” According to Günter Rohrmoser “an equally successful symbiosis was achieved in no other Western country as it was between the Jews and the Germans. It is one of the most incomprehensible and also really tragic occurrences that this Holocaust has happened precisely in the country in which such a close and fruitful intellectual and philosophical symbiosis was realized as between Jews and Germans.”592And Christian von Krockow writes: “In hardly any other country have the Jews felt themselves so national as in Germany, and nowhere have they provided such an important cultural contribution.”593

Viktor Klemperer, a Jewish professor of French literature, wrote in 1939 in his diary: “Until 1933 and for at least a good century before that, the German Jews were entirely German and nothing else. Proof: the thousands and thousands of half- and quarter-Jews etc. Jews and ‘persons of Jewish descent’, which is proof that Germans and Jews lived and worked together without friction in all spheres of German life. The anti-Semitism which was always present is not at all proof to the contrary, because the friction between Jews and ‘Aryans’ was not half so great as, for example, that between Protestants and Catholics, or between employers and employees, or between East Prussians, for example, and southern Bavarians, or Rhinelanders and Berliners. The German Jews were a part of the German nation, as the French Jews were part of the French nation, etc. They played their part within the life of Germany, by no means as a burden on the whole. Their role was rarely that of the worker, still less of the agricultural labourer. They were, and remain (even though now they no longer wish to remain so), Germans, in the main intellectuals and educated people.”594

It is a fact that the Jews, “a highly diverse community”, were closely involved in the German life. The degree to which they were “assimilated” or “integrated” is corroborated by the difficulty of trying to extricate them again. Wagner, Hitler, Rosenberg and Heydrich were themselves suspected of having Jewish blood in their veins (Hitler’s case remains pending, probably forever); Emil Maurice, Albrecht Haushofer, Erhard Milch and other prominent people in Naziland were part Jewish. Emile Maurice, Hitler’s chauffeur, lover of his niece Geli Raubal, notorious street brawler in the SA and co-founder of the SS, had to be declared a “honorary Aryan” by his boss, the only member of the SS ever to enjoy the privilege.595

Besides, what does it actually mean to be half, or a quarter, or an eight, or a sixteenth Jewish – or of any other race? Where is that fraction located in a person? It is only in recent years that scientists can try to find it in the genes, together with so many other traces of a physical inheritance which soon fades into the mists of the past. The Germanic tribes had on countless occasions mixed with other peoples, as was of course known to all anthropologists. The problem with the Jews was that they had kept their religious identity as a people and that their religion demanded a separate existence, while generally speaking people were not yet ready to mix with others on their home turf. The Nazis, Hitler in the first place, always contended that their racial cleansing was not a matter of religion but of purification “of the blood”; yet the proofs of a person belonging to the Jewish race were in most cases religious registers and other documents, also concerning the ancestry of Jews who had converted to Protestantism or Catholicism, or who had become a-religious.

The Jewish Menace

“Numerically, the Jews remained a tiny minority, never more than about one percent of the population. Those few, however, tended to congregate in Berlin. The 50 families of 1671 grew to a population of 3 322 in 1800, to 92 000 in 1900, to a peak of 173 000 in 1925 (about six times the 29 000 in Frankfurt, Germany’s second-largest Jewish community).” Even during this increase, Berlin’s Jews never numbered more than 5 percent of the city’s population, but they managed to acquire some very visible positions of power and prestige. They were enormously influential in commerce, dominating the giant Deutsche, Dresdner and Darmstädter banks, and huge department stores like Wertheim, Tietz and Kaufhaus Israel. The most important newspaper groups were owned by Jews, and, to a very considerable extent, the spectacular culture of Berlin in the 1920’s; the culture dominated by personalities like Max Reinhardt and Bruno Walter and Albert Einstein, was a Jewish culture. “To the Jews, this was naturally a matter of pride, and more than one Jewish chronicler has pointed out that one quarter of all the Nobel Prizes won by Germans in the first third of this century were won by German Jews. [Twenty Jewish Nobel Prize winners will emigrate after 1933.] To many gentiles, however, even those who vehemently deny the accusation of anti-Semitism, this flowering of Jewish life represented the triumph of an alien and vaguely threatening force.”596

When reading about Nazism and the Holocaust, it is rather unexpected to find that the Jewish people, its character and its activities in the present as in bygone times are rarely dealt with in the general literature. Many books and chapters of books endeavour to analyze and explain the Holocaust, or at least give due consideration to the monstrous event, but its victims remain practically unknown to the common reader. Even Joachim Fest, most insightful where Hitler’s character and the war are concerned, hardly touches this subject. Only a few recent writers like Michael Burleigh and John Weiss make the effort to find out who the German Jews actually were, how they lived, and, most important, in how far the accusations of their torturers and executioners were justified.

Were the Jewish people really one coherent, monolithic body, striving to fulfil its destiny as a race? Was it to this end that the Jews gathered the world’s money in their hands, and that they tried to crown Reason as the new God of humanity, thereby intending to loosen and destroy all established values? This was what Hitler asserted. He also said that Socialism and Communism, children of the Enlightenment, were clearly agencies, as were capitalism and so-called “progress”, meant to engulf the existing world, break it up and wash it to its doom. The Jews had worked themselves to the top in order to take over German society and turn it into one of their global colonies. Having brought about the First World War, they did not risk their skin at the front but exploited the war situation for their profit and advancement. Ultimately, they will attempt to dominate the world and establish their rule as the Chosen People. Then the Antichrist will mount his throne and cause the world’s destruction.

“The Jew”

“‘The Jew’ was invariably referred to in Nazi discourse as a type to which all Jews conformed, whether western or eastern, men or women, secular or religious, assimilated or unassimilated, bourgeois or proletarian. Even baptized Jews were irrevocably tainted in Nazi ideology by the stigma of degenerate blood. Jews as a ‘counter-race’ were perceived as the polar opposite to the German ‘Aryans’, being inherently destructive, parasitical, and agents of decomposition.”597We find this statement by Robert Wistrich confirmed by Léon Poliakov, who writes: “‘Jews’ and ‘Judaism’ – and this cannot be repeated too often – were only words, covering very diverse matters of which the status of being non-Christians may have been the only common denominator”.598

By far the greatest numbers of German Jews were North and East European Ashkenazim, very different in their beliefs and life-style from the Sephardim, of Portuguese and Spanish origin and who lived mainly in Southern Europe. The Jewish community in Germany was further divided into orthodox Jews, following the prescriptions of their faith to the letter, and less strict or sceptical believers; then there were the apostate Jews who had converted to Protestantism or Catholicism, and who were baptized; and there were the atheist Jews, who no longer believed in a God of any kind, or maybe in the abstract God of Spinoza or of the Enlightenment’s deism. Another dividing line among the Jews ran between the “assimilationists” and the separatists, the latter being mostly orthodox, and was caused by differences in attitude towards a desired or despised integration into the society of the goyim. And there were, as relative newcomers, the Zionists, for whom leaving the European host countries and going back to Jerusalem was the only solution to the Jewish question.

The political choice of the Jews, now legally free citizens of the German nation, was inevitably influenced by the tribulations in their past. Not only did the reactionary German right disagree with their emancipation, many rightist organizations frowned at Jewish membership and more and more of them inserted “the Aryan paragraph” into their statutes. The majority of Jews who participated in the political process were therefore found among the liberal parties at the centre of the political spectrum, while some no longer confessing activists moved to the left and joined the socialists and the communists. This choice was also influenced by another differentiation within the Jewish community between rich, well-to-do and poor. There were only a few Rothschilds, Rathenaus, Ballins and Wittgensteins, but many peddlers and pawn-brokers, with in between the respectable middle class of lawyers, doctors, journalists and clerks.

The most eye-catching difference in the German Jewish population was that between the “assimilated” Jews and the Ostjuden, Jews who had recently arrived from the East. The majority of the German Jews felt at home in Germany and considered the country their fatherland. Not only had they fully adapted to the culture of the Gentiles and did they feel comfortable in it, they actually loved Germany, were proud of being Germans, and would not hesitate to give their lives for the country. They married Germans and could in most cases not be told from them, for the caricatural stereotype did not often agree with the real people.

The Ostjuden, however, were of a different kind. They were refugees from Eastern Europe, mainly from Russia, and belonged to orthodox, socially backward communities. They were “frequently unemployed and disoriented by the post-war upheavals and revolutions in Eastern Europe. Moreover, they were cultural outsiders and an easy target for xenophobic accusations of economic parasitism. In the Weimar Republic they were approximately one fifth of the Jewish population. The more assimilated and established members of German Jewry tended to believe that the revival of anti-Semitism was directed primarily or even exclusively against the Ostjuden, but this turned out to be a tragic self-deception.”599In fact, the integrated Jews detested the Ostjuden, who, in their black kaftans, with their unkempt beards, large hats and weird hairdo, were so highly visible, and who therefore put into question the security which the integrated Jews thought they had obtained.

The stream of Ashkenazi Jews from the East towards Austria, Germany and, in their tens of thousands, towards the USA, had started moving because of a wave of pogroms in Russia in the wake of the 1903 events in Kichinev. Kichinev was the capital of Bessarabia and forty-five percent Jewish. The inimical feelings against the Jews climaxed, as usual, in the Holy Week before Easter, when in many places the murderers of Christ were even forbidden to appear in public. Though there were unmistakable signs of an imminent eruption of anti-Semitism, the authorities took no preventive measures, which enforced the populace in their belief that the Tsar himself wanted it. Jews were killed, many more were wounded, and their houses were ransacked. What the Russian authorities had not foreseen was the international outcry caused by this pogrom in “primitive, barbarian Russia”, where the belief that “the Judeans cut the throat of the Russian child and drink its blood” was still widespread. When pondering the number of Jews killed in the Russian pogroms at that time – 47, or 110, or 810 … – Poliakov has the reflection: “It is hard to repress a nostalgic thought about a past when the massacre of 810 Jews prompted a universal condemnation”,600when after the Holocaust the habit of reading and writing the numbers of thousands, tens of thousands and even millions made our souls callous.

A Jewish Race?

Has there ever been a pure race which might be called Jewish? The historical data are dubious, according to André Pichot, to whom we turn once more for our information. At the time of Vacher de Lapouge and Ernst Haeckel, when in Darwin’s footsteps the first trees of humanity were drawn up, the Jews sometimes came out on top on the same level as the Aryans, although, as we have seen, many of those trees were the result of a fertile imagination and cultural prejudice, not of facts gained by a scientific method. Pichot calls such constructs of the imagination a “roman”, literally a novel, which is a story based on the imaginative quality of the intellect.

“It was difficult to characterize a Jewish race, even if Haeckel admitted in the 1860s the existence of such a race”, writes Pichot. What did exist were, in Eastern Europe, communities of Jews who separated themselves from the rest of the population and who, by marrying among themselves, bred “characteristic genetic groups”, by the later racist scientists wrongly defined as determinants of a race. As a matter of fact, the Jews “had been mixed for many centuries with the other European populations”, and were certainly “well integrated” into German society.

Vacher de Lapouge did not believe in the existence of a Jewish race. “In sum, the Jews are not a race but a nationality, of which the primary common characteristics are the religion and a special psychology, due to a small number of Canaanite infiltrations. In reality, Israel is outspread over the nations, and even weighs heavily upon them, but there is no Israelite race in the anthropological sense of the word … The persecution of them, which has little by little raised its head everywhere, has slowly eliminated the elements which were not sufficiently homogenous; what remains of the assumed ubiquity of the Jews is nothing but one more example, and a curious one, of social selection.” The community of people called “the Jews” was therefore based on “psychic convergence” and not on the physiological or taxonomic facts. To be a Jew, according to Vacher de Lapouge, was to belong to a group with the “Jewish mentality”, which was the result of religion and tradition.

Pichot concludes: “The notion of race – whether Jewish or any other – has never had the essentialist aspect with which the historians have endowed it.” This means that the notion of “race” has never been based on scientific fact. It was precisely because the notion of race lacked a strict definition that it was possible to designate the Jews as a race, “although there were no clearly defined biological criteria in their case. Was this quasi-race of the Jews held to be an inferior race? Not really. It was rather ‘unwanted’. Vacher de Lapouge, however anti-Semitic, does not qualify the Jews as an inferior race; he rather holds them up as a kind of model for the establishment of a new aristocracy by natural or eugenic means.” Here Pichot quotes from Hitler’s dictates to Bormann, on one of his very last days at the bunker in Berlin, saying that the Jew is fundamentally a stranger, and that the Jewish race is foremost a community of the mind, shaped by a common destiny through all the persecutions they had to suffer in the course of the centuries.601There are several indications of Hitler’s grudging admiration for the Jews, because of their spirit of resilience as a people and their remarkable intellect. But this secret admiration too will add fuel to his burning, obsessive hatred of them.


It is an amazing fact that in Germany the medieval guild system was still very much in use in the first decades of the twentieth century for anybody who wanted to learn and practice a craft. Emil Maurice, for instance, Hitler’s part-Jewish chauffeur whom his boss made into a “honorary Aryan”, earned his living first as an apprentice watch repairer, then as a watch repairer in his own shop and finally as a master watch maker, from whom Hitler sometimes ordered the gold watches which he wanted to gift on certain occasions.602

The continuation of this medieval practice in an apparently modernized society is symptomatic for many of the themes we have met with in the last chapters. Medieval attitudes had remained part of the reactionary German mentality of the middle classes, causing them to remain behind the times in the quickly developing industrial modernization which determined the life of the lower social classes. With the respectful attitude towards the traditional craft went an attitude towards money, equally old-fashioned, feeling threatened by notions of capital and interest, and expressed in theories like that of Gottfried Feder, who wanted the world to return to a kind of barter economy. The Jews were closely associated with modern capitalism. They were even suspected of dominating and manipulating capitalism worldwide. And if there was one commodity they were practically synonymous with, it was money.

Yet, the Jews have not always been “money people”. “In Egypt and the Near East, they were mostly agricultural colonizers; elsewhere they were mostly represented in great numbers in the crafts of that period, especially as weavers and dyers, professions which in some regions they almost monopolized; but one found them also as goldsmiths, glass blowers, and as producers of bronze and iron.” Paul of Tarsus was a tent maker, and Baruch Spinoza polished lenses for a living. “Some were simple labourers, others lived from commerce or the liberal arts. Still, as the historian J. Juster rightly underlines, ‘no pagan author has typified them as merchants; one encounters nowhere the identification of Judaism with trade, which a few centuries later will become commonplace’.

“Still other Jews were much appreciated professional soldiers, fighting or mounting guard on the frontiers of the [Roman] empire. There were also Jewish administrators, sometimes of a very high rank; in the imperial hierarchy there were Jewish knights and senators, Jewish legates and even Jewish praetors. To this one could add that the Jews of the diaspora adopted as a rule the language as well as the dress of the province where they lived, and that from the linguistic and cultural standpoints they were ‘assimilated’, even Hellenizing or Latinizing their names. From all of this one may conclude that they did not seem to suffer from a special animosity, and that nothing except their cult made them conspicuous in the mosaic of peoples which constituted the population of the Roman Empire.”603

The association of the Jews with money seems to have been the result of the Christians associating them with Judas Iscariot and his thirty pieces of silver, condemning them as murderers of God, and gaining the upper hand in the Empire. “During the early Christian centuries the myth of the Jews as an avaricious race of parasites added force to that of the Jews as deicides. As Roman influence waned and Christian clergy gained power, they successfully restricted the activities of Jews, creating the basis for endless calumnies about the alleged Jewish attraction to dishonest practices in petty commerce, second-hand trade, and money-lending, as well as complaints that the Jews refused to assimilate and preferred parasitic and non-productive commercial activities in order to dominate local and international trade and harm honest Christians … The attack against the Jews for their supposed unwillingness to do productive work became one of the first of many self-fulfilling prophecies common in the history of Christian attitudes. For the accumulated hostility of Christians in the early centuries restricted Jews to such activities, keeping them, with rare exceptions, in the lowest, least profitable and most despised branches of commerce until the late eighteenth century.” (John Weiss604)

Jewish traders entered Europe “in the footsteps of the Roman legions”, whom they provided with the trivial luxuries or curiosities which brought some diversion in the tough life of those professional soldiers. “Jewish settlers first came to Europe as international merchants bringing the much desired products of the advanced civilizations of the Middle East, China, India and Spain. Small and flourishing communities of Jews were soon established along the great European trade routes and in urban centres. By the ninth century the Jews of Europe enjoyed their greatest success as international merchants and traders; the words Jew and merchant were virtually synonymous. Along with Greeks, Syrians and Italians – Christians all – Jews were the advance agents of a society yet to come … Down to our own time, the wealth of some highly visible members of the Jewish community has generated a righteous anger not directed at rich Christian merchants.”605

As the situation of the Jews became more precarious and they were, to use a modern expression, more discriminated against in medieval society, few options remained open to them. “Banned from other professions, Jewish merchants in Europe remained in commerce, and for them as for other merchants money lending was convenient because they possessed liquid capital. Jews never dominated money lending, their tiny numbers alone prevented that; but they did predominate in some areas, especially where loans to peasants were refused by Christian businessmen with more profitable options … The bulk of money lending in Europe was in fact carried on by wealthy clerical and monastic institutions [the Knights Templar among them] along with secular officials and groups such as the Lombards, Venetians, Syrians and Greeks – Christians all. The Vatican itself was known for its sophisticated credit practices.” It may be remembered that Judaism, Christianity and Islam all condemned money lending as a sin. “Some complaints accused Christians of charging higher rates than Jews, for usury was a problem even where no Jews lived.”606From that time onwards the complaints against the Jews became more or less standardized, inventing or exaggerating Jewish misdeeds and closing the eyes to Christian misconduct, especially in money matters.

To the Jews, as their history had taught them, money was a lifeline and consequently acquired an aura of sacredness. This is not the same as saying that it was the exclusive focus of their existence, or that they were a supremely coordinated global power which decided on all financial transactions and therefore determined the fate of humanity. The Jews were human beings alright, with the virtues and shortcomings of human beings. Yet most of the communal characteristics they showed in a country like Germany had been forced upon them in the past; and a coordinated global power they have never been, in spite of their far-reaching communal relations, one of the reasons being simply that, as an intellectual people, they were far too individualistic and therefore diverse. “In spite of the myths of the anti-Semites”, concludes John Weiss, “the German economy would not have been significantly different had there never been a German Jewish community”. And: “The Jews were not and never have been a menace to Germany, except in anti-Semitic mythology.”607


“Intelligence is the mortal sin of the Jews”, said one Friedrich Gentz. The Jews were indeed thought to be an intelligent sort of people, and they were hated and feared for it. Hitler himself wrote in Mein Kampf: “The intellectual faculties of the Jews have been trained through thousands of years. Today the Jew is looked upon as especially ‘clever’, and in a certain sense he has been so throughout the ages. His intellectual powers, however, are not the result of an inner evolution but rather have been shaped by the object lessons which the Jew has received from others … Since the Jew never had a civilization of his own, he has always been furnished by others with a basis for his intellectual work. His intellect has always developed by the use of those cultural achievements which he has found ready-to-hand around him.”

It was part of the stereotype of the Jew that his mind was dry, sterile, incapable of creation, and that he was a parasite or a vampire of the life-force and creativity of others. “The Jewish intellect will never be constructive but always destructive”, wrote Hitler. “In the course of a few years [the Jew] endeavours to exterminate all those who represent the national intelligence. And by thus depriving the peoples of their natural intellectual leaders, he fits them for their fate as slaves under a lasting despotism”608– which was exactly what he himself and others of his ilk, like Stalin and Pol Pot, were going to do.

In his History of Anti-Semitism, Léon Poliakov writes: “One has been able to state that the history of the Jews commences in 586 BC in Babylonia [where the two remaining tribes of Judea were taken into slavery] … It is there that the unfailing faithfulness to Zion was born and that the last remnants of idolatry were extirpated; it was there that the Pentateuch was redacted in its definitive form; and it was especially there that the exiles drew the consequences from their history, that they managed to give a meaning to their tribulations and permanence to this meaning, and that they developed their particular historical memory of being Jews.”

In Babylonia most of the Jews were farmers. Studying that period “one discovers how highly manual labour was esteemed by the sages of Israel; it was then the predominant occupation and placed well above commerce”. It was in Babylonia that the Talmud was codified in its definitive form, and if there is one point in the Talmud on which everybody agrees, stresses Poliakov, “it is the absolute primacy of study. As one text says in a very expressive way: ‘The whole world lives by the breath of the scholars’. Elsewhere it is assured that, day by day, only the sight of the savants and the students can turn the divine anger away from the world. From those times onwards, Jewish instruction was obligatory, free of charge and general.”609

Many centuries later, when for the Jews “the indispensable money” had become “that precious commodity without which it was impossible to affirm oneself in a hostile and loathsome world”, “the inner world of study constituted a not less indispensable counterweight. Through the ages the rabbis had placed the study of the Law above earthly possessions, but these prescriptions had never before been followed with such intense ardour. The way the Jews in Germany and in the North of France plunged into the Talmud was really frenetic; they analyzed it day and night in the synagogues, without even laying down to rest. One text says: it is good to kill oneself by studying. Thus originated that famous Jewish ambiguity which caused money to become overestimated, as without money one ran the risk of death and expulsion – while, being overestimated, money became also an object of contempt and the first place was given to other values.” In this way was developed the intelligence and the high culture of “the people that has been reading for a thousand years”. “The rabbis taught incessantly that nothing was more admirable than study, and that to help poor children obtain instruction was the most pious act imaginable, surpassing even the building of a synagogue.”610

Once the Jews had become emancipated and were (relatively) free to lead their lives within the host society, their intellectual capacities became apparent, especially at the institutions for higher education. “The proportion of Jewish undergraduates was high”, writes John Weiss about the last decades of the nineteenth century. “For every 100 000 males of each denomination in Prussia, 33 Catholics, 58 Protestants and 519 Jews became university students. In 1885 one student in every eight in Berlin was Jewish, though Jews comprised less than 1 percent of the population. The figures were even more lopsided in Vienna. In part it was a natural reaction to discrimination. Upper-class students had connections and lower-middle-class Germans could rise by ability, but Jewish males had to cultivate professional skills if they were to avoid discrimination: higher education meant liberation … Law and medicine were the favourite studies of Jews because careers in these professions avoided institutional discrimination, but this meant competition with Germans unable to count on family connections, fearful of becoming an academic proletariat. Consequently they were among the most extreme racists in Austria as well as Germany, highly overrepresented in the Nazi elite. In western societies university attendance tended to lessen racism and conservatism; in Germany emphasizing one’s racial uniqueness and identifying with the ruling class advanced one’s career …”

No wonder that Jews were generally associated with the Enlightenment, the high tide of Reason and the intellect in Europe, even if they had had nothing to do with the formulation of the ideas of the philosophes. On the contrary, as has been mentioned, some philosophes, e.g. Voltaire and d’Alembert, were caustically anti-Semitic. But it was the Enlightenment which had prepared the French Revolution and the emancipation of the Jews, and in the Napoleonic Code they had acquired an equal status with all others, something Napoleon implemented in the countries he conquered. From then onwards the Jews were identified with “the French spirit” and would remain so, even when later on they were vehemently opposed by the nationalist and Catholic right in France itself, and when French deism and atheism were strongly condemned by the orthodox Jews. Most of the assimilated Jews, however, saw in the ideals of liberty and equality a gateway to freedom, an opportunity never offered to their people before. They were to be found among the liberals at the centre of the political spectrum, and some, more progressive or revolutionary, joined the ranks of the Socialists and Communists.

Socialists and Communists

Although “socialist” was a component of the name of the National-Socialist Party, the word meant to Hitler something quite different from its ordinary significance; it was included into the Party name mainly to attract the workers, as had been the initial purpose of the Thule Society when it set Anton Drexler and Karl Harrer on their way. A juggler with words and concepts, Hitler’s idea of “true democracy”, which he also called “German democracy”, was a hierarchical society organized according to the Führer principle – which was of course no democracy at all, but rather the opposite. Likewise, “socialism” did not mean to him the rise of the fourth estate in its struggle against the bourgeois society for a just distribution of the common weal, but a functional integration into the body of the Volk or nation, cancelling out any notion of individualism.

Actually Hitler – supreme leader, genius and artist – had a profound disdain for the workers, except when he tried to lure them into the ranks of his Party, or when he needed their effort to prepare Germany for war. After all, the workers were part of the despised “dunder-headed mass”. Authentic socialists, like the young Joseph Goebbels and the Strasser Brothers, will soon be confronted with Hitler’s real feelings about socialism, as will the Socialist and Communist Parties and the trade unions barely weeks after he had become the master in the country.

Socialism as well as communism (and capitalism!) were creations of the Jews to dominate the world, and they were therefore to be opposed by the right-thinking with all their might. “My socialism is something different from Marxism”, Hitler said to Hermann Rauschning. “My socialism is not a class struggle, but order. Who thinks of socialism as revolt and demagoguery of the masses is not a National-Socialist. Revolution is not a spectacle by the masses. Revolution is hard work. The mass sees only the steps after they have been undertaken; but it surpasses their knowledge – and it should surpass it – what an immense amount of labour has to be done before a new step forward can be made … National-Socialism is what Marxism could have been if it had separated itself from the absurd, artificial connection with a democratic order.”611

Konrad Heiden, a closely involved observer of the events we are describing, writes in his biography of Hitler: “The relatively high percentage of Jews in the leadership of the Socialist Parties on the European continent cannot be denied. The intellectual of the bourgeois era had not yet discovered the workers, and if the workers wanted to have leaders with university education, often only the Jewish intellectual remained – the type which might have liked to become a judge or Government official, but in Germany, Austria or Russia simply could not. Yet, though many Socialist leaders are Jews, only few Jews are Socialist leaders. To call the mass of modern Jewry Socialist, let alone revolutionary, is a bad propaganda joke. The imaginary Jew portrayed in The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion ostensibly wants to bend the nations to his will by revolutionary mass uprisings; the real Jewish Socialist of France, Germany and Italy, however, is an intellectual who had to rebel against his own Jewish family and his own social class before he could come to the workers …

“The Jewish socialist, as a rule, has abandoned the religion of his fathers, and consequently is a strong believer in the religion of human rights; this type, idealistic and impractical even in the choice of his own career, was often unequal to the test of practical politics and was pushed aside by more robust, more worldly, less sentimental leaders arising from the non-Jewish masses. A historic example of this change in the top Socialist leadership occurred in Soviet Russia between 1926 and 1937, when the largely Jewish leaders of the revolutionary period (Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev) were bloodily shoved aside by a dominantly non-Jewish class (Stalin, Voroshilov, etc.).”612

In Germany and Austria “hundreds of thousands” of the higher classes believed in “the threat of Judeo-bolshevism”, especially because their new governments after the First World War “were run by socialists, always assumed to be a Jewish front”, according to John Weiss.613First and foremost, however, there was the fear of revolution as a backlash of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, about which the most horrible rumours were circulating, many of them not unfounded. Moreover, the Bolshevik leaders had declared that their revolution was a world revolution, and that Germany was an immediate aim. After all, Germany had for a long time been singled out by the Marxists as the ideal country to unleash the proletarian revolution, while none of them had thought it would happen in backward, agrarian Russia.

“Bolshevik propaganda heralded the imminent conquest of Germany by the united strength of the international proletariat; this would be the decisive step on the road to world revolution. The obscure activities of Soviet agents, the continual unrest, the Soviet revolution in Bavaria, the Ruhr uprising of 1920, the revolts in Central Germany during the following year, the risings in Hamburg and later in Saxony and Thuringia, were all too consistent with the Soviet regime’s threat of permanent revolution.”614(What Fest does not mention here is the uprising of the Spartacists led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg in Berlin, maybe because they were not guided directly by Moscow.) “This threat dominated Hitler’s speeches of the early years”, writes Fest. Given the continuous unrest in Germany, and the direct, painful experience of it in Munich, Hitler had no difficulty in stirring up his audiences, the more so as he dished up his oratory with a spicy anti-Semitic sauce.

What were the facts about the Jews leading the socialist and communist movements and revolutions? “Inflamed by a flood of pamphlets highlighting the Russian Jews among the Bolshevik leadership, the public did not know that only some 7 percent were of Jewish origin, though Jews composed some 12 percent of the populations from which Bolshevik leaders were drawn … From 1900 to 1920 more Russian Jews fled the country than ever chose revolution. In 1920 the highest proportion of minority peoples in the Bolshevik leadership were in fact Russians of German origin; Jews, Georgians and Armenians came next. The information fit no racial stereotype … The vast majority of politically active Jews favoured the Mensheviks [moderate socialists], who rejected Bolshevik dictatorship and worked for a democratic Russia. The German Social Democrats, including the most radical, Rosa Luxemburg, also feared Bolshevik success. Only during the civil war in the Soviet Union, when the choice was either Lenin or the tsarists, did large numbers of young Jews choose the Bolsheviks – and they were atheists, a requirement for joining.” (John Weiss615) The total number of Jews murdered by the tsarists in the Ukraine between 1918 and 1920 was more than 60 000.

The Socialist Republic and the Workers’ Councils immediately after the war in Munich were very visibly lead by Jews, most of them foreigners in the city and for years to come used as bogeymen in the Nazi propaganda. The messy situation these leftist amateurs created, and the misdeeds they committed, will remain an inexhaustible stock of oratorical ammunition for Hitler, who of course never mentioned that among the mourners of the Jew Kurt Eisner, and wearing a red armband, there had been himself.

