The Nazi Conscience, Ch. 4: The Conquest of Political Culture
by Claudia Koonz
12 May 2005
[Chapter four of The Nazi Conscience, by Claudia Koonz. Belknap Press (Harvard), 2003]
In the slang of the 1930s, brown meant Nazi as surely as red denoted Socialist. A Frenchman cycling through Germany in the early 1930s wrote of the "brown plague." The American journalist William Shirer described 30,000 people listening to Hitler as "a brown mass." In the words of his biographer, Joseph Goebbels cast a "brown spell" over the nation. Hitler addressed his militias as "my brown SA men," "my brown army, my brown bulwark, my brown wall." A female Nazi proudly defined herself as one of Hitler's "little brown mice." A hostile German journalist depicted the "brown beetles" that swarmed everywhere in Berlin high society. By the summer of 1933 opponents spoke of the brown steamroller that had flattened public life. In a letter to a friend, the German novelist Hans Carossa sardonically described the monochromatic landscape left in its path. "There's a lot going on here in Germany: we are being laundered, purified, scrubbed, disinfected, separated, nordicized, toughened upp, and, I caught myself almost adding, alienated." Another observer described 'the great standardizing and stamping-in machine of the state [that] ... manufactured ready-made citizens of those who formerly held the outrageous belief that they had a right to their own lives."
The lively cultural diversity that epitomized the Weimar era vanished in 1933. While victims and critics of the Third Reich decried the barren political landscape, throngs of old fighters and new converts viewed the Nazi takeover as a thrilling experience. What anti-Nazis called a steamroller, Nazis called a bandwagon. Commercial culture supplied the artifacts for the new craze. Swastika logos adorned banners, lapel pins, watch-chains, boots, charms, plaques, and bookends. Cigarette manufacturers (probably unaware that Hitler despised smoking) introduced new brands with names like Kommando, Alarm, New Front, Drummer, and Comradeship. The latter brand featured a slogan, "Smoke K.Z. everywhere, all the time." Since "K.Z." stood for both the brand (Kameradschaft Zigaretten) and "concentration camp" (Konzentrationslager), the message carried a special frisson. Premium coupons for marketing cigarettes bore photographs of Hitler and his comrades, and collectors swapped them like baseball cards. Innovative craftsmen converted unsold Communist insignias into swastikas and sold them in tobacco shops. In store windows, passers-by could gaze at portraits of the Führer surrounded by flowers in altar-like compositions. Newspaper kiosks stocked postcards and wallet-sized photographs of Hitler. Cheap editions of Mein Kampf sold out as soon as they arrived at bookstores.
In celebration of the new era, towns and cities declared Hitler and honorary citizen. Streets named for Friedrich Ebert, the first president of the Weimar Republic, were renamed for Hermann Goering. The beloved folks song "The Lorelei" was banned becaues its text was a poem written by Heinrich Heine, who had been born to Jewish parents. Citizens of Frankfurt deemed the marker of his grave an eyesore and had it removed. An alpine village changed its name to Hitler heights (Hitlershühe). On April 20, 1933 (his birthday), Hitler beseeched his supporters to stop renaming public places in his honor. A few weeks later Goebbels, who complained in his diary that Nazi kitsch trivialized Nazism's great cause, banned the unauthorized use of Hitler's image. This call for restraint was only one sign of a more comprehensive attempt to bring the disorderly exuberance of the "revolution" under control.
Like other successful revolutionaries, Nazi leaders faced a post-victory dilemma. The radicalism that animated doctrinaire Nazis alienated the ordinary citizens on whose support long-term stability depended. During the previous three years, the Nazi Party had scored stunning electoral victories by downplaying sectarian issues like race and appealing to ethnic fundamentalism. Emotionally powerful but programmatically vague slogans such as "Freedom and Bread!" and "Order at Home and Expansion Abroad" appealed to all Germans. But the passion that fueled the movmeent flowed from fanatics who had little patience with platitudes. For them, Nazi victory was a green light for violence against Jews and settling old scores with political enemies. While Hitler continued to project an image of moral seriousness, local Nazi bosses became petty tyrants and Nazi thugs terrorized Jews.
Millions of moderates who had voted for Nazi candidates and welcomed the brutal repression of Communists objected to violence against Jews. Without credible evidence [sic] that Jews as a group constituted a danger to the German Volk, boycotts and sporadic pogroms ran the risk of alienating large segments of the non-Nazi population. Thus, while stalwarts clamored for radical action against Jews, newcomers demanded curbs against lawlessness. Confronted by what appeared to be irreconcilably opposed expectations, Nazi leaders exploited a source of power not possessed by earlier revolutionaries: a thoroughly literate citizenry and a technologically advanced media network.
