Freud was a mentally ill Jew.
"We have the power. Now our gigantic work begins."
Those were Hitler's words on the night of January 30, 1933, as
cheering crowds surged past him, for five long hours, beneath the
windows of the Chancellery in Berlin.
His political struggle had lasted 14 years. He himself was 43, that
is, physically and intellectually at the peak of his powers. He had
won over millions of Germans and organized them into Germany's largest
and most dynamic political party, a party girded by a human rampart of
hundreds of thousands of storm troopers, three fourths of them members
of the working class. He had been extremely shrewd. All but toying
with his adversaries, Hitler had, one after another, vanquished them
Standing there at the window, his arm raised to the delirious throng,
he must have known a feeling of triumph. But he seemed almost torpid,
absorbed, as if lost in another world.
It was a world far removed from the delirium in the street, a world of
65 million citizens who loved him or hated him, but all of whom, from
that night on, had become his responsibility. And as he knew -- as
almost all Germans knew on January 1933 -- that this was a crushing,
an almost desperate responsibility.
Half a century later, few people understand the crisis Germany faced
at that time. Today, it's easy to assume that Germans have always been
well-fed and even plump. But the Germans Hitler inherited were virtual
During the preceding years, a score of "democratic" governments had
come and gone, often in utter confusion. Instead of alleviating the
people's misery, they had increased it, due to their own instability:
it was impossible for them to pursue any given plan for more than a
year or two. Germany had arrived at a dead end. In just a few years
there had been 224,000 suicides - a horrifying figure, bespeaking a
state of misery even more horrifying.
By the beginning of 1933, the misery of the German people was
virtually universal. At least six million unemployed and hungry
workers roamed aimlessly through the streets, receiving a pitiful
unemployment benefit of less than 42 marks per month. Many of those
out of work had families to feed, so that altogether some 20 million
Germans, a third of the country's population, were reduced to trying
to survive on about 40 pfennigs per person per day.
Unemployment benefits, moreover, were limited to a period of six
months. After that came only the meager misery allowance dispensed by
the welfare offices.
Notwithstanding the gross inadequacy of this assistance, by trying to
save the six million unemployed from total destruction, even for just
six months, both the state and local branches of the German government
saw themselves brought to ruin: in 1932 alone such aid had swallowed
up four billion marks, 57 percent of the total tax revenues of the
federal government and the regional states. A good many German
municipalities were bankrupt.
Those still lucky enough to have some kind of job were not much better
off. Workers and employees had taken a cut of 25 percent in their
wages and salaries. Twenty-one percent of them were earning between
100 and 250 marks per month; 69.2 percent of them, in January of 1933,
were being paid less than 1,200 marks annually. No more than about
100,000 Germans, it was estimated, were able to live without financial
During the three years before Hitler came to power, total earnings had
fallen by more than half, from 23 billion marks to 11 billion. The
average per capita income had dropped from 1,187 marks in 1929 to 627
marks, a scarcely tolerable level, in 1932. By January 1933, when
Hitler took office, 90 percent of the German people were destitute.
No one escaped the strangling effects of the unemployment. The
intellectuals were hit as hard as the working class. Of the 135,000
university graduates, 60 percent were without jobs. Only a tiny
minority was receiving unemployment benefits.
"The others," wrote one foreign observer, Marcel Laloire (in his book
New Germany), "are dependent on their parents or are sleeping in
flophouses. In the daytime they can be seen on the boulevards of
Berlin wearing signs on their backs to the effect that they will
accept any kind of work."
But there was no longer any kind of work.
The same drastic fall-off had hit Germany's cottage industry, which
comprised some four million workers. Its turnover had declined 55
percent, with total sales plunging from 22 billion to 10 billion
Hardest hit of all were construction workers; 90 percent of them were
Farmers, too, had been ruined, crushed by losses amounting to 12
billion marks. Many had been forced to mortgage their homes and their
land. In 1932 just the interest on the loans they had incurred due to
the crash was equivalent to 20 percent of the value of the
agricultural production of the entire country. Those who were no
longer able to meet the interest payments saw their farms auctioned
off in legal proceedings: in the years 1931-1932, 17,157 farms -- with
a combined total area of 462,485 hectares - were liquidated in this
The "democracy" of Germany's "Weimar Republic" (1918 -1933) had proven
utterly ineffective in addressing such flagrant wrongs as this
impoverishment of millions of farm workers, even though they were the
nation's most stable and hardest working citizens. Plundered,
dispossessed, abandoned: small wonder they heeded Hitler's call.