Taking all this into consideration, it is rather ironical that the Jew Karl Marx, a favourite target of Hitler’s anti-Judeo-Bolshevik rhetoric, was a life-long anti-Semite – a fact for which he is rarely remembered. “Karl Marx, the prototype of the supposed Jewish labour leader, came from a baptized Christian family, and his own relation with Judaism can only be characterized as anti-Semitism; for under Jews he understood the sharply anti-Socialist, yes, anti-political Jewish masses of Western Europe, whom as a good Socialist he coldly despised.”616In 1843 Marx wrote a pamphlet, The Jewish Question, in which his attacks on the Jews were as poisonous as those of Hitler. “What was the basis of the Jewish religion? The practical need, egoism … Money is the jealous god of Israel, before whom no other god must remain … The bill of exchange, that is the true god of the Jews … The Law without foundation or reason of the Jews is no more than a religious caricature of morality … The social emancipation of the Jews means the emancipation of the society of Judaism …” Etc. Léon Poliakov remarks dryly: “It may be noted that he applied the adjective ‘Jewish’ only to others, never to himself.”617

Front Soldiers

No historical context gives a more telling idea of the Jewish dilemma than the extreme situation created by the outbreak of the First World War. The anti-Jewish feeling followed the culminating curve of frantic German nationalism. It was nevertheless at this time that the Jews as a community gave irrefutable proof of their love for Germany to the point of sacrificing their lives for the country. In the midst of all arguments for and against them, and in view of all they had and will have to suffer, their contribution to the First World War remains a monument to what could have been, if the irrational and egocentric attitude of the Germans as a Volk had not been whipped up and given free rein by their Führer.

“When World War I began, the Jews expressed their sense of German nationalism by swarming into the army with an ardour as lemming-like as that of the gentiles. Some 100 000 Jews (one out of every six, including the women and children) entered the German Army. Of these, 80 000 served in frontline trenches, 35 000 were decorated for bravery, and 12 000 were killed. ‘The Jews were pathologically patriotic’, says Rabbi Prinz. ‘My father served in the war, and my grandfather was wounded in 1866, in the war against the Austrians. He was enormously proud of that’ … The Jewish population in Germany was only one half of one percent. The Jewish deaths in the war were three percent’.”618

In spite of this, the contribution of the Jews to the German national effort was not appreciated; on the contrary, suspicion against them increased. “Because they fought on all sides and yet were still considered one people, the Jews were in the greatest danger. Allied publicists accused them of betraying their liberal principles to fight for autocracy; German publicists accused them of secretly favouring the Allies because they were liberals. In fact, Jewish communities supported the war efforts of their separate nations … German Jews hoped their sacrifice in war would convince all of their patriotism, and indeed, in the name of national unity, German anti-Semitism was muted at first”, writes John Weiss.

However: “Soon German racism surpassed even pre-war intensity, encouraged by the German army. When Jews were accused of slacking, the general staff requested the Ministry of War to conduct a count of Jews at the front. The results were never made public, for they showed that the proportion of Jews who fell in battle was the same as in the German urban population and only slightly less than the population in general; peasants suffered the most. Adjusted to reflect the numbers of those with educational and professional skills needed for tasks behind the lines, there were more Jewish casualties than should have been expected. And almost half the German Jews who served were decorated. In an army famous for treating Jewish soldiers with contempt, the medals must have been doubly earned. Anti-Semitism was so strong at the front that German Jewish officers were often amazed when their orders were obeyed.”619(The officer who recommended Corporal Hitler for the Iron Cross 1st Class was Jewish.)

The Marburg professor of philosophy Hermann Cohen wrote in 1916: “As Germans we want to be Jews, and as Jews Germans”, and he thought he saw how in the perspective of history Germans and Jews would fuse into unity. “It was from this angle”, writes Dietrich Bronder, “that the Jews as German soldiers have affirmed themselves on all occasions, even in Hitler’s armies, and that they were second to none of their non-Jewish comrades, even when they were grossly offended as in a slanderous pamphlet distributed in the streets of Berlin in 1919 and which said: ‘They stare you in the face everywhere, but in the trenches nowhere!’”

“When in the First World War an anti-Semitic newspaper printed a provocation, promising an award of 1000 marks to whomever could name a Jewish mother with three sons who had been in the trenches, if only for three weeks, Rabbi Freund-Hannover named twenty mothers of his community alone who fulfilled the condition, and he could name families with seven or eight sons at the front”, writes Dietrich Bronder. Then he mentions the participation of the Jews in past German wars, and the high honours awarded to them. In World War I, 35 000 Jews were decorated, of whom 1000 with the Iron Cross 1st Class and 17 000 with the Iron Cross 2nd Class; 23 000 were promoted, 2000 to the rank of officer. 10 000 Jews entered the army as volunteers. The “National Association of Jewish Front Soldiers”, founded in 1919, counted 35 000 members. “In October 1933, when Hitler already had gathered all power in his hands, they still wanted ‘in true military discipline to stand with their German fatherland to the last’, but were dissolved in 1939. In 1941 Jews were forbidden to wear their war medals. From 1942 onwards no exceptions were made any more for former participants in the First World War – they too were sent to Theresienstadt and Auschwitz.”620

World Conspiration

One of the prevalent accusations against “international Jewry” was that the Jews were plotting a conspiracy to dominate and exploit the world, and that they were using the liberal and capitalist rightist movements as well as the socialist and communist leftist movements to achieve their aim as “the Chosen People” to whom their God had promised the world. It may be noted that the Jews were not the only ones saddled with this design, and that the arguments against the others were much better founded in reality. Bolshevism, for one, openly proclaimed its intention to promote the proletarian world revolution; the grasp for global power by the former USSR was to become one of the main features in the history of the twentieth century. And it has for many centuries been the purpose behind the policies of the Catholic Church to establish itself as the Universal Church which it pretends to be. Moreover, as narrated in a previous chapter, it was the objective of Adolf Hitler himself to conquer the globe for the Aryan master race, and it was this objective which resulted into his opposition to the alleged global aspirations of the Jews, propagated by malicious pamphlets like The Protocols of the Wise Man of Zion but never substantiated. “The thesis of a Jewish world conspiration, of a centrally directed, racially determined and systematically executed world conquest [by the Jews] is so absurd that only a narrowed, diseased mind and a consequently calcified psyche could perceive such obvious fabrication of the imagination as reality.” (Christian Zentner621)

In Germany the Jews were “few enough to be helpless and numerous enough to be held up as a menace”, in the words of Justice Jackson, president of the Nuremberg Military Tribunal in 1946. There are countless documents telling of the sadistic power trip of the brown storm-troopers and the Hitler Youth, who could humiliate and beat up any Jew, and destroy his property, without as much as a gesture of resistance, and who became hardened by this practice to do worse. It remains a startling fact that Jewish crowds of hundreds or thousands allowed themselves to be led “as sheep to the slaughter”. Raul Hilberg gives the following explanation: “In exile the Jews had always been in a minority; they had always been in danger; but they had learned that they could avert danger and survive destruction by placating and appeasing their enemies. This was a two thousand-year-old lesson. The Jews could not make the switch [when their leadership realized] that the modern machine-like destruction process would engulf European Jewry.”622“The simple truth remained that the Jews as a group were weak, vulnerable, and at no time had harboured any aggressive designs against Germany”, writes Robert Wistrich.623

Léon Poliakov, looking for the causes of such acquiescence, finds them already in the Middle Ages when, after the slaughter by the crusaders at Worms, Mainz, and many other places, “martyrdom became what one could call an institution … Each new victim of Christian furor was a combatant fallen to sanctify the Name; one often bestowed on him the title of ‘kadosh’ (saint), which is a kind of canonisation … In particular the sacrifice of the children, killed by their own parents [to prevent them from being slain or baptized by the Christians] is seen in the light of the sacrifice Abraham was willing to perform, and the story of the patriarch and his son became, under the title ‘akeda’ (Isaac’s sacrifice) the symbol of the Jewish martyrology.”624

Nonetheless, “the common cliché that Jews did not resist their persecutors and simply went ‘like sheep to the slaughter’ is neither an accurate nor a fair description … When presented as a blanket criticism, it overlooks the extraordinary lengths to which the Nazis went in disguising the genocidal intent of their policy toward the Jews. The perpetrators deliberately encouraged false hopes and the illusion that compliance and work might be the salvation of Jewry”, writes Wistrich.

And he continues: “The slogan of ‘sheep to the slaughter’ also overlooks the fact that the notion of total physical extermination was not only unprecedented but must have seemed to most Jews (and Gentiles) like the product of a diseased imagination. It underestimates the state of sheer exhaustion and demoralization in which the ghettoized Jews found themselves and the degree to which they were isolated and cut off from the outside world. It ignores the intimidating effects of collective punishment as practiced by the Nazis whenever they were faced with even the most trivial and minor acts of defiance. The knowledge that the Germans would exact terrible reprisals was a serious disincentive all over Europe to any armed resistance. There were relatively few efforts at revolt, for example, by the many well-trained Allied soldiers and the hundreds of thousands of Russian prisoners of war in German camps, though they were watched over by a fairly small number of guards. Charges of passivity have rarely been made against them. Yet Western prisoners were not subjected to the unrelenting dehumanization that was the common fate of the Jews in the ghettos and the Nazi camps.

“The Jewish population, to a much greater extent than any other, had the terrifying experience of being hunted down like wild animals. To make matters worse, they found themselves – at least in Eastern Europe – in a generally hostile and anti-Semitic environment. Even in the event of escape, Jewish men were still marked by circumcision, often easily identified by their beards and facial features or else by their distinctive garb. Despite these great obstacles, Jews did subsequently rebel in the ghettos of Warsaw and Bialystok, in the death camps of Treblinka, Sobibor and Auschwitz, and took up arms with the partisans wherever they succeeded in escaping their tormentors.”625Armed revolts broke out “in at least twenty ghettos in Eastern Europe”. Best known is the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, from 19 April until 5 May 1943, where in terrible circumstances about a thousand Jewish fighters, armed with light firearms, grenades and Molotov cocktails, confronted the three thousand elite soldiers of SS-General Stroop, equipped with heavy machine guns, howitzers, armoured vehicles and artillery, eventually backed-up by tanks and bombers.

The decisive counter-argument against the allegation of a Jewish attempt at world domination, however, is the unwillingness of the supposedly Jewish-friendly governments to let in the Jewish refugees from Germany after the Hitler take-over. “The Jewish world power did not show itself very powerful”, notes Konrad Heiden.626And Robert Wistrich has the following comment: “Even American Jewry, though by 1939 the richest, largest and strongest Jewish community in the world, was still far from being the organized, vigorous, disciplined, cohesive lobby of the post-war era, able to influence the foreign policy of the US government. On the contrary, it was so lacking in unity or self-confidence and seemingly so cowed by the rise in American anti-Semitism during the depression years that it was unable to seriously challenge the draconian immigration restrictions that helped to seal the fate of European Jewry. Much the same could be said of the smaller Jewish community, even though a few individual Jews did achieve prominence in British life during the interwar years.”627

The question why the Jews, as a people with a revealed religion, were marked with such a contorted and tragic destiny remains, to the non-Jewish observer, unanswered.

War and Extermination

“Concerning the Jews, Hitler will never change”, wrote Ambassador François-Poncet in his memoirs. “He told me one day that, to his mind, the Jewish problem should be solved by putting all the Jews in the universe on an island, Madagascar for instance. Actually, the only satisfying solution according to him would be to exterminate all of them, for they are the enemies of the Aryan race, responsible for all the evil of which Germany and the world have to suffer. In fact, it is this hidden thought of total extermination which inspires his conduct and that of his Party.”628The British historian Ian Kershaw confirms the words of the French ambassador: “For Hitler, whatever the tactical considerations, the aim of destroying the Jews – his central political idea since 1919 – remained unaltered. He revealed his approach to a meeting of party District Leaders at the end of April 1937, in immediate juxtaposition to comments on the Jews: ‘I don’t straight away want violently to demand an opponent to fight. I don’t say “fight” because I want to fight. Instead I say: “I want to destroy you!” And now let skill help me to manoeuvre you so far into the corner that you can’t strike a blow. And then you get the stab into the heart’”.629

There is unanimity among the students of Hitler’s life that his hatred of the Jews and his intention to do away with them remained unaltered from 1919 until his death. When the day before his suicide he went into a separate room with one of his secretaries, Traudl Junge, and announced that he was going to dictate his political testament, Junge expected to hear revelations nobody had heard before. “Now at last comes what we have been awaiting for days: the explanation of all what has happened, a confession, even a confession of guilt, or perhaps a justification. In this last document of the Reich of a Thousand Years should be written the truth, admitted by a man who had nothing to lose anymore. But my expectation remained unfulfilled. Detached, almost mechanically, the Führer utters declarations which I, the German people and the whole world know already.”630In the last sentence of this testament Hitler obliged the leadership of the nation, newly appointed by him, to “a strict implementation of the racial laws and to a merciless resistance against the poisoner of all peoples, international Jewry”.

In his letter to Adolf Gemlich on the subject of the Jews, and written at the request of Captain Mayr in 1919, twenty-five years earlier, Hitler had already insisted upon the necessity of “the removal of the Jews”. As we have seen in the first chapters of this book, Hitler’s hatred of the Jews seems to have been a phenomenon with a sudden origin in which his mentor Dietrich Eckart was involved and for which he was possibly responsible. It can hardly have been a coincidence that the Austrian corporal without a future contacted the German Workers’ Party, founded as an initiative of the Thule Society, in the days his military superior asked him respectfully to write a letter on the Jewish problem for the enlightenment of a fellow army propagandist.

The line of Hitler’s anti-Semitic development can clearly be followed in his daily tutoring by Eckart, “the spiritual godfather of Nazism” (Wistrich); in his study and memorization of the anti-Semitic literature, of which Fritsch’s Antisemiten-Katechismus alone provided him with 650 pages of quotations; in his conversations with Alfred Rosenberg, propagator of The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion and theorist of anti-Semitism. Less than a year after the Gemlich letter, Hitler delivered his speech “Why are we anti-Semites?” presenting his enthusiastically responding Munich audience with an outline of his anti-Semitism which will not be changed for the rest of his life – except that “the final solution” still remained unspoken, though probably not unimagined. The cosmic dimensions of the necessary confrontation between Aryans and Jews were present behind all he said or wrote on the subject, and they were formulated in Mein Kampf. “Should the Jew, with the aid of his Marxist creed, triumph over the people of this world, his crown will be the funeral wreath of mankind, and this planet will once again follow its orbit through the ether without any human life on its surface, as it did millions of years ago. And so I believe today that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: in standing guard against the Jew I am defending the handiwork of the Lord.”631

As Chancellor of the Reich, Hitler knew how to talk peace and became known, in Germany and abroad, as “the Chancellor of Peace”, although he had been preparing for war from his first day in office. Likewise, he knew how to restrain his vituperations against the Jews, and even to keep silent about them for a while, when the political situation required him to do so during the chaotic period and the series of successive elections before his “legal” access to power. But no sooner had the goal been reached or he started executing his programme, beginning with point number one: his war against the Jews.

First there was the boycott of the Jewish shops, only a few weeks after the Machtergreifung, the acquisition of power; then, gradually, there was the smothering of the Jewish community within German society. Step by step the Jews became non-persons, outlaws, worse than pariahs, still allowed to stay alive, but barely. The Germans, who liked to joke that “the soup is never eaten as hot as it is served”, now found out that their Führer and his brown-shirts had meant what they said, but it was too late to protest. The Nuremberg Laws put the seal on what had been announced as the fate of the Jews from the birth of National-Socialism, and what was now being pushed inexorably towards its fulfilment.

On 30 January 1939, the solemnly commemorated anniversary of the Machtergreifung, Hitler pronounced the words against the Jews which Lucy Dawidowicz characterizes as “a declaration of war”, but which were actually a death sentence, the “war” against the Jews having been declared years earlier. By this time Hitler had decided to invade Western Europe, and he realized that military action was the ideal cover to solve the Jewish problem through physical extermination. “I have often been a prophet in my life”, he said, “and I was often laughed at. At the time of my struggle to obtain the power, it was in the first place the Jewish people which greeted with laughter my prophecies that, one day in Germany, I would assume the leadership of the state and simultaneously of the whole Volk, and that then I would, among other things, bring the Jewish problem to a solution. I think that the hilarious laughter of the Jews has meanwhile stuck in their throats. Today I will be a prophet once again: if the international finance-Jewry in and outside Europe would succeed in plunging the peoples into war once more, then the outcome will not be the Bolshevization of the earth and consequently the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”

The acclamation greeting this direct threat, and preserved on film, was deafening. Who in that crowd at the Kroll Opera, or listening under the loudspeakers in the streets of towns and villages, or sitting at home near their Volksempfänger, the cheap popular radio set specially built to spread the Nazi propaganda – who thought of the mendacious distortions in these few sentences? True, thinking about fundamentals was no longer what one did in Germany, or what was even permitted. No Jews had taken the rise of National-Socialism as a laughing matter, even if they had kept hoping that things would turn out better than expected and reasoned the danger away; no Jews had wanted war; and Bolshevism was not identical with Judaism.

Hitler’s idea that the waging of war was to be combined with “the final solution” of the Jews has been pointed out by Lucy Dawidowicz, who found that time after time, when Hitler reminded his audiences of the threat enunciated on 30 January 1939, he mistakenly put it on 30 September 1939, the date of his invasion of Poland and the beginning of the Second World War. The war was to serve as camouflage for the execution of the secret and humanely unthinkable plan. “Extermination” was a term habitually used by the Nazis and by many other Germans, but it was hardly ever taken seriously. The Jews were objects of suspicion, scorn, ridicule, and on occasion of physical attack, but the outspoken intention of murdering any of them, not to say all of them, seems not to have been around – which does not mean that “the ideology of death” in Germany has not considerably contributed to its becoming reality. “The Final Solution grew out of a matrix formed by traditional anti-Semitism, the paranoid delusions that seized Germany after the First World War, and the emergence of Hitler and the National Socialist movement. Without Hitler, the charismatic political leader who believed he had a mission to annihilate the Jews, the Final Solution would not have occurred. Without that assertive and enduring tradition of anti-Semitism by which the Germans sought self-definition, Hitler would not have had the fecund soil in which to grow his organization and to spread its propaganda …

“Anti-Semitism was the core of Hitler’s system of beliefs and the central motivation for his policies. He believed himself to be the saviour who would bring redemption to the German people through the annihilation of the Jews, that people who embodied, in his eyes, the Satanic hosts. When he spoke or wrote about his ‘holy mission’, he used words associated with chiliastic prophecy (not only in the millennial concept literally rendered as the ‘Thousand Year Reich’), like ‘consecration’, ‘salvation’, ‘redemption’, ‘resurrection’, ‘God’s will’. The murder of the Jews, in his fantasies, was commanded by divine providence, and he was the chosen instrument for that task.”632

The Unwritten Order

“The grand design [of the annihilation of the Jews] was in Hitler’s head”, writes Dawidowicz. “He did not spell it out in concrete strategy. Nothing was written down. (On 29 April 1937 he advised NSDAP leaders: ‘Everything that can be discussed orally should never be put in writing, never!’) He even elevated his tactics of secrecy into a strategic principle: as few people as possible to know as little as possible as late as possible.”633

“On the basis of the structure of the system of authority [in Hitler Germany], one can with certainty accept that an operation so extensive and demanding such great resources in personnel and materiel, as did the murder of millions of people in all parts of Europe, was only possible with the consent of the man at the top, where all threads came together”, writes Peter Longerich in his book Der ungeschriebene Befehl (the unwritten order) about the direct responsibility of Hitler. He asserts that this responsibility can be proven by examining Hitler’s many utterances and talks to generals, groups of people belonging to the regime, and personal conversations. It was Hitler’s aim, says Longerich, never to give direct instructions, but to create “a certain climate” in which the executive organs of the regime would know that any radicalization of the politics against the Jews was authorized by the highest representative of the regime. On top of this, “Hitler gave confidentially direct oral orders with which he started particular operations of the systematic mass murder of the Jews.”634

This is carefully worded by Longerich and supported by many persons involved in the historical process. Albert Speer said: “Nothing of any magnitude could conceivably happen, not only without [Hitler’s] knowledge, but without his orders”, and he repeated Rudolf Hess’ words: “Hitler reserved all his important decisions for himself.”635Kershaw quotes Heinrich Himmler as saying: “I do nothing that the Führer doesn’t know about.”636Christa Schroeder, one of Hitler’s secretaries, exclaimed during an interview after the war: “Of course Hitler knew! Not only knew, it was all his ideas, his orders!” And she described how shocked Himmler had looked after he had apparently received the order from Hitler.637“When he did not give specific orders or instructions”, writes Robert Gellately, “his ideas, hate-filled speeches and wishes inspired police, justice and SS-cadres all along the line”.638

What was the cause of Hitler’s obsession with the Jews, who “inhabited Hitler’s mind”? “I don’t know. Nobody knows. Nobody’s even began”, said Alan Bullock in desperation after many years of study.639Werner Maser confesses: “The cause of Hitler’s anti-Semitism, despite the knowledge of so many details, is not completely explainable”,640which is a historians’ understatement. And Joachim Fest puts is as follows: “We can probably no longer plumb the cause of this ever-growing hatred [of the Jews], which lasted literally to the last hour of Hitler’s life.” “He admired the Jews”, says Fest. “Their racial exclusiveness and purity seemed to him no less admirable than their sense of being a chosen people, their implacability and intelligence. Basically, he regarded them as something akin to negative supermen. Even Germanic nations of relatively pure racial strains were, he declared in his table talk, inferior to the Jews: if 5000 Jews were transferred to Sweden, within a short time they would occupy all the leading positions.”641

The mystery of the cause of Hitler’s hatred of the Jews must have been closely connected with “his vision of the apocalyptic conflict between the Aryans and the Jews”, which we have briefly examined when leafing through Mein Kampf. “It was his own Manichean version of the conflict between good and evil, between God and the Devil, Christ and the Antichrist.” If there is a solution of this mystery, it should be looked for in the occurrences at the time of Hitler’s “turnabout” when, in 1919, and under the influence of Captain Mayr and Dietrich Eckart, he suddenly turned out to be an expert in anti-Semitism, and a personality interesting enough to be pushed into a position from where he could give shape to his mission and his message, and go out to conquer Germany. This would explain how the end lay in the beginning: why, regarding the Jews, he still was when dictating his testament what he had become during that summer in Munich.

“The ideology, the blueprint of his leadership, was at the same time accessible to everybody and yet secret.” Trevor-Roper had a similar impression when he wrote about “those walls which the Führer has erected around his convictions, and behind which he allows nobody to see. Can it be that there is really nothing there – only the gigantic obstinacy of a deluded spirit, sacrificing all to its self-worshipping Ego?”642(Would this then be the solution to the riddle: that the greatest and most tragic event in human history was caused by a “self-worshipping Ego”?) John Lukacs finds Hitler “a very secretive man, perhaps not less secretive than Stalin”, and he quotes him as having said: “You will never be able to discover my thoughts and intentions.”643“The higher one was, the less one knew”, confided Speer to Gitta Sereny.644Speer’s words might be illustrated with passages from Goebbels diaries, showing that even the proud propaganda-tsar of the Reich was informed about some important events only post factum.

“Hitler has never revealed the secret of his mission”, writes Joachim Köhler in Hitlers Wagner, p. 21. “The core of his message was not decoded” (p. 22) … The struggle against the Jews was indeed Hitler’s totally personal and therefore not further explainable or discussable basic conviction (p. 98) … He knew that he could not be attacked as a politician because he kept his objectives hidden in a mystic darkness … Hitler showed himself indefinable and has remained so till today (p. 193) … What were the contents of Hitler’s inner truth, nobody knew … Hitler was not a politician who had to work out a programme and to justify his actions to the people, but the saviour of an esoteric cult, who had set himself the task of liberating the world from the Jews … In actual fact, the Germans did not have to know anything, they only must have faith (pp. 334-35) … He clearly held a secret in which he believed with ‘granite’ infallibility (p. 336) … ‘When we eradicate this plague [i.e. the Jews]’, Hitler had prophesied during the march on Moscow, ‘we shall accomplish something for humanity of which our men at the front cannot have an idea as yet’. This also meant that those men killed and died without knowing why. And the people around him cheered without knowing why. They became excited when Hitler told them what was at stake and believed in his infallibility because he demanded this belief from them. As his successes seemed to justify his actions, his intentions justified all the means. (p. 337) … Hitler never gave away, not even with a single word, that he was planning the biggest auto-da-fé in the history of mankind (p. 410).”

11. The German Aspiration

Once in a Golden Age we merged with all,

For aeons now the crowd has shunned our call.

We are the Rose: the young and fervent heart,

The Cross: to suffer proudly is our part.

Stefan George

The Search for Meaning

The analysis in the previous chapters of the German mentality which lead directly to Hitler would not be complete without paying attention to the sincere longing behind even the most delirious extremes of national egoism, the historical and cultural fancies, and the aversion to everything “modernity” stood for. In the end the perverted fancies gained the upper hand, which was tragic when one considers the high cultural and spiritual values in Germany’s past which were also there in the decades of its ordeal, but which were stifled by forces which we have seen darkening and which we still have to identify.

In his book Hitler: The Führer and the People, J.P. Stern has titled one of the chapters which leads up to the Third Reich “A Society Longing for Transcendence”. There he writes: “What the Germans now seek is a religious solution – religious in the sense of being total and absolute and an object of faith rather than of prudential thinking. Since they are seeking a single, ‘total’ thing, their ‘idealism’ appears wholly incompatible with material satisfactions. What they are looking for is in fact not a solution but a salvation – not however as an alternative to and an unworldly substitute for material concerns and demands, but as the subsuming and validation of such demands.”645

“The search for ‘a third way’, as an alternative to capitalism or Marxism, occupied much of German thought during the Weimar Republic”, writes George Mosse. “Even earlier, toward the end of the post-unification period [i.e. the years preceding World War I], men had raised similar questions – in a more theoretical manner, but just as seriously. Indeed, the search for a viable ‘third way’ was an integral part of the völkisch concern … Disenchanted with the world as they found it, German thinkers attempted to find some way to raise the Volk above its temporal restrictions. They were determined to liberate it from the shackles of a materialistic civilization imposed by a state that callously disregarded the essentially spiritual needs of the Volk. The postwar era thrust the ‘third-way’ alternative again into the foreground … Everywhere in Europe, Fascism was based upon the urge toward a ‘third way’, and völkisch thought here intersected with the mainstream of an international movement … Whatever the alternative presented by the advocates of the ‘third way’, the underlying basis was always metaphysical. During the 1920’s, intellectuals continued to view the coming German revolution primarily in spiritual terms …

“Möller van den Bruck, in his famous work The Third Reich (1923), which he first called The Third Way, considered Germany to be a ‘new nation’, as distinguished from the overripe ‘old nations’ of the West, a nation with a mission. It was a country of the future that had not yet developed its inherent peculiarities and greatness. What it had lacked until now, a shortcoming that accounted for the failure of the recent past [the defeat in 1918], van den Bruck declared, was a chiliastic ideal. The ‘new’ Germany, he asserted, had to be fired by the idea of the Germanic past and of Germany’s potential future greatness; it had to revive and make operative in a new age the traditions of medieval messianism. Contemporary materialism, contemporary society and science, had to be discarded and the German soul must take wing and follow the unrestrained course of the Geist … Van den Bruck was advocating a truly spiritual revolution.”646

“To the liberal and peace-loving bourgeois, the product of European rationalism, the Fascists … oppose the cult of the feelings, of emotivity, of violence, duty and sacrifice, of the heroic virtues”, writes Zeev Sternhell. “Fascism develops to the full and applies to the realities of the postwar new ethics which had originated on the eve of the war: the yearning to serve, the cult of power, of commanding and obeying, of a collective faith and abnegation. Fascism means adventure and also, as in Sorel, ‘the deed and nothing but the deed’ … But what in the first decade of the [twentieth] century was nothing more than a theoretical aspect of Social Darwinism became after the war, to the generation which had survived the trenches, a concrete experience and a standard of behaviour. The former combatants considered themselves the bearers of a spiritual mission: they wanted to transmit their unique experience to the whole of society and imprint upon it the heroic virtues of the warrior, namely discipline, sacrifice, self-denial and comradeship.”647

If one lets the character traits enumerated by Sternhell overlap, the result is a kind of robot photo of the ideal character of the average German at the time under our consideration, especially the need for order, discipline and obedience, and the dedication to loyalty and sacrifice. “The nation had a deeply rooted instinct for rules and discipline”, writes Fest, “it wanted the world orderly or it did not want the world at all … The German mind accords universal respect to the categories of order, discipline and self-restraint … Hitler was able to play on such attitudes and use them to further his plans for dominion. Thus he created the cult of obedience to the Führer or staged those military-like demonstrations whose precise geometry offered protection against the chaos so feared by all and sundry.”648

“We had been rendered susceptible to such ideas from our youth on”, writes Albert Speer in self-defence. “We had derived our principles from the Obrigkeitsstaat, the authoritarian though not totalitarian state of Imperial Germany. Moreover, we had learned those principles in wartime, when the state’s authoritarian character had been further intensified. Perhaps the background had prepared us like soldiers for the kind of thinking we encountered once again in Hitler’s system. Tight public order was in our blood; the liberalism of the Weimar Republic seemed to us by comparison lax, dubious, and in no way desirable.”649

“Many of [the Nazis], moreover, came from homes whose patterns were based on the rigid mores of the cadet schools. Hitler profited greatly from the peculiarities of an authoritarian educational system.”650The patriotic, rigidly authoritarian German teachers had sent “the Langemarck Youth” into the trenches of the First World War; the same kind of teachers, seconded by martinet fathers, are to be found in practically every biography of Germans in the Second World War, be they Hitler, Bormann, Speer, Goebbels, or whoever. This was “a nation literally schooled to admire such traits … the obedience to authority was intrinsic to the German character before and during Hitler’s time”. The Prussian tradition of Kadavergehorsam, obedience as of a corpse, was still very much alive, as was the saying of the drill sergeants: “We leave thinking to the horses, they have bigger heads.”

