A short wander up Cliff Rigg this, reflecting on happenings 90 years ago today,
Then, the elderly Weimar President, Paul von Hindenburg, was persuaded by the conservative elite to appoint Hitler as chancellor, the head of the German government. An appointment that was entirely legal and constitutional.
At the same time, one of those conservative elite, Franz von Papen, an aristocratic former army officer, was appointed vice-chancellor. He is reputed to have said in an off-the-cuff remark: “Within two months we will have pushed Hitler so far in the corner that he’ll squeak”1McDonough, Frank. “The Hitler Years”. 2019. Head of Zeus..
Of course, now we all know the outcome. Although Hitler had boasted the Third Reich would last for a thousand years, it ended catastrophically twelve years later, with the destruction of Germany and the appalling Holocaust he ordered.
What I do wonder though is how did we, Britain, viewed those happenings on the continent. An Editiorial of the Leeds Mercury of the 31 January 1933 gives some insight2‘Hitler Rises to the Top | Leeds Mercury | Tuesday 31 January 1933 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2023. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000748/19330131/129/0004?browse=true> [accessed 24 January 2023]:
HITLER RISES TO THE TOP.
HERR HITLER has not arrived with the dramatic swiftness of a Mussolini, but none the less he has arrived. Not much more than two years ago there was talk of his being prosecuted for high treason. To-day he is Chancellor of the Reich.
If Hitler had a Parliamentary majority behind him, and to that extent a free hand, it would be quite impossible to predict what he would do or attempt. Hatred of the Jews, hatred of the Communists, hatred of the French, and dislike, perhaps not quite amounting to hatred, of big business are Hitler’s principal stock-in-trade, or at any rate were up to very recently. Saving vague aspirations for the wider distribution of wealth, he has never been accused of any constructive ideas.
Yet his speeches, pronounced by critical hearers to be as empty as a drum, have been so attuned to the mood of the hour in Germany that his appointment to the Chancellorship could hardly have been avoided. There is no denying that he speaks for the largest single party in Germany.
* * *
Near as he has come to Parliamentary power. Hitler has not quite achieved it, and the Cabinet which he leads is a Praesidial, not a Parliamentary Cabinet. Baron von Neurath retains his post as Foreign Minister, von Papen is Vice-Chancellor, and the chief political combination to be noted is between Hitler’s National Socialists with their army of Brown Shirts and the Monarchist Stahlhelms.”
If Herr Hitler were to astonish everyone by proving a strong and capable administrator in office, the alliance into which he has now entered could not be expected to last long. For the Nationalism of the Nazis is their face to the outer world. At home their followers have been led to expect that Hitler’s advent to power will swiftly end Germany’s depression and distress by measures which, however vaguely outlined, cannot well be reconciled with the desires of the extreme Nationalists.
* * *
Millions of Germans have voted for Hitler believing that he, better than any other, would make Germany great, respected, and prosperous. Without his help she is great and respected, freed from the hated “tribute” of reparations, a member of the League of Nations, and in form, if not in actual fact, admitted to have equal rights of armament.
The one thing left for Herr Hitler to do is to make Germany prosperous, and this is the one thing neither he nor any other statesman can do. His tenure of office, whether long or short, is not likely to fulfil the extravagant hopes of his more enthusiastic followers.
As the article alluded too, Hitler did not yet have supreme power. To make and enforce laws he needed the agreement of the Reichstag or von Hindenburg.
But within just two months, Hitler had persuaded the Reichstag to pass the Enabling Act giving him the authority to issue emergency decrees and removing all power the Reichstag had to restrain him.
Germany was now a one-party dictatorship based on the totalitarian and autocratic ideology of Nazism.
We must be vigilant.
- 1McDonough, Frank. “The Hitler Years”. 2019. Head of Zeus.
- 2‘Hitler Rises to the Top | Leeds Mercury | Tuesday 31 January 1933 | British Newspaper Archive’. 2023. Britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk <https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/BL/0000748/19330131/129/0004?browse=true> [accessed 24 January 2023]