Technological breakthroughs and innovative marketing strategies allowed Hitler to reach out beyond the Nazi Party and address voters directly. Citizens came to believe that they could intuit the "real Hitler" -- the one that suited their own outlook -- from their experience of a film or broadcast. As Nazi militias made war on the last vestiges of freedom, hitler cast their crimes as protection against moral danger at home and enemies abroad. Labor unions, formerly split into dozens of rival associations, were drawn into a single Nazi-operated German Labor Front (DAF) under Robert Ley, to which, in 1934, 23 million employees and managers relegated to a separate "feminine" sphere. Over 100 nationwide charitable, educational, recreational, and occupational women's associations and auxiliaries placed themselves under the command of the chief of women's activities, Gertrud Scholtz-Klink. Artists, writers, filmmakers, and intellectuals known for their disinclination to organize were pulled into eight guilds under the Ministry of Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda created by Goebbels. Even begging was centralized, as posters admonished citizens to "Say no" to panhandlers and donate instead to the national charity, the Winter Relief. Book burnings and censorship standarized print culture. Dissenting news media were driven out of business [as jews do in "democratic" states today], and self-censorship became the norm [as in AmeriKwa today]. the denominational rivalries that had fractured Protestantism since the Reformation were dissolved under the leadership of a single Reich bishop, Ludwig Müller. Over and over, Hitler described repression as ethnic salvation from fragmentation and decline [whereas today's jews describe ethnic fragmentation and White repression as "our greatest strength," and source of all virtue].
On July 14, 1933, a revolutionary package of decrees stabilized Nazi rule. Because laws were conventionally identified by their date of passing, this barrage of legislation carried a symbolic torque as Germany's historic response to the French Revolution. The new laws intruded into public and private life. A stiff-armed salute and a sharp "Heil Hitler" replaced the traditional "Good Day." All non-Nazi political parties and organizations were outlawed, and the red-black-gold tricolor of democracy was supplanted by th red-black-white of imperial Germany. The federal constitution, which had preserved ancient regional identities and states' rights, yielded to centralized rule in Berlin. New measures allowed the state to revoke the citizenship of exiles who left Nazi Germany and of naturalized Germans (identified as "Jews from the East" in the law) who had immigrated to Germany after 1918. Hitler courted Catholics' support by signing the Concordat with the Vatican. The drive for a healthy body politic was launched by legislation that empowered public health officials to sterilize all citizens deemed "genetically unfit."
For all the political upheaval, many Germans and foreigners commented on the continuity between Weimar and Nazi Germany. During the entire period from 1933 to the end of the war, elections took place, city councils convened, and Reichstag delegates debated. After the Nazi revolution, civil servants who had no Jewish ancestors or strong ties to Marxist parties went to work at the same offices as before. The 1872 legal code and Weimar constitution were contravened but never officially revoked. After Stormtroopers ousted Communist Party organizers from their headquarters, the renamed "Horst Wessel" houses did not look much different from the former "Karl Liebknecht" houses that had been named for a slain Communist leader. Film directors avoided overt ideology and drew on popular themes from the 1920s, such as longing for leadership and fear of dark forces. Icons of American culture remained popular. Germans read Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and William Faulkner; they sipped Coca Cola, danced to swing music, and flocked to Hollywood features like Gone with the Wind. On the surface, the Nazi dictatorship seemed to function within the framework of the public culture it destroyed.
The word adapted by the Nazis to describe this unique process, Gleichschaltung, has no equivalent in other languages. "Nazification," "coordination," "integration," and "bringing into line" all come close, but none carries the mechanical overtones of Gleichschaltung. Gleich means both "equal" and "the same." Schalten means "to shift." The conversion of A/C to D/C electrical current is a Gleichschaltung. The removal of anyone who "stained" or "soiled" the nation was "switching them off" -- and Ausschaltung. people judged "undesirable" because of inherited disabilities, non-German ethnicity, or Marxist allegiance were "switched off" -- banished from mainstream society. "Biologically depraved" behavior, which could include anything from paranoia to vagabondism to homosexuality, also resulted in Ausschaltung. A German citizen, reporting anonymously for a London paper, captured both the mechanical and biological overtones of Gleichschaltung when he explained, "It means that the same stream will flow through the ethnic body politic[Volkskörper]."
