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In 1920 the German Workers' party was renamed the National socialist German Workers, or Nazi, party; in 1921 it was reorganized with Hitler as chairman. He made it a paramilitary organization and won the support of such prominent nationalists as Field Marshal Ludendorff . On Nov. 8, 1923, Hitler attempted the ³beer-hall putsch,² intended to overthrow the republican government. Leading Bavarian officials (themselves discontented nationalists) were surrounded at a meeting in a Munich beer hall by the Nazi Germany militia, or storm troopers, and made to swear loyalty to this ³revolution.² On regaining their freedom they used the Reichswehr [army] to defeat the coup. Hitler fled, but was soon arrested and sentenced to five years in the Landsberg fortress. He served nine months.
The putsch made Hitler known throughout Germany. In prison he dictated to Rudolf Hess the turgid Mein Kampf [my struggle], filled with anti-Semitic outpourings, worship of power, disdain for civil morality, and strategy for world domination. It became the bible of National Socialism. Under the tutelage of Hitler and Gregor Strasser , aided by Josef Goebbels and from 1928 by Hermann Goering , the party grew slowly until the economic depression, beginning in 1929, brought it mass support.
To Germans burdened by reparations payments to the victors of World War I, and threatened by hyperinflation, political chaos, and a possible Communist takeover, Hitler, frenzied yet magnetic, offered scapegoats and solutions. To the economically depressed he promised to despoil ³Jew financiers,² to workers he promised security. He gained the financial support of bankers and industrialists with his virulent anti-Communism and promises to control trade unionism.
Hitler had a keen and sinister insight into mass psychology, and he was a master of intrigue and maneuver. After acquiring German citizenship through the state of Brunswick, he ran in the presidential elections of 1932, losing to the popular war hero Paul von Hindenburg but strengthening his position by falsely promising to support Chancellor Franz von Papen , who lifted the ban on the storm troops (June, 1932).
When the Nazis were elected the largest party in the Reichstag (July, 1932), Hindenburg offered Hitler a subordinate position in the cabinet. Hitler held out for the chief post and for sweeping powers. The chancellorship went instead to Kurt von Schleicher , who resigned on Jan. 28, 1933. Amid collapsing parliamentary government and pitched battles between Nazis and Communists, Hindenburg, on the urging of von Papen, called Hitler to be chancellor of a coalition cabinet, refusing him extraordinary powers. Supported by Alfred Hugenberg , Hitler took office on Jan. 30.
Germany's new ruler was a master of Machiavellian politics. Hitler feared plots, and firmly believed in his mission to achieve the supremacy of the so-called Aryan race, which he termed the ³master race.² Having legally come to power, he used brutality and subversion to carry out a ³creeping coup² to transform the state into his dictatorship. He blamed the Communists for a fire in the Reichstag on Feb. 27, and by fanning anti-Communist hysteria the Nazis and Nationalists won a bare majority of Reichstag seats in the elections of Mar. 5. After the Communists had been barred, and amid a display of storm trooper strength, the Reichstag voted to give Hitler dictatorial powers.
From the first days of Hitler's ³Third Reich² (for its history, see Germany ; National socialism ; World War II ) political opponents such as von Schleicher and Gregor Strasser (who had resigned from the Nazis) were murdered or incarcerated, and some Nazis, among them Ernst Roehm , were themselves purged. Jews, socialist s, Communists, and others were hounded, arrested, or assassinated. Government, law, and education became appendages of National Socialism. After Hindenburg's death in 1934 the chancellorship and presidency were united in the person of the Führer [leader]. Heil Hitler! became the obligatory form of greeting, and a cult of Führer worship was propagated.
In 1938, amid carefully nurtured scandal, Hitler dismissed top army commanders and divided their power between himself and faithful subordinates such as Wilhelm Keitel . As Hitler prepared for war he replaced professional diplomats with Nazis such as Joachim von Ribbentrop . Many former doubters had been converted by Hitler's bold diplomatic coups, beginning with German rearmament. Hitler bullied smaller nations into making territorial concessions and played on the desire for peace and the fear of Communism among the larger European states to achieve his expansionist goals. To forestall retaliation he claimed to be merely rectifying the onerous Treaty of Versailles.