Where could a youth, endowed with or stiffened by such traits, turn to when it refused to accept the ways of worn out religious dogmatism as well as of a modern world it did not understand and dreaded? What could satisfy their longing for order, obedience and sacrifice, and most of all for a cause which would give meaning to life and death? Arminius’ Cheruscians and other Germanic tribes of yore had nothing to offer that could be called “spiritual”, and the Greeks, admired as creators of culture and the arts, had no tradition which exceeded the arbitrariness of a world as depicted by Homer or Sophocles’ tragic human destinies. However, true spirituality, fulfilling all the requirements, could be found where the great Romantics had looked for it and where “the new romanticism” followed in their tracks: in the (idealized) Middle Ages. The monastic orders, more specifically the military monastic orders, peopled the dreams of a youth riding in trains and working in a chemical laboratory, a bank, or a watchmaker’s shop.

On most crossroads in the imagination of a Germany thinking in the völkisch way we meet with the Knights Templar or the Teutonic Knights. Lanz von Liebenfels had started dreaming of becoming a Templar at the age of twelve and would found the New Order of the Templars, taking vows to fight for the final victory of the blond Aryans over the subhuman Chandalas. The poet Stefan George, who “appointed himself custodian of Germany’s spiritual and cultural future”, assembled around him an elite circle of young men who had not only to be esoteric initiates but also mystic warriors, “soldiers of the spirit engaged in a spiritual crusade. In this respect, they were heir to the knights in his poem entitled ‘Templars’, although George meant by the term something very different from the Ariosophist New Templars of Lanz von Liebenfels.”651Himmler’s organization of his “Black Order” is often said to have been inspired by the Order of the Templars or of the Jesuits, who, after all, were the Catholic Church’s warriors to fight the Reformation. And Hitler himself confided to Rauschning: “I shall tell you a secret: I am founding an order.” The top elite schools of “his” youth were the three Ordensburgen at Krössinsee, Sonthofen and Vogelsang. Even the ordinary Hitler Youth, obligatorily joined by all young Germans from the age of six, had to live up to the ideals of a military order, and took pride in it.

The backbone of the whole self-denying attitude in Germany was, of course, Prussian. Discipline, respect for the military rank, pride in the uniform, clicking of the heels, energetic saluting, shouting of orders and a ruthless training were as common in the twentieth century as they had been at the time of Frederick II. What for most “new romanticists” had been an exercise of the imagination turned into dire reality in the First World War. The ideals of total obedience, unconditional discipline and self-sacrifice became a matter of daily practice. The surviving generation will be indelibly imprinted with these ideals. The Templar and Teutonic Knight were replaced by Dürer’s Knight riding between the Devil and Death towards an unknown destiny. His sky was the sky of nihilism, adorned with the clouds of any ideal or empty. The undefeated German soldiers marched home and joined a Free Corps, where they kept on marching side by side with youngsters who regretted having been born to late for the war. These soldiers of fortune, these Landsknechte, had lost their ideals while keeping up the routine, and served as an example to the generation of the “birds of passage”. And none will know better how to fill up the emptiness in their heart and exploit their readiness to serve than Adolf Hitler. He will use them to build up his New Templar Order to defend “the Holy Grail of the pure blood”.

The 1880 Watershed

At this point we have to direct our attention once more to the important change in the European cultural landscape which took place around 1880, and which announced the global upheavals of the twentieth century. The importance of those years – called by one German author Zeitbruch 1880, a break or dividing line in the times, something like the great moments of change which Karl Jaspers called Achsenzeiten, axis times – is not yet generally recognized in official history. “A wild pain is felt in this time and the suffering is no longer bearable. The call for a saviour is common and the crucified are everywhere. Is this a great dying that has come into the world? It is possible that we have reached the end, the death of an exhausted humanity, and that these are nothing but the last convulsions. It is also possible that we are at the beginning, at the birth of a new humanity.”652The questioning of the Renaissance and the reign of the intellect in the Age of Reason had undermined the age-old Christian tradition and tried to install the foundations of a new future. The certainties of the past had decayed, but Reason could not tell what the new future would be.

George Mosse wrote, as we have seen above, that “the search for a viable ‘third way’ was an integral part of the völkisch concern”, and that this “third way” was “an alternative to capitalism and Marxism”. For once we have to disagree with him. The third way the völkisch movement was looking for, and with them all those who suffered the pain of the insecurity in the period 1880-1914, was not an alternative to capitalism and Marxism: it was an alternative on the one hand to the lost certainties of the Christian past and, on the other hand, to the fear of an unknown “modern” future, including capitalism as well as Marxism – as well as the steamrolling industrialization and urbanization which crushed all accepted and familiar traditions. If there is one thing the ignorant and vulnerable human beings abhor, it is change.

Dissatisfied, not to say disillusioned, with the temporary tyranny of Reason, which in Germany had anyway been treated with suspicion, the völkisch and like-minded people were looking for teachings and practices which could satisfy the needs of the whole person. Man does not live by bread alone, and neither does he live by the intellect alone. In him there are the realms of the life-forces, impulses and feelings; there is the physical body with its hunger, its need of movement, sexual satisfaction and health; and there is the soul at the centre of the being, the place where one feels connected with the soul of the Volk, with nature, and with God. The traditional, dogmatic answers did not any longer satisfy a generation which, after all, had come alive to the questions and criticisms of the Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers – not to forget the stance taken by Martin Luther of the individual’s right to turn towards God directly and be saved by his personal faith, without the interference of a religious institution.

H.P. Blavatsky’s Theosophy, founded in 1875, had the effect of a revelation and spread from America to Europe and India in no time. (The first German section was started as early as 1884.) Here at last, as noted in a previous chapter, was a teaching which involved the whole person, which taught that God was within and could be contacted and even realized there, and which put an end to the fear of eternal damnation. Theosophy offered a practical spiritual programme, provided an explanation of humanity’s past, related to identical views in other religions, and even had space for the theories and discoveries of science.

“Theosophy swept Europe with an impetus and energy comparable to that of Wagner or Nietzsche. Wagner may have created a religion of his own, but few people at the time would explicitly have acknowledged it to be such. Theosophy, on the other hand, did announce itself as a full-fledged organized religion – or rather as the definitive and supreme synthesis of all religions, the universal and all-encompassing ultra-religion of the future. It thus posed a challenge and a threat to existing faiths that generated considerable alarm. With its declared foundations in what purported to be ‘esoteric Buddhism’, its hierarchy of ‘secret masters’ and its all-embracing scope, Theosophy offered a complex framework that incorporated all other creeds within itself.”653

Together with Theosophy re-emerged occultism, the exploration of realities which are not accessible to our ordinary senses. Because the human being has been constituted complex and diverse, occultism has always been its natural, prime fascination, along with religion. The practice of both is in fact one and the same – a Church which condemns occultism will use magical formulas to change bread and wine into the body and the blood of its God – and it is only in the “great” religions that both are separated. If one defines spirituality as the essence of religion, as authentic religion without dogma, one can even maintain that all spirituality is of necessity occult, although all occultism is not necessarily spiritual.

Occultism has always been part of the European culture, but it was often driven underground because the impatient European temperament never allowed it to reach maturity. (“Most Western occultism is long on text and short on practice – contrary to forms of occultism found in the East, which rely on strict discipline, rigorous mental and physical exercises, and the constant supervision of a teacher or ‘guru’.” Peter Levenda654) Paradoxically, the Age of Reason was also one of the most active occult periods. “No historical period is so rich in successful spiritists, magicians, charlatans, etc., as the period which is commonly classified under the labels of enlightenment and reason … Since the Enlightenment the shadow sides of the reason exert an unprecedented fascination; they are, apparently, the inevitable counterbalance to the pronounced rationality of the bourgeois period.”655Now, in the years following 1880, the fault line between two worlds, the occult aspects of existence came to the fore again.

This actually seems a “normal” development when put against the background of those years. Heinrich Hertz produced electromagnetic waves, Wilhelm Röntgen discovered the X-rays, Giuglielmo Marconi sent the first messages on invisible waves, and Henri Becquerel, followed by Marie and Pierre Curie, discovered the first elements which radiated in the dark without apparent reason. At a time when renowned scientists proclaimed that science had reached its limits and only a few gaps remained to be filled up, physics broke through the barriers of tridimensionality into the realms of relativity and quantum mechanics. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote almost simultaneously his works about the “will to power” and the “superman”, aiming at a “transvaluation of all values”. His work and that of his admirer Henri Bergson, who thought out the philosophy of the stream of consciousness and the élan vital, would lead the human reflection from the fortress of positivism unto new paths of vitalism and to Sigmund Freud. In 1880 Impressionism had reached its zenith and was already splitting up into other, no less amazing or disturbing schools of art. In its footsteps followed the literary symbolism of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Mallarmé and Valéry, now venerated as god-like statues at the gates of all modernist writing.

“It may be pure accident or arbitrary selection”, writes Eric Hobsbawm in The Age of Empire 1875-1914, “that Planck’s quantum theory, the rediscovery of Mendel, Husserl’s Logische Untersuchungen, Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and Cézanne’s Still Life with Onions can all be dated 1900 … but the coincidence of dramatic innovation in several fields remains striking”. Then, a few pages further he writes casually: “We are apt to overlook the vogue for occultism, necromancy, magic, parapsychology (which preoccupied some leading British intellectuals) and various versions of eastern mysticism and religiosity, which swept along the fringes of western culture.”656We, his readers, are not apt to overlook a sweeping “vogue” which was part of the still unnamed revolution at a fault line in history which would cause the devastating earthquake of the First World War. And we remember that all revolutionary movements originated in the fringes of one or other established paradigm, as Impressionism did in the fringes of classicist painting, and as Nazism, led by an unknown Austrian corporal, did in the fringes of a Germany in turmoil.

Things Visible and Invisible

It is a symptom of the confusion in the Western “consensus mentality”, supposedly materialistic and scientific, that occultism remains a subject of suspicion while millions accept the occult ceremonies of their Churches without questioning them, and while thousands of the social elite are practising Freemasons. The same suspicious attitude prevails among academic historians. “I have studied history and psychology at the University of Munich and became years later a doctor in philosophy”, writes Peter Orzechowski. “In the course of these studies it has become clear to me that history, as a simple presentation of the facts, cannot explain the historical events. This is especially true as far as the history of the Third Reich is concerned … There is a wealth of quotations which show that Hitler conceived National Socialism as a religion. Until now no historian has drawn serious conclusions from this fact. The National Socialist religion appeared too abstruse to the analytical, scientific intelligence for it to be worthy of an examination. This religion seemed to be rooted too deeply in the occult for a historian to be able to study it without becoming himself suspect of occultism to his colleagues.”657

“Irrationalism in its multifarious manifestations belongs to the fundamental facts of all societies, also the most ‘advanced’”, writes Detlev Rose. “The liberal-enlightened idea of human thought and action solely guided by the intellect is nothing more than wishful thinking. Who does not want to accept that thought conceptions, world views and impulses to act are also determined by irrational forces, fails to recognise an elementary part of the realities of life.”658Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, in his unanimously appreciated The Occult Roots of Nazism, formulates the same opinion more prudently as follows: “For historians trained exclusively in the evaluation of concrete events, causes, and rational purposes, this netherworld of fantasy may seem delusive. They would argue that politics and historical change are driven only by real material interests. However, fantasies can achieve a causal status once they have been institutionalized in beliefs, values, and social groups. Fantasies are also an important symptom of impending cultural changes and political action.”659

All depends on what one considers the “fantasies” which can achieve a causal status to be. One might legitimately ask if, excepting the physical activities of Nature, there has been and is anything else but “fantasies” determining the acts of humans. What, in the present times, is not recognised as “scientific fact” may be classified as “fantasy”. If so, the whole of humanity in the whole of its known history before the last two centuries, roughly speaking, lived in a world of fantasy, and one wonders how it managed to finally reach the era of scientific realism, which is the era in which we are living. Amazingly, this is also the era in which Father Christmas has become an international figure; Olympic flames are lit again; people continue taking part in magical Church ceremonies; millions mourn a jet-setting British princess; film stars are venerated as saints after their death; and libraries are written by scientifically qualified materialistic scholars on Jung and Freud – while the killing for reasons of fantasy continues unabated. A striking example of the selectiveness of historic writing, in this case by the person at the centre of the event, is what now is commonly called the “near-death experience” of Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, “favourite minister and one of his possible successors”.

In January 1944 Speer was hospitalized for a serious knee and lung infection. The time was not opportune for him because Göring, always covetous of more power, had been intriguing against him, using the sinister Martin Bormann to bring Speer in disfavour with Hitler. The medical institution where Speer’s condition had grown critical was a state-of-the-art Party hospital at Hochenlychen, near Berlin, run by Dr Karl Gebhardt. This was an SS-Gruppenführer and the personal physician of Himmler, who, according to Speer, had directed Gebhardt to eliminate him. In Inside the Third Reich Speer writes: “The doctors prepared my wife for the worst. But in contrast to this pessimism, I myself was feeling a remarkable euphoria. The little room expanded into a magnificent hall. A plain wardrobe I had been staring at for three weeks turned into a richly carved display piece, inlaid with rare woods. Hovering between living and dying, I had a sense of well-being such as I had only rarely experienced.”660

In Speer’s conversations with Gitta Sereny, however, we read what really happened: he, the very ambitious, very materialistic and very matter-of-fact architect, powerful minister and top Nazi, had had a near-death experience! As Sereny reports that conversation: “‘I have never been so happy in my life’, [Speer] said. He was ‘above’ he said, looking down at himself in bed. ‘I saw everything very clearly. The doctors and nurses hovering, and [his wife] Margret, looking sort of soft and slim, her face small and pale … What Professor Koch and the nurses were doing’, Speer continued, ‘looked like a silent dance to me. The room was so beautiful’ … He smiled at the memory. ‘I was not alone; there were many figures, all in white and light grey and there was music … And then somebody said, “Not yet”’. And I realized they meant I had to go back and I said I didn’t want to. But I was told I had to – it was not yet my time. What I felt then was not something I know how to describe. It wasn’t just sadness, or disappointment – it was a long feeling of loss … To this day I think that I felt things in those hours which the man I know myself to be cannot feel, or see, or say. I tell you one thing: I’ve never been afraid of death since. I’m certain it will be wonderful.”

Then why hadn’t he written all this in his memoirs? Speer’s answer: “Well, I was supposed to be that super-rational man, you know, writing a definitive book on this terrible history of our time. What do you think readers would have said if in the middle of that book I had suddenly written that I am sure, sure to this day, that I died that night and came back to life? Can you imagine the fun the critics would have had with that?”661This is how and why crucial experiences are omitted from “official” history, which is like a layer of hardened ashes on the red-hot magma of reality.

As we have seen, the human being, in the non-materialistic view, is per definition occult because it is mostly constituted of occult, to the ordinary senses imperceptible parts, and because therefore most of its activities and experiences – thoughts, feelings, impulses, dreams – are “occult”. That occultism has so often been abused by frauds and mountebanks does not invalidate this viewpoint. Not only is the individual life for the most part an occult occurrence, the foundations of the scientific-materialistic world too are steeped in occultism. The magic component of the Renaissance has been mentioned. The inspiration of Descartes’ philosophical re-evaluation of the bases of Western knowledge was revealed to him in three dreams. August Comte, the theorist of positivism, launched a new religion of humanity. Nietzsche’s thinking, however this-worldly in its intention, started from and returned to a-material suppositions. And theoretical physics in the last one hundred years has been leading up to “the matter myth”.

In the preceding paragraph we have skipped Isaac Newton. As the result of a 1936 auction at Sotheby’s in London “scholars were enabled, for the first time, to assess the magnitude and scale of Newton’s Hermetic interests”, write Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. “It came as a startling revelation. The first commentator to publish the hitherto suppressed work was John Maynard Keynes, who concluded that Newton’s ‘deepest instincts were occult, esoteric, semantic …’ According to Keynes: ‘Newton was not the first of the age of reason. He was the last of the magicians’ … In the words of a subsequent commentator: ‘It may safely be said that Newton’s alchemical thoughts were so securely established on their basic foundations that he never came to deny their general validity, and in a sense the whole of his career after 1675 may be seen as one long attempt to integrate alchemy and the mechanical philosophy’.”662

Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke entitles the second chapter of The Roots of Nazism: “The modern German occult revival 1880-1910”. There he writes about that period: “Occult science tended to stress man’s intimate and meaningful relationship with the cosmos in terms of ‘revealed’ correspondences between the microcosm and macrocosm, and strove to counter materialist science, with its emphasis upon tangible and measurable phenomena and its neglect of invisible qualities respecting the spirit and the emotions. These new ‘metaphysical’ sciences gave individuals a holistic view of themselves and the world in which they lived. This view conferred both a sense of participation in a total meaningful order and, through divination, a means of planning one’s affairs in accordance with this order.”663

Goodrick-Clarke sketches the rapid spreading of Theosophy in Germany and mentions the publication in Leipzig of a twelve-volume book series, Library of Esoteric Writings, in 1898-1900, and in 1894-96 of a thirty-volume book series, Theosophical Writings, in Weimar. In 1906 a Theosophical Publishing House was established in Leipzig, under the imprint of which “a wave of occult magazines” appeared. From his survey Goodrick-Clarke is able to deduce that the German occult publishing activity reached another peak between the years 1906 and 1912. It was the flourishing of the German occult movement which would influence the German speaking (and dominant) population in Austria. “The impetus came largely form Germany, and both List and Lanz drew their knowledge of theosophy from German sources … Theosophy in Vienna after 1900 appears to be a quasi-intellectual sectarian religious doctrine of German importation, current among persons wavering in their religious orthodoxy but who were inclined to a religious perspective.”664We know that the Austrians List and Lanz would pay back their debt to Germany a thousandfold and directly inspire the Germanenorden and Nazism.

The tragic events of the First World War, like all great crises, produced a new wave of occult interest. The post-war period was a time in which, as Ulrich Linse formulates it, “many nervously disposed people occupied themselves with occult and mystical things, and showed themselves exceptionally receptive to suggestive influences. It is well known that just after the war a great number of hypnotists, magnetizers, telepaths, and whatever else they might call themselves, performed in public and presented their ‘mystical’ and healing powers in well-organized shows.”665The crisis atmosphere in Germany in that period of defeat and humiliation, right and left wing revolutions and surreal hyperinflation, lasted for years. It was the time of the stigmatized Therese Neumann, the spiritist Joseph Weissenberg’s Church and the famous magician and show man Erik Hanussen. In 1925, German Freemasonry reached its absolute maximum with 82 194 Brothers in 632 loges.666Nazism too was part of this search for new, different and potent, not to say miraculous, values.

“Saviours appeared everywhere”, remembers Sebastian Haffner, “people with long hair and hair shirts, declaring that they had been sent by God to save the world. The most successful in Berlin was a certain [Louis] Häusser, who used posters and mass meetings and had many followers. His Munich counterpart, according to the press, was a certain Hitler who, however, differed from his Berlin rival by the exciting coarseness of his speeches, which reached new levels of vulgarity in the extravagance of their threats and their unconcealed sadism. While Hitler wanted to bring about the millennium by a massacre of all the Jews, there was a certain [Friedrich] Lamberty in Thuringia who wanted to do it by folk dancing, singing and frolicking. Each saviour had a style of his own. No one and nothing was surprising; surprise had become a long-forgotten sensation.”667

“The German mind contains a strong ‘irrational’ component”, writes Jochen Kirchhoff, “which feels itself superior to the West-European rationalism … From the viewpoint of this mind the Cartesian clarté appears to be flat, superficial … The German spirit has this brooding inclination towards the ‘far-off’ and abysmal realm of being. This corresponds with the German fascination for things spiritual, esoteric, supra-sensual, occult, and for magic and secret societies of any kind … In the German philosophy there is always a part of mysticism, an element of Meister Eckhart and Jakob Böhme … West-Europeans feel inclined to situate ‘German irrationalism’ next to demonism, to relatedness with death, and to sense behind all that a relapse into the Middle Ages, into ‘diutisc’ barbarism … This relates to the layer of ‘the day before yesterday’ in the German mentality, the ‘age-old neurotic base’, the ‘secret relation of the German nature with the demonical’, as Thomas Mann puts it, who sees in this one of the roots of National Socialism…”668

The Living and the Dead

The years we are looking back to were also those of a high tide of spiritism, then together with astrology the most practiced form of occultism. Spiritism in its many varieties has been since times immemorial a way of contacting the invisible worlds and the beings that are supposed to populate them; it plays an important role in the world’s myths and legends. Nowadays spiritism is called “channelling”, which is essentially the same occult practice.

The denigrating ways in which some people at present look down on contacts with the dead ignore the seriousness of the spiritist movement which conquered America and Europe about a century ago. This movement originated in the USA, with the poltergeist experiences of the Fox Sisters in 1848, and developed rapidly into a craze which contributed to the preparation of the soil for the seeds of the Theosophical Society, planted by Blavatsky and Olcott in 1875. It is worth a moment of reflection that the Enlightenment as well as spiritism and Theosophy emerged in Anglo-Saxon countries, generally known for their realism and pragmatism. (The Americans commonly use the term “spiritualism”; we will use the term “spiritism”, not to cause confusion with the practice of spirituality.)

Spiritism was considered no less than a new religion by its adherents. “The question of the continuation of life and the hope that death at the end is actually not the end are too deeply anchored in the human being not to try to respond to them.”669“It is for the most part people thirsting for instruction and enlightenment who gather in what one might call a ‘circle’. The official way of the [Christian] Churches and their regular sermon on Sunday, which the mass of those present lets passively go over their heads without actually listening to it, does not satisfy them any longer. Their living spirit demands more nourishment than that.”670As such, spiritism is clearly part of the pulling out of the medieval roots and the transition toward new times.

“In the 1860s and 1870s numerous progressive spiritist groupings began to hold their own gatherings on Sundays, as an alternative to the Christian religious services. They consisted of lectures, prayers and sermons, held by trance mediums, and community singing for which there even were spiritist song books. One did not hesitate to call these spiritist organizations ‘churches’. Still, the faith which was propagated there had to be free of dogmas and revealed truths, and be entirely founded on verifiable and commonly understandable natural phenomena.”671The medium replaced the priest. “Spiritism gave especially the educated the exciting feeling to be present at the crossing of the frontiers between the revealed Christian creed and the empirical knowledge of the material sciences. In this sense, Spiritism was an avant-garde science in the era of the belief in progress. After the discovery of electricity, telegraphy and X-rays, the concept of concrete matter had begun to dissolve; it now seemed more than plausible that the realm of the supersensory too would no longer remain closed to empirical research. One was on the way to a ‘transcendental science of spiritism’.”672

What answers had spiritism to offer, especially concerning the problem of our own death and the death of those near and dear to us, and therefore about the meaning of life? “The answer of spiritism was that our dear ones lived on in ‘summerland’, continuing there the development of their souls, and that they also were invisibly present among us in individuals, took an active part in our lives, and that contact with them was possible at any time. In this way the individual personality as well as the community of family and friends remained in existence beyond death. In a kind of revolt against the prevailing ideas about death and immortality spiritism therefore propagated an interpretation of death according to which there was no reason to mourn, because it did not mean an extinction of the personality and the ties with others.”673

It is a fact that spiritism saw itself as scientific, or at least as part of the research that would lead to a new science in which the extra-material would have its legitimate share and even could be seen as the foundation in which the material was embedded. Scientists of renown were interested in spiritism, such as the astronomer Camille Flammarion, the physiologist Charles Richet, the psychologist Jean Piaget and the chemist and physicist William Crookes (as were the writers Victor Hugo and Arthur Conan Doyle). A main point consisted in establishing the immortality of the soul and of reincarnation, no longer as articles of faith but experimentally. “Occultism”, stated the German researcher Carl du Prel, “is nothing but as yet unknown natural science. It will be proved by the natural science of the future.”

The natural environment of the spiritist “séance”, or sitting, was the restricted circle, generally dominated by a medium. There were speaking mediums, giving voice to a spirit through their mouth, writing mediums, who lent their hand to a spirit to write a message or who made tables or other objects communicate the message by means of an agreed upon code, and their were mediums who healed, painted, played or composed music, and even danced. These mediums were mostly women, “admired priestesses”. “Spiritism was, at least partially, a feminist religion. As is known, the new creed was founded by the Fox Sisters in the USA. Even if most of its theorists were men – Andrew Davies, Allan Kardec, Aleksander Aksakov and others – the greatest number of trance mediums were women. They dominated the circles.”674Therefore spiritism played an important role in the first stages of the feminist revolt, one of the principal changes in recent times. Ulrich Linse is reminded, by the women who functioned as the priestesses of the new “Churches”, of the prophetesses in the apocalyptic movements of the past. In 1871 Arthur Rimbaud wrote: “When the endless servitude of the woman will be come to an end, when she will live for herself and by herself … she will be a poet, she too!” By “poet”, Rimbaud meant the highest condition a human being can attain. “The woman will discover matters that are still unknown!”675

Linse also points to “the obvious relation of the art of the modern avant-garde with occultism”. True, inspired art is, after all, occultism and as such a permanent stumbling block in the dogmatic universalization of positivist science. Where does art originate? Where do the poet and the painter see, and where does the composer hear? If the soul is an illusion and the mind an epiphenomenon of matter, then there is no place for the artistic inspiration and no possible explanation of it. The greatest creations of humanity are then something like matter gone mad.

In her essay on the influence of spiritism on Vasili Kandinsky (1866-1944), Marion Ackermann shows how deeply this founder of abstract painting was influenced by the occult movements in the world around him, especially in Munich. “The thesis that there is a fourth dimension of space, since 1870 supported by several theories and discussed in popular scientific publications, had deeply penetrated the public consciousness around the year 1900, as had the connection of the fourth dimension with the spirit world … The concept of the fourth dimension influenced the artists already in the years before the First World War. The cubists, futurists, rayonists and suprematists believed in their ability to make the fourth dimension visible.”676

The “new age” phenomenon around 1900 was as varied as the wave which shocked the world from the mid-1960s onwards. It was, as indicated before, closely connected with the various trends of the völkisch movement. Theosophy and spiritism, and occultism in general, often prospered in the same milieus as vegetarianism, reform centres, wholism, homeo- and naturopathy, magnetic healing, “back to nature” movements, nudism and orientalism. One will find substantial traces of all this in Nazism.

Occultism in general developed in parallel with the industrialization of Germany, so much so that “in almost no other country there were so many miracles performed, so many ghosts conjured, so many illnesses cured and so many horoscopes read as in Germany up to the Third Reich”. The spiritists themselves came in different flavours: New Psychologists, plain Occultists, Animists, Spiritualists of the Anglo-Saxon school, Davisians, Allan-Kardecians, Psychists, Theosophists, Neo-Occultists and Xenologists, among others, and not to forget the Christian spiritists. “All looked jealously towards France”, remarks Linse, “where all spiritists seemed to be united, at least in appearance, as followers of Allan Kardec”. Kardec (1804-69) said he had his name from the Gallic druid who he had been two thousand years ago. His real name was Hippolyte Rivail; he wrote the Book of the Spirits in 1857, which was reprinted again and again, and started publishing the “Spiritual Review” the next year. Soon the number of his followers ran into several millions and he was called “the pope of spiritism”.

The chief centres of spiritism in Germany were Berlin, Leipzig, with its very active spiritist publishing house Verlag O. Mutze, and above all Munich – more specifically that colourful part of the city called Schwabing, where in the streets walked practically all celebrities and eccentrics of the time. The poets Rainer Maria Rilke and Stefan George, the novelist Thomas Mann, the Russian communist leader Leon Trotsky, the artists of Der blaue Reiter, the group to which Kandinsky belonged, and so many more – all could be met in the Türkenstrasse or Schellingstrasse, on the Odeonplatz or in the neighbourhood of the university. Not to forget the personages populating the first chapters of this book.

Rudolf Hess tried out practically all occult fads. His Master at the Thule Society was the occultist and renowned astrologist Rudolf von Sebottendorff. The Thule Society itself was a chapter of the Germanenorden, of which many members and one of the founders, Philipp Stauff, were spiritists. The Thule Society was, moreover, a secret organization, founded officially to study and spread the völkisch, nationalist and occult sciences. David Clay Large writes that “magic rituals” were intended to bring present-day Nordic people into contact with the dead ancestors in order to find out their secrets, which would enable the Germans of the twentieth century to found a new master race.677Like Dr Gutberlet with his “astral pendulum”, many birds of occult plumage must have visited Thule’s seat, the hotel Vier Jahreszeiten in the Maximilianstrasse.

Heinrich Himmler is known to have practised spiritism. His biographer, Peter Padfield, mentions that Himmler read a book, Der Spiritismus, around 1923 and that this book, according to his diary, “allowed him for the first time really to believe in spiritism”.678As Peter Levenda has it: “It was within the great dining hall with its round table [in the Wewelsburg] that Himmler and his inner Court of Twelve [Ober]gruppenführers would engage in mystic communication with the realm of the dead Teutons and perform other spiritist exercises.”679And Heinz Höhne writes in his book on the SS: “Himmler was continually entering into contact with the great men of the past. He believed he had the power to call up spirits and hold regular meetings with them, though only, as he told Kersten, with the spirits of men who had been dead for hundreds of years. When he was half-asleep, Himmler used to say, the spirit of King Heinrich [“the Fowler”, 875-936] would appear and give him valuable advice; [Himmler] often began with the words: ‘In this case King Heinrich would have acted as follows’. He became so obsessed with his hero that he gradually came to regard himself as the reincarnation of the King”.