One of the keenest contemporary observers of the transformation of everyday life was Viktor Klemperer, who was dismissed in 1935 from his position as professor of romance languages at the University of Dresden because of his Jewish ancestry. In his Nazi-imposed isolation, Klemperer obsessively gathered samples of Nazi discourse from speeches, films, radio programs, and newspapers, becoming in effect the first literary critic of the Nazi canon. Unlike most contemporary anti-Nazis, whose attention was drawn to the extremes of police terror and cheering throngs, Klemperer studied the quiet Gleichschaltung of everyday speech. "The mechanization of the individual," he wrote, "first manifested itself in 'Gleichschaltung' ... You observe, you hear the switch flipped that sets everything in motion, not only institutions and offices, but individuals, too." Nazi phrases, like "Hitler weather" for a sunny day, glided smoothly into everyday conversation. The Nazis, Klemperer wrote, "changed the values, the frequency of words, [and] made into common property words that had previously been used by individuals or tiny troupes. They confiscated words for the party, saturated words and phrases and sentence forms with their poison. They made the language serve their terrible system. They conquered words and made them into their strongest advertising tools [Werbemittel], at once the most public and the most secret." Gleichschaltung occurred so stealthily that most people hardly noticed.
Institutional Gleichschaltung occurred openly -- and quickly. All civic organizations, clubs, athletic teams, civil service administrations, and occupational associations faced a stark choice: Gleichschaltung or dissolution. The former meant that officers had to belong to the Nazi Party or an affiliate, agendas required Nazi approval, and non-Aryans had to be expelled. Noncompliance meant being "switched off." Even a minor display of independence might provide a pretext for the state to switch off an organization and confiscate its assets. U.S. Chargé d'affairs George A. Gordon observed succinctly, "Whenever Gleichschaltung can not be obtained openly, the Nazis have resorted to other means of extending their influence." Because the other means to which Gordon referred included physical assault, extortion, and blackmail, Nazis found it difficult to ascertain whether newcomers genuinely embraced party ideals or merely had been intimidated.
Because Hitler aimed to transform ethnic Germans' entire outlook, the difference mattered. In 1934 he explained to an American journalist how he kept in touch with "the man in the street," despite his busy schedule. He described his frequent lunchtime talks with a broad cross-section of followers who lined up for hours to have the privilege of spending a few minutes with him. He also referred to the specialists who briefed him on public opinion. the habit of scrutinizing public response had begun in the 1920s when Hitler's chief of staff, Rudolf Hess, solicited information about morale from local leaders. After 1933 more sophiisticated techniques were developed. Propaganda Ministry officials monitored attendance at films, plays, exhibits, and rallies, examined library circulation, and reported on book sales. In his frequent staff briefings, goebbels routinely discussed audience reactions. Heinrich Himmler created the security service (Sicherheitsdienst, or SD), which had a special surveillance section that by 1939 employed 3,000 staff members to analyze public opinion reports submitted by over 50,000 trusted Nazis. The Gestapo censored mail, encouraged citizens to spy on neighbors, and gathered grassroots intelligence for "mood reports" (Stimmungsberichte) about illegal conduct and unwanted opinions. The national network of municipal governments regularly solicited reactions to Nazi policies from its local chapters. As a check on their own sources, German police agents often obtained copies of the mimeographed monthly reports on public opinion gathered by clandestine observers within Germany and compiled by two groups of exiled German socialists, one known by its acronym Sopade and the other by its name New Beginnings.
Thus, the most powerful dictatorship in Western Europe was directed by men who scrutinized their subjects' opinions as carefully as politicians in a democracy worried about their approval ratings. What they learned in the summer of 1934 distressed them. Enthusiasm for Nazi rule was waning. Like the "Spirit of 1914" that dimmed once Europeans grasped the reality of war, the effervescent uprising of 1933 dissipated after the excitement of takeover subsided. But, mobilized by propaganda drives, Germans had soldiered on after 1914, and after the excitement of the Nazi revolution paled, supporters of Nazi rule stayed the course.