Benito Mussolini became his ally and Italy gradually became Germany's satellite. Hitler helped Franco to establish a dictatorship in Spain. On Hitler's order the Austrian chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss was assassinated, and the Anschluss amalgamated Austria with the Reich. Hitler used the issue of ³persecuted² Germans in Czechoslovakia to push through the Munich Pact , in which England, France, and Italy agreed to German annexation of the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia (1938).
Hitler's nonaggression pact (Aug., 1939) with Stalin allowed him to invade Poland (Sept. 1), beginning World War II, while Stalin annexed Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia to the USSR and attacked eastern Poland; but Hitler honored the pact only until he found it convenient to attack the USSR (June, 1941). In Dec., 1941, he assumed personal command of war strategy, leading to disaster. In early 1943 he refused to admit defeat at the battle of Stalingrad (now Volgograd ), bringing death to vast numbers of German troops. As the tide of war turned against Hitler, his mass extermination of the Jews, overseen by Adolf Eichmann , was accelerated, and he gave increasing power to Heinrich Himmler and the dread secret police , the Gestapo and SS ( Schutzstaffel ).
By July, 1944, the German military situation was desperate, and a group of high military and civil officials (including Field Marshal Erwin von Witzleben and Karl Goerdeler) attempted an assassination. Hitler escaped a bomb explosion with slight injuries; most of the plotters were executed. Although the war was hopelessly lost by early 1945, Hitler insisted that Germans fight on to the death. During the final German collapse in Apr., 1945, Hitler denounced Nazi Germany leaders who wished to negotiate, and remained in Berlin when it was stormed by the Russians.
On Apr. 29 Hitler married his long-time mistress, Eva Braun, and on April 30 they committed suicide together in an underground bunker of the chancellery building, having ordered that their bodies be burned. Hitler left Germany devastated; his legacy is the memory of the most dreadful tyranny of modern times.
By Timothy W. Ryback - the director of the Salzburg Seminar, a forum for global dialogue on issues of contemporary concern, and the author of The Last Survivor: Legacies of Dachau.
The books that constitute the Hitler Library were discovered in a salt mine near Berchtesgaden haphazardly stashed in schnapps crates with the Reich Chancellery address on them by soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division in the spring of 1945. After a lengthy initial evaluation at the U.S. military "collecting point" in Munich the books, numbering 3,000, were shipped to the United States and transferred in January of 1952 to the Library of Congress, where an intern was assigned to uncrate the collection.
"The intern did what we call 'duping out,'" says David Moore, a German-acquisition assistant at the Library of Congress. "If a book was not one hundred percent sure, if there was no bookplate, no inscription to the Führer, he didn't keep it." According to Moore, duplicate copies were sent to the exchange-and-gift division and then either went to other libraries or found their way onto the open market; the non-duplicate books that could not be fully authenticated were absorbed into the Library of Congress's general collection.
The 1,200 volumes that survived the "duping out" joined the rare-book collection on the third floor of the Jefferson Building, where they were unceremoniously identified by a large cardboard signdangling on a string from a ceiling pipe that read, "Hitler Library. This bay only. Please replace books to proper location."
The sign has since been removed, the books relocated several times, and the collection euphemistically renamed the Third Reich Collection. The books can be ordered, five at a time, from the main desk in the rare-book reading room. When I first visited the collection, in April of 2001, fewer than half of the 1,200 books had Library of Congress numbers, and only 200 of those were listed in the online catalogue; the remaining thousand titles were listed alphabetically by author on yellowing cards in an old-fashioned wooden card catalogue, many still identified by the provisional numbers assigned them in the early 1950s. Jerry Wager, the head of the rare-book reading room, told me at the time, "Processing this collection has not been a high priority for us"; he also said that the books had been relocated yet again in recent months.
"We routinely move collections to make better use of existing space and to accommodate new acquisitions," he said. A genteel man in his mid-fifties with a flawlessly manicured white beard, Wager is a master of discretion. When I asked about the Hitler collection's new location, he replied, "For security reasons we don't reveal where collections are located in the vault." He is equally circumspect about scholars who have previously studied the collection, simply noting that the books are requested only a few times each year, and generally by people looking for specific volumes rather than for an opportunity to study the collection as a whole.