When the Nazis came to power, they forbade all forms of occultism, and many of its practitioners were thrown into concentration camps. Himmler said to the astrologer Wilhelm Wulff, who towards the end of the war was asked to work for him: “I am sorry that I had to have you imprisoned, but I simply had to put a stop [no doubt on Hitler’s orders] to the public practice of astrology … In the National Socialist state astrology must remain a privilegium singulorum [privilege of the few]. It is not for the broad masses … We base our attitude on the fact that astrology, as a universalist doctrine, is diametrically opposed to our own philosophical view of the world … A doctrine which is meant to apply in equal measure to Negroes, Indians, Chinese and Aryans is in crass opposition to our conception of the racial soul.”680

Waiting for Godot

The coming of the Great Man who would redress the German Volk in its hour of humiliation and inner confusion, and lead it to glory, was an essential part of the German aspiration. “It was a time of prophets”, writes George Mosse, “of poetic seers; it was a time when only a charismatic seer seemed capable of ending the malaise of the intellectuals. Thus the intelligentsia looked to a heroic leader for release.” Once again “the most vivid image of this leader” was exemplified by Dürer’s knight, who “in the forbidding company of death and the devil, but tranquil and full of hope, rides toward the Holy Grail of Germany’s future”.681

We know about “the Strong One from Above”, a term Guido von List had borrowed from the Voluspa Edda and which became popular in völkisch-oriented milieus. The coming Strong One was generally associated with the legend of Frederick Barbarossa, who lay asleep in the Kyffhäuser mountain and would wake up in Germany’s destined hour. “The Strong One from Above became a stock phrase in all List’s subsequent references to the millennium. An ostensibly superhuman individual would end all human factions and confusion with the establishment of an eternal order. This divine dictator possessed particular appeal for those who lamented the uncertain nature of the industrial society. List eagerly anticipated the advent of this leader, whose monolithic world of certainties would fulfil the socio-political conditions of his national millennium.”682

“Many people in the postwar years were yearning for a Führer who would be hard and at the same time clever, who would establish order, impose discipline on the people, put a stop to the multi-party system, take the reins of the leadership in his own hands and know how to keep them there”, writes Sebastian Haffner, adding: “Hitler was indeed the fulfilment of the dreams of many Germans.”683

The Leader for whom the Germans were waiting did not yet have a face. Heinrich Class, the chairman of the Pan-Germans, had already written a chapter entitled “Waiting for the Leader” in his influential book If I Were the Emperor, published shortly before the war. There he wrote that an elite troop of eager combatants stood at the ready “to follow a decided leader with enthusiasm. But he keeps us waiting!” Yet he admonishes his readers: “Patience! Patience! He will not stay away much longer … The leader, when he appears, will be amazed how many loyal followers he has and how these valuable, selfless men stand by him. Are there people who have not yet heard the call of the leader? Then it must reverberate still louder, so that it may not remain unheard any longer!”684

“The whole of Germany waits only for one man.” (Karl Schworm) To most this man was not Adolf Hitler, and he was to many either the deposed Emperor William II, or one of the princes who had abdicated in November 1918. The Bavarian coup in November 1923 prepared by “the three vons”, representing the constitutional government, and which Hitler tried to hijack, was intended to restore the monarchy and put Crown Prince Rupprecht on the throne. Class himself was a candidate for the dictatorial leadership of the nation, as were Hugenberg and von Seeckt, although the most serious candidate, especially in the years 1924-25 when Hitler remained sidelined, was Erich Ludendorff, pushed on by his ambitious wife-to-be, Mathilde von Kemnitz. To all of them an imperial restoration was the chief aim. Even the Berlin “Club of the Barons”, who practically put Hitler in the saddle, hoped to be able to bring William back from Holland in due time, and it was because of this expectation that Paul von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg was called the “Ersatz Kaiser”, which might be translated as “emperor-ad-interim”. Hitler, then, was one among many men of destiny, at times well-nigh forgotten or written off, and always underestimated.

When at the beginning of 1920 Rudolf Hess heard Hitler speak for the first time, he was carried away. He would smilingly stare into the void and murmur “der Mann! der Mann!” (the man, the man). His wife would later say: “He was like a new person, alive, radiating, no longer silent and depressed. Something totally new, something tremendous must have happened to him.” Shortly afterwards a wealthy South American endowed a prize at Munich University for a thesis entitled “What must the man be like who will lead Germany back to its greatness?”. To Hess the expected Leader was no longer unknown, he had a face and a name: Adolf Hitler. He had heard “the man” with the thundering, mesmerizing voice; he had talked with him and knew that this was “the Strong One from Above”.

Hess participated in the competition and won. Among other things he wrote: “For the sake of national salvation the dictator does not shun to use the weapons of his enemy, demagogy, slogans, street parades, etc. Where all authority has vanished, only a man of the people can establish authority. This was shown in the case of Mussolini. The deeper the dictator was originally rooted in the broad masses, the better he understands how to treat them psychologically, the less the workers will distrust him, the more supporters he will win among these most energetic ranks of the people. He himself has nothing in common with the mass; like every great man, he is all personality … When necessity commands, he does not shrink before bloodshed. Great questions are always decided by blood and iron. And the question at stake is: shall we rise again or be destroyed … In order to reach his goal, he is prepared to trample on his closest friends … The law-giver proceeds with terrible hardness … One day we shall have our new, Greater Germany, embracing all those who are of German blood…”685

The man who actually proclaimed Hitler “the Führer” was Dietrich Eckart. After having become acquainted with Hitler, he published on 5 December 1919 in his magazine In Plain German a poem entitled Geduld (patience). In this poem he stated that the unknown, expected Leader was to some people not unknown anymore, although he was still “a nameless one, whom everybody feels but none has seen”. He bade his time, “the hero on whom we build”. Patience, patience, “he” was there and would soon make himself known. Significantly, Eckart would publish this poem a second time on 25 August 1921 in the Völkischer Beobachter, the NSDAP paper of which he was the editor, after Hitler had demanded and been assigned dictatorial powers in the Party thanks to the intervention of Eckart.

Heinrich Himmler would later say: “[Hitler] came to us in our deepest need, when there was no longer a future for the German people. He belongs to the great Beings of Light who always arise among the Germans when they find themselves in the deepest physical, mental and spiritual need. Goethe was such a being in the realm of the mind and Bismarck in the political field, but the Führer is such a being in all fields: political, cultural and military. He is predestined by the karma of Germanhood to wage the war against the East in order to save the Germanhood in the world. One of the greatest Beings of Light has found its incarnation in him.”686Himmler had the term “Being of Light” from Houston Chamberlain, who had proclaimed Hitler to be such a being after meeting him in 1923.

Another of the Führer’s paladins, Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister, described his Leader still on 31 December 1944 as follows: “He is the greatest among the personalities who are making history today, and he stands far ahead of them in the prevision of things to come. [By then the Russians were already deep in Germany and their Allies stood on its Western border.] He surpasses them not only in genius and political instinct, but also in knowledge, character and will power … He passes his days and a great part of his sleepless nights in the circle of his closer and closest collaborators, but stands nevertheless, even among them, in the icy loneliness of the genius, soaring triumphantly above all and everything. Never a word of falsehood or baseness crosses his lips. He is Truth itself. One only has to be in his vicinity to feel physically how much power he irradiates, how strong he is and how much strength he communicates to others. From him an uninterrupted flow of faith and emphatic will power carries us to greatness.”687

These are expressions of the full-blown Führer myth. A Great Man had once more been given to Germany at a time of direst need and was leading the Volk to its destined glory as masters of the world. This great man was a genius, seer, hero and modern dragon slayer, achiever of age-old dreams, prophet, and the mystic saviour of the Volk in possession of magic powers for the consummation of his mission. “Words of the Führer replace the prayers, the National Socialist morning drill replaces the mass. The picture of the Führer with the swastika replaces Christ on his cross. Instead of the Old and New Testament there is Mein Kampf and The Myth of the Twentieth Century; instead of processions there are marches with the swastika as mystic symbol; instead of the Christian caritas as a private initiative there is the state-organized Winterhilfe [assistance to poor people, especially in winter] as ‘Church of the deed’. The ‘divine mission’ of the Führer seems to have been more than a gimmick for the supernatural glorification of the regime and the unbridled expansion of its power, for there are unmistakable indications that Hitler took himself for the Messiah.”688

Hitler was considered the intermediary between the Volk and God, writes Scholdt. “Solemnly he strides / in silence through his brown army / as a priest who blesses / the germinating seeds.” However, Hitler was much more than the high priest of Germany: he was the Saviour sent by God, the instrument and executor of the divine intervention. “The Führer commands: it is God’s will.” A poem addressed to Hitler’s (late) mother has the line: “It is the Saviour you have borne for our people.”689Altars with Hitler as the deity could be seen in many homes; people whose hand he had touched did not wash it for weeks and were treated as saints in their villages; pilgrims to the Obersalzberg treasured a pebble on which his foot had stood; roses, streets, squares, church bells, villages and children were named or re-named after him, and the Chancellery in Berlin had often to intervene in order to separate the reverential from the ridiculous.

Hitler himself stimulated the crescendo of his popularity into adulation, veneration and deification. “Especially in speeches to his old followers, after a period of silence in memory of the dead, he frequently fell into a tone of total rapture; in strange phrases he held a kind of mystic communion until the searchlights were lowered to strike the middle of the arena and flags, uniforms, and band instruments flashed red, silver and gold. ‘I have always felt’, he cried in 1937, ‘that a man, as long as life is given to him, ought to yearn for those with whom he shaped his life. For what would my life be without all of you! That you found me long ago and that you believed in me has given our lives a new meaning, posed a new task. That I have found you is what has made my life and my struggle possible!’

“A year before he had cried to the same assemblage: ‘At this hour do we not again feel the miracle that has brought us together! Long ago you heard the voice of a man, and it struck your hearts, it awakened you and you followed this voice. You followed it for years without so much as having seen him whose voice it was; you heard only a voice, and you followed. When we meet here we are all filled with the wondrousness of this coming together. Not every one of you can see me, and I cannot see every one of you. But I feel you and you feel me! It is faith in our nation that has made us small people great, that has made us poor people rich, that has made us vacillating, dispirited, anxious people brave and courageous; that has made us who had gone astray able to see, and that has joined us together.’”690

And so it came to happen that little German children prayed, kneeling by the side of their beds: “I fold my hands and bow my head / and think of Adolf Hitler / who gives us work and bread / and saves us from every need.” The star in the top of the Christmas tree was replaced by an illumined swastika. And the most intimate of the Christmas songs was nazified into: “Silent night, holy night / All are asleep, but one stands guard / Adolf Hitler over Germany’s fate / He leads us to greatness, glory and happiness.”691

A New Human Being

In the insecurity and confusion caused by the vortex of change, the longing for a meaning which would make life worthwhile was accompanied by a feeling that a new world, a new golden age was in the making. At the “historical juncture”, the Zeitbruch around 1880, the idea, not to say the need, of a new human being can be found everywhere in the expectations of thinkers, poets and artists receptive to the ambience of the times. The anticipation of a higher being with the capacities to create new values and a new world is one of the most striking signs of a fundamental change in the times.

The most perspicacious interpreter of this time-hinge period in which he was living, was Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). So insightful were many of his perceptions that they would remain sources of inspiration for many philosophers throughout the twentieth century and up to the present day. When reading some of his exegetes, one is surprised by the extent to which Nietzsche’s personality is seen as detached from the Germany in which he had grown up – the background outlined in the previous chapters of our story. This is, needless to say, in direct contradiction with one of the pillars of the Nietzschean thinking: “perspectivism”, which states that any event and any being is determined by and dependent on the circumstances in which it comes about, that it is shaped by the flow of time or history in which it exists.

In Nietzsche’s writing we find, therefore, the main themes of the völkisch thought, some of them confirmed, others rebuked. His famous saying that “God is dead” means – this is often misunderstood – that the image of the Christian God has lost its general acceptance in the West. It means, as Nietzsche writes in The Gay Science, “that the belief in the Christian God has ceased to be believable”. This, according to Nietzsche, who wrote that book in 1882, is “the greatest recent event”. He considered “the Christian conception of God one of the most corrupt conceptions of God arrived at on earth”, mainly because it turned the fulfilment of life away from the earth toward a fictional hereafter. The death of the Christian God is for Nietzsche “the cardinal event of modern history and of the contemporary world, the ghost that looms behind his every important thought”.692What this pronouncement meant fundamentally was that the European Middle Ages, with their Christian civilization, were coming to an end.

As a thinker and critic of the formerly established but now disintegrating values, religious and moral, Nietzsche could not disregard the Enlightenment which claimed the superiority of reason. In general, he had the highest regard for the philosophes, knowing from his own experience what it took to formulate an unarticulated perception and to fight for one’s convictions on the battlefields of the mind. “Every smallest step in the field of free thinking, and of the personally formed life, has ever been fought for at the cost of mental and physical tortures.” He himself suffered continuously from migraines, bad eyesight and paralysis progressiva. “Change has required its innumerable martyrs … Nothing has been bought more dearly than that little bit of human reason and sense of freedom that is now the basis of our pride.”693Nietzsche also gave special importance to France and its “cultural superiority over Europe”, as opposed to what he called the German backwardness, heaviness and shallowness.

What Nietzsche could not accept was the monopoly or autocracy of reason. He sharply and repeatedly attacked Socrates, according to him the thinker responsible for the reverence assigned to the mind in European civilization. He called autonomous thought a deadly illness, and opposed to Apollo, the god of light and clarity, the wholeness and wholesomeness of Dionysus and the frenzied Dionysian experience. Socratic thought, said Nietzsche, was the source of Christian morality, in other words of the weakness and degradation at the roots of the Christian civilization, and responsible for its degradation and certain extinction. (Oswald Spengler, author of The Decline of the West, has been called “Nietzsche’s monkey”.) As the pathfinder of a new way Nietzsche thought of himself as an incarnation of the god Dionysus come to fight the shadow left by the dead Christian God, and as Zarathustra come to bring the new “evangel” of the superman.

As Nietzsche saw it, the mind was part of a whole consisting of the life-forces, bundled in a “will to power”. In this he made the disastrous mistake – for mind and life and matter are part of a greater, encompassing whole – which exalted him into the patron saint of the vitalist movements, including Fascism in general and Nazism in particular. As J.P. Stern has it, according to Nietzsche “life cannot be defined: to define it would be to subordinate it to reason, its servant. This logical conundrum turned out to have most disreputable consequences. It was handed down to Nietzsche from Schopenhauer, and from Nietzsche to Alfred Rosenberg, to Ernst Jünger in the twenties, Gottfried Benn in the early thirties, and a host of other influential German authors.”694

Nietzsche had a profound disdain for the masses, one of the new social phenomena of the times. It seems that he never thought beyond the rise of the bourgeoisie, “the third estate” which carried the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, and was therefore hindered by a blind spot to mark the rise of the fourth estate, the proletariat. Socialism, Marxism and their masses remained beyond his ken. He was an out-and-out individualist who saw in self-mastery, the effort of “self-overcoming”, the means of growth into a higher being. This was the manner in which the world, as a perfected aesthetic phenomenon, would become totally satisfactory. “Attacking the fashionable idea of progress, he argued that ‘the goal of humanity’ must lie ‘in its highest specimens’, and these may occur, and recur, in every age.”695For a vision in the Swiss mountains of Engadin had revealed to him that all things happen again eternally, in exactly the same fashion, and this filled him, strangely, with a kind of mystic exaltation. The value of Nietzsche, however, does not lie in the consistency of his philosophical system, which he never intended and even wholeheartedly despised, but in the depth of his insights which continue reverberating to this day.

“All creatures hitherto have created something beyond themselves: and do you want to be the ebb of this great tide, and return to the animals rather than overcome man? What is the ape to men? A laughing-stock or a painful embarrassment. And just so shall man be to the superman.”696No doubt, Nietzsche knew Darwin; Walter Kaufmann even mentions that the young Nietzsche “was aroused from his dogmatic [Protestant] slumber by Darwin”. Yet, although Nietzsche accepted the possibility of transcending a given natural state, he was “consistently hostile” to Darwinism because it was a theory of chance, numbers and pure matter, which left no place for his staunch individualism, for the effort of self-overcoming and the will to power. “The single man alone is the bestower of values … The only absolute imperative a man should obey is that of his inward potential: whatever it is given to a man to become, that should indicate the direction, and be the goal, of his intense striving, his will.”697Nietzschean evolution, in the human species at least, was a matter of individuals striving for greatness, not of races struggling for a momentary superiority on earth.

Another important tie of Nietzsche with the period in which he lived was his relationship with Richard Wagner. “His identity was so bound up with Wagner that it might collapse if they separated”, writes Carl Pletsch.698When Wagner died, Nietzsche wrote in a letter: “Wagner was by far the fullest man I have ever known.” His music “seeped into the being of its listeners and transformed them from within. Nothing in the history of music was so daring in composition and so seeringly accurate and dangerously effective in conveying the power and nature of the human Machtgefühl [feeling of power]. Wagner’s music was an extraordinary elemental embodiment of will.” (Lesley Chamberlain699)

All the same, Nietzsche broke with Wagner when the latter became too reichsdeutsch, too much accepted, and enjoying the acceptance, by the German nationalist and conservative elite, which was riding on its wave of pride and superiority after the victory over France in 1871 and the foundation of the German nation. “‘German’ has become an argument, Deutschland, Deutschland über alles a principle; the Teutons represent the ‘moral world-order’”, wrote Nietzsche indignantly. “There is now a historiography that is reichsdeutsch; there is even, I fear, an anti-Semitic one … and Herr von Treitschke is not ashamed.”700Wagner’s, and therefore Bayreuth’s, virulent anti-Semitism was another element inimical to Nietzsche’s feelings, who was convinced that a mixture of races would be beneficial to humanity, and proud to be an anti-anti-Semite.

It was against this background that Nietzsche’s idea of the superman took shape. It is worth noting that commentators from Walter Kaufmann onwards have become aware that “superman” is not the correct, and in fact a misleading, translation of Übermensch. A “superman” could be something like an aggrandizement of existing man, while Übermensch clearly suggests a being beyond existing man, not inflated, but on a higher level and different. Kaufmann and others use the term “overman”, which is the literal translation of Übermensch; Philip Novak, also annoyed with the word “superman”, still uses it, but along with “higher man”.701 Awareness of these nuances may prevent misunderstandings of a word, idea and ideal which, in the wake of Nietzsche’s fame, will appear in practically all contemporary writings at the time of the dizzying turn the world was taking into – maybe – a very different and better future.

“The superman is the future of the world” stated Nietzsche. “I teach you the superman”, said his Zarathustra. “Man is something that should be overcome … Man is a rope fastened between animal and superman – a rope over an abyss … This is the great noontide: when man stands at the middle of his course between animal and superman … All gods are dead; now we want the superman to live.” And in On the Genealogy of Morals, he wrote: “This man of the future, who will redeem us not only from the hitherto reigning ideal but also from that which was bound to grow out of it, the great nausea, the will to nothingness, nihilism; this bell-stroke of noon and of the great decision that liberates the will again and restores its goal to the earth and his hope to man, this Antichrist and anti-nihilist; this victor over God and nothingness: he must come one day.”702

What kind of being would Nietzsche’s superman be? Stern has composed an outline of his character from Also sprach Zarathustra: “The superman is open towards the world and its vicissitudes; trusts in others and in chance; in him the cardinal vices of lust, greed for power and egoism are transformed into positive values; and he is in love with the earth, with his own fate, with his own life, and ready to sacrifice that life for life as lived by those who are open to the world and its vicissitudes … Based on the premise of a Godless world, the superman embodies the enhancement of man’s untrammelled will to power under the quasi-religious dispensation of ‘the eternal recurrence of the same’.”703Alas, all this does not tell us much. It is difficult, if not impossible, to envision a being higher than oneself. An approximation may be found in the way in which humans have imagined their gods and other supernatural beings to be. Nietzsche himself projected on to or within himself a being at times like Zarathustra, and in his ultimate crisis like what he supposed to be the god Dionysus. But trying to overpass the mind is a dangerous wager for human beings and must, for those who persevere, end in a consciousness as reported by the great yogis – or, if things go wrong, in madness.

As Nietzsche’s ideal of the superman reflected the intuition and yearning of the time, and as Germany was ever more powerfully impelled to national as well as cultural superiority, it was inevitable that the superman would be hijacked by the nationalist movement and be understood to be a Darwinistic Aryan. This was completely incongruous with Nietzsche’s thought. But it was not difficult to choose many of his sharper sayings and, omitting the context, put them at the service of the völkisch convictions.

The main culprit in this art of thought laundering was Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth. In 1885 she married, to Nietzsche’s indignation, the militant anti-Semite Bernhard Förster and followed him to found a Teutonic colony in Paraguay, Nueva Germania. The aim of this colony, one of the many utopian communes of the time, was to preserve at least a handful of German Aryans from miscegenation, in order that the race might survive in some of its purest specimens and eventually be renewed by them. The colony soon succumbed to internal troubles, but some descendants still survive in the original location. In 1934 Elisabeth would receive the Chancellor of the German Reich, Adolf Hitler, at the Nietzsche Archives in Weimar with a flashy right arm salute, and create the occasion for a photo session of Hitler with the bust of Friedrich Nietzsche, symbolizing the philosophical tradition of Nazism.

Nietzsche’s superman was not the only new human being expected by Germans. There was also, for instance, the “Ario-Germanic god-man” of Guido von List. This god-man was supposed to be the present-day successor of a long line of “heirs of the sun-king” going back all the way to Atlantis: the Armanen. The Atlantidians were supposed to have been a divine race. The line of carriers of their secret knowledge and powers had never been interrupted and was surfacing again today. They would be instrumental in creating the future, for List “saw as the culminating point of the universal development the Ario-Germanic god-man”.704

Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke writes: “The myth of an occult elite is not new in European ideology. It has been a perennial theme of post-Enlightenment occultism, which attempts to restore the certainties and security of religious orthodoxy within a sectarian context … The hidden elite confers an unaccountable authority upon the visible representatives of the cult. The imaginary priest-kings of the past similarly endorsed List’s claims to secret knowledge and special authority. At the same time, the putative existence of a modern Armanenschaft suggested to believers that the golden age might be soon restored, and that Germany and Austria would be united in a theocratic pan-German realm, wherein non-German interests would play no part. Within thirty-five years this vision was instituted as the foreign policy of the Third Reich.”705

The well-read Dietrich Eckart was familiar with List’s publications, a fact which we find confirmed in Ralph Reuth’s Hitler biography, and communicated this knowledge, along with much more, to his Austrian pupil. There is also the testimony of a Munich librarian that Hitler borrowed List’s books, and Brigitte Hamann mentions several occasions on which he used Listian language.706Intriguing, moreover, is the following fact: “In Hitler’s partially surviving personal library, there is a book by Tagore on nationalism with a handwritten dedication on the occasion of his 1921 birthday: ‘To Mr Adolf Hitler, my dear Armanist Brother, B. Steininger’. Babette Steininger has been identified as an early member of the Nazi Party in Munich.” And Hamann cogitates: “This could be an indication that Hitler had contacts with a secret organization connected with List”, adding: “The word ‘Armanist’ could also be meant generally, to stress Hitler’s high rank within the ‘Germanic’ hierarchy.”707

The “Aryan god-man” of Jörg Lanz von Liebenfels resembles in the main List’s superhuman ideal. We remember Lanz depiction of the conquest of the globe by this superior being. “Through the trampling down and eradication of the primitives and the subhumans, the higher, heroic race arises from the tomb of racial mixture and degeneration, and climbs up to godmanhood, to immortality and divinity in root and race”, wrote Lanz. “Then the blond, high bred gods walk on the earth: the races are separated again, the obstacles are eliminated. Then there is heaven on earth. And the blonds know whom to thank for that heaven: gods and goddesses with the sun in their hair and heaven in their eyes, eternally healthy and eternally young shall praise the Great Mother who suffered all for them.”708We saw in an earlier chapter that Lanz imagined a future order which ressembled the SS much more than what List expected, including a holocaust of the subhumans.

Another announcer of the superman was the novelist Karl May, Hitler’s favourite author. In Hamann we find that May, then seventy years of age and famous, gave a talk in Vienna on 22 March 1912 with the title: “Up toward the Reign of the Noble-man”, if this is how Edelmensch should be translated. The auditorium which could hold three thousand was full up to the last seat. May, a Protestant Christian, was fascinated by the East, occultism and magical powers. “A real great writer could not have been greeted more tumultuously and enthusiastically”, a reporter wrote. “May has always been striving towards the heights, towards a free spirited kingdom of the noble-man. He calls himself alternately a soul, a drop of water in the ocean, and especially a spiritual aviator … The most remarkable in his discourse is the seriousness, the pathetically real enthusiasm which has something of religious enthusiasm.” Karl May had given shape to his idea of the superman in Old Shatterhand, the embodiment of German superiority in action, and in Winnetou, the Apache, who was the “masterpiece” of a German professor and emigrant, Klekih-petra. Young Hitler, then wayward and poor in a Viennese men’s hostel, was present at May’s talk and was “immeasurably enthusiastic”, according to an anonymous witness.709


“The part of Munich called Schwabing is at that time a hotbed of the most different groups. Theosophists, mystics, Gnostics, Taoists, Mazdaists, Buddhists, Neo-Buddhists, Zionists, nihilists, trade-unionists, Bolsheviks and pacifists: all are searching for an explanation of the historical occurrences and looking for disciples”, writes Peter Orzechowski, who omits a few – anthroposophists, spiritists, black magicians – as it is impossible to remember them all.710Besides, Orzechowski enumerates only philosophical, religious and occult groups, while in Schwabing these were intermingling with writers, poets and artists, among whom were some of the very greatest then alive. This colourful mixture of all expressions and explorations of the human spirit has lead many commentators on that period to stick the label “bohemian” on Schwabing, which is as misleading as calling Dietrich Eckart a comical, half-crazed poet. For sure, the whole fauna of the bohemian scene was present at Schwabing, but the place, like Montmartre and Ascona, was one of the cultural centres of Europe were the future was prepared and the remnants of the past put to the test.

These were “good times for religion, good times for prophets, gurus and saviours who claim being able to bring order in the chaos by simple truths”.711Such types were also present in Schwabing, for instance Rudolf Pannwitz, whose book German Teaching was intended as a prophecy and a charter for the religion of a new Europe. He was “a prophet of the Hyperboreans” who filled more than four hundred pages with admonitions, commands and exhortations, all of them beginning with “the Spirit of your God speaks as follows”, and whose new religion would contain the knowledge and love of all past and present religions. And there was Ludwig Derleth, “the Prophet of Schwabing”, who wanted to clean up and reform the Church, and found a new theocracy in which he himself would hold the highest office. He wanted to reactivate a militant and heroic Christianity and to revive the original Christian values in a degraded world. His Christian elite troops, living under the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, would follow the example of the Sufi order of the Assassins, of the Knights Templar and of the Jesuits, and wage a holy war against the mob, the democratic ways of the modern world, the nation state, the market economy, and a Christian Church which had torn itself from its roots. Conquest of Europe, subjugation of the world and the foundation of a global dictatorship would be the ultimate objectives of Derleth’s legions.712

And there was also “The Cosmic Circle”, often called “the Cosmics” or “the Enormous”, a small but qualitatively significant group. The Cosmics, according to David Clay Large, wanted to rejuvenate a calcified and too much intellectually shaped modern world through a renaissance of paganism. Their common points, however much they may have differed on others, were again the rejection of industrial modernity, liberal rationalism, parliamentarian democracy and orthodox Christianity. They had an inclination toward mysticism and occultism. They wanted to gain access to higher states of consciousness by penetrating into the hidden, dark parts of the human personality, following as their guides Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Johann Bachofen. Those who mastered such perilous paths would become a new kind of supermen. The efforts of the Cosmics, writes Large, showed “a fascinating mixture of unconditional absolutism, hunger for great solutions, hero worship and readiness for sacrifice in the name of a fundamental purification and salvation”. When Thomas Mann looked back half a century later on his brief contact with them, he located the roots of the German catastrophe in these milieus of an all-absorbing feeling of superiority.713

Spiritist séances were common practice in Schwabing. When studying that period through some of its representatives “it is possible to sense that very special climate”, namely “a vivid religious interest but very critical towards the teaching of the established Churches, and seeking for an alternative transcendence of mystical and occult inspiration”, writes Hildegard Châtellier. In her study of the Munich poet Hanns von Gumppenberg, who wrote a play called The Spiritists as early as 1885, and who faithfully noted down the instructions of his spirit guide Geben, she finds once more the awareness of a new turn to take, together with the will to overcome the pure rationalism inherited from the Enlightenment and to go beyond the traditional religious forms. What counts is the unity of all that exists. “God is pure spirit; but as matter exists, his creation demands the perfection of God.” The unity of all existence implies also “a continuity between all forms of life; the world, in this manner, represents a hierarchical system consisting of many tiers, and there is an uninterrupted concatenation of the spirits, the human beings, the animals, the plants, and matter. Life does not end with death, for after death the soul continues its evolution in a succession of supra-terrestrial worlds. The earth and humanity are part of the cosmic whole.”714

The dictations Gumppenberg received from his spirit mentor seem almost classical in their genre. The spiritist séances in the Cosmic Circle were much more violent, bordering on the demoniac and sometimes overstepping these borders. This does not mean that the Cosmics were crazy nitwits. Karl Wolfskehl was a renowned professor of German literature at Munich and Heidelberg (where Joseph Goebbels was one of his admirers); Alfred Schuler was a propagator of Nietzschean ideas, flavoured according to his own recipe, and an habitué at the Bruckmann salon, frequented by Rilke and other celebrities (and soon by Adolf Hitler); and Ludwig Klages would write The Mind as the Opponent of the Soul, a book of lasting interest (and he would join the Nazis). And for a while, during his stay in Munich, there was Stefan George, whose contact with the Cosmics nearly proved fatal.