Civil servants, professionals, educators, and labor organizers (as long as they were not identified as jews or outspoken communists) joined Nazi organizations under pressure. Humorists laughed at these "beefsteak Nazis" -- brown on the outside, red on the inside. People joked that the Nazi party initials (NSDAP) stood for "So you're looking for a little office, too?" A Sopade reporter noted "accommodation and subordination stay on the surface, but deep down the bureaucrats work along in their old style, and they threaten gradually to make the new leaders dependent on their technical knowledge, experience and organizational influence." Like a dairyman in a Hessian village who delivered milk privately to avoid ostracism, tradespeople circumvented Nazi Party pressure. An opponent of Nazism, Rudolf Steiner, wrote that "National Socialism is victorious as an organization. Perhaps materially it is established as well -- but not politically and intellectually." What, he mused, had changed in the so-called Third Reich? "People have transformed themselves...they put on masks. No one knows what the individual thinks [or] ... what he feels, whether he hopes for the fall of this regime...because even the loudest spokesmen for the Nazis do not prove with their cheers that they believe in the ideology... What do the masses think? You can hardly guess... The masses, as well as individuals who are not Nazis, are silent and wait." In his diary a German writer described the ease with which people "shifted themselves into gear" without being asked -- self-Nazification, in the slang of the day. On the way home from the theater, he noticed a colleague who was "anything but a Nazi" wearing a discreet swastika lapel pin. Why? asked the diarist. "Well! Why not? I'm no risk-taker." A Socialist morale monitor concurred. "Wherever [the Nazi leaders] look, everything is brown, but nowhere can they be sure if this brown is genuine or just camouflage." Ambassador Francois-Poncet reported that the recruitment of so many uncommitted Nazis made the state vulnerable to "intrigues, complaints, acts of insubordination, and resentments." One saw, he wrote, the "odd swastika emblem" everywhere, but added hopefully "the power" of Hitler's victory contained within it "a certain weakness."
Despiste a general feeling of let-down, however, Hitler's personal popularity remained strong. While politicians in the Weimar Republic had argued vehemently about pragmatic questions like taxes and social welfare policies, Hitler ignored controversial domestic issues and pledged to rescue moral clarity from the ravages of democracy. Besides advocating one or another economic or diplomatic initiative, Hitler would speak for hours about "Volk and fatherland...the eternal foundation of our morality and our faith" and "the preservation of our Volk." He repeated the narrative of the innocent Volk and called for "a thorough moral purging." Although it is easy to dismiss Hitler's message as banal, its appeal lay precisely in the ordinariness of his homilies about the meaning of life, communal moral responsibility, and ethnic glory. Prince Heinrich August (son of deposed Kaiser Wilhelm II) thanked Divine Providence for sending Hitler. An American living in Germany reported, "In a small town I was told with full belief...that Hitler was sent by heaven. I naturally thought, well, what can one expect of these small-town folks, but when one week later I heard th same words uttered in a handsome drawing room at a five o'clock tea, I was more than surprised." A Jewish citizen wrote that the content of a Hitler speech mattered less than the "great joy and good mood" it inspired. A Sopade report from 1934 described immense posters that enlivened public spaces with Hitler's official portraits.
A series of ingenious public relations campaigns enhanced Hitler's oratorical talents. As visitors to Germany unfailingly noted, Hitler's portrait was everywhere -- in offices, schools, and businesses, on stamps and posters, and (on special occasions) projected onto giant screens. In a variety of formal postures, these portraits featured a sober Führer with his gaze fixed on a distant point. But a second side of Hitler enhanced the Führer myth. During the decade when celebrity journalism was in its infancy, his publicity team revealed to the public a leader who in private life was an ordinary guy. One of the first ventures to reveal Hitler's daily life was a series of photograph albums produced in collaboration with a cigarette manufacturer. The first of these oversized, handsomely bound volumes, whihc first appeared in 1934, were meant for display in domestic settings, like family or travel albums. And like stamp collectors' albums, they contained blank spaces and subtitles for the missing images that could be acquired by purchasing the sponsor's brand of candy or cigarettes. Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler's personal photographer who accompanied him everywhere, captured the "inner" Hitler for display in the intimacy of the parlor -- a pensive Führer, solitary and careworn, who seemed truly happy only when surrounded by adoring crowds. Adolf Hitler: Pictures from the Life of the Führer, with a first edition of 700,000, included snapshots of Hitler from the 1920s as well as recent photos of the chancellor taking time out from the burdens of his office to chat with admirers.