Their situation on January 30, 1933, was tragic. Like the rest of
Germany's working class, they had been betrayed by their political
leaders, reduced to the alternatives of miserable wages, paltry and
uncertain benefit payments, or the outright humiliation of begging.
Germany's industries, once renowned everywhere in the world, were no
longer prosperous, despite the millions of marks in gratuities that
the financial magnates felt obliged to pour into the coffers of the
parties in power before each election in order to secure their
cooperation. For 14 years the well-blinkered conservatives and
Christian democrats of the political center had been feeding at the
trough just as greedily as their adversaries of the left?
One inevitable consequence of this ever-increasing misery and
uncertainty about the future was an abrupt decline in the birthrate.
When your household savings are wiped out, and when you fear even
greater calamities in the days ahead, you do not risk adding to the
number of your dependents.
In those days the birth rate was a reliable barometer of a country's
prosperity. A child is a joy, unless you have nothing but a crust of
bread to put in its little hand. And that's just the way it was with
hundreds of thousands of German families in 1932?
Hitler knew that he would be starting from zero. From less than zero.
But he was also confident of his strength of will to create Germany
anew -- politically, socially, financially, and economically. Now
legally and officially in power, he was sure that he could quickly
convert that cipher into a Germany more powerful than ever before.
What support did he have?
For one thing, he could count on the absolute support of millions of
fanatical disciples. And on that January evening, they joyfully shared
in the great thrill of victory. Some thirteen million Germans, many of
them former Socialists and Communists, had voted for his party.
But millions of Germans were still his adversaries, disconcerted
adversaries, to be sure, whom their own political parties had
betrayed, but who had still not been won over to National Socialism.
The two sides -- those for and those against Hitler -- were very
nearly equal in numbers. But whereas those on the left were divided
among themselves, Hitler's disciples were strongly united. And in one
thing above all, the National Socialists had an incomparable
advantage: in their convictions and in their total faith in a leader.
Their highly organized and well-disciplined party had contented with
the worst kind of obstacles, and had overcome them?
In the eyes of the capitalists, money was the sole active element in
the flourishing of a country's economy. To Hitler's way of thinking,
that conception was radically wrong: capital, on the contrary, was
only an instrument. Work was the essential element: man's endeavor,
man's honor, blood, muscles and soul.
Hitler wanted not just to put an to the class struggle, but to
reestablish the priority of the human being, in justice and respect,
as the principal factor in production?
For the worker's trust in the fatherland to be restored, he had to
feel that from now on he was to be (and to be treated) as an equal,
instead of remaining a social inferior. Under the governments of the
so-called democratic parties of both the left and the right, he had
remained an inferior; for none of them had understood that in the
hierarchy of national values, work is the very essence of life; ?
The objective, then, was far greater than merely getting six million
unemployed back to work. It was to achieve a total revolution.
"The people," Hitler declared, "were not put here on earth for the
sake of the economy, and the economy doesn't exist for the sake of
capital. On the contrary, capital is meant to serve the economy, and
the economy in turn to serve the people."
It would not be enough merely to reopen the thousands of closed
factories and fill them with workers. If the old concepts still ruled,
the workers would once again be nothing more than living machines,
faceless and interchangeable?
Nowhere in twentieth-century Europe had the authority of a head of
state ever been based on such overwhelming and freely given national
consent. Prior to Hitler, from 1919 to 1932, those governments piously
styling themselves democratic had usually come to power by meager
majorities, sometimes as low as 51 or 52 percent.
"I am not a dictator," Hitler had often affirmed, "and I never will
be. Democracy will be rigorously enforced by National Socialism."
Authority does not mean tyranny. A tyrant is someone who puts himself
in power without the will of the people or against the will of the
people. A democrat is placed in power by the people. But democracy is
not limited to a single formula. It may be partisan or parliamentary.
Or it may be authoritarian. The important thing is that the people
have wished it, chosen it, established it in its given form.
That was the case with Hitler. He came to power in an essentially
democratic way. Whether one likes it or not, this fact is undeniable.
And after coming to power, his popular support measurably increased
from year to year. The more intelligent and honest of his enemies have
been obliged to admit this, men such as the declared anti-Nazi
historian and professor Joachim Fest, who wrote:
For Hitler was never interested in establishing a mere tyranny. Sheer
greed for power will not suffice as explanation for his personality
and energy -- He was not born to be a mere tyrant. He was fixated upon
his mission of defending Europe and the Aryan race ... Never had he
felt so dependent upon the masses as he did at this time, and he
watched their reactions with anxious concern.