Schuler, involved in black magic, was always in search of spiritist mediums who, he imagined, would effect a new breakthrough of the cosmic powers which had been repressed by patriarchal, mammonist and rationalist forces. To this end, he tried to force into collaboration the soul of Stefan George, then already reputed as a poet, during a “Roman” feast in which all the participants would dress up and endeavour to act like Romans. The feast took place in Schuler’s house and soon turned into a spiritist séance, during which George grew more and more excited and showed all signs of becoming possessed. He would confess afterwards that he had been suffering for a long time from the consequences of “the poisoned magic of that nightly session”. George managed to distance himself from the Cosmics and founded his own group, “The George Circle”.

“A Devil or a God”

About this circle, Peter Aschheim writes: “The Georgekreis was a circle of disciples and initiates, a sect without formal or obligatory statutes, but which was completely centred upon its master. Although small changes kept taking place in the inner circle, the number of members of this ‘secret Germany’ never exceeded forty. In spite of this small number the circle became an example of a cultural elite and had an enormous influence on the anti-establishment poetry, literary science and historical writing.”715This circle displayed indeed all the characteristics of a sect or a cult. The first contact with it was felt to be a decisive turnabout in life, a new birth. The choice of the disciples depended exclusively on the master, who acted in all respects as the guru. There were initiation tests and the admission was sealed with a holy oath. And the selected few were given a new name by the master, who alone knew who actually belonged to the circle and who did not.

The centre of all that was Stefan George (1868-1933), a generally appreciated poet whose fame in those days surpassed that even of Rainer Maria Rilke. “It has been said that all young Germans of the 1920’s were influenced by Stefan George, whether or not they had ever heard his name or read a single line he had written.”716

From his words, spoken unobtrusively low,

A domination emanates and a seduction;

The empty air he makes to circle and enclose you,

And he can kill without having to touch.717

George was indeed considered a god by some, a devil by others. One person “confessed having experienced for the first time in George’s presence what the divine actually is”, another “had the impression of a terrible, demonic, earth and world perturbing force of nature”.718“While regarded as the greatest German-language poet of the age … he was also revered as a prophet and a magus, a magisterial ‘guru’ and oracle presiding over an elite hand-picked cadre of intellectual and cultural initiates who ‘stood in awe of him’ as one might of a high priest. In Berlin, Munich and Heidelberg he held court to a small circle of the brightest, most imaginative and dynamic young men in Germany – the hope, as he saw them, of the country’s future. From this cenacle, he issued his often arcane and enigmatic pronouncements, and published the cryptic verse that became a cultural beacon to a generation.”719

George Mosse sketches Stefan George as follows: “He seriously believed in his role as a poet-seer, as a herald of change. To him it seemed that poetry was the most suitable vehicle for describing the tragic conditions of the times, which, he thought, could be alleviated only through the strength and determination of a leader. Poetry struck at the heart of the matter and was, at the same time, impartial and uncommitted to any particular political solution. Above all, a poet was not limited by the seeming fatalism of materialistic, historicist or realistic considerations. He was above them. He was in direct touch with the pulse of the nation. In this framework it was logical that the poet should stride forth as the new prophet.”720

In the George circle there was no place for women, it was a Männerbund, exclusive male territory. For this reason and his sanctification of a boy, Maximin, George and his disciples were suspected of homosexuality, although some students of his life deny the accusation. Such male bonding was a “normal” part of the personalities of the circle, all deeply embedded in the contemporary environment, as was their reaction against modernity, intellectuality and the democracy of the masses. Another typical, darkly foreboding element of the George cult were “the fantasies of omnipotence and the death wishes which played such an important part among the Georgeans”. Considering the number of suicides and of untimely deaths in the circle “one is almost inclined to speak of a death urge” among them.721In those days, the Knights Templar and the Hospitallers rode between Death and the Devil side by side with the knight etched by Dürer.

“George concentrated on defining the need for an elite leadership – which did not preclude the emergence of a single leader. Instead of the image of the single knight George promoted the concept of the ‘order’, such as the Knights Templar of the Crusades. The eschatological urge was strong in him, for he sincerely believed that solutions would eventually be found. The coming century was to be the age of the elite, not of the masses. It would be an era in which great personalities would impress their image, creativity, and accomplishments upon the face of society and culture. George saw these new personalities as representing both godliness and manliness and possessing extraordinary powers of will … Among his disciples, all with dispositions similar to his own, was the core of the elite.” (George Mosse722) They embodied the true soul of Germany. He called this true soul “das geheime Deutschland”, secret Germany.

Claus von Stauffenberg

Times of extremes often produce remarkable personalities trying to bridge the extremes. In our story Stefan George would be no more than one of the exceptional Germans above the masses of average people if from his circle there had not issued Claus Schenck von Stauffenberg (1907-1944), the driving force behind the attempt on Hitler’s life on 22 July 1944. “I had the greatest poet of the age as my master”, said Stauffenberg proudly. His inspiration for a daring undertaking, which he knew could cost him his life, were George’s ideals, and after the attempt had misfired and Stauffenberg was put up against a wall, his last words echoing within that courtyard on the Bendlerstrasse were: “Es lebe das geheime Deutschland”, long live Secret Germany – a Germany of greatness, not of murder, destruction and death.

Claus von Stauffenberg met George in 1924, a year after his two brothers had been accepted into the circle. “This meeting and the relationship that developed were to be among the most influential experiences of his youth, and – occurring at a formative age – were to shape his development, his attitudes, his values, his entire Weltanschauung from then on.”723Claus had all the characteristics of the ideal George disciple: he was an aristocrat, very much conscious of this status; he was tall and good-looking, resembling the fine medieval statue The Bamberger Reiter, the Knight of Bamberg, in the cathedral of this town; he was intelligent and talented; and he had an extraordinary will power.

To George and his disciples, poetry was more than a noble pass-time; it was a way of fullest existence and a means of knowledge and power. “The poet should not replace the political Leader but prepare him”, wrote Wolfskehl, a member of the George Circle. “He should tune the German soul to the global will, revealed through him; he should provide her with the grace of her second wedding and prepare her for the break of dawn when the youth of the new fatherland feels its ardent unity amidst the clanging of their formerly deep buried weapons.” “The poet as leader”: in this slogan was manifested not so much the claim of the George circle to exert political leadership as the mission which would consist in leading the Leader.724

George’s disciples “were to be the custodians of Germany’s future, an exclusive and elite cadre meticulously nurtured and honed for the task of leadership. The training and refinement of this cadre was something George regarded as a mission, a sacred duty, a discharging of his own personal responsibility to Germany – and, beyond Germany, to humanity as a whole, to the life of the spirit, to the cosmos and whatever gods or governing principles presided over it.”725

His also had to be mystical warriors, soldiers of the spirit engaged on a spiritual crusade. In this respect they were heirs to the knights in George’s poem “Templars” (from which the motto of our present chapter is chosen) – of course not those of Lanz von Liebenfels’ Order of the New Templars, but the medieval high-minded, spiritual warriors ready to sacrifice everything for their ideals and the protection of others. “The latter-day ‘Templars’ George gathered around him comprised for him an unique kind of nobility and aristocracy of the spirit, not unlike that extolled a few years earlier by Nietzsche and a few years later by D.H. Lawrence … It was for this nobility, for the sources of their inspiration and for what they were expected to achieve, that the words ‘Secret Germany’ were first employed … George, unlike Nietzsche, did not choose to be alone; it was the heart of his method to build a secret empire for the sake of the new Reich to come … It was an elitist programme pushed to the very limits of elitism; the secret Germany was a club to which new members were elected and for which they were trained, one by one.”726

Claus von Stauffenberg chose to serve his fatherland in the armed forces. One of his subordinates remembered later: “I was extraordinarily impressed by Stauffenberg’s personality. He seemed to me the ideal of an officer … He was a man possessed of natural authority.” He was also “universally recognized as the single most brilliant and promising young officer in the entire Wehrmacht … One of his colleagues observed: ‘What surprised me was the manner in which those who surpassed him in rank recognized his natural superiority and yielded to it’. In view of one of his commanders, he was ‘the only German staff officer of genius’. Heinz Guderian, the mastermind of German armoured warfare and architect of its panzer formations and the Blitzkrieg, was soon to put Stauffenberg’s name forward as most likely candidate for Chief of the General Staff.”727

Then Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. “George had always decreed that politics were alien to art – and, by extension, inimical to the life of the spirit and to the very essence of humanity itself. His attitude towards the Nazis, however, sometimes appeared inconsistent, and this allowed a few members of his circle to support them … Ultimately, George was hostile to the new regime … George’s sometimes equivocal disapproval did not deter the Nazis from hailing him as a spiritual precursor and trying to co-opt him, much as they did Nietzsche.”728

Resurgence and greatness of a new German Reich, leading to a new world and a new man; the fulfilment of the Führer expectation; the redress of alleged injustices by the morally and culturally inferior victors of 1918; ostentation of strength and will power; rituals and music which made the German innards vibrate – National Socialism had everything to allure national, conservative and traditional Germany, including the idealists, who were much more influenced by all these notions than they themselves realized. Hitler masterly conducted his revolutionary movement to exploit these elements in the mentality of the German population, and few escaped the spell of the music of this Pied Piper.

“Thus a generation of young men and women could be duped with a readiness that now appears both inexplicable and culpable. Yet had not Nazism evolved as it did, and culminated in the horrors that have seared themselves into our collective consciousness, its appeal would have been considerable today, not just to louts and skinheads, but to the literate, the thoughtful, the well-educated, the artistically inclined … A number of the future conspirators … found elements in National Socialism they felt they could endorse. So, too, could certain members of Stefan George’s circle.” Claus von Stauffenberg would say: “Hitler is capable of putting into words certain basic and genuine ideas which could lead to a spiritual revival. As a result both the idealistic and the high-minded might indirectly be attracted to him.” According to one of his friends, Stauffenberg “ was stirred by the magnetism this man was able to generate, and by his vehemence which made what seemed impossible in a stagnant world suddenly appear feasible … [Stauffenberg] had initially been quite impressed by Hitler’s accomplishments … By the time I met Stauffenberg, however, he had already become thoroughly alarmed over what was taking place”.729

The falling of the scales from his eyes happened gradually. The iron-fisted totalitarianism, the vulgar and systematic suppression of the Jews, the never ceasing flood of blatant propaganda, the black side of Hitler and his paladins, the arrogance and ruthlessness of the SS, the atmosphere of suspicion and fear – it all looked more and more ominous to those who managed to keep their head an inch above the water. Revealing steps in their growing awareness were “the beheading of the SA” in what is called “the Night of the Long Knives” in 1934, and in 1938 what Nazi humour called the Kristallnacht, the night of shattering crystal, but what was in fact the biggest pogrom in German history. Stauffenberg was “mortified”.

In 1941, Stauffenberg was horribly wounded in Africa when a P-40 strafed his staff car. “He was found half-conscious beside his overturned, burnt out and shell-pocked vehicle. His injuries were appalling. His left eye had been hit by a bullet, his right seriously damaged as well. His right forearm and hand had been virtually shot away, as had two fingers on his left. One knee was badly wounded and his back and legs were pitted with shrapnel … While the surgeons laboured over him, he adamantly refused all pain-killing drugs, all soporifics, anaesthetics and sedatives. Even the Gestapo report speaks admiringly of the great will-power with which he embarked on his recovery … To an uncle who visited him at the hospital he confided that his survival had not been coincidental; his life, mutilated though it might now be, had been spared for some specific purpose, some ordained design.”730

Stauffenberg reached the conclusion that Hitler had to die, this in spite of his own moral principles, his code of honour and the oath of allegiance to Hitler he had sworn as an officer. There was no longer an alternative. “I know that he who acts will go down in German history as a traitor; but he who can and does not will be a traitor to his conscience. If I did not act to stop this senseless killing, I should never be able to face the war’s widows and orphans.” For now it was no longer a matter of the killing of a hundred persons whom Hitler disliked, or of a thousand Jews caught at random, but of hundreds of thousands of German soldiers, people of other nations, and of the systematic genocide of the Jews. In Stauffenberg’s position as a staff officer he could not but know about this, even if he did not know all of it. “Stauffenberg was the acknowledged leader of the conspiracy, the figure to whom everyone turned for guiding force and strength of resolve.”

General Henning von Tresckow, one of the chief conspirators, is reported to have said: “The assassination must be attempted at all costs. Even if it should not succeed, an attempt to seize power in Berlin must be undertaken. What matters now is no longer the practical purpose of the coup, but to prove to the world and for the records of history that the men of the resistance movement dared to take this decisive step. Compared to this objective, nothing else is of consequence.”731Who wanted to stand up to Hitler had to put his life on the line, there was no other way since he had been handed the power on 30 January 1933. Even one week before that day Hitler could have been pushed into the dustbin of history; from that day onward the fate of Germany was sealed.

How many attempts have there been on Hitler’s life? Will Berthold has published a book about Die 42 Attentate auf Adolf Hitler¸ others say there have been more than 46. The fact is that Hitler survived all of them, often in the most incredible way as if he was forewarned or protected. The Stauffenberg attempt on 20 July 1944 affected him more badly than officially acknowledged, and from that day onward his health will decline rapidly. After meeting with him, Goebbels noted in his diary that Hitler “was firmly decided to set a bloody example”, and that in the weeks since the coup “he had been almost exclusively occupied with planning his revenge”.732It was on Hitler’s orders that the surviving conspirators, including a field-marshal and several high-ranking generals, were hanged with piano strings instead of ropes, thus being slowly strangled, and that the proceedings were filmed so that he could watch and enjoy them at his villa on the Obersalzberg. The killing of other conspirators, accomplices, suspected accomplices and relatives continued until the very moment of the Armistice; the reprisals took more than 5000 lives.

Not only Goebbels propaganda machine but also public opinion in general condemned the attempt unanimously. Tresckow, like Stauffenberg, had foreseen this reaction and said on the day after the attempt’s failure: “Now they will all fall upon us and cover us with abuse. But I am convinced, now more than ever, that we have done the right thing. I believe Hitler to be the arch enemy not only of Germany, but indeed of the entire world … A man’s moral worth is established only at the point where he is prepared to give his life for his convictions … Just as God once promised Abraham that he would spare Sodom if only ten just men could be found in the city, I also have reason to hope that, for our sake, he will not destroy Germany.” “According to some accounts”, write Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, “[Major-General Henning von] Tresckow walked from his headquarters to the front line and there shot himself. According to others, he simply strode out amid an artillery barrage into the no-man’s-land between German and Russian lines.”733

Afterwards the conspirators have been accused time and again of betraying their fatherland in its hour of need, and of not honouring their soldier’s oath, sworn on Adolf Hitler by name. It is seldom mentioned that such an oath had never before been sworn on a particular person, and that it was sworn under duress, in circumstances hastily set up the day after President von Hindenburg’s death and in which no man could refuse to swear without paying dearly for his refusal. Nor is it remembered that Hitler himself had written in Mein Kampf: “A State is entitled to demand respect and protection for its authority only when such authority is administered in accordance with the interests of the nation, or at least not in a manner detrimental to those interests. The authority of the State can never be an end in itself, for, if that were so, any kind of tyranny would be inviolable and sacred. If a government uses the instruments of power in its hands for the purposes of leading a people to ruin, then rebellion is not only the right but also the duty of every individual citizen. The question of whether and when such a situation exists cannot be answered by theoretical dissertations but only by the exercise of force, and it is success that decides the issue.”734Finally, there is the question of the weight of an oath against the monstrous acts of inhumanity of which the man on which it was sworn, and the regime built up and directed by him, were guilty.

“The nine months between 20 July 1944 and the end of the war in Europe were to witness an appalling loss of life … Altogether they took more lives than the previous four years and eleven months of conflict. This statistic offers some gauge of the stakes involved in Stauffenberg’s conspiracy. Had Hitler died on 20 July 1944, the total casualties of the Second World War would have been halved.” (Baigent and Leigh735)

A Higher and a Lower Choice

The German aspiration for a new and total spiritual experience was spontaneous and sincere. The existing religions had always promised a fulfilment of all expectations in another world, but human intuition knew that, if God was something more than a simulacrum residing above the clouds, then the earth and the life of the human being must have a meaning. These were bewildering times of change, in which a new world and a new, higher human being were expected. The Enlightenment had asked all the questions, but it had given very few dependable answers. The tectonic plates of the religious and philosophical certainties were felt to be moving; the results were a series of earthquakes – one revolution after another, then one war after another – and a feeling of instability, disorientation and fear. The familiar structures of a hierarchical society had crumbled and previously unknown social phenomena – especially the human masses – had arisen and were felt as primitive and threatening, in a modern world which uprooted people and assembled them in urban agglomerates, provoking close, direct and often baffling relationships.

The “revival of the mystic spirit around the turn of the century [ 1900]” longed for something neither the Churches nor the philosophers had been able to provide: a sense of total fulfilment of the external and internal life, something authentic, not imported from other cultures and certainly not imposed. The Catholic Church had always been “a foreign body to the sensibility of the Germanic people, and this had created an often expressed aversion against the Paulinian-Augustinian Christianity of the father-god Jehova”. A Nazi author put it as follows: “Germany did not need oriental symbols, and in a land which had generated a religion like the German mysticism around 1300, the belief in a jealous Yahweh-god was felt as hypocritical and as an obsession.”736

“A resolute rejection of the Jewish transcendental speculation, together with the severing of the link between the German mind and the theology of revelation” was the need at a time that the last great episode in the history of global Christianity, Protestantism, came to an end. In this context a new religion was expected to be “a religion without Jewishness, without intermediaries, without dualism: a German religion of deepest inwardness”. This was to be found in Meister Eckhart and the mystics of the Rhineland and Flanders, who constitute a unique, fascinating Western phenomenon. “There can be no doubt that our possibility to escape from the present circumstances, distorted at their origin, and to obtain a religion which is adapted to our actual way of seeing the world, can only be sought in the direction of the way as gone by Eckhart.”737

Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) was a Dominican monk, though not the medieval monk as one might picture him in one’s imagination: living in seclusion and looking all the time upwards in contemplation of God. He was widely travelled, became a Master of Theology at the Sorbonne in Paris – even a magister actu regens, “an exceptional honour at the time which put him on a par with Thomas Aquinas” – and he was invested with some of the highest offices within his order. Eckhart’s example was Albert the Great, another towering figure of the Middle Ages, and he was an exponent of a mystic peak which, in its broadest context, produced luminaries like Hadewych and Dietrich von Freiburg. His experience, expressed not only in Latin but also in his High-German mother tongue, is so direct, pure and complete that it joins the experience of the great Eastern mystics.

It is an amazing fact that a Dominican Prior and instructor could preach that God was to be found in the heart; that He was not a mental concept but a direct, overwhelming and unutterable experience; that the “spark” of the soul was the Divine itself, and that one who lived in it fully was the Divine, in space and time and beyond it; that in the Divine all opposites fused together and disappeared in the great unity; that the Divine was everything in the manifestation, but that it was also completely itself without the manifestation. The learned Master of Theology must have taken his arduously studied texts seriously and gone, with his insight, beyond them into the experience, while simultaneously remaining the realist who found God’s presence in all things and was active in the most diverse ways.738His person narrowly escaped condemnation as a heretic, but some of his mystic assertions did not.

Meister Eckhart became part of “the longing for the supposedly integral culture of the Middle Ages … The endeavour of the Old Romantics was much learning and a universal humanity, and they animated their knowledge because they tried not only to think out their ideals but also to live them. The same road will be taken by the New Romantics [mainly the völkisch movement], going back to the spontaneity, originality, artistry and joy of living of the people at the time of Paracelsus and Dürer.” (Justus Ulbricht739) A leading promoter of this movement was the publisher Eugen Diederichs, the key figure whom we have met when discussing the revival of the Germanic myths and legends, and a new, German religion. Diederichs, though, never meant to remain stuck in the past, but tried to contribute the utmost for a greater future.

He wrote in a letter: “Do not believe that I consider the new Romanticism as the goal of all development … But why would it not be a part of the development of the present man? Together with mysticism, that is … Our Protestantism would be very different from what it is now if the theologians after Luther’s death had not been such quarrelsome blockheads … I have the strong feeling that, with my publishing house, I have to steer toward a deepened religion without dogmas, and that the forthcoming period will most probably produce the men needed for this. Tolstoy, Eugen Schmitt and Emerson are for me the first steps in this direction. Also Meister Eckhart.”740As Ulbricht tells us, the shaken and confused intellectuals around 1900 looked for the presence of God in their own heart, something which in their cultural space they could only find in the mystics like Meister Eckhart, Heinrich Seuse and Johannes Tauler. “The renaissance of mysticism around 1900 belongs therefore to the history of the religion of the German intellectuals and their idea of self-redemption. ‘The human being redeems itself: this is the new religion’, is written already in 1892 in a notebook of the young bookseller Diederichs, whose reading of Nietzsche had obviously not remained without consequences. One also perceives in him the suffering because of the ‘death of God’ which, all the same, was seen by his generation as an opportunity for religious emancipation …

“Some ten years after the start of his activities toward a new religion, Diederichs summarized, in a prospectus for ‘Books for a religious development’, his efforts made for the liberation of the religious forces from calcification through the history process and the transmitted fixed Church forms, to bring them again in direct contact with present-day life … In the same prospectus one reads moreover: “It should be stressed emphatically that Meister Eckhart means more than Luther for Protestantism in the future development of a German religion.” Diederichs will also write: “In spite of the last 400 years [since Luther’s reformation], everything is still to be done.”741This evaluation encompassed more than Protestantism: it expressed the general feeling of bankruptcy of the established religions, and the longing for a new world and a new man which at last would be the justification and the wholly satisfying fulfilment of God’s creation of life on earth.

That Germany did not need “oriental religious symbols and the belief in a jealous Yahweh-god” was a quote from Alfred Rosenberg’s Myth of the Twentieth Century. The reader will remember that Rosenberg was the official chief-ideologist and inspector of ideology in the Nazi Reich. (Unofficially, but most effectively, it was Adolf Hitler who held this job and who supervised the inspector.) As we have seen, what Germany needed according to Rosenberg was “a religion without Jewishness, without intermediaries, without dualism: a German religion of the deepest inwardness. And Meister Eckart was its initiator.”742 The disturbing word in this quotation is the word “German”. Meister Eckhart was no doubt of German origin, although the Germany of 1300 was very different from what is meant by the word today. But could he, a leading member of the international order of the Dominicans, Master of the Parisian Sorbonne, and above all a Roman Catholic Christian, be appropriately called a German mystic? Seen from another angle: could his integral realization of the Divine be restricted and fitted into a German framework? The great medieval mystic too was now being gleichgeschaltet, integrated into the pseudo-culture of the Nazi moloch. “In the German mystic there appears for the first time in history and fully consciously – although in the garments of his time – the new, the reborn German man.”743

Even Eugen Diederichs let himself be enticed by the Nazi ideals and promises of a greater future, and shortly before his death he gave talks for Rosenberg’s Kampfbund für deutsche Kultur. Nazism was horrendous in its outcome, but it was also tragic at the time of its inception and growth as a movement. Whatever its inner contents, whatever the Hitlerism at the core of Nazism, the movement was a touchstone and upshot of the times, not only in Germany but in the Western world. Dogmatic religion in general had obviously failed; the painful yearning was for “a true religion”, for a spirituality which involved the whole being in this life, on this earth, proving at last worthy of a total dedication, a total self-sacrifice, in the experience of which faith would gradually turn into living Truth.

This was the aspiration behind apparently queer sects like George’s “Secret Germany”, as it was the intuition behind Nietzsche’s supermen who would be the “children of the noon”. In the Germany of our story the possibility of a choice was present: either to surpass the prevailing human condition in a (difficult) effort towards a greater tomorrow, or (with less effort) to turn back towards the past, towards the old gods, even when representatives of the purest possibilities, like Meister Eckhart, had to be incorporated into this pantheon of the past. Carrying the destiny of the world and having to choose in pressing circumstances, Germany made the easier choice.

Part Three: Hitler and His God

12. The Vision of Adolf Hitler

National Socialism was a religion and Hitler was its Christ.

John Toland


“There was actually no ideology as such, no coherent, compact theory which could be called National Socialism. Even central concepts like ‘race’ or ‘Nordic’ were defined in quite differing and loose ways, or not at all,” writes the former Heidelberg Professor Klaus von See.744Heinz Höhne, historian of the SS, sees the National Socialist programme in the same way: “Hardly an article of the NSDAP creed was undisputed by its members.”745Hans Frank, in the early years Hitler’s lawyer and later a high Nazi dignitary, stated that “fundamentally there were as many National Socialisms as there were leaders”. And Ralph Reuth calls the Nazi movement “a hotchpotch of various ideological trends”.746Sayings like these might have surprised the Party’s rank and file, who lived not by bread alone but by the slogans which were inculcated into their brains, but they seem very credible to us now that we have acquired an idea of the varied background from which National Socialism emerged.

In National Socialism there was a Christian current represented by figures like Dietrich Eckart, an admirer of the mystic Johannes Tauler, Arthur Dinter, who wanted to bring the Reformation to a successful end, and Joseph Goebbels, the Catholic who projected his apocalyptic expectations on Hitler and his Third Reich. There was a pronounced tendency towards occultism in Rudolf von Sebottendorff, Master of the Thule Society, and Eckart and Rudolf Hess, both members of this Society; in Otto Rahn, the SS-man with a mission to find the Holy Grail; and in Heinrich Himmler and his Ahnenerbe (ancestral heritage), who relied for several years on the assistance of the Austrian seer Karl Maria Wiligut, alias Weisthor. Himmler made the SS into a combatant occult order.

There was a socialist tendency represented by the brothers Gregor and Otto Strasser, by Goebbels (till Hitler turned his mind), and by a considerable faction of leading SA-men, including Hugo Stennes, who will risk an open revolt against Hitler in Berlin, and also including the chief of the SA, Ernst Röhm, who will stubbornly hold on to his demand that Hitler launches a “second revolution”, more or less socialist. There was an outspoken völkisch vein mainly via the Artamanen, to whom had belonged Himmler, Walther Darré, minister of agriculture, Rudolf Höss, commandant of Auschwitz, and Martin Bormann, Hitler’s scheming assistant. And there was even a strong oriental influence through Paul de Lagarde, an orientalist precursor, Sebottendorff, renowned astrologer and closely connected with the Turkish aspects of occultism and sufism, Karl Haushofer and his son Albrecht, well acquainted with the Eastern religions and spirituality, Hess, significantly born in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, an occult crossroads between East and West, and Himmler, with his interest in yoga and the Bhagavad Gita. This short list of names which have become familiar to us in the course of our story and which represent various groups of the German population, could be extended endlessly when following the ramifications and the diversity of Nazi interests, many of which were intertwined or overlapped.

The basics of National Socialism may be summarized as follows. The corner stone of the rather ramshackle ideological construction is the idea of the racial superiority of the Aryan-Nordic-Germanic people. Theoretically speaking, the Aryan was, in Hitler’s words, “the Prometheus of mankind”; practically speaking the Germans were the Herrenmenschen, a people above all others, worthy of lording it over them and being served by them. We have seen numerous examples of this fundamental and outspoken conviction in the previous chapters, more specifically in the one entitled “Superior People”. Every form of Fascism is a profession of exalted nationalism. In Germany the sense of superiority and of national Ego, imbibed with the mother milk, took on extraordinary proportions. From it resulted all the rest.

The backbone of National Socialism was the Führerprinzip, the leadership principle. This did not relate only to the Führer, Adolf Hitler, but also to the pyramid of all his underlings, from the heads of the Gaue, or provinces, over the leaders of the districts, localities and sub-localities, to those responsible for the neighbourhoods. It was Hitler’s declared intention to equate the Party with the State, and vice versa. As he said in a speech to one of his Ordensburgen, the highest Party schools: “Our democracy [sic] is built on the idea, firstly, that in every leadership position the responsibility has to be carried not by somebody elected from below, but by somebody selected from above, and this all the way down to the lowest rank; secondly, these persons have an undisputed authority downwards and an absolute accountability upwards … What we have in this way is the principle of absolute obedience and absolute authority.”747Quite absolute and absolutistic indeed. This totalitarian system Hitler called “true democracy”, in his opinion infinitely superior to the despicable political system commonly called as such, based on the masses and on vote counting.

However, at the top of the pyramid, and invisibly present everywhere else, there was the Führer, fervently awaited and, now that he had manifested himself as Leader of the German Volk, venerated as the messiah who would redress all injustices and lead them into a new golden age. “Hitler and his propaganda officials were fully aware that the Führer concept was the slogan which responded to the longing of the Germans to be led.” Children in the kindergartens sang a little song which went: “We believe in the Führer / We live for our Führer / We die for our Führer / Till we be heroes.” And the first oath, solemnly sworn by ten year olds, went as follows: “In the presence of the Blood Banner, which represents our Führer, I swear that I shall dedicate all my force and all my strength to the saviour of our country, Adolf Hitler. I am willing and ready to give my life for him, so help me God. One Volk, one Reich, one Führer!”748

The third basic principle of National Socialism was Gleichschaltung, a term best translated by “integration” – integration into the body of the nazified Volk, that is. The existing order of society had to disappear, as had the existing structure of the German state. At that time, Germany still consisted of no less than 17 federal parts, which were states in their own right and possessed state prerogatives. In a matter of months Hitler effaced these remnants of the feudal age and replaced them with a structured totalitarian system in which ultimately everybody would become uniform and wear uniform. Hitler’s idea of “true democracy” turned out to be the rigidly structured hierarchy of the army, in which the insignia on the uniform mattered, not the person inside it. As a Nazi poet sang, they were becoming “the fist of the Führer”. Only the insight gained by analyzing the German “refusal to think” can make us, people of this post-modern age, understand not only that “democracy was surrendered without a fight” (Kershaw) and that “seldom a nation surrendered as readily all its rights and liberties” (Friedrich), but also that the loss of democracy was “very widely” felt as “a redemption and a liberation” (Haffner).