Unlike the photographs that flooded Italian space with formal images of Mussolini as the personification of machismo, Hitler's private life conveyed an aura of ordinariness. Hitler, the embodiment of the virtues he preached, appeared in rumpled suits and often gazed at the reader with a shy smile. Mass-produced photo books, such as Hitler: An Escape from Daily Routine and The Adolf Hitler No One Knows, allowed followers to glimpse a private life that was carefully constructed for public consumption. In these informal snapshots, Hitler emerged as a regular guy who took pleasure in his followers' adoration, loved his dog, enjoyed the outdoors, and appreciated fast cars. Occasionally, one caught a glimpse of the Führer alone with his thoughts, perhaps reading a newspaper (never shown with the glasses he actually needed to read) or gazing into the distance, framed by Bavarian Alps. A 150-page photo album glorifying ethnic revival, Germany Awake! Background, Battle, and Victory, went through four editions of 100,000 in 1933-34. Essays by leading Nazis in these albums familiarized readers with the "great ideas" of the day. Interspersed among theoretical discourses were photographs and paintings of Stormtroopers, portraits of Nazi leaders, reproductions of great German art, and scenes of an avuncular Hitler surrounded by devoted young people. One caption expressed the message implicit in all the informal snapshots: "Even the Führer can be happy!" Before the advent of color photography, reproductions of hand-colored photographs added a modern flair. In the concluding photograph of this album, Hitler stands alone with a fawn: Hitler, the animal lover. The Propaganda Ministry manufactured this ersatz intimiate life to replace the facts of his early life Hitler had so thoroughly expunged from view.
During late 1933 and 1934, bookstores were stocked not only with Mein Kampf but with low-priced pamphlets and booklets of Hitler's speeches, histories of the Nazi Party, and biographies of the Führer. In these popular publications, the Volk was everywhere, but race was hardly to be seen. In 1934 a cigarette album, The City of Work and Peace: One Year in the Rule of Adolf Hitler, featured photographs of immense public works projects that promised to improve the nation's infrastructure and enhance communal life. Hitler's "great cultural lectures" at the Nuremberg Rally in September 1933 were published by a regular commercial press as Leadership and Loyalty. In the very popular Peace and Security he reiterated his opposition to militarism. A 54-page booklet, Hitler's Speeches for Equal Justice and Peace, reassured those who were worried that Hitler wanted another war. Pocket-sized books such as The Speeches of Hitler as Chancellor and Young Germany Wants Work and Peace predicted economic recovery. Avoiding dogmatic language, these cheaply printed booklets, bound in red-and-white-striped cloth, taught that racial struggle determines history, that great men make history, and that Germans had the right to territorial expansion. Walter Gross, director of the Office of Racial Politics, produced a pamphlet of bland quotations from Mein Kampf -- from which racism was deleted -- that was marketed as ideal for corporate giving. In these mass-market publications, Hitler's carefully crafted persona came to stand for ethnic revival, individual sacrifice, and the cleansing of cultural life. During these years Hitler virtually never mentioned three controversial themes that shaped his covert political agenda: crude antisemitism, contempt for Christianity, and preparation for a war of conquest.
Over the course of 1933, a softer image of Nazism displaced old fighters' raucous fanaticism. Like other revolutionaries who successfully seize power, Hitler publicly rebuked radicals in a drive to recruit new followers. Nazi theater registered the new direction quickly as it shifted from didacticism to generic entertainment. In the late 1920s amateurs had created the Nazi Fighting Stage, which produced confrontational plays designed to "indoctrinate through fun and entertainment." Although most of the scripts have been lost, the titles convey their flavor: Poison Gas; Rothschild Wins the Battle of Waterloo; Leo Schlageter; All Men are Brothers; and The Wanderer (based on Goebbels' 1926 novel, Michael). Traveling theater troupes spread these "fighting conversations" throughout Germany. In 1933, as these sententious ventures were regularized, dogmatic skits gave way to "living customs, songs, games, and dances that convey the simple truths of natural ethnic wisdom." Hundreds of open-air stages were designed for pseudo-medieval plays, called Thingspiels, that restored a "heroic spiritual force" to ethnic theater. Writing in 1933, a popular actress rejoiced that the Nazi takeover had rescued morality from "totally and essentially alien" Jewish rationalism. "Now reason stops leading us...a heroic Germanic passion commands. And it's high time, too!" Outdoor extravaganzas enthralled millions during the annual Nazi Party rallies, the 1936 Olympics, and national holidays like May 1, Thanksgiving day, and Heroes' Memorial Day.