Scholarly neglect of the Hitler Library derives in good part from an early misperception that its historical or biographical importance was limited. "Spotchecks revealed little in the way of marginal notes, autographs, or other similar features of interest," an internal Library of Congress review determined in January of 1952. "Indeed, it seems that most of the books have never been perused by their owner." Gerhard Weinberg, a leading authority on the Nazi Germany era and one of the first scholars to explore the collection, confirms this initial assessment. "I was a newly minted Ph.D., and this was my first job beyond graduate school," Weinberg told me not long ago. "I was compiling information for the Guide to Captured German War Documents.
The books had only recently been uncrated, and I was intrigued by what I would find there." To Weinberg's disappointment, the Hitler Library appeared to consist mostly of presentation copies from authors or publishers. "There were few clues that many of these books had been part of his personal library, and even less evidence that he had read any of them," Weinberg says.
In 2000 Philipp Gassert and Daniel Mattern reached a similar conclusion. Beginning in 1995 Gassert, an assistant professor of history at the University of Heidelberg, and Mattern, the senior editor at the German Historical Institute, in Washington, D.C., systematically reviewed every volume in the collection. In the spring of 2001 Greenwood Press published the results of their research, The Hitler Library, a 550-page bibliography that lists each book alphabetically, with its author, page count, and call number. Also included are transcriptions of all handwritten dedications, some brief descriptions of marginalia, and an indication of which books contain the Führer's bookplate an eagle, a swastika, and oak branches between the words EX LIBRIS and ADOLF Hitler.
The Hitler Library provides the first comprehensive road map through the collection, but at times it leads readers astray.
Most significant is overlooked marginalia. In one reference Mattern and Gassert note correctly that the Hitler Library contains two identical copies of Paul de Lagarde's German Essays, but they don't mention marginalia, despite the fact that in one volume fifty-eight pages have penciled intrusions the first on page 16, the last on page 370. Given that Lagarde belongs to a circle of nineteenth-century German nationalist writers who are believed to have had a formative influence on Hitler's anti-Semitism, the marked passages are certainly worth noting.
Sometimes writing along the side of a page is recognizably in Hitler's jagged cursive hand. For the most part, though, the marginalia are restricted to simple markings whose common "authorship" is suggested by an intense vertical line in the margin and double or triple underlining in the text, always in pencil; I found such markings repeatedly both in the Library of Congress collection and in a cache of eighty Hitler books at Brown University.
Hitler's handwritten speeches, preserved in the Federal German Archives, show an identical pattern of markings. In one anti-Semitic rant Hitler drew three lines under the words Klassenkampf ("class struggle"), Weltherrschaft ("world domination"), and Der Jude als Diktator ("the Jew as dictator"); one can almost hear his fevered tones.
Hitler's habit of highlighting key concepts and passages is consonant with his theory on the "art of reading." In Chapter Two of Mein Kampf he observed,
In these marginalia one sees a man (who famously seemed never to listen to anyone, for whom "conversation" was little more than a torrent of monologues) reading passages, reflecting on them, and responding with penciled dashes, dots, question marks, exclamation points, and underscorings‹intellectual footprints across the page. Here is one of history's most complex figures reduced merely to a reader with a book and a pencil.
Though Kubizek's reminiscences, first published in the 1950s, are in many ways suspect, his depiction of the future Führer as a bibliophile has been amply corroborated. One of Hitler's first cousins, Johann Schmidt, recounted for a Nazi Germany party history of the Führer that when Hitler spent summers with relatives in the tiny Waldviertel hamlet of Spital, he invariably arrived with "lots of books in which he was constantly busy reading and working."
Hans Frank, Hitler's personal lawyer and the "governor" of Nazi-occupied Poland, recalled before his 1946 execution at Nuremberg that Hitler carried a copy of Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation with him throughout World War I. During his incarceration after the failed 1923 Munich putsch, Hitler was regularly supplied with reading materials by friends and associates. He once referred to his time in Landsberg Prison as his "university paid for by the state." During a bout of prison blues in December of 1924 he received a package from Winifred Wagner, the daughter-in-law of the composer Richard Wagner and one of the few people who addressed Hitler with the familiar du.