The fourth principle of National Socialism concerned the relations with the world outside Germany, in the first place the settling of accounts with France. Most of Hitler’s hottest propaganda in the years of the budding Nazi movement was quite simply an expression of the general feelings among the population about the war defeat, the false mythification of the causes of this defeat, and the humiliation of being forced to accept the Treaty of Versailles. The germ of Germany’s superiority complex had been the early feeling of inferiority of a backward medieval country towards “the South” and its cultural riches. Its hatred had focused more and more upon neighbouring France, especially when France became the culturally dominant nation in Europe whose language replaced Latin as the European lingua franca. Napoleon conquered and abolished the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in 1806. The shock of his presence and drastic reforms was, as we have seen, the direct incentive to Germany’s revival.

Hitler, if he meant anything at all, had to avenge Versailles; his carefully staged signing by a humiliated France of the armistice at Compiègne, in June 1940, carried him to the pinnacle of his prestige and power. Now he had to realize the rest of the pan-German “war aims”, create “a place in the sun” for Germany and conquer the “living space” which would provide his people of Herrenmenschen with their rightful possessions and resources. Justifications for such immoral Darwinist actions, be they theories, treaties or conquests, did not really matter. Whether erecting “a wall against communism” or signing a non-aggression pact with the same communists: the people would accept anything as long as they felt that it was for their glory and betterment.

This brings us to the fifth and last principle of National Socialism: anti-Semitism. John Weiss called the prevailing anti-Jewish atmosphere in Germany its “ideology of death”; Daniel Goldhagen caused an uproar with his 1996 book on “eliminationist anti-Semitism in modern Germany”. Both books were a necessary and very late reflection on the German responsibility for the Holocaust, as were the vehement reactions and comments following in their wake. Throughout our story we have seen the growth of the irrational anti-Jewish sentiment. There are numerous records of pro-Jewish gestures by German Aryans, but it is undeniable that the general atmosphere was inimical towards the Jews.

There is no doubt that Hitler did not have to push much to make a National Socialist kick a Jew, and harassing those “other” people was a lot of fun for a member of the Hitler Youth, as retaliation was out of the question. National Socialism wanted to discard the Jews from German society. Hitler wanted to eradicate them physically, sooner or later, from the body of humanity. Did a National Socialist realize this? Almost certainly not, although he could have guessed it if he had attentively read what his Führer had written, or if he had carefully listened to what his Führer shouted from the rooftops. But even if a “brownshirt” had known it, he would have repressed the thought. Thus he helped directly or indirectly to execute his Führer’s orders, and in so doing participated in the slaughter.


The NSDAP programme, at the beginning of 1920 hastily concocted by Hitler and Anton Drexler, lost much of its actuality as the movement evolved, especially the more or less cranky articles concerning the state finances and the economy. Still Hitler refused to change one iota of the programme – except the point concerning the powers of the Party Führer, who in the original version remained under the control of a senior committee, but whose power of course had to become absolute once Hitler was accorded dictatorial powers.

“Hitler’s ‘Catholic’ streak seldom emerges so clearly as in his respect for rigid, immutable formulas. All that really matters is a political creed, he would say, ‘that is what the whole world revolves around’. And he would add that ‘no matter how idiotic’ a programme was, ‘people would believe in it because of the firmness with which it is advocated’. In fact Hitler declared the old party programme, in spite of its obvious weaknesses, ‘unalterable’. The outmoded, archaic features of the programme transformed it from an object of discussion to one of veneration. Moreover, its purpose was not to answer questions or define aims but to attract attention. Clarification would mean division, Hitler said. Faith was all. Once he had insisted on the identity of Führer and idea, the principle of the infallible, immutable Führer was equally established. One of his adherents put it in a nutshell: ‘Our programme can be expressed in two words: Adolf Hitler’.”749

Hitler was the man who walked by himself. “Nothing is more misleading than to speak in the same breath about Hitler and such potentates like Goebbels, Göring, Ribbentrop and Himmler, and to consider Hitler as primus inter pares [first among equals], as sometimes happens. He is a phenomenon apart, a force which walks independently from the Party chiefs, who are put in their positions by him, whom he uses, and who are in no way capable to act independently from him.”750

“We knew only the very least about him”, admits Rauschning. “His most intimate Party comrades had no idea of what he was planning, of what he intended to lay at least the foundations.”751We have seen that even Speer and Goebbels remained in the dark, not only about the big picture but about crucial decisions. “Never in my life have I met a person who so seldom revealed his feelings”, testifies Speer, “and if he did so, who instantly locked them away again. During my time in Spandau [prison, after the war] I talked with Hess about this pecularity of Hitler’s. Both of us agreed that there had been moments when we felt we had come close to him. But we were invariably disillusioned. If either of us ventured a slightly more personal tone, Hitler promptly put up an unbreakable wall.”752

Speer also asserts that Hitler put up a different act in different circumstances, adapting himself to the people present. In connection with the “table talk” at the Rastenburg headquarters, Speer warns: “Hitler tended to falsify himself when he sat at the table in the Führer’s headquarters. I was always struck by the choiceness with which he would express himself in a group of officers and other cultivated persons, sometimes to the extent of using a distinctly stilted style. This was a different Hitler from the one I knew in the private circle; again, he must have been altogether different in the company of Gauleiters and other Party functionaries, when he relapsed into the jargon of the period of struggle and comradeship.”753

Nazism is generally considered to have been a form of Fascism, after the First World War symptomatic in almost every developed nation on the globe. This is only partially true and in its most superficial features: the greatness of the nation, the integration of the whole nation into one body, its hierarchization and uniformization, and the heroic posturing towards its neighbours. All fascisms also had their “leader” – Führer, Duce, Caudillo, Netaji, or with whatever word “leader” was translated. Specific to Nazism, however, was the special character of its leader and the fact that the movement was identified with him, in a way even Italian Fascism and Mussolini could not be compared with. “Nothing is more misleading than to call Hitler a fascist”, writes Sebastian Haffner in his Anmerkungen zu Hitler (notes on Hitler), “his nationalism was everything except a fascism”.754

“National Socialism was fundamentally and from the very start ‘Hitlerism’, and Hitler himself was, seen in this way, the first convinced ‘Hitlerite’”, writes Jochen Kirchhoff. He repeats Gottfried Benn’s question: did Hitler create the movement or did the movement create him? The answer of all knowledgeable people is unanimous: “There was and is no National Socialism without Hitler. Both are identical.”755If Hitler was Germany, as Rudolf Hess cried out in front of the brown battalions at Nuremberg, then he was a fortiori National Socialism. Therefore Fest can quote prominent Nazis as stating not only that “Hitler was the most radical Nazi of all”, but even that he was “the only Nazi” – just as Nietzsche said that Christ had been the only Christian. It was this way of seeing which allowed Konrad Heiden to entitle a chapter of his early Hitler biography “Hitler versus National Socialism”, in which “National Socialism” stood for the common view of fascism, while Hitler and Hitlerism were something different altogether, and much more extreme.

There are many testimonies to the fact that “Hitler’s plans and war aims never changed”, as Speer puts it. Fest writes about “the tenaciously pursued vision in the background”, and says that “the structure of [Hitler’s] thinking was such that he understood every phenomenon merely as a further argument for ideas fixed long ago”, which revealed “the continuity in Hitler’s thought”.756Hitler began his public life at the age of thirty, and wrote in Mein Kampf: “When a man has reached his thirtieth year he has still a great deal to learn. That is obvious. But henceforward what he learns will principally be an amplification of his basic ideas; it will be fitted in with them organically so as to fill up the framework of that fundamental Weltanschauung which he already possesses.”757

The “amplification” in Hitler’s ideas is easy to follow. He started in Munich, under Eckart’s guidance, with the adamant conviction that the Germans were the Herrenmenschen; that he was the one come to lead them towards the fulfilment of their Volkhood and their highest aims; and that the Jews were the enemies of this fulfilment. The practical aspects of this task coincided for the most part with the political aspirations of that time. In the prison at Landsberg, and most probably under the influence of Rosenberg, Hess and Haushofer, the scope of Hitler’s aims widened. He now became the missioned Leader who had to conquer a firm and durable foothold in Europe for the Aryan race, and to ready his Aryan legions for world conquest. Then, as Chancellor of the Reich, he capitalized on the political situation to secure the foundations of the Aryan world empire, and to execute what until then had been unthinkable, the genocide of the Jews.

Hermann Rauschning758 has already been quoted elsewhere as saying that Hitler could not proclaim his great, basic ideas openly from the start. He had at first to stick to the “fascist”, i.e. “national” and “socialist”, programme which the recruits of the movement could understand and accept. Because of his demagogic style and his Führer mentality Hitler was already considered by the realists among the Nazis “a clairvoyant and fantast”, even without the proclamation of his global ambitions. Only his quasi-miraculous internal and external successes as Chancellor will heat up the expectations to a point where the German Messiah could publicly formulate any ambition, however grandiose, and order its execution. What, then, were the differences between Nazism and Hitlerism?

Pure Hitlerism was the creation of the SS as a personal bodyguard within the SA. At the appropriate moment, after the SA had been beheaded in “the Night of the Long Knives”, the SS would become independent and directly responsible to Hitler alone. The Black Knights were intended to be the embodiment of Hitler’s racial ideal, and functioned like a religious order, “the Order of the Death’s Head”. Apart from and feared by all other National Socialist organizations, and acting as a ruthless police force only accountable to the Supreme Chief, they grew practically into a state within the State, and would after the successful completion of the war enjoy the status of supermen as the highest racial nobility among the Aryans.

However arrogant the Nazi attitude was towards Germany’s opponents, real and fictional, the average National Socialist could hardly take Hitler’s claims for “living space” in Eastern Europe seriously. The obvious reason was that such living space could not be acquired, given the system of European alliances and the presence of “arch enemy France” on its Western border, without a war on two fronts, doomed to be fatal for the fatherland. Hitler launched nonetheless “Operation Barbarossa”, the military plan for the invasion of Russia, immediately after his triumphant Blitzkrieg in the West, and sent General Jodl to inform the highest staff officers that preparations had to be made accordingly. John Toland relates the consternation of these experienced officers in his popular Hitler biography. “A chorus of protests erupted. This was the two front war which had defeated Germany in the First World War. And why this sudden change after the [non-aggression] Pact with Moscow?” But Jodl cut short the debate. “Gentlemen”, he said, “this is not a question for discussion but a decision of the Führer”.759Hitler reigned supreme and alone.

National Socialism in the mind of its adherents meant in the first place an internal revolution which would give them stability and order instead of chaos, employment instead of joblessness and desperation, and bread instead of hunger and poverty. True, a national feeling of superiority was part of the German character, and to avenge the Versailles Treaty was one of the main items on the National Socialist agenda, but it was secondary to the internal redress. World conquest and a final struggle with international Jewry were no more than fantastic ideas in the mind of “Adolf”, used to excite his audiences when he was somewhat carried away. “That these fantastic ideas of Hitler would allow him to go forward on his exceptional path and give the lie to all sceptics, was at the time clear to only a very few.”760

There can be no doubt that “the final solution” was in Hitler’s mind from the beginning of his career and remained always present, even when circumstances forced him to agree for a while with the Madagascar plan or with the emigration of the German and Austrian Jews. The ultimate settlement of accounts between the false and the true Chosen People was, in Hitler’s vision, inevitable. The growth of the National Socialist movement, the regained prosperity of Germany, and the industrialization and regimentation of the German people never had any other aim than the war of the Aryans to conquer the world, which in Hitler’s mind was only possible by slaying the enemy, “international Jewry”. “Of what Hitler’s inner truth consisted, nobody knew”, writes Joachim Köhler, but the apocalyptic battle with the Jews was certainly part of it. “He clearly kept a secret in which he believed with ‘granite’ infallibility … Hitler has never revealed with a single word that he was planning the biggest autodafé in history,”761writes Jochen Kirchhoff. And he concludes: “What many thought to be National Socialism was only a façade or masquerade.”762It was fare for the disdained masses.

The Messiah

Hitler reportedly said in one of his monologues: ”Ich bin auf Grund höherer Gewalt da”.763 “Höhere Gewalt” means an act of God, and Hitler’s words may be translated as “I am here through an act of God”, something he declared directly or indirectly in many ways throughout his career. Instead of “God” he often used the word Vorsehung, Providence, for instance when he said: “When my life comes to an end, then the Work too must be finished, entrusted to me by Providence, or whatever you want to call it.”764Ernst Hanfstängl, at one time Hitler’s constant companion, heard this word often from his mouth. “A professional ‘Knight of the Holy Grail’”, said Hanfstängl later, “Hitler was convinced that all his actions were guided only by the common weal. His faith in his own destiny let not doubt him for a moment that Providence had called him for a mission. Consequently, everything that did not agree with the way he saw things must be bad and reprehensible, or the work of a satanical opponent.”765

After he had become Germany’s idol, Hitler could overlook his life and assert: “In spite of a totally inimical environment, I have chosen my way in my inner self and I have followed it, unknown and nameless, up to the final success. Often declared dead and always wished dead, in the end I have nonetheless been victorious “. When bullying like a gangster boss the Austrian Chancellor von Schuschnigg during his fateful visit to the Obersalzberg in February 1938, shortly before the Anschluss, Hitler shouted: “I have a historic mission, and this historic mission I will fulfil because Providence has destined me to do so … He who is not with me will be crushed … I have chosen the most difficult road that any German ever took; I have made the greatest achievement in the history of Germany, greater than that of any other German!”766

During an open air speech before a massive audience at Würzburg, in 1937, Hitler declared: “However weak each single man finally is in his being and actions before almighty Providence and Its will, he will become immeasurably strong the moment he acts in accordance with this Providence. Then a force pours down into him, which is the hallmark of all great personalities the world has known. And when I look back on the five years we have behind us, then I think that I may say: ‘This was not the work of men alone!’ If Providence had not guided us, then sometimes I would not have found all those tangled roads. Nobody can make the history of a people or of the world when he does not have the blessings of Providence on his intentions and abilities.”767

Secretary Traudl Junge narrates how in 1943 she asked Hitler why he had not married. His first reason was the usual one: that he would not have been able to be a good family man. Then, to Junge’s consternation, he added that he did not want children, because “the offspring of geniuses mostly has a tough time in the world. One expects from them the same greatness as that of their famous fathers and does not forgive them for being average. Besides, most of them become cretins.” “This was the first expression, to be taken seriously, of a personal delusion of grandeur which I heard from Hitler’s mouth”, remembers Junge. “Until now I sometimes had had the impression that Hitler was megalomaniacal in his ideas and in his fanaticism, but his own person had never been involved. What he mostly said was: ‘I am an instrument of destiny and have to follow my way, on which I have been put by divine Providence’.”768The young woman must not yet have been part of Hitler’s intimate circle at the Rastenburg headquarters when he said: “I feel at ease in the historical company to which I will belong if there is an Olympus. In the one I shall enter, there will be all the most brilliant minds of all times.”769

“Hitler was never interested in establishing a mere tyranny”, writes Fest. “Sheer greed for power will not suffice as an explanation for his personality and energy. Unquestionably, power, the virtually unrestricted use of it, with no necessity to account to anyone – that kind of power meant a great deal to him. But he was at no time satisfied with it alone. The restlessness with which he conquered, extended and applied that power, and finally used it up, is evidence of how little he was born to be a mere tyrant. He was fixated upon his mission of defending Europe and the Aryan race from deadly menace, and to this end he wanted to create an empire that would last …

“In the introductory passages of his speeches he again and again evoked the myth of ‘the man from the people’, the days when he had been ‘an unknown frontline soldier in the First World War’, ‘a man without a name, without money, without influence, without a following’, but summoned by Providence. He liked to introduce himself as ‘the lonely wanderer out of nothingness’. Thus he liked to have resplendent uniforms around him, for they pointed to the simplicity of his own costume. His air of unassuming austerity and soberness, together with his unwedded state and his withdrawn life, could be splendidly fused in the public mind into the image of a great, solitary man bearing the burden of his election by destiny, marked by the mystery of self-sacrifice.”770

An entry in Goebbels’ diary mentions that Hitler told him, in the awareness of being missioned: “I will not die too early or too late.”771Yet, he became ever more obsessed with the shortness of time allotted to him for the execution of his task. “A letter of his written in July 1928 makes the point that he is now thirty-nine years old, so that ‘even at best’ he has ‘barely twenty years available’ for his ‘tremendous task’. The thought of premature death incessantly tormented him. ‘Time is pressing’, he said in February 1934, and continued: ‘I do not have long enough to live … I must lay the foundation on which others can build after me. I will not live long enough to see it completed’. He also feared assassination; some ‘criminal or idiot’ might eliminate him and thus prevent the accomplishment of his mission.”772

“We knew only the very least about him”, writes Rauschning. “Even his most intimate party comrades had no idea of what he had in mind and of what he had to lay at least the foundations. A terrible nervous fear of no longer being able to reach the goal was pushing him forward at times.”773Werner Maser confirms this and documents how the hypochondriac streak in Hitler’s character became still more pronounced from 1937 onwards. The factors of his age and for the most part imaginary health problems, which he entrusted to the care of the unlikable Dr Morell, doubtlessly played a crucial role in his decisions to go to war, each time as soon as possible.

Claus-Ekkehard Bärsch states straightaway: “The model for Adolf Hitler is Christ”,774and John Toland asserts that “National Socialism was a religion and Hitler was its Christ.”775This is much more than a simile. Hitler took his role of saviour “with the utmost seriousness”, writes Joachim Fest, and attached a special significance to the fact that he had begun his public life at the age of thirty, as Christ had done. “We are admittedly small in number”, he said in the early years of the movement. “But once another man stood up in Galilee, and today his teaching rules the whole world.” “Hitler presented himself as the Messiah, who as a warrior, filled with the fanatical faith in the righteousness of his ideas, goes his predestined way”, concurs Michael Rissmann. And Hitler said that one day would be written on his tomb: “A man who never capitulated, who never gave up, who never made compromises, who knew only one goal and the way toward it, who had a great faith named ‘Germany’.” The work “which Christ had begun, without being able to finish it, he, Hitler, would accomplish.”

It came as a surprise that in the remainders of Hitler’s considerable library a great deal of books on occultism and religion was found. Timothy Ryback examined the part of this collection, now kept in the Library of Congress, in an article in “The Atlantic Monthly”. These books, which survived the looting and chaos of the last days of the war in Europe, were discovered in the spring of 1945, in a salt mine near Berchtesgaden, by soldiers of the American 101st Airborne Division (to which E Company of Band of Brothers belonged). Ryback writes: “I found a Hitler I had not anticipated: a man with a sustained interest in spirituality. Among the piles of Nazi tripe … are more than 130 books on religious and spiritual subjects, ranging from Occidental occultism to Eastern mysticism to the teachings of Jesus Christ … Also included were a German translation of Stanley Jones’s 1931 best seller, The Christ of the Mount; and a 500-page work on the life and teachings of Jesus, published in 1935 under the title The Son: The Evangelical Sources and Pronouncements of Jesus of Nazareth in Their Original Form and With the Jewish Influences. Some volumes date from the early 1920s, when Hitler was an obscure rabble-rouser on the fringe of Munich political life, others from his last years, when he dominated Europe.”776

In some of his books Hitler had made “underlines, question marks, exclamation points and marginal strikes”, for instance in the works of Fichte, presented to him by the celebrated film maker Leni Riefenstahl. “As I traced the pencilled notations, I realized that Hitler was seeking a path to the divine that led to just one place. Fichte asked: ‘Where did Jesus derive the power that has held his followers for all eternity?’ Hitler drew a dense line beneath the answer: ‘Through his absolute identification with God’. At another point Hitler highlighted a brief but revealing paragraph: ‘God and I are One. Expressed simply in two identical sentences – His life is mine; my life is his. My work is his work, and his work my work’.”777

“The propaganda which transformed Hitler into a saviour was not meant for recruitment pure and simple, it was not cold calculation. The propaganda made by Goebbels, Hess, Streicher and Strasser expresses what Hitler believed of himself. Hitler really saw Jesus Christ as his precursor,” writes Peter Orzechowski. And he quotes Hitler’s words from a speech made during the high tide of Nazism: “Today, my German Volk, I ask from you: come and stand with your faith behind me. Be henceforth the source of my strength and my faith. Do not forget: he who does abandon himself in this world shall never be abandoned by the Almighty! … I have taught you how to have faith, now give me your faith!”778

“A new system of values based on brutality and violence” was of course not what Christ had brought to the world, it was the opposite. What Hitler admired in Christ was not his essential message, the inner path of the soul, however much he may have been fascinated by it, but his greatness and fame, still alive among millions, and his key role as the initiator of a new world at a decisive turning point of the times. What also intrigued him was that Christ was directly inspired by God, that he was the missioned “Son of God” to execute a task which Hitler indubitably saw as on a par with his own.

“Providence has predestined me to be the greatest liberator of humanity”, Hitler said to Rauschning. “I liberate man from the coercion of a mind which becomes a goal in itself, from the foul and humiliating pangs of a chimera called ‘conscience’ and ‘morality’, and from the demands of a liberty and personal independence of which anyway only a very few are capable … To the Christian teaching of the nothingness and insignificance of the human individual soul and personal responsibility, I oppose with icy clarity the liberating teaching of the nothingness and insignificance of the individual and his development within the concrete immortality of the nation. In place of dogma and the representative suffering and death of a divine saviour comes the representative life and action of the new Führer and lawgiver, who releases the mass of the believers from the burden of the free decision.”779

These are crucial quotes which put Hitler’s mission, as he understood it, in focus. Hitler had been sent, and was constantly guided, to change the conscience and morality of man into something like the opposite of Christianity; where humanity made an effort to become step by step more conscious and individualized, Hitler saw the human individual as nothing more than a cell in a body, an ant in a nest. The perspectives this opens reveal something of the real dimension of the evil to be discovered behind all the destruction and slaughter caused by this German Messiah.

What he said to Speer, when planning his gigantic buildings, cannot be taken literally enough: “I tell you, Speer, these buildings are more important than anything else. You must do everything you can to complete them in my lifetime. Only if I have spoken in them and governed from them will they have the consecration they are going to need for my successors.”780“He frequently spoke of his tomb as exerting a political influence upon the nation that must not be underestimated”, says Speer. And he reminisces elsewhere about the gigantic hall to be built in Berlin, the one topped with an eagle carrying the globe in his talons: “The hall was essentially a place of worship. The idea was that over the course of centuries, by tradition and venerability, it would acquire an importance similar to that St. Peter’s in Rome has for Catholic Christendom.”781

When one surveys the landscape of Hitler’s mind as we have been discovering it up to this point in our story, a big divide seems to run straight through it. On the one side is everything which represents the “mystic” Hitler: the visionary who saw the world as an apocalyptic clash between two Chosen Peoples, who pronounced that the time for this decisive confrontation and the birth of a new world for a new man was now, and who was convinced that the main protagonist in that drama of worldwide dimensions was he himself, chosen or sent by Providence. Hitler was able, thanks to his special powers, to communicate this vision to his German audiences, preconditioned by a long-standing conviction of their inherent superiority and by their expectation of a Leader who would give them their rightful place under the sun.

On the other side of the gap in Hitler’s mindscape we find the most banal and incoherent thoughts, which seemed to belong to another, far inferior being. “I know nothing about the hereafter, and am honest enough to say so … Mind and soul return surely into the big common reservoir, just like the body. In this way we serve as the nourishing element for the foundation from which new life arises. I don’t have to break my head about the how and why. The essence of the soul we will never find out … Somewhere we have our place in the scale of the world … Somewhere everything results in an awareness of the helplessness of the human being in relation with the eternal law of Nature – that the whole redemption of the human being lies in the fact that he tries to understand the divine Providence and does not believe that he is capable of revolt against the Law. When man thus complies humbly with the laws, then it is wonderful … An Omnipotence which creates the worlds has assigned its tasks to every single being. Everything happens the way it has to happen … If I want to believe in a divine commandment, it can only be the commandment to preserve the race…”782

This, in a nutshell, seems to have been the Hitlerian metaphysics, at least in the later period of his life. The trend as a whole seems quite agnostic and in contradiction with his personal belief in divine guidance and Providence. It is prudent to recall Speer’s warning that Hitler adapted his words to his audiences. The fundamental difference between the two ways of seeing and speaking seems to reside in the fact that the visionary Hitler was an inspired man, while the philosophizing Hitler was a rather pedestrian thinker who had gathered his thoughts by the roadside.

The rickety thought structure of the pedestrian Hitler rested on some curious supports. He believed in the “hollow earth theory”, according to which the earth is a bubble in an infinity of rock. He believed in the “world ice theory” of Hans Hörbiger, rejected even by high-ranking researchers of the SS-Ahnenerbe, but imposed upon them by Himmler because the Führer accepted it. He thought that the ancient Greek tribes were Germanic and that the Roman legionaries were vegetarians. He believed that Christ was an Aryan and a proto-anti-Semite. The fictitious world of Winnetou and Old Shatterhand kept influencing his decisions till the end. And he staunchly insisted on an Aryan science in opposition to the false international, Jewish science. “There is indeed a Nordic and National Socialist science which has to be in opposition to the liberal-Judaic. The latter no longer performs its function but is in the process of eliminating itself.”783


What held together this fantastic, paranormal world of Hitler, which was more and more becoming the world in which lived the whole German nation, was faith and the will power which faith generates. Hitler squarely stated that “faith was all”. Faith in Aryanhood and in Germany’s greatness was the primary condition for all those who belonged to the völkisch movement and indeed for reactionary Germany as a whole. The Führer had become identified with the Volk, and faith in Germany became faith in Hitler. “Hitler was not a politician who based himself on a programme and who had to justify his actions to the people, but the redemptive figure of an exoteric cult whose aim was to liberate the world from the Jews … Strictly speaking the Germans did not need to know anything. They only had to have faith.”784

“I have taught you how to have faith: now give me your faith!” Hitler shouted. And he said on another occasion: “When one day in future centuries History, no longer influenced by the pros and cons of a controversial time, will critically examine these years of the National Socialist emergence, then she cannot but conclude that what happened was a wonderful victory of faith against the elements of the supposed realistically possible.”785The last, emotional occasion on which Speer met Hitler in the Führerbunker, when Hitler knew that the man who once had been his “unrequited love” did everything possible to counteract his “Nero order” to destroy Germany, he asked: “Do you still hope for a successful continuance of the war or is your faith shattered?” “Once again Hitler reduced his demand to a formal profession of faith that would be binding upon me”, writes Speer. “If you could at least hope that we have not lost!” said Hitler, while the continuous Russian bombardment made the bunker shake. “You must certainly be able to hope, that would be enough to satisfy me.” And Speer’s reply was, after a few hours of inner struggle: “Mein Führer, I stand unreservedly behind you.” Hitler’s eyes filled with tears, writes Speer.786

Only faith could work the miracle for which the Führer was sent into this world as the absolute “Strong One from Above”, the “Being of Light”. His mission gave him the right to use the Volk as his instrument and to sacrifice it if necessary, as it gave him the right to exterminate “ruthlessly” anyone who thwarted his objectives or stood on the opposing side in the final struggle.

These very common truths were confirmed by Hitler time and again. He fumed against the military men who knew the meaning of the words “discipline” and “obedience” but not of “faith”, as the former were military virtues and the latter a religious one. Where the generals saw their military operations as a matter of planning and efficiency, Hitler saw them as exercises in faith, infallible if the faith was entire. No one could ever live up to his expectations except by dying in the Hitler faith, and in the end he will roar in his bunker that all have betrayed him for lack of faith. The thousands and thousands of improvised crosses or helmets on a rifle butt in the snow-covered Russian steppes, the green lands of the Champagne and the grey, desolate fields of Germany were planted above the bodies of soldiers who had betrayed him, the Führer, by their lack of faith.

A New World

The influence of Oswald Spengler and his Decline of the West was widespread, and the Nazi intellectuals did their best to make him openly chose their side. Their attempt was not very logical considering Spengler’s pessimistic view of the destiny of the West and of humanity as a whole, while the Nazis foresaw a golden future for the Aryan race. Hitler was quite aware of this incongruity and did not hesitate to put things straight after having given, as the new Chancellor of the nation, an audience to Spengler in Bayreuth. “I am not a supporter of Oswald Spengler! I don’t believe in the decline of the West. On the contrary, I consider it my task, conferred upon me by Providence, to contribute to its prevention.” For he, Hitler, was convinced that “the old Aryan culture, under the leadership of Nordic man, would experience a rebirth”. Moreover, Spengler made himself unpopular in Bayreuth because of his critical remarks about Richard Wagner, and was there henceforth referred to only as “the Decline”.787

Hitler thought of himself as the prophet of “an entirely new Weltanschauung”, a word which may be translated as “world vision” or “ideology”. Comparing his world vision with the prevailing one in Europe, he wrote in Mein Kampf: “A philosophy of life which is inspired by an infernal spirit of intolerance [the “Jewish” Enlightenment doctrine of liberty, equality and fraternity!] can only be set aside by a doctrine that is advanced in an equally ardent spirit [i.e. his own] and fought for with as determined a will, and which is itself a new idea, pure and absolutely true … Political parties are prone to enter compromises, but an ideology never does this. A political party is inclined to adjust its teachings with a view to meeting those of its opponents, but an ideology proclaims its own infallibility … While the programme of the ordinary political party is nothing but the recipe for cooking up favourable results out of the next general elections, the programme of an ideology represents a declaration of war against an existing order of things, against present conditions, in short, against the established ideology.”788

It was the task of a political organized ideology, in contrast with an ordinary political party, “to transmit a certain idea which originated in the head of one individual [Adolf Hitler by name] to a multitude of people and to supervise the manner in which this idea is being put into practice … The greatness of every powerful organization which embodies a creative idea lies in the spirit of religious devotion and intolerance with which it stands out against all others, because it has an ardent faith in its own right … The future of a movement is determined by the devotion, and even intolerance, with which its members fight for their cause. They must feel convinced that their cause alone is just, and they must carry it through to success, as against other similar organizations in the same field.”789For “an ideology is intolerant and cannot be satisfied with the role of being ‘a party among others’; it exacts peremptorily its own, exclusive and total recognition together with the complete adaptation of public life in accordance with its way of seeing things. Neither can it tolerate a survival of the institutions of the previous situation.”790

Here the standpoint and intentions of Hitler’s National Socialism were fully spelled out in black and white; from this line Hitler never wavered. He steadfastly refused to compromise with any other organization, however rightist or völkisch, a standpoint he sometimes had to fight out with his closest supporters when the NSDAP was still small in numbers. Hitler was the prophet of a new ideology based on faith which implied, to his mind, the overthrow of all existing ideologies and faiths, and which would create a new world. The rank and file of the NSDAP perceived only the external shell of Hitler’s Messianic world view; rare exceptions had an inkling of the more profound meaning; and nobody knew the core of Hitler’s vision, for he kept it locked within himself.