Reporters for the clandestine Sopade and New Beginnings networks in 1934 sadly acknowledged Germans' attraction to Nazi ideology, die Idee. To their dismay, they watched workers listen intently to a Hitler speech or toast May Day, which for the first time under Nazi rule was declared a paid holiday. They described the power of ethnic revival to unify Germans across class lines. Even people who complained about corrupt local bosses admired Hitler. Although some inveterate anti-fascists optimistically insisted that "old loyalties" still operated behind the scenes, they admitted the Volk belonged to Hitler. Mass support for Nazism, however, came at a price. While ethnic uplift attracted newcomers, old fighters lusted for action -- some for an offensive against big business and others for decisive measurs against "Jewry." Bitter old fighters, accustomed to free-booting autonomy, found victory disconcerting.
Structural problems exacerbated tensions caused by the sheer numbers of people applying for party membership. In addition, victory generated more expectations than the party could fulfill. Some old fighters longed to settle scores with their political opponents; others took out their wrath against Jews. As compensation for years of sacrifice, many longtime Nazis anticipated receiving the desk jobs that opened up after 10 percent of all civil service positions were purged on political or racial grounds. When old fighters managed to obtain positions, they often became swaggering "brown bosses" with a reputation for corruption. Because so few long-time Nazis who benefited from patronage possessed the requisite skills to fill their posts properly, the reputation of the party suffered. With fewer than 300 full-time administrators, the party headquarters in Munich was so overwhelmed by paperwork that its staff barely evaluated applicants' qualifications. The closing of the Nazi Party membership rolls in June 1933 was a tacit acknowledgement of internal disorder. Although a steady stream of individuals were invited to join the Nazi Party, the general rolls did not officially reopen until 1937.
The explosion of membership in 1933 left many old fighters out in the cold and feeling betrayed. For over a decade Stormtrooper brigades had provided the militaristic elan that had driven the movement. Suddenly, their ranks expanded out of all proportion to the command structure. Led by Captain Ernst Röhm, the Stormtroopers grew from about 71,000 in 1931 to 400,000 in late 1932, and, with the absorption of the Steel Helmet veterans' organization, tripled its membership in 1933. Many Stormtroopers had not even bothered to join the Nazi Party, and most had not been schooled in Nazi doctrine. Culturally and politically marginal, Stormtroopers scorned the comforts of bourgeois life and lusted for armed struggle against Bolsheviks, capitalists, and Jews. Hitler's swift victory caught them off guard.
These old fighters, many of them war veterans, viewed new arrivals to the Nazi cause suspiciously. As one put it, "The old SA-Man, faithful and courageous, feels pushed aside by the influx of millions of young fighters." Amid increasing disaffection, many looked nostalgically at the bygone "time of struggle" with its political intrigue and street battles. Behind the rosy facade of Gleichschaltung, morale sank. Stormtroopers were accustomed to being outlaws; as local Nazi Party honchos, many believed they stood above the law and looked down contemptuously on police and government officials. Nazi stalwarts resented obeying the senior civil servants whom they had once considered their enemies. "It is ridiculous," complained local chief Wilhelm Kube, "that we, the actual victors of the National Socialist revolution, should have to follow the directives of bureaucrats!" Thousands of disgruntled militiamen found an outlet for their aggression in antisemitic hooliganism and brutal assaults against individual Jews. Many supported Captain Ernst Röhm's call for a "second revolution" against big capitalists. During the year before Hitler ordered a purge of the SA in June 1934, he campaigned in person to curtail SA units' autonomy.
In 1933, Hitler could have outlawed the entire SA on the grounds that after political victory the militia had outlived its usefulness. But it was not Hitler's style to abolish party institutions, and besides a private army suited his purpose. Instead, he invested a great deal of energy in convincing Stormtroopers to desist from unsanctioned violence and become ideological soldiers. To assure himself of SA men's loyalty, Hitler solidified his popularity among broad masses of Stormtroopers in personal appearances throughout Germany. "We have taken power. No one can resist us. And now we must train the German Volk for this state -- a tremendous challenge in the coming decade." Praising their loyalty in the past, he outlined a new mission for the future. "What we have achieved in three months is a miracle...and what lies ahead will not be less. Our struggle continues... We must carry on the struggle for the hearts and minds of Germany.... We are entering a difficult era. Every aspect of life will be nothing but struggle. You have grown up in battle, do not hope for a quick peace. By emphasizing the theme of struggle, Hitler masculinized the tedious missionary work of a new era.