These lines weren't written by Dr. Goebbels, but by a stern critic of
Hitler and his career?
When it came time to vote, Hitler was granted plenary powers with a
sweeping majority of 441 votes to 94: he had won not just two thirds,
but 82.44 percent of the assembly's votes. This "Enabling Act" granted
Hitler for four years virtually absolute authority over the
legislative as well as the executive affairs of the government?
After 1945 the explanation that was routinely offered for all this was
that the Germans had lost their heads. Whatever the case, it is a
historical fact that they acted of their own free will. Far from being
resigned, they were enthusiastic. "For the first time since the last
days of the monarchy," historian Joachim Fest has conceded, "the
majority of the Germans now had the feeling that they could identify
with the state."?
"You talk about persecution!" he thundered in an impromptu response to
an address by the Social Democratic speaker. "I think that there are
only a few of us [in our party] here who did not have to suffer
persecutions in prison from your side ... You seem to have totally
forgotten that for years our shirts were ripped off our backs because
you did not like the color . . . We have outgrown your persecutions!"
"In those days," he scathingly continued, "our newspapers were banned
and banned and again banned, our meetings were forbidden, and we were
forbidden to speak, I was forbidden to speak, for years on. And now
you say that criticism is salutary!"?
Hitler's millions of followers had rediscovered the primal strength of
rough, uncitified man, of a time when men still had backbone?
Gustav Noske, the lumberjack who became defense minister - and the
most valiant defender of the embattled republic in the tumultuous
months immediately following the collapse of 1918 - acknowledged
honestly in 1944, when the Third Reich was already rapidly breaking
down, that the great majority of the German people still remained true
to Hitler because of the social renewal he had brought to the working
Here again, well before the collapse of party-ridden Weimar Republic,
disillusion with the unions had become widespread among the working
masses. They were starving. The hundreds of Socialist and Communist
deputies stood idly by, impotent to provide any meaningful help to the
Their leaders had no proposals to remedy, even partially, the great
distress of the people; no plans for large-scale public works, no
industrial restructuring, no search for markets abroad.
Moreover, they offered no energetic resistance to the pillaging by
foreign countries of the Reich's last financial resources: this a
consequence of the Treaty of Versailles that the German Socialists had
voted to ratify in June of 1919, and which they had never since had
the courage effectively to oppose?
In 1930, 1931 and 1932, German workers had watched the disaster grow:
the number of unemployed rose from two million to three, to four, to
five, then to six million. At the same time, unemployment benefits
fell lower and lower, finally to disappear completely. Everywhere one
saw dejection and privation: emaciated mothers, children wasting away
in sordid lodgings, and thousands of beggars in long sad lines.
The failure, or incapacity, of the leftist leaders to act, not to
mention their insensitivity, had stupefied the working class. Of what
use were such leaders with their empty heads and empty hearts -- and,
often enough, full pockets?
Well before January 30, thousands of workers had already joined up
with Hitler's dynamic formations, which were always hard at it where
they were most needed. Many joined the National Socialists when they
went on strike. Hitler, himself a former worker and a plain man like
themselves, was determined to eliminate unemployment root and branch.
He wanted not merely to defend the laborer's right to work, but to
make his calling one of honor, to insure him respect and to integrate
him fully into a living community of all the Germans, who had been
divided class against class.
In January 1933, Hitler's victorious troops were already largely
proletarian in character, including numerous hardfisted street
brawlers, many unemployed, who no longer counted economically or
Meanwhile, membership in the Marxist labor unions had fallen off
enormously: among thirteen million socialist and Communist voters in
1932, no more than five million were union members. Indifference and
discouragement had reached such levels that many members no longer
paid their union dues. Many increasingly dispirited Marxist leaders
began to wonder if perhaps the millions of deserters were the ones who
saw things clearly. Soon they wouldn't wonder any longer.
Even before Hitler won Reichstag backing for his "Enabling Act,"
Germany's giant labor union federation, the ADGB, had begun to rally
to the National Socialist cause. As historian Joachim Fest
acknowledged: "On March 20, the labor federation's executive committee
addressed a kind of declaration of loyalty to Hitler." (J. Fest,
Hitler, p. 413.)
Hitler than took a bold and clever step. The unions had always
clamored to have the First of May recognized as a worker's holiday,
but the Weimar Republic had never acceded to their request. Hitler,
never missing an opportunity, grasped this one with both hands. He did
more than grant this reasonable demand: he proclaimed the First of May
a national holiday?
