When Hitler was discharged by the army in 1918, he found an altogether different Germany from the one he had known before the war. It was no longer ruled by a kaiser. The Socialists had taken over the government, but the Communists were active and calling for a revolution like that of Russia’s. After some fighting, the government succeeded in putting down the Communists. Their leaders, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, were killed and the communist threat died down, at least for a time.
In 1919, after elections, a coalition — a combination of various parties — led by the Socialists, took control of the government. It set up a republic, which was called the “Weimar Republic,” because the government first met in the city of Weimar. A constitution was adopted and it looked as though Germany was on the way to becoming a real democracy.
There were too many people in Germany who had no use for democracy. Germany had long been a militaristic nation and the army had had enormous power. Its officers longed to regain that power and they were supported by the judges and officials whom the republic inherited from the old government. The army began to spread the story that it was not to blame for losing the war. Germany should have won and would have won — if it had not been for the Socialists and the other politicians who wanted to set up a republic. They had plotted against the army, they had “stabbed it in the back.” They were responsible for Germany’s defeat‚ for the signing of the harsh Versailles Treaty, for all of Germany’s troubles.
The story was not true, but millions of Germans were ready to believe it. Like Hitler, they had been shocked by their country’s surrender and they were looking for someone to blame. Besides, it was getting harder and harder for them just to eat and stay alive. The government was in deep financial trouble; the value of its money kept falling. Before the war, 4.2 German marks had been worth one American dollar. After the war, it dropped to 7,000 to the dollar, then to 50,000, to 160,000, to 1,100,000. By the end of 1923, the mark was between 2,520,000,000,000 and 4,000‚000‚000,000 to the dollar and thousands of people were ruined. The big industrialists, however, paid off debts with this cheap money, built up their plants and made huge profits, but they were afraid of communism and did not trust the republic. They, too, were among the enemies of democracy.
This was the kind of Germany to which Hitler returned — a Germany of poverty, unrest, political plotting and even political murder. Unknown and with little money, Hitler arrived in Munich. He joined a small, unimportant political party and was soon convinced that he had at last found an occupation that really suited him. He learned that he had great ability at public speaking. He could rouse people, excite them, stir them up. He was just as skillful at playing politics. The little party he joined became the Nazi party and Hitler was its head. He organized his Sturmabteilung, the brown-shirted storm troopers, who guarded his meetings and broke up the meetings of other parties. He adopted the swastika as the Nazi emblem. He was joined by some of the men who would be closely associated with him in the years to come — Rudolf Hess, Herman Goering, Ernst Roehm. His beer hall revolution was a failure, but he turned his trial for high treason into a triumph, even though he was found guilty.
Nor did he waste the time he spent in prison. He served his sentence in the fortress at Landsberg, where he was treated more as a guest than as a prisoner. He was given a room of his own and there he dictated a book — My Struggle, or, in German, Mein Kampf. In it he gave his ideas and outlined his plans and it became the bible of the Nazis.
THE MASTER RACE
Hitler was not a good writer and he wandered from one subject to another, but certain of his ideas stood out. One was that the Germans were “the highest species of humanity” on earth and must be the master race of the world.
Hitler said the Germans belonged to what he called the “Aryan” race and that they must “care for the purity of the blood.” In other words, they must not marry “non-Aryans,” the members of other races. If the Germans were to be masters, they must have servants. They would be served particularly by the Slavic peoples — the Russians, the Czechs and the Poles. Some races, particularly the Jews, were not even fit to serve the Germans and must be wiped out.
How would the master race remain master? By force, by conquest, by war. “Mankind has grown great in eternal struggle,” said Hitler, “and only in eternal peace does it perish.” War was a good thing and only through war could nations achieve greatness. Furthermore, the master race must expand beyond Germany and it needed more space for living — in German, Lebensraum. Germany would first take over the countries with large German populations, such as Austria and parts of Poland and Czechoslovakia. Then it would take over the vast lands of Russia. This would also do away with the Bolsheviks and be a blow to the Jews. According to Hitler, the Bolsheviks and the international communist movement were under the control of the Jews.
When the Nazis had set up their own Reich, or state, there would be no such “nonsense” as democracy. At the head of the government, at the head of the nation and the people, would be a Fuehrer, or leader — an absolute dictator. This, of course, would be Hitler himself. Below him would be less important leaders, who would take orders from above and pass them on to those below. The people would obey, because their worship of the Fuehrer would be a kind of religion. For those who would not obey, there would be terror, torture and death.
Here, in Mein Kampf, a book that anyone could pick up and read was Hitler’s plan to conquer Germany — and the world.