Success, as Hitler put it in a speech to a devoted audience, depended on their ability to achieve the "inner conversion" of nominal Nazis who had joined Nazi associations out of careerism. Instead of dismissing competent civil servants (including teachers) on suspicion of political unreliability, he ordered Nazi functionaries to win them over totally. Any fool, Hitler said, could seize power. The test of greatness was holding on to it. Describing the July 14, 1933, laws as the apex of institutional Gleichschaltung, Hitler played the sage: "More revolutions have succeeded in their first assault than have been successfully absorbed and brought to a standstill. Revolution is not a permanent condition...the stream of revolution once released must be guided into the secure bed of evolution. Here the education of the Volk is most important...The ideas in our program do not commit us to behaving like fools and destroying everything... The Party has now become the State, all power belongs to the Reich authority." The time had come, he said, to slow down the "speeding locomotive" of revolution. In October 1933 he asked militiamen "to extend a hand to former adversaries who demonstrate their loyalty" to Nazi rule. Militiamen were charged to "fill the entire Volk with a single ideal" -- which, in practice, meant making converts of their old enemies.
With Hitler rhapsodizing about new challenges, Goebbels remade the identity of the SA man on the screen. The fates of three feature films to promote Nazism early in 1933 reflected the sharp reversal of SA men's functions. The content of the first two films and revisions of the third suggested the dawn of a new era. SA-Mann Brandt and Hitlerjunge Quex were filmed early in 1933, before Goebbels consolidated his control over the film industry. Brandt was a low-budget celebration of a slain Stormtrooper. Quex was based on a novel about a young Nazi martyr that had sold nearly 200,000 copies in the previous two years. In these didactic films, a youthful hero breaks his ties with his working-class family, casts his lot with a gang of courageous Nazi toughs, and dies at the hands of wild Communist ruffians. Their heroic deaths assured both heroes a place in the Nazi pantheon. The film censorship board approved Brandt on June 14, 1933, and Quex on September 19, 1933.
The third film glorified Stormtrooper Horst Wessel, who had been murdered in 1930 in the manner of Brandt and Quex. This film was rejected in late September 1933 even though the Nazi elite had already been invited to attend its festive opening on October 9. After major re-editing, Wessel opened as Hans Westmar: One Among Many on December 13, 1933. Aside from the initials H.W. in the protagonist's name, little remained of the original. Skillful editing converted the biography of the low-life thug-turned-martyr Wessel into a narrative about a virtuous youth who bore a striking resemblance to Hitler's fictive autobiography. Having grown up in a middle-class milieu, Hans Westmar does not alienate his family, and -- far from picking fights with Communists -- he preaches class reconciliation. Virtue in the Third Reich did not require reckless heroism as much as restraint. Hans explains, "We simply cannot talk in terms of class anymore. We are workers, too, but we happen to work with our heads. Our place is next to our brothers who work with their hands." The climax comes when undisciplined Communists brutally murder him.
The printed program distributed at the grand opening of the film underscored the newly-minted memory of the Nazis' victory as a narrative of reconciliation. "To completely win over the workers, he himself [Hans] must become one of them... He casts all temptation for the privileged life to the wind... The Red killers shoot him dead, but over his grave workers and students come together." In an interview a few months later, Hitler depicted himself as the great peacemaker who had unified the alienated Marxist "mass man" and the greedy bourgeois capitalist. Like Hans Westmar, he pledged to reconcile the "comrade with the red worker's cap" and the "citizen with the bowler hat." Westmar-Hitler symbolized ethnic awakening. Interclass harmony -- the theme of Goebbels' favorite films, Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Sergei Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin -- replaced political battle as the foundation of militia members' identity. Antisemitism faded from official view along with brutal Stormtroopers.
During the winter and early spring of 1933-34, Hitler traveled almost constantly to address local chiefs and militia officers. When he was in Berlin, he hosted gatherings of regional leaders at his chancery. Whether addressing small gatherings or mass rallies of Stormtroopers, he created the illusion of intimacy that made listeners feel like members of his select inner circle. During these privileged encounters, Hitler would exhort "the obedient sons of National Socialism" to stop unsanctioned violence. Submit to my authority, he repeated; accept your new calling as proselytizers. Addressing Stormtroopers on the verge of rebellion, Hitler invoked the Biblical imagery of of John 14:20: "Just as I am yours, so you are mine!" He paid homage to this "ancient, Iron Guard of the Revolution -- as faithful and disciplined as the soldiers of the German Volk!"