I myself attended the memorable meeting at the Tempelhof field in
1933. By nine o'clock that morning, giant columns, some of workers,
others of youth groups, marching in cadence down the pavement of
Berlin's great avenues, had started off towards the airfield to which
Hitler had called together all Germans. All Germany would follow the
rally as it was transmitted nationwide by radio?
In the dark, a group of determined opponents could easily have heckled
Hitler or otherwise sabotaged the meeting. Perhaps a third of the
onlookers had been Socialists or Communists only three months
previously. But not a single hostile voice was raised during the
entire ceremony. There was only universal acclamation.
Ceremony is the right word for it. It was an almost magical rite.
Hitler and Goebbels had no equals in the arranging of dedicatory
ceremonies of this sort. First there were popular songs, then great
Wagnerian hymns to grip the audience. Germany has a passion for
orchestral music, and Wagner taps the deepest and most secret vein of
the German soul, its romanticism, its inborn sense of the powerful and
Meanwhile the hundreds of flags floated above the rostrum, redeemed
from the darkness by arrows of light.
Now Hitler strode to the rostrum. For those standing at the of the
field, his face must have appeared vanishingly small, but his words
flooded instantaneously across the acres of people in his audience.
A Latin audience would have preferred a voice less harsh, more
delicately expressive. But there was no doubt that Hitler spoke to the
psyche of the German people.
Germans have rarely had the good fortune to experience the enchantment
of the spoken word. In Germany, the tone has always been set by
ponderous speakers, more fond of elephantine pedantry than oratorical
passion. Hitler, as a speaker, was a prodigy, the greatest orator of
his century. He possessed, above all, what the ordinary speaker lacks:
a mysterious ability to project power.
A bit like a medium or sorcerer, he was seized, even transfixed, as he
addressed a crowd. It responded to Hitler's projection of power,
radiating it back, establishing, in the course of myriad exchanges, a
current that both orator and audience gave to and drew from equally.
One had to personally experience him speaking to understand this
This special gift is what lay at the basis of Hitler's ability to win
over the masses. His high-voltage, lightning-like projection
transported and transformed all who experienced it. Tens of millions
were enlightened, riveted and inflamed by the fire of his anger,
irony, and passion.
By the time the cheering died away that May first evening, hundreds of
thousands of previously indifferent or even hostile workers who had
come to Tempelhof at the urging of their labor federation leaders were
now won over. They had become followers, like the SA stormtroopers
whom so many there that evening had brawled with in recent years.
The great human sea surged back from Tempelhof to Berlin. A million
and a half people had arrived in perfect order, and their departure
was just as orderly. No bottlenecks halted the cars and busses. For
those of us who witnessed it, this rigorous, yet joyful, discipline of
a contented people was in itself a source of wonder. Everything about
the May Day mass meeting had come off as smoothly clockwork.
The memory of that fabulous crowd thronging back to the center of
Berlin will never leave me. A great many were on foot. Their faces
were now different faces, as though they had been imbued with a
strange and totally new spirit. The non-Germans in the crowd were as
if stunned, and no less impressed than Hitler's fellow countrymen.
The French ambassador, André François-Poncet, noted:
The foreigners on the speaker's platform as guests of honor were not
alone in carrying away the impression of a truly beautiful and
wonderful public festival, an impression that was created by the
regime's genius for organization, by the night time display of
uniforms, by the play of lights, the rhythm of the music, by the flags
and the colorful fireworks; and they were not alone in thinking that a
breath of reconciliation and unity was passing over the Third Reich.
"It is our wish," Hitler had exclaimed, as though taking heaven as his
witness, "to get along together and to struggle together as brothers,
so that at the hour when we shall come before God, we might say to
him: 'See, Lord, we have changed. The German people are no longer a
people ashamed, a people mean and cowardly and divided. No, Lord! The
German people have become strong in their spirit, in their will, in
their perseverance, in their acceptance of any sacrifice. Lord, we
remain faithful to Thee! Bless our struggle!" (A. François-Poncet,
Souvenirs d'une ambassade à Berlin, p. 128.)
Who else could have made such an incantatory appeal without making
himself look ridiculous?
No politician had ever spoken of the rights of workers with such faith
and such force, or had laid out in such clear terms the social plan he
pledged to carry out on behalf of the common people.
The next day, the newspaper of the proletarian left, the "Union
Journal," reported on this mass meeting at which at least two thirds
-- a million -- of those attending were workers. "This May First was
victory day," the paper summed up.
With the workers thus won over, what further need was there for the
thousands of labor union locals that for so long had poisoned the
social life of the Reich and which, in any case, had accomplished
nothing of a lasting, positive nature?