It will be abundantly clear from the preceding parts of our story that Hitler’s vision, whatever its core, was anti-Christian and anti-Enlightenment. In the world which he envisioned the words “love”, “soul”, “individualization”, “equality”, “freedom”, “socialism”, “internationalism”, “liberalism”, etc. were frequently used, but in a rhetorical way and always meaning something different from their common significance. What Hitler wanted to create was a Spartan totalitarianism (quite similar to Stalin’s handiwork), with people who would be smiling, healthy, fanatical and soulless robots, totally integrated into the common body of the Volk and disdaining individual dignity as a kind of psychological leprosy.

We remember that Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf that the greatness of the (fictional) Aryan consisted in “his willingness to put all his abilities in the service of the community”. In this Aryan the instinct of self-preservation had reached its noblest form, “since he willingly subordinates his own ego to the life of the community and, if the hour demands, even sacrifices it”. That the German nation had to be subjected to a rigid regimentation was established in Hitler’s mind from the very beginning. “I know that I have to be a strict educator”, he said to Rauschning. “I first must create the Volk”, which was to become the Führer’s sword. “We have to be cruel (grausam)”, he said. “We must again [as in the primitive past?] be able to be cruel with a good conscience. Only in this way can we eradicate the soft-heartedness and the sentimental philisterhood, the ‘cosiness’ and the bourgeois pettiness from our Volk. We have no time left for nice feelings. We have to force our people to greatness if it has to fulfil its historical task.”782

“Together with the construction of tanks, cannons and airplanes the people in ‘the community of the Volk’ too were militarized. The dictator intended to wage the war for the living space with convinced National Socialists … The Germans were being re-educated. The Führer dictatorship did not stop at the front door. Its tentacles reached out to the whole family and the inmost thought of the individual. In Hitler’s words, there should not remain ‘any free space in which the individual belongs to himself’. The process of total penetration took place almost unnoticed. Its main instrument was the [omnipresent] Party.” (Guido Knopp791) For Hitler had written in Mein Kampf that the state was “a means to an end”, and that the end lay “in the preservation and advancement of a community of physically and psychically homogeneous creatures”.792

A revolutionary conception of the world and human existence will achieve decisive success only when the new world vision has been taught to a whole people, or subsequently forced upon them if necessary, and when, on the other hand, the control organization, the movement itself, is in the hands of only those few men who are absolutely indispensable to form the nerve centres of the coming state.”793Henry Picker, the secret annotator (on Bormann’s instigation) of Hitler’s table talk, writes: “The NSDAP had de facto a complete control of every citizen … With his uniformization of the whole nation Hitler had almost formed a new type of man who put the will above the intellect, and toughness and faith above the natural feelings.” The daily life of the nation was “put under Prussian military discipline, the ‘community of the people’ was transformed into ‘a battle-ready fighting community’ in which every male from his youth to an advanced age was carrying weapons”.794“The sacrifice of the individual existence is necessary in order to assure the conservation of the race”, Hitler wrote, and later said the same in a less civil way: “The life of the individual should not be given such high value. A fly lays a million eggs, they all die. But flies survive.”795Burleigh calls this “an unfeeling form of neo-barbarism”, which may be an understatement.

Soon after the Hitler take-over their country became hermetically closed for the German people. This had to happen if Hitler’s “strict education” was to be effective, in other words if the propaganda, methodically planned to reorder the contents of the German brain, was to reach every individual in every corner of the Reich. Hitler had written a whole chapter on propaganda in Mein Kampf, camouflaging it under the title “War Propaganda”, where he says: “I soon came to realize that the right use of propaganda was an asset in itself and that this art was practically unknown to our bourgeois parties.” Ominous words at a time that the radio medium came into itself. “In the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility”,796he wrote, thus stating his basic truth of the lie and giving his game away. But he should not have bothered. It is one of the object lessons of Hitlerian history and its aftermath to learn how compelling the art of the brazen lie was in gathering the nation behind its Führer.

For sure, Hitler did not invent all this; some of this psychological knowledge of the human being belonged to ancient or common wisdom, other insights were found in contemporary French authors. Hitler, though, acquired a clear idea of the psychological mechanisms and their effectiveness, and by means of them he would recreate the daily reality of a Germany which became an island of total irrationality in a semi-rational world. “Propaganda demands the most skilled brains that can be found”, he wrote. When Joseph Goebbels appeared within his field of vision Hitler somehow sensed his abilities at once, although the little doctor still thought of himself as a “socialist” who wanted to expel the reactionary Hitler from the Party.

Joseph Goebbels, appointed cultural czar of the Third Reich and working under Hitler’s close supervision, excelled in the comparatively new techniques of propaganda. His basic concept was plain and unencumbered by moral qualms: “The propaganda which produces the desired results is good and all other propaganda is bad.”797According to William Shirer, who experienced the Third Reich from nearby, Goebbels “completely isolated the world the Germans lived in”.798And Robert Gellately writes: “Hitler’s Germany became a modern mass society, in which there were not only millions of newspaper readers and regular consumers of the news at the movies but radio itself became enormously popular. Once radio overcame the mistake of spending too much time on obvious political messages, its attractions proved almost irresistible. Radio was listened to at home as well as in public places like restaurants and even at work. German broadcasters recognized that they had to provide the right mix of entertainment, news, and specials such as a Hitler speech.”799

“In matters of propaganda our party comrades are the undisputed masters”, wrote Goebbels.800The source of their inspiration, and this from the very beginning, was none other than Hitler himself. He had realized the importance of propaganda; he had organized the first public marches and ceremonies, which would be imitated and elaborated upon in the following years; he had chosen the symbols, slogans and uniforms with an impressive effectiveness; he had built up the omnipresent party pyramid; and he had detected the slumbering propagandistic talents of Dr Goebbels. Hitler’s visionary shaping of the National Socialist movement was one of his great achievements. “At the end of 1926 the party set up a speakers’ school to give its followers the techniques and information needed for effective public speaking. By the end of 1932 this school had, according to its records, trained some 6000 speakers,”801who spread the word, evening after evening, in the smallest and most remote hamlets of the country. This too was Hitler’s initiative.

“National Socialism is a Religion”

It was the future propaganda-tsar Goebbels who wrote in 1928: “National Socialism is a religion. Only the religious inspiration, which shatters the old, outmoded formulas and creates new ones, is still missing. What we lack is a ritual. The time must come that National Socialism becomes the state religion of the Germans. My Party is my Church, and I believe that I serve my Lord in the best possible way when I execute his will and free my suppressed people from the chains of slavery.”802The younger generation of historians has no longer any difficulty in accepting Nazism as an ersatz-, pseudo- or semi-religion, or as a religion pure and simple, which it certainly was for those who responded to the call of the Führer-Messiah. “I call Hitler’s world vision and consequently National Socialism a religion”,803states Orzechowski; Bärsch writes that National Socialism “was not one or other ideology, but essentially a religion”;804and Klaus Vondung sees as the decisive factor in National Socialism that it consisted of “an independent religion”.805

The Nazis had their own yearly cycle of hallowed rites. Every one of these occasions developed its own regimented rituals, with forests of flags and banners, ambience-creating music, torches and fires, and was held at the most suggestive moment of the day or night. The great were praised, the dead commemorated and the living transformed into initiates in the mystic mysteries of the fatherland and of the holy blood flowing in their veins. And there were the ceremonies of initiation into the party organizations, the army and the SS, always including an oath on Adolf Hitler personally, represented by the Blood Banner, the sacred banner magically containing and able to impart the presence and force of the Führer.

The crowning festivity of the year was the Party Rally, held in Nuremberg in the month of September. It lasted a whole week and delegations of party organizations everywhere in Germany participated. In 1938 Hitler declared: “Several of the [ritual] acts have by now reached their definitive form.” “Up to this point”, writes Speer, “I had taken the phrase Das Tausendjährige Reich [the Reich of a Thousand Years] as purely theoretical, a mere claim to establishing something that would last more than a single lifetime. But when I saw Hitler virtually canonizing the ritual in this manner, I realized for the first time that the phrase was intended literally. I had long thought that all these formations, processions and dedications were part of a clever propagandistic revue. Now I finally understood that for Hitler they were almost like rites of the founding of a church … It now seems to me more likely that he was deliberately giving up the smaller claim to the status of a celebrated popular hero in order to gain the far greater status of founder of a religion.”806 For countless Germans, especially Protestants, the Hitler religion coexisted with their belief in Christ. For many others Hitler replaced Christ. Altars to him were built in the homes, daily adorned with fresh flowers and prayed for. Letters were written to “my dear, fantastic, almost improbable Führer” by women “immeasurably surrendered” to him in “a madness of unimaginable happiness”. Photos of the letter writers were sent “together with the totality of my life”. Hands touched by the Führer were not washed for weeks, a pebble on which his boot had stepped became a relic, a woman at whom he had smiled was treated like a saint in her village. “While you liberated the Sudetenland, I knitted these stockings for you. Now we have both reached our goal, you a big one, I a small one”, a teacher wrote to Hitler. “He does not speak, something speaks through him … An essential characteristic of his is the absolute virility … He is full of an immense kind-heartedness, a boundless faith, a total modesty about his person, but also a limitless pride of his people and what has been accomplished, and a noble hope in what will be accomplished…”807

Hitler’s true objectives, even though quite explicitly stated by him, were so fantastic that they were understood only metaphorically – at least by the first generation of Nazis, for the second generation of Hitler Youth, SS-men and young army officers towards the end of the war was already sufficiently fanaticized to take his words literally. All Hitler’s efforts were focused on fighting the wars necessary to establish the foundations of the Aryan world empire, and the Germans of that time did not realize that their use consisted in bringing this about and serve as the required canon fodder. Hitler, though, had warned them early on: “If the struggle on behalf of the world vision is not conducted by men of heroic spirit who are ready to sacrifice everything, within a short while it will become impossible to find real fighting followers who are ready to lay down their lives for the cause … In order to secure the conditions that are necessary for success, everybody concerned must be made to understand that the new movement looks to posterity for its honour and glory but that it has no recompense to offer to the present-day members.”808

“Hitler never left his people in doubt that war was to come”, testifies Rauschning. “We must be prepared for the toughest war which a people ever had to wage,” Hitler said. “Only by this test of the will can we mature for the sovereignty to which we are called. It will be my duty to fight this war without considerations for losses. The blood sacrifices will be appalling.”809He was prepared “to justify the blood sacrifice of a whole generation of the German youth”, if necessary surpassing the losses in the First World War, for he had “the right to send the youth to their death”. When the day came that he would order war, he could not be withheld by “the thought of the ten million young men whom he would send to their death”.810

We know about Hitler’s contempt for the German people from the time we examined the main themes of Mein Kampf. (Goebbels’ disdain for “the human canaille” was not less.) Already during the battle of Stalingrad he said: “In this too I am cold as ice: if the German Volk is not ready to fight for its self-preservation, very well, then it must vanish.”811This attitude of Hitler will take on monstrous proportions towards the end. “If the German people are no longer so strong and ready for sacrifice that they will stake their own blood on their existence, they deserve to pass away and be annihilated by another, stronger power … If this is the case I would not shed a tear for the German people.”812And to Albert Speer he said: “If the German nation is now defeated in this struggle, it has been too weak. That will mean it has not withstood the test of history and was destined for nothing but doom.”813

The man became ever more cynical. “The less the population has to lose, the more fanatically it will fight”, he said to Speer in connection with the bombings. “If the German people are incapable of appreciating me, I’ll fight this war alone!” he exclaimed, in the safety of his bunker moving phantom armies about in imaginary positions with broad sweeps of his hand. Finally, when the allied fronts moved unstoppably forward towards the centre of Germany, Hitler issued the orders for his scorched earth policy. “No German was to inhabit territory occupied by the enemy”, writes Speer. The entire population of the threatened areas was to be forcibly evacuated and all that remained behind destroyed. When his attention was drawn to the lack of transport for hundreds of thousands of people in the middle of the winter, he barked: “Let them walk!” and added to Keitel: “We can no longer afford to concern ourselves with the population.”814

“If the war is lost”, he said to Speer, “the people will be lost also. It is not necessary to worry about what the German people will need for elemental survival. On the contrary, it is best for us to destroy even these things. For the nation has proved to be the weaker, and the future belongs solely to the stronger eastern nation [he meant the USSR]. In any case only those who are inferior will remain after this struggle, for the good have already been killed.”815The Messiah had not failed the Chosen People, his people had failed and betrayed him, all of them.

A New Man

Hitler was convinced that humanity had the potential of transformation into a higher species. According to him “man was subject to an enormous change. In the course of the millennia a transformative process, literally speaking, took place in him.” Thus reports Rauschning, who asserts: “For Hitler was much more than a politician: he was the prophet of a new humanity.”

And Rauschning reports the following amazing words of Hitler: “Creation is not finished, at least not where the human being is concerned. The human being stands, from the biological point of view, clearly at a turning point. A new kind of human being becomes discernible … This causes the old human species, as we have known it until now, to become inexorably decadent … All the creative power will be concentrated in the new human species. Both species will quickly separate and develop into opposite directions. The one will sink below humanity, the other will rise above the present humanity. I might call the former ‘god-man’ and the latter ‘mass animal’ … Yes, man is something that has to be overcome. Nietzsche knew already something about this in his own way … Man becomes God, this is what it all means in simple words. Man is the becoming God …” And it was here that he spoke the oft-quoted words: “He who understands National Socialism only as a political movement knows practically nothing about it. It is more than a religion: it is the will to create a new humanity.”816

We remember that in the decennia around 1900 the idea of “a new man” was put forward by thinkers of the most diverse tendencies. The longing for a more satisfactory human existence arose not only because of dissatisfaction with the present state of the human condition and a nostalgia for the past; man was now also seen by many as a transitory being which was carried forward by the tide of general change, and which would transform itself or be transformed by Nature or Providence into a higher being. Marxism had its theory of economic processes which would produce such a new being; Nietzsche’s “superman” became a cliché; Freud had his ideal of a being conscious of the hidden depths within itself and socially adapted or adjusted; Jung proposed techniques to identify with the archetypal godhead within; List and May foresaw the re-appearance of the Edelmensch; George taught the development of the more refined human capacities into a kind of amalgam of a super-poet and a Greek god. It is therefore no wonder that we find the expectation of “the new man” in the diary of young Goebbels. “Heil and Sieg to the new man! … We must descend into the deepest depths if we want to create the new man … I am in search of the new Reich and the new man…”817

Ernst Jünger too had perceived a new man, for in one of his books about the First World War he wrote: “The spirit of the battle with modern war materiel and in the trenches, fought more ruthlessly, mercilessly and savagely than any other battle in the past, produced men whom the world had never seen before … These were new conquerors, natures of steel, adapted to battle in its most abhorrent form … When I observe them, the insight lights up in me: this is the new man.”818Jünger was personally admired and his writings were widely read. Especially his war reminiscences In Stahlgewittern (in storms of steel), the bible of the Free Corps, was a very popular book, read by those who had been battered in such storms and by those who regretted having been too young to be there.

When Hitler exclaims that the new man exists, he describes him with the characteristics of Jünger’s Frontschweine (literally “front pigs”, a popular German designation of the trench soldiers). “The new man lives among us. He is here!” Hitler shouted triumphantly. “Are you satisfied now? I tell you a secret: I have seen the new man, fearless and terrible. He startled me!” It is puzzling who this superman, “living among us”, may have been. Most probably it was Hitler’s image in the mirror, for “among us” there was no place for somebody superior to the Führer. John Toland writes that he “came to regard himself as a man of destiny, superior to any other human being whose genius and will power would conquer any enemy. Mesmerized by his political and military victories, he explained to one Nazi commander that he was the first and only mortal who had emerged into ‘a superhuman state’. His nature was ‘more godlike than human’, and therefore as the first of the new race of supermen he was ‘bound by none of the conventions of human morality ‘and stood above the law’.”819

Freedom of all moral restrictions was an integral element of the gospel Hitler had come to preach among the Aryans. “We will free ourselves from all humane and scientific prejudices. Therefore I will have propagated, in the schools for Junkers which I will found and where all future members of our master state will be educated, the gospel of the free man – of the man who is master of life and death, of fear and superstition, and who has learned to control his body, muscles and nerves … yet who also stands above the temptations of the mind and of a so-called free science.”820

Hitler’s new man would live according to and in harmony with his instincts; he would be a natural, “spontaneous” being. “One must feel diffident about one’s mind and conscience, and confident about one’s instincts. We must regain a new naivety … Providence has predestined me to be the greatest liberator of humanity.”821What he wanted humanity to be liberated from, as we have seen, was the predominance of the mind, the torture of its conscience and moral sense, and the need of individual freedom and personal independence. All indications are that the Hitlerian superman was a fully conditioned barbarian, integrated into a barbarian Volk which considered itself the lord and master of all other peoples.

“It is with the youth that I commence my great educational project”, said Hitler. “We, the older people, are used up. Yes, we are already old. We are tainted to the core. We don’t have any unflawed instincts anymore. We are cowardly, we are sentimental. We carry in our blood the burden of a humiliating past and the dull memory of servitude and a cringing existence. But my glorious young ones – is there a more beautiful youth in the whole world? Have a look at these young men and boys! What a material! With them I can build a new world!”822

“My pedagogic principles are tough”, continued Hitler. “The weak parts must be hammered away. In my Ordensburgen a youth will grow up that will startle the world. I want a violent, authoritarian, fearless, pitiless youth … They must be able to stand pain. They may not have anything weak or soft. The free, magnificent beast of prey must again flash from their eyes. I want my youth strong and beautiful. I will have it built up through all kinds of physical exercises. I want an athletic youth – this first and foremost. In this way I eradicate the millennia of human domestication, and I obtain the pure, noble stuff of Nature. Thus will I be able to create the new.

“I want no intellectual education. With knowledge I spoil the youth. I would prefer to let them learn only what they spontaneously pick up in their games. But they have to learn self-mastery. They must learn to overcome the fear of death by means of the most severe tests. This is the stage of the heroic youth. From it will develop the stage of the free man, of the man who is the centre and norm of the world, of creative man, of the god-man. In my Ordensburgen there will be present the cultic example of the harmonious, self-mastering god-man, and he will prepare the youth for the next stage of virile maturity.” “But here Hitler cut himself short”, writes Rauschning, “as he could not elaborate on this. There were further stages of which he was not allowed to speak, not even he. Moreover, he thought he would communicate this as his secret when he was no more alive. Something very important was then to happen, a staggering revelation. To complete his mission, he was to have died a sacrificial death.”823

“What Hitler had in mind”, writes Christian Zentner, “was the inner unity of the nation, welded together into a marching column, organized with an iron hand, prepared for any joyful sacrifice, and ready at any time to execute any order of the National Socialist leadership”.824“Hitler’s education of the youth was all-embracing”, remarks Henry Picker in his comments on the “table talk”, and he quotes Hitler’s words which should be included in any anthology of totalitarianism: “These boys join our organization at the age of ten and get a breath of fresh air for the first time, then, four years later, they move from the Jungvolk to the Hitler Youth and there we keep them for another four years. And then we are even less prepared to give them back into the hands of those who create class and status barriers, rather we take them immediately into the SA or into the SS … and so on. And if they are there for eighteen months or two years and have still not become real National Socialists, then they go into the Labour Service and are polished there for six or seven months, and all of this under a single symbol, the German spade. And if, after six or seven months, there are still remnants of class consciousness or pride in status, then the Wehrmacht will take over the further treatment for two years, and when they return after two or four years then, to prevent them from slipping back into old habits once again, we take them immediately into the SA, SS etc. and they will not be free again for the rest of their lives.”825

“Hitler was prepared to write off the older generation, remarking in November 1933 that ‘when an opponent says “I will not come over to your side”, I calmly say “Your child belongs to us already … You will pass on, but your descendants stand already in the new camp. In a short time they will know nothing but this new community”’ … A pluralistic youth culture was replaced by the monolithic Hitler Youth and League of German Maidens for fourteen- to eighteen-year-olds, and the German Young People and the League of Young Girls for the ten to fourteens.”826By the end of 1938 the Hitler Youth numbered more than seven and a half million; in March of the next year it became the only authorized youth organization in the Reich.

When a member had served his years in the Hitler Youth, he was in fact a fully trained military man. “While training in shooting and manoeuvre exercises was extended to all young men, the defence training of the Hitler Youth was expanded into special units. In 1938 the Naval Hitler Youth numbered 50 000, the Motorized Hitler Youth 90 000, the Air Force units 74 000, the model-airplane clubs of the German Youth 73 000, the Communications Hitler Youth 29 000.”827Their idols would be the fighter pilots Galland, Mölders and Marseille, and “the Desert Fox” Erwin Rommel, the most popular soldier of the regime. This completely nazified and fanaticized “second generation” – “I see the enthusiasm in their eyes when they speak of the Führer” – became awesome soldiers at the front, for instance as the tank division Hitler Jugend in Normandy and at Bastogne where, as diarist Goebbels notes, they performed “miracles of heroism”. These very young soldiers, many of them still looking like children, were also the ones who defended the last bridgeheads on the Havel, in the suburbs of Berlin, an episode retold in Bernhard Wicki’s film Die letzte Brücke (the last bridge). And a small unit of them lined up in front of a stooped and limping Hitler, when for the last time he came out of his bunker to decorate them for bravery. By that time the dream of Hitler’s Ordensburgen, the citadels of the Order, were bombarded into rubble and smoke.

The Order of the Death’s Head

“I am going to tell you a secret”, said Hitler to Hermann Rauschning somewhere in 1933, “I am founding an Order.”828The idea of “a small circle of real initiates” was not unknown among those close to Hitler, remembers Rauschning, for Alfred Rosenberg had already talked to him about it confidentially after having given a talk at the Marienburg, the central seat of the Teutonic Order. Actually the idea had nothing extraordinary, for whenever in history a really novel and compelling world vision appears, an almost automatic process of segregation takes place between its exoteric form, adapted to the mass, and its esoteric essence, destined for a select few.”

This corresponded in the main to the way Hitler saw his movement. Firstly, there was the mass of the members for whom he wanted to keep the original Party programme forever unchanged like the dogmas of a Church; they would be kept going by their unreflecting faith in the Party and its Führer. And there were the comrades who had stood at Hitler’s side during the years of struggle, die alten Kämpfer, and who were now the lower Führers in the Party pyramid, the “little Hitlers” as they were sometimes called. “Hitler knew that these men could not be won for a higher flight of the ideas. They were political toughs, hardened in the down-wearing struggle of every day. Their thought did not reach beyond the once accepted principles of National Socialism.” Hitler knew their strengths and their weaknesses very well, and rewarded their loyalty by satisfying their ambitions and greed.

Only when this generation had died out could, secondly, “a secular nation of priests” take shape, the first wave of “a new religion of humanity, the creation of a new human species”. Hitler realized that this would be possible only after the decisive war of world conquest “which was to come unavoidably”. National Socialism, or rather Hitlerism, was still in its infancy. “He touched repeatedly upon these topics in his conversations. And one felt, hidden behind his apparent resignation, the searing impatience to reach his proper stage: that of the creative statesman and lawgiver, of the exemplary artist and builder of cities, of the prophet and founder of a new religion.”829

“‘Party’ is a wrong concept. I would prefer to say ‘Order’”, said Hitler.830What he had in mind was an organization like the one worked out by Freemasonry, based on the example of the medieval guilds. “They formed a kind of priestly nobility. They set themselves apart by adopting special customs. They developed a secret teaching which is not so much a simple verbal creed as the gradual revelation of a higher insight by means of symbols and secret rites.” The “danger and greatness” of Freemasonry lay in its hierarchic organization and the teaching through symbols and rituals which appeal to the imagination “without the intervention of the intellect”. This was what fascinated Hitler and what he intended to emulate. “Don’t you see that our Party must be something similar: an Order, the hierarchic ordering of a secular priesthood?” he asked Rauschning. “But this means of course that there cannot be something similar on the other side. Either we are there, or there are the Freemasons, or the Church, but never two simultaneously. They are exclusive, something the Catholic Church has plainly understood, at least where Freemasonry is concerned [by excommunicating it]. Now we are the strongest and we will get rid of both others, the Freemasons and the Church.”831In the case of the Church he had to tread carefully, for Christianity was deeply ingrained in the thought and customs of the German people, but there cannot be any doubt about his ultimate intentions. Freemasonry, on the contrary, was harmless and defenceless, and forbidden as soon as he came to power.

Hitler’s obsession of having to found an Order was given a concrete shape in the SS, the Order of the Death’s Head. The SS was founded at a time when Hitler, for strategic reasons, had to let the SA be included in a Kampfbund, a fighting association, along with other rightist paramilitary units. The SS was his: his personal bodyguard, sworn in on his name and loyal to him alone. Here was an elite created without any concessions, and this elite would be a new aristocracy of the Aryan blood, embodying the Hitlerian ideals to the fullest.

At first the SS was no more than some insignificant small units, in most cases unpaid, who accompanied Hitler as his bodyguard and would protect him with their life. But this changed in 1929, when Hitler appointed Heinrich Himmler as their commander. “Hitherto the SS had been no more than an organization”, writes Heinz Höhne, “now it was to become an Order. Himmler had discovered from history an example on which he proposed to model his Order: the Jesuits … In the Jesuits Himmler had found what he regarded as the central feature of any Order’s mentality: the doctrine of [unconditional] obedience and the cult of organization.”832

“To have made from this handful of men [ 280 in 1929] the strongest ideological army ever, is [Himmler’s] merit”, said Hitler. “Little by little I have found in my SS the army against which I never had a complaint. There has never been a reason to expose them. It is Himmler who created their stature. From a small group of loosely connected men he has built a leadership apparatus. He is so to say the völkisch Ignatius of Loyola in the good sense.”833“The SS organization was built up by Himmler on the principles of the Order of the Jesuits”, writes Walter Schellenberg, himself an SS-general. “The service statutes and spiritual exercises preached by Ignatius of Loyola formed a pattern which Himmler assiduously tried to copy. Absolute obedience was the supreme rule; each and every order had to be accepted without question.”834This explains why Himmler was sometimes called “the black Jesuit” or “the Grand Inquisitor”, for safety’s sake behind his back.

Equivalent to the rule of unconditional obedience was the purity of the blood. “The discovery of any drop of non-Aryan blood in SS veins invariably excited Himmler. From 1 June 1935, every SS commander from the rank of regimental sergeant-major upwards had to show proof that neither he nor his wife had Jewish ancestors; from 1 October 1935 the requirement was extended to include quartermaster-sergeants and sergeant-majors, and shortly thereafter every SS man. Everyone had to be able to produce an ‘Aryan’ family tree going back in the case of officers and officer cadets to 1750 and in the case of other ranks to 1800.”835Moreover, the physical condition of a candidate had to be perfect. “The old Waffen-SS, the legion of pre-war National Socialist supermen, rejected every recruit with the slightest physical imperfection, even a single dental filling.”836

“Like monks and priests, or Communist Party members, there was a lengthy noviciate or candidate-membership, involving ideological instruction, labour and military service, and the acquisition of sporting prowess … Arcane initiation rites heightened the solemnity of being admitted to a privileged caste, a sort of secular priesthood. The midnight oath-swearing ceremony was apparently evocative, according to one eyewitness: ‘Tears came to my eyes when, by the light of torches, thousands of voices repeated the oath in chorus. It was like a prayer’. There was a bastardized catechism, in which the questions and responses included: ‘Why do we believe in Germany and the Führer?’ ‘Because we believe in God, we believe in Germany which He created in His world, and in the Führer, Adolf Hitler, whom He has sent us.’ Like all sects and totalitarian organizations, the SS recognized no departures and no separate private sphere. The individual was in for life.” (Michael Burleigh837) “I don’t doubt for a moment – many don’t understand this at present – that in one hundred years the whole German leadership will come from the SS”, said Hitler in one of his monologues.