In his obsessive retelling of his own humble beginnings and his reliving of party history in speech after speech, Hitler remade the public memory of the "old days" in the image of Hans Westmar. In descriptions of the Stormtroopers written before 1933, Nazi fighters risked death in combat with Communists. They roughed up jews and disrupted placid petty-bourgeois life. Young men defied their parents; older men ignored wives and girlfriends. Thought it all, they kept the rebellious spirit of the front soldier alive. But from the summer of 1933, Hitler praised a new kind of honor. In place of fighting and martyrdom, Hitler reminisced about disciplined, idealistic, and dedicated men who endured privation for the sake of a loftier goal. In every speech to the party faithful in his first year as chancellor, Hitler presented himself as the role model. "Fifteen years ago, I began my struggle for Germany with a handful of people... Fifteen years of struggling for a Volk...I have come today because my heart has led me here to you to tell you how infinitely happy the German Volk is and how happy I am."
Morality, in the official memory of the "Time of Struggle" was embodied in patriotism, ethnic idealism, and self-sacrifice -- the traits needed to stabilize Nazi rule. Hitler explained to a British journalist in early 1934: "Everyone knew that it was possible to raze buildings using shellfire, but these methods would never convince an opponent, they would serve only to embitter him. The only way to make a successful revolution lies in gaining a hold on one's opponent by persuasion."
Nazi ruffians required intellectual retrofitting in order to debate with critics and inspire confidence among non-Nazis. In June 1933 Hitler announced the foundation of a special Institute for the Cultivation of the National Socialist Spirit in the village of Bernau near Berlin. Under th auspices of Nazi organizations, leadership training centers proliferated throughout the country. At these workshops in party dogma, from the podium, Hitler instructed Stormtroopers in how to parry hostile criticism. Step by step, he rehearsed the evils of "liberalism, Marxism, and Reaktion." He asked old fighters to think of themselves as guardians of ethnic altruism. At the Roll Call of Old Fighters on March 19, 1934, he told his audience that "the victory of a Weltanschauung unleashes a revolution which changes the very core and character of a Volk." Becoming a serious National Socialist required extensive study. "The German revolution will be concluded only when the entire German Volk has been totally created anew, reorganized and reconstructed."
Spreading the communal spirit also meant intensive community organizing -- which included many tasks that in the 1920s had been labeled Kleinarbeit (little work). Instead of enjoying the perquisites of their new offices, old fighters were encouraged to organize neighborhoods, which entailed door-to-door canvassing, fundraising, and publicizing rallies -- tasks that Nazi women had performed before 1933. Men found it difficult to substitute such chores for the defiant subculture that was now banned. In his 1934 New Year's greeting, Goebbels enhanced routine chores with a masculine elan. "National Socialism means struggle, tough, tireless struggle for the spiritual and physical elevation of the German Volk." Headlines like "Fighter without A Sword" and "Unknown Nazi Orator" reinforced the message. One unsung ideological crusader related how bravely he and other old fighters had defied hecklers by holding their rage in check to remain within "legal" limits ordered by Hitler.
Walter Thiessler, one of Goebbels' most able staff members, understood the need for new "apostles of our ideal" when he assigned brown fighters to their posts as "propaganda sentinels." These fledgling persuaders received monthly fact sheets entitled "Will and Path" that were to be collected in loose-leaf notebooks to use as reference material for political lectures. Although some disgruntled militiamen mocked this "occupational therapy," the constant activity diverted anarchic impulses and integrated rebellious old fighters within a command structure. Instructions, written in curt battle language, advised sentinels in the smallest details: for example, how to select and decorate meeting spaces, organize indoctrination film evenings, and publicize charity drives. Of course, doctrine was important, the author noted, but the "creation of a harmonious atmosphere" was key. "People will not attend just to keep up appearances. No! They look forward to learning...and enjoying the comradely spirit in support of the Volk community." Decorating tips advised against cluttering windows with posters and suggested fonts for signage. Huge transparent banners with bold slogans could add color to drab towns. Sound trucks pulling oversized billboards were most effective at twilight. No detail was too petty to overlook.
In addition to organizing their own party functions, propaganda sentinels attended labor meetings, office conferences, and civic organizations, ranging from chess clubs to sports teams. Between March and May 1934, for example, Nazi leaders in the small West German city of Wiesbaden organized 263 meetings, 600 educational evenings, and nearly 400 rallies. Throughout Germany, Nazi women sponsored poetry readings, workshops on childhood education, sewing circles, and reading groups. Ambassador Dodd grudgingly admired the tactic. "The method of educating the people through the medium of associations and societies is undoubtedly very effective as most adult Germans belong to at least several such organizations."
Clandestine Sopade reports, as well as regional Nazi Party activity surveys, brought mixed reviews