It contained a book of Goethe's poetry from the Wagner family library. The 358-page volume, now at the Library of Congress, contains meditative classics such as "Across All Peaks" and "Evening Song," accompanied by handsome full-page pen-and-ink drawings. The inside cover bears a handwritten inscription: "Adolf Hitler, this picture book taken from the book garden of Eva Chamberlain, for your enjoyment in serious lonely hours! Bayreuth, Christmas 1924."
Books seem to have been the gift of choice for Hitler on virtually every occasion. The Hitler Library contains scores of books bearing inscriptions for Christmas, his birthday, and other festive occasions. A book titled Death and Immortality in the World View of Indo-Germanic Thinkers is inscribed for Hitler by the SS chief Heinrich Himmler on the occasion of "Julfest 1938" Nazi Germany circumlocution for Christmas. I also discovered books from the controversial filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl‹two on the Berlin Olympics and an eight-volume set of the complete works of the nineteenth-century German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte in a rare first edition. Given that Hitler had charged Riefenstahl with filming the Olympic Games, the presence of the first two volumes was understandable; the Fichte was more puzzling.
When I called on Riefenstahl, who lives outside Munich and had just marked her hundredth birthday, she referred me to her published memoirs, in which she devotes a chapter to the Fichte volumes. According to that account, in the spring of 1933 the thirty-year-old filmmaker approached Hitler about the plight of several Jewish friends. "I have great esteem for you as an artist, you have a rare talent," Hitler replied, according to Riefenstahl. "But I cannot discuss the Jewish problem with you." Mortified by his rebuke (Riefenstahl says she felt herself go faint), she later sought to make amends by sending Hitler the Fichte. Bound in white leather with gold embossing, the books bear the inscription "Meinem lieben Führer in tiefster Verehrung ['To my dear Führer with deepest admiration'], Leni Riefenstahl."
Fed by gifts and his own acquisitions, Hitler's library swelled dramatically in the late 1920s and early 1930s. In his 1925 tax declaration Hitler listed his total personal assets at a paltry 1,000 marks, and claimed "no property" other than "a writing table and two bookcases with books."
By 1930, however, as sales of Mein Kampf bolstered his income, book buying represented his third largest tax deduction (after general travel and transportation): 1,692 marks in 1930, with similar deductions in the two years following. More telling still is the five-year insurance policy Hitler took out in October of 1934, with the Gladbacher Fire Insurance Company, on his six-room apartment on the Prinzregentenplatz, in downtown Munich.
In the letter of agreement accompanying the policy Hitler valued his book collection, said to consist of 6,000 volumes, at 150,000 marks half the value of the entire policy. The other half represented his art holdings.
By the late 1930s Hitler had three separate libraries for his ever-expanding collection. At his apartment he removed a wall between two rooms and installed bookshelves. For the Berghof, his Alpine retreat near Berchtesgaden, Hitler built a second-floor study with handmade bookcases; color photographs of the finished space show an elegant setting with Oriental carpets, two globes, and bookcases fitted with glass doors and brass locks.
Herbert Döhring, who managed the Berghof from 1936 to 1943, told me that the library could accommodate no more than 500 or 600 volumes. "He reserved this space for the books he really cared about," says Döhring, who helped Hitler to sort the books. "He used to have me send the rest to a storage facility in Munich or to the new Reich Chancellery in Berlin."
For his official Berlin residence Hitler had his architect,
Albert Speer, design a vast library that occupied the entire
west wing. "Inventory records of the Reich Chancellery that
we found at the Hoover Institution at Stanford suggest that
by the early 1940s Hitler was receiving as many as four
thousand books annually," Daniel Mattern told me. In Munich,
Gassert and Mattern also discovered architectural sketches
for a library annex to the Berghof that was intended to
accommodate more than 60,000 volumes. "This was a man
with a lot of books," Mattern says.