We remember that Hitler had a rather low opinion of the racial purity of the Germans. After centuries of degeneration “a race is what we still have to become”, he said and estimated that the racial re-generation would take something like a hundred years. It was one of the functions of the SS in the Germanic-Nordic-Aryan nation to constitute a base, or an ambulant blood bank, which would render the regeneration possible. The documents of racial purity, demanded from every SS man and his marriage partner, were one step in this direction. Another step was the gathering of the best blood from all the Germanic peoples and their descendants (Flemings, Dutch, Scandinavian, Swiss, even French) into the SS. The Waffen-SS divisions Panzerdivision Nederland and Grenadierdivision Landstorm Nederland were Dutch, the Grenadierdivision Langemarck was Flemish, the Grenadierdivision der SS Charlemagne was French. (Waffen-SS divisions of Slavonic people were formed only when the military situation became critical and the conditions of entering the SS were considerably lowered.) Another step of heightening the degree of purity of the German blood was the kidnapping in the occupied territories of thousands of Aryan-looking children, who were then raised with families in Germany. In the chapter “Stolen Children” of her book The German Trauma, Gitta Sereny writes that these children numbered “possibly a quarter of a million”, most of them East European.

The SS men in their “dashing and elegant” black uniforms were very status conscious and conditioned to be so. At the bottom of the pyramid of the Nazi state there were the ordinary people, Jews and Gypsies not included; above them ranked the National Socialist Party members; then came the uniformed members of the SA; and on top stood the SS, looking down on everybody else, also on the SA from which they had originated, but who in their eyes remained a farrago of brainless street brawlers. The very crème de la crème of the SS were the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, Hitler’s pretorian guard, commanded by Sepp Dietrich; they were the closest an Aryan could resemble “the image of the Lord”, and they peopled the dreams of the League of German Maidens and the nightmares of non-Nazis.

Himmler stimulated the elitist character of the SS – “in the SS one found the better type of people”, writes Schellenberg – by trying to allure as many members of the German nobility as possible, and by recruiting educated young men. In the higher SS ranks the number of officers with a university education, especially lawyers, economists and physicians, was considerable. They ran the SS as drilled technocrats, which explains the cancer-like growth of the Order within the body of the Third Reich. On this aspect of the SS, Burleigh remarks: “Historians have made much of the fact that many of them were lawyers or economists, two-thirds of whom had higher education and a third doctorates; less is predictably made of the truth that a doctorate sometimes merely betokens an assiduous mindlessness, signifying nothing about the wider personality. For, ironically enough, the universities were precisely the places in Germany which fostered an elite form of anti-Semitism, whose radicalism was ill disguised within a carapace of ‘scientific objectivity’ towards the ‘Jewish Question’. Now these former student radicals had the chance to implement what they had so often talked of in their exclusive circles.”838

It is now generally accepted that the SS was, in Peter Lebenda’s words, “a fully constituted cult … Himmler’s dream was to create out of the SS a new religion.” “Church marriages were prohibited for SS members, whose vows were solemnified in the SS’s own ceremonies. Since spouses were subjected to exhaustive racial vetting, they were being co-opted into the emergent elite, with their fecundity being monitored through the unlikely medium of gifts of SS kitsch for the birth of each child. Children of SS men underwent an alternative form of baptism, with the seventh child being eligible for having Himmler as godfather. The centrepiece of the ceremony was a portrait of Hitler; instead of clergy there were SS men bearing standards with the swastika and the legend ‘Germany awake’ … All of this is entirely in keeping with the well-documented habits of sects and other totalitarian organizations in shaping the individual member’s whole environment.”839

The standard black SS uniform (they also had a greyish or feldgrau one for everyday activities), with the twin Sig rune and the death’s head on the cap, was feared by the German population no less than in the occupied countries, for everybody knew that it stood for ruthless Nazi-extremism, torture and death. “I know that there are many who fall ill when they see this black uniform”, a gratified Himmler said in a speech to his commanders. “We understand this and don’t expect that we will be loved by many people.”840They had their own ceremonies for birth, marriage and death, at which the local SS commander functioned as the priest; they had their own terminology for the ranks within the Order; and they had their own justice, for a member of the SS could not be called to account by anybody outside the Order, not even by the military tribunals. They lived in the conviction that they were the highest and noblest living beings on earth whose rightful task it was to rule the globe, as the descendants of the former Nordic master race which was now regaining its rights and its spiritual powers, residing in or resulting from the purity of their blood.

Himmler stimulated these pretences to superhumanity in every way he could. One of his close consultants, with whom he had for some years a most cordial friendship, was an Austrian seer, Karl Maria Wiligut aka Weisthor, “the last descendant of a long line of German sages, the Uiligotis of the Asa-Uana-Sippe, which dated back to a remote prehistoric era”.841Impressed by the proven veracity of some of Wiligut’s visions, Himmler made him a full colonel in the SS and put him to work in the SS research centres concerned with the glorious olden times of the Germanic-Nordic-Aryans. It was Wiligut who designed the death’s head ring, awarded by Himmler, as master of the Order, only to some of his highest-ranking and most deserving myrmidons, and it was Wiligut who convinced the Reichsführer-SS of the significance and the value for his Order of the Wewelsburg near the town of Paderborn.

This old and dilapidated castle was soon renovated by the inmates of a makeshift concentration camp, for it was to become “an SS-order castle comparable to the Marienburg of the medieval Teutonic Knights”; in other words, it was to become the “Vatican” of the Order of the Death’s Head. That Himmler took this very seriously is shown by surviving plans for a huge complex of buildings, destined to be the Order’s world centre and focused on the Wewelsburg. Several authors remind us, moreover, that after the Nazi wars of conquest, the SS would reside in its own state, more or less covering the former territory of Burgundy – not the present-day vineyard region in France but the old land of the Burgundians, from Southern Germany all the way down to the Mediterranean. The symbolical meaning of this choice may be found in the fact that the Nibelungs were Burgundians, and that the primary SS slogan, embroidered on the sleeve of their uniforms, was Meine Ehre heisst Treue, faithfulness is my honour, inspired by the Nibelungs’ legendary fealty, the Nibelungen Treue.

The freedom with which Himmler and his henchmen could act out their fantasies of past, present and future greatness is amazing; it demonstrates the extent to which Nazi Germany had become an island of irrationalism. Himmler could publicly proclaim that he was an incarnation of the medieval German emperor Henry the Fowler and, as the highlight of a grandiose ceremony, communicate with the Fowler’s spirit in the tomb where his remains had been laid to rest with military honours. Or he could authorize and finance, in 1938-39, the Ernst Schäfer expedition to Tibet, where he suspected that traces of the first, godlike Aryans might be found. Similar expeditions were also sent to Iceland and Antarctica, and more were planned to the Far East and to Tiahuanaco, the old Inca city in the Andes, but cancelled because of the war.

If we put all this together, and remember that Hitler already in Mein Kampf took his distance from the bearded, impotent völkisch dreamers, then we must conclude that the Hitler-Himmler relation was ambiguous. Not, as far as known, from the side of “the faithful Henry”, although the inner tension may have influenced his ambiguous attitude at the time of the Stauffenberg attempt on Hitler’s life and his decision towards the end of the war to negotiate with the Swedes. For he, Himmler, top policeman of the Reich, must surely have been aware of some of Hitler’s barbs at his expense. For instance, Speer writes that Hitler had little sympathy with Himmler in his mythologizing of the SS. “What nonsense!” exclaimed Hitler. “Here we have at last reached an age that has left all mysticism behind it, and now he wants to start all over again. We might just as well have stayed with the Church. At least it had tradition. To think that I may some day be turned into an SS saint! Can you imagine it? I would turn over in my grave.” Then follows the passage where Hitler says that “the Romans were creating great buildings when our forefathers were still living in mud huts”, and the question why the whole world’s attention should be called to this fact.842

But the relation was more complex than that. Himmler had forged his SS into an essential instrument of the Reich, subservient only to the Führer and animated by the Führer’s ideology and, most important, by faith. For the time being nothing of all this could be touched or altered, especially as it had grown under Hitler’s own inspiration and supervision. “I am doing nothing that the Führer does not know about”, said Himmler, who clicked his heels even when Hitler spoke to him on the telephone. There is every ground to believe him, at least till the time that the final collapse of the Reich seemed imminent.

We have therefore to disagree with the authors who would have us understand that Hitler distanced himself from some of Himmler’s projects, for instance the Wewelsburg. For Rüdiger Sünner mentions that Hitler signed, on 2 July 1940, a “decree by the Führer and Chancellor of the Reich concerning building works in the region of the Wewelsburg”, and that he thereby gave the Chief of the SS a free hand for all these plans. Höhne writes that Hitler “never appeared in the Wewelsburg”, but this is contradicted by a photo in Lebenda’s Unholy Alliance, showing Hitler and Himmler together in the hall of an old castle, with the caption: “Hitler and Himmler in the Wewelsburg”.

In fact, the Order of the Death’s Head was one of Hitler’s most authentic creations, with Heinrich Himmler as his instrument. The SS was “the chosen elite who held the decision about life and death in their hands”.843Once more Ernst Jünger had set the tone: “Our work is to kill, and it is our duty to do our work well.” The SS were trained to become the unfeeling, automatically obedient robots, or angels, or devils, of death. Theirs was “an unfeeling form of neo-barbarism”, ready at any moment “to give and take death” (den Tod zu geben und zu nehmen). No, the symbol of the death’s head on their caps, rings, weapons and tanks was not “death-fixated kitsch”, it expressed, together with the colour of their uniforms, exactly what it stood for. “Most of you will know what it means when one hundred corpses are laying there in a row, or five hundred, or a thousand. To have stood this and to have remained decent – not taking into account exceptions of human weakness – this has made us hard. This is a never written and never to be written glorious page of our history.”844Thus spoke Himmler to his commanders, and the emphases are his.

Reading about the Second World War in Europe, one finds that where there were Germans and death, there was the SS man. Doing evil made him feel stronger, more superhuman. Hans Hüftig had been the former commandant of the Buchenwald concentration camp – on the Ettersberg near Weimar, where Goethe once walked. To an interviewer he told in 1986, from his comfortable retirement: “Today it seems so cruel, inhuman and immoral. It did not seem immoral to me then: I knew very well what I was going to do in the SS. We all knew. It was something in the soul, not in the mind. We all knew what we were going to do in the SS. When it comes down to it, it is a very simple story. I was a Nazi.”845

13. Medium

The spirit is always more important than the external force which incarnates it.

Adolf Hitler

“I have thought and thought about it”, Albert Speer said to Gitta Sereny, “and you know, even if all the people who had been close to Hitler during one or another period of his life were alive and available for questioning by the many historians and psychologists who have tried to come to grips with Hitler’s personality, I cannot think of a single person who could have explained it”.846And H.R. Trevor-Roper quotes Speer as saying: “The whole demonic figure of the man can never be explained simply as the product of these events [WW II and the aftermath for Germany]. They could just as easily have found expression in a national leader of mediocre stature. For Hitler was one of those inexplicable historical phenomena which emerge at rare intervals among mankind. His person determined the fate of the nation. He alone placed it, and kept it, upon the path which has lead to this dreadful ending. The nation was spellbound by him as a people has rarely been in the whole of history.”847

Walter Langer, in his 1943 report for the Office of Strategic Services, expressed his puzzlement about the person of Adolf Hitler in equally candid terms: “If we scan the tremendous qualities of material and information that have been accumulated on Hitler, we find little that is helpful in explaining why he is what he is … No matter how long we study the available material, we can find no rational explanation of his present conduct. The material is descriptive and tells us a great deal about how he behaves under varying circumstances, what he thinks and feels about various subjects, but it does not tell us why.”848

Hitler was on the one hand “the lonely wanderer out of nothingness”, as he liked to introduce himself, on the other hand he was a man “summoned by Providence”. “Throughout his life, wherever he went, Adolf Hitler was always a mysterious stranger”, writes Ron Rosenbaum.849Werner Maser has the same impression: “Hitler cannot be explained either by his social origin or by his education and early environment.”850Speer, the man who had been so close to him, said also: “Hitler in a sense gave the impression of being a total stranger. He really came from another world. That was why, whenever he appeared on the scene in the course of the war, he always seemed so bizarre.”851

All those who were able to observe Hitler for some time from nearby are agreed on what Konrad Heiden calls “the sharp division in his personality”. There was what one might describe as “the outward shell” of the perceptible person covering “an empty core” (Speer), “a hollow individuality” (Fest), “the emptiness of the private person” (Kershaw). Fest also writes about “the resistance, still widespread today, to accepting such an inexpressible commonplace figure as Hitler as the man behind events of such extraordinary magnitude”.852His outward appearance was often ridiculed by those who did not see a god in him. He was “the great Adolf with the small moustache”, “terribly pale”, a man smaller than the average German with “his train conductor’s cap” pulled deep over his eyes, “a weakish, mollusc-like being, pasty, cheesy, feminine, not the warrior but the hairdresser type”.853“How shall one reconcile the gravity, the catastrophic magnitude of the events with the vulgar mediocrity of the individual who initiated them?” asks Rosenbaum.854

But oftentimes Hitler’s vulgar mediocrity made place for a power from inside, or from behind, or from above, which transformed him into an irresistible “charismatic” being. “Suddenly, in the midst of a conversation, Hitler’s face grows tense as with an inner vision”, writes Heiden from experience. “These are the moments in which the humanly repulsive falls away from him and the unfathomable is intensified until it becomes truly terrible. His eyes peer into the distance as though he were reading or gazing at something which no one else sees … When suddenly this man, who has been awkwardly standing around, now and then muttering a remark that by no means dominates the conversation, is seized with determination and begins to speak, filling the room with his voice, suppressing interruptions or contradictions by his domineering manner, spreading cold shivers among those present by the savagery of his declarations, lifting every subject of conversation into the light of history, and interpreting it so that even trifles have their origin in greatness – then the listener is filled with awe and feels that a new phenomenon has entered the room. This thundering demon was not there before; this is not the same timid man with the contracted shoulders. He is capable of this transformation in a personal interview as well as when facing an audience of half a million.”855

The same phenomenon normally took place when Hitler gave his speeches. Fest describes the care and the expertise with which he staged the whole event himself, making the evening build up to the highest possible tension in expectation of him. “He ruled out introductory speeches or greetings that could only distract the audience from his person. For a few moments he would linger before the platform, mechanically shaking hands, mute, absent-minded, eyes flickering restively, but ready like a medium to be imbued and carried aloft by the strength that was already there, latent, in the shouting of the masses. The first words were dropped mutedly, gropingly, into the breathless silence; they were often preceded by a pause that seemed to become utterly unbearable, while the speaker collected himself. The beginning was monotonous, trivial, usually lingering on the legend of his rise … This formal beginning prolonged the suspense once more, into the very speech itself. But it also allowed him to sense the mood and to adjust to it. A catcall might abruptly inspire him to take a fighting tone until the first eagerly awaited applause surged up. For that was what gave him contact, what intoxicated him, and ‘after about fifteen minutes’, a contemporary observer commented, ‘there takes place what can only be described in the primitive old figure of speech: the spirit enters into him’.”856

“When the transformation takes place in his personality all his views, sentiments and values are also transformed. The result is that as ‘Führer’ he can make statements with great conviction that flatly contradict what ‘Hitler’ said a few minutes earlier. He can grapple with the most important problems and in a few minutes reduce them to extremely simple terms; he can map out campaigns, be the supreme judge, deal with diplomats, ignore all ethical and moral principles, order executions or the destruction of cities without the slightest hesitation. And he can be in the best of humour while he is doing it. All of this would have been completely impossible for ‘Hitler’.” (Langer857)

Ernst Hanfstängl, one of Hitler’s closest confidants during his climb to power, recalls: “He had this chameleon-like gift of reflecting the wishes of the masses, and somehow their message was transmitted to him on a wavelength which was not that of speech, but some other set of vibrations into which he could tune himself. This may have been one of the reasons for his complete contempt for foreign languages and the necessity of learning and understanding them. He would talk to a foreigner, using an interpreter for the words, but his mediumistic gifts seemed to work just as well with a Hottentot or a Hindu.”

“His characteristics were those of a medium,” writes Hanfstängl, “who absorbed and gave expression, by induction and osmosis, to the fears, ambitions and emotions of the whole German nation … He could sprawl for hours like a crocodile dozing in the Nile mud or a spider immobile in the centre of its web. He would chew his nails, look boredly into space and sometimes whistle. But as soon as some person of interest … joined his company, you could almost see him mobilizing his internal machinery. The asdic pings of inquiry would go out and within a short time he had a clear image of the wavelength and secret yearnings and emotions of his partner. The pendulum of conversation would start to beat faster, and the person would be hypnotized into believing that there lay in Hitler immense depths of sympathy and understanding. He had the most formidable powers of persuasion of any man or woman I have ever met, and it was almost impossible to avoid being enveloped by him.”858

Rauschning too compares Hitler to a medium. “Mediums are mostly ordinary, insignificant beings, but suddenly they acquire powers which lift them high above the norms of everyday life. These powers are not part of their actual personality: they are guests from another order of being. The medium is being possessed by them, but he himself remains untouched and unaltered by them. It is undeniable that such forces are passing through Hitler, truly demonic forces which use Hitler, the human person, only as an instrument. The ordinary linking up with the extraordinary – this is what gives the contact with Hitler such an unbearably ambiguous effect.”859There was that “magic power of greatness” emanating from a “human nullity”, “a creature who as a man is smaller than you and I”.860


“Hitler’s secretary Christa Schroeder, having observed him for fifteen years, concluded that he possessed ‘the gift of a rare magnetic power to reach people’, ‘a sixth sense and a clairvoyant intuition’. He could ‘in some mysterious way foretell the subconscious reactions of the masses and in some inexplicable manner mesmerize his interlocutors’. He possessed, she said, ‘the receptivity of a medium and at the same time the magnetism of a hypnotist’.”861Schroeder’s statement is confirmed by numerous testimonies. The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper, for instance, mentions “that compelling enchantment of Hitler”; the annotator of the “table talk” writes about “that remarkable magnetic fluid which he emanated with such mastery” and emphasizes his words; Ernst Hanfstängl is struck by “the extraordinary magnetism of his personality”; and Walter Langer too wonders at “the magnetic quality” of the subject of his inquiry.

In his Hitler biography, Fest writes: “[Hitler] possessed ‘the most terrifying persuasiveness’. Along with this he had the power of exerting a hypnotic effect upon his interlocutor. The leadership of the party, the gauleiters and Old Fighters who had shoved their way to the top alongside him, undoubtedly were ‘a band of eccentrics and egotists all going in different directions’, and certainly were not servile in the traditional sense. The same is true for at least a part of the officers’ corps. Nevertheless, Hitler imposed his will on them as he pleased. And he did so not only at the height of his power but equally well before, when he was a marginal figure on the political Right, and at the end, when he was only the burned-out husk of a once mighty man.”862

“They were all under his spell”, Speer said of Hitler’s chief henchmen. “They obeyed him blindly, with no will of their own – whatever the medical term of this phenomenon may be.”863And Sereny quotes Speer as saying: “One thing is certain: every one who worked closely with him for a long time was exceptionally dependent on him. However powerful they were in their own domain, close to him they became small and timid.”864We saw how Himmler jumped to attention, clicking his heels, when Hitler phoned him. Goebbels “was cowed by Hitler’s magnetic powers”. Göring said to Hjalmar Schacht: “I try so hard, but every time I stand before the Führer, my heart drops into the seat of my pants.”865

Schacht himself, “the great economic and financial wizard”, never left a conversation with Hitler without being deeply impressed and experiencing a feeling of re-invigoration”, writes Rauschning. “He always felt revitalized, and the grand perspectives drawn by Hitler gave a renewed meaning to his efforts … When even the cleverest of all economic leaders felt this way, how could I have felt otherwise?” For Rauschning too had to confess: “I often had the occasion to examine myself and I admit having come, time and again, under his spell, which afterwards I had to fight off like a spell of hypnotism.”866Speer uses the expression “when Hitler took possession of me” and writes in his Spandau diary: “The complicated feeling of being bound to him persists to the present day”, in November 1949.867

The Hitler effect was equally strong on military officers, all of them trained in the curt Prussian way. Even the gallant Rommel came under Hitler’s influence every time he met him. “Hitler emanated a magnetic, perhaps hypnotic power”, he wrote to his wife.868Walter Blomberg, a Nazi general and for a time Minister of Defence, “used to say that a cordial handshake of the Führer’s could cure him of his colds”.869A former officer on the Eastern front, interviewed by Kempowski for his book Haben Sie Hitler gesehen? (did you see Hitler?), remembers: “When the nonsensical Führer orders continued to come, our division commander said: ‘I am going to give this man a piece of my mind’. I still see him standing in the ravine in which our staff buses were parked. But when he came back [from his meeting with Hitler] he said: ‘The Führer is right’.”870

Admiral Dönitz called Hitler “a being from whom flows an influence and who has an enormous suggestive power”. “The usually cool technocrat Karl Dönitz became mesmerized in Hitler’s presence. After a few days he admitted to fleeing the Führer’s headquarters in order to regain his independence of mind.”871In March 1945, when the Russians were threatening Danzig, Gauleiter Forster “walked through my office, in complete despair at what was happening”, recalls one of Hitler’s secretaries. “He revealed to me that 1100 Russian tanks were closing in on Danzig, that the Wehrmacht had no more than four Tiger tanks to oppose them, and that they didn’t even have any petrol. Forster was determined not to hide his view of things and to represent to Hitler the entire disastrous reality of the situation. ‘You can rely on it, I will tell him everything, even at the risk of his throwing me out’. How great was my surprise when he came out of his interview with Hitler a totally changed man. ‘The Führer has promised me new divisions for Danzig’, he said. Seeing my sceptical smile, he added: ‘Of course, I wouldn’t know where he can find them. But he has told me he will save Danzig, and so the matter is beyond any doubt’ … Undoubtedly it was Hitler’s fatal suggestive power that had worked upon him.”872

These men were capable and powerful warlords, commanding the best trained and equipped armies and clusters of armies in the world. Hitler’s initial successes raised them for a while to the zenith of their mastery and self-satisfaction. Yet, that in the presence of Hitler they became as obedient as his shepherd dog is a fact, intriguing and unexplained. Ulrich de Maizière, a general staff officer, testified: “A difficult to describe demonic power emanated from Hitler, and few were able not to fall under his spell. It was an influence which affected all soldiers in the same way and which is difficult to understand if one has not experienced it oneself.” Young officers at the front, whom Hitler had called and who were decided to report to him how catastrophic the situation at the front was, left his headquarters saying: “This is a terrific man.” The supreme commander of the Heeresgruppe Mitte [the middle one of the three army groups invading Russia and initially aimed at Moscow], Field Marshal von Kluge, had disagreed with Hitler on the phone using very harsh words. He was called to the Führer headquarters, where all responsible persons told him he must make clear to Hitler how bad the situation at the front was. After an hour Kluge came out from the conference room and said: “Hitler is right. I will try again.”873

“I was not the only one to succumb to Hitler’s strange fascination”, writes Speer. “So did statesmen of importance, men like Hindenburg, [John] Simon [British Foreign Secretary], Lloyd George [British statesman], Mussolini, and many others.”874Famous among those others were the American aviator Charles Lindbergh; the Duke of Windsor, who could have caused serious complications if he had remained on the throne as Edward VIII; the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin; and Unity Mitford, daughter of Lord Redesdale, who had a crush on Hitler, loved to parade in Munich as a Nazi, and tried to commit suicide there in the English Garden when war erupted between her country and Germany. It should be mentioned however that Hitler’s “magnetism” had its effect not only on individuals but also on audiences and crowds of thousands, which he was able to bring to an ecstatic frenzy, and on the German nation as a whole. “The Führer has charged the entire nation as if it were a storage battery”, noted Goebbels in his diary; and Trevor-Roper writes: “It was a spell wherewith the whole German people had been bewitched.”875

George Ball, who was one of the interrogators of the Nazi bonzes under trial at Nuremberg, said to Speer: “From the point of most of us, what is most baffling of all is the constant references to the charisma or mystique or particular charm of Hitler. From the point of view of anyone in my country, or I think in Great Britain, who had the experience of seeing motion pictures of Hitler or of hearing him on the radio, and of reading the things he wrote, it was totally incomprehensible. How could anyone find a particular charm in this man? How do you explain it? This is the ultimate mystery, I think, as far as we are concerned.”

“It is only explicable”, Speer replied, “if you agree that there are human beings who have a kind of magnetism or hypnotic quality. You try to evade this influence, get away from its effect, but you are in their … you are … you depend on him.” According to Sereny, Speer wanted to translate the word hörig, which literally means “enslaved” or “in bondage”, but did not find the English equivalent. “Ball suggested that perhaps just the effect of power could explain charisma, and Speer agreed that power exerted its own mystique. But he said that what had always puzzled him was how Hitler’s effect on his environment had functioned just as effectively before 1933, when there was [political] defeat upon defeat and crisis upon crisis and yet he succeeded, almost entirely by force of personality. “It remains a mystery”, Speer said. “But the fact is that it is impossible to explain Germany before 1933, and from 1933 to 1945, without Hitler. He was the centre of it all and always remained the centre.”876

Hugh Trevor-Roper, serving as a military intelligence officer, had been the first to examine a mass of authentic documents in order to write his report The Last Days of Hitler. Although in the course of time he had become Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford, he had in the middle 1990s the courage to admit to Ron Rosenbaum: “Hitler certainly had an extraordinary power. It didn’t work on everybody: it didn’t work – to put it crudely – on the aristocrats or people who were sensitive to the vulgarity of his behaviour or surroundings. But when he wanted to mesmerize, he did have the wherewithal.” “In the course of his research”, Rosenbaum comments, “Trevor-Roper was surprised at the extent to which the Hitler spell still held sway even after ignominious defeat.”877

“What Trevor-Roper sought to do in The Last Days was to describe the spell as an inescapable fact of any account of Hitler’s life”, continues Rosenbaum. “He does not try to explain it so much as evoke it. And yet by invoking it so eloquently, he came to be accused of perpetrating, indeed of falling under, the spell, of giving it, giving the Hitler myth, a posthumous life.”878In The Last Days of Hitler, one of the first, most famous and influential post-war Hitler books, Trevor-Roper states outright: “The power of the Führer was a magic power.”879Similarly, in The Face of the Third Reich Fest writes: “… The character of Hitler’s compulsive power over men’s minds can only be understood in religious terms”.880– How could there ever be an understanding of Hitler without an explanation of his powers? But, also, which established historian would take the risk to use religious terms or concepts for the explanation of a historical phenomenon?

Blue Eyes

Hitler’s hypnotic effect on certain individuals “must be accepted as a fact”, writes Konrad Heiden.881“It was a magnetic fluid he was using”, asserts one of Kempowski’s eyewitnesses. “The people were fascinated. It was a kind of hypnosis … no independent judgment was possible anymore … Nowadays there’s nobody who still believes this.”882It is indeed noteworthy that there is a fundamental difference between the testimonies of the direct witnesses and the reflections of the people in later years who know about Hitler only from hearsay or from reading about him. Guido Knopp, aware of this difference, reminds us: “Numerous are the contemporary witnesses who report that Hitler effectively must have had a hypnotic power at his command to impose his will on others, also in the private sphere.”883

Laurence Rees gives the example of one Fridolin von Spaun, remembering an encounter with Hitler at a Party dinner. “Suddenly I noticed Hitler’s eyes resting on me. So I looked up. And that was one of the most curious moments in my life. He didn’t look at me suspiciously, but I felt that he was searching me somehow … It was hard for me to sustain this look for so long. But I thought: ‘I mustn’t avert my eyes, or he may think I’ve something to hide’. And then something happened which only psychologists can judge. The gaze, which at first rested completely on me, suddenly went straight through me into the unknown distance. It was so unusual. And the long gaze which he had given me convinced me completely that he was a man with honourable intentions. Most people nowadays would not believe this. They’d say I am getting old and childish, but that’s untrue. He was a wonderful phenomenon.”

“Hitler had a similar effect on many others”, writes Rees, and he mentions the experience of a 14-year-old girl who was allowed to shake Hitler’s hand. “He came. Everything got quiet. And we were so excited, I felt my heart up here in my throat. And when he came to me I nearly forgot to give him my hand; I just looked at him and I saw good eyes. And in my heart I promised him: ‘I always will be faithful to you because you are a good man’. That was in a dream-like time. And later I kept my promise.”884

“It was the eyes that dominated the otherwise common face”, writes William Shirer. “They were hypnotic. Piercing. Penetrating. As far as I could tell they were light blue, but the colour was not the thing you noticed. What hit you at once was their power. They stared at you. They stared through you. They seemed to immobilize the person on whom they were directed, frightening some and fascinating others, especially women, but dominating them in any case … All through the days at Nuremberg I would observe hardened Party leaders, who had spent years in the company of Hitler, freeze as he paused to talk to one or the other of them, hypnotized by his penetrating glare. I thought at first that only Germans reacted in this manner. But one day at a reception for foreign diplomats I noticed one envoy after another apparently succumbing to the famous eyes.”885

A colonel who accompanied General von Kluge to meet Hitler before the war remembers how Hitler shook the hand of everybody present: “It was impressive. He had very big, deep blue, very dark blue eyes, the kind of eyes Frederick the Great too must have had. With his dark blue eyes he looked at the people, and they were so to speak hypnotized, like a frog by a snake…”886Deep blue? Dark blue? The colour of Hitler’s eyes according to the impressions of witnesses covers a scale from “watery grey” and “cold fish eyes” over “dull grey” (François-Poncet) to the colonel’s “deep blue”, “bright blue” and Goebbels’ “marvellous blue – like stars”.

Even in the last days of Hitler’s existence and that of his Reich, “the fascination of the eyes, which had bewitched so many seemingly sober men – which had exhausted Speer, and baffled Rauschning, and seduced Stumpfegger, and convinced an industrialist that [Hitler] had direct telepathic communication with the Almighty – had not deserted them. It was useless for his enemies to complain that they were really repellent. ‘They are neither deep nor blue’, protested Rauschning; ‘his look is staring or dead, and lacks the brilliance and sparkle of genuine animation’; nevertheless, in spite of his explanations and evasions, Rauschning had to admit, what Speer freely confesses and thousands of less critical Germa