Within hours of the conclusion of that "victory" meeting at the
Tempelhof field, the National Socialists were able to peacefully take
complete control of Germany's entire labor union organization,
including all its buildings, enterprises and banks. An era of Marxist
obstruction abruptly came to an end : from now on, a single national
organization would embody the collective will and interests of all of
Although he was now well on his way to creating what he pledged would
be a true "government of the people," Hitler also realized that great
obstacles remained. For one thing, the Communist rulers in Moscow had
not dropped their guard -- or their guns. Restoring the nation would
take more than words and promises, it would take solid achievements.
Only then would the enthusiasm shown by the working class at the May
First mass meeting be an expression of lasting victory.
How could Hitler solve the great problem that had defied solution by
everyone else (both in Germany and abroad): putting millions of
unemployed back to work?
What would Hitler do about wages? Working hours? Leisure time?
Housing? How would he succeed in winning, at long last, respect for
the rights and dignity of the worker?
How could men's lives be improved -- materially, morally, and, one
might even say, spiritually? How would he proceed to build a new
society fit for human beings, free of the inertia, injustices and
prejudices of the past?
"National Socialism," Hitler had declared at the outset, "has its
mission and its hour; it is not just a passing movement but a phase of
The instruments of real power now in his hands -- an authoritarian
state, its provinces subordinate but nonetheless organic parts of the
national whole -- Hitler had acted quickly to shake himself free of
the last constraints of the impotent sectarian political parties.
Moreover, he was now able to direct a cohesive labor force that was no
longer split into a thousand rivulets but flowed as a single, mighty
Hitler was self-confident, sure of the power of his own conviction. He
had no intention, or need, to resort to the use of physical force.
Instead, he intended to win over, one by one, the millions of Germans
who were still his adversaries, and even those who still hated him.
His conquest of Germany had taken years of careful planning and hard
work. Similarly, he would now realize his carefully worked out plans
for transforming the state and society. This meant not merely changes
in administrative or governmental structures, but far-reaching social
He had once vowed: "The hour will come when the 15 million people who
now hate us will be solidly behind us and will acclaim with us the new
revival we shall create together." Eventually he would succeed in
winning over even many of his most refractory skeptics and
His army of converts was already forming ranks. In a remarkable
tribute, historian Joachim Fest felt obliged to acknowledge
Hitler had moved rapidly from the status of a demagogue to that of a
respected statesman. The craving to join the ranks of the victors was
spreading like an epidemic, and the shrunken minority of those who
resisted the urge were being visibly pushed into isolation -- The past
was dead. The future, it seemed, belonged to the regime, which had
more and more followers, which was being hailed everywhere and
suddenly had sound reasons on its side.
And even the prominent leftist writer Kurt Tucholsky, sensing the
direction of the inexorable tide that was sweeping Germany, vividly
commented: "You don't go railing against the ocean." (J. Fest, Hitler,
pp. 415 f.)
"Our power," Hitler was now able to declare, "no longer belongs to any
territorial fraction of the Reich, nor to any single class of the
nation, but to the people in its totality."
Much still remained to be done, however. So far, Hitler had succeeded
in clearing the way of obstacles to his program. Now the time to build
So many others had failed to tackle the many daunting problems that
were now his responsibility. Above all, the nation demanded a solution
to the great problem of unemployment. Could Hitler now succeed where
others had so dismally failed??
Unemployment could be combated and eliminated only by giving industry
the financial means to start up anew, to modernize, thus creating
millions of new jobs.
The normal rate of consumption would not be restored, let alone
increased, unless one first raised the starvation-level allowances
that were making purchases of any kind a virtual impossibility. On the
contrary, production and sales would have to be restored before the
six million unemployed could once again become purchasers.
The great economic depression could be overcome only by restimulating
industry, by bringing industry into step with the times, and by
promoting the development of new products?
Nearly ten years earlier, while in his prison cell, Hitler had already
envisioned a formidable system of national highways. He had also
conceived of a small, easily affordable automobile (later known as the
"Volkswagen"), and had even suggested its outline. It should have the
shape of a June bug, he proposed. Nature itself suggested the car's
Until Hitler came to power, a car was the privilege of the rich. It
was not financially within the reach of the middle class, much less of
the worker. The "Volkswagen," costing one-tenth as much as the
standard automobile of earlier years, would eventually become a
popular work vehicle and a source of pleasure after work: a way to
unwind and get some fresh air, and of discovering, thanks to the new
Autobahn highway network, a magnificent country that then, in its
totality, was virtually unknown to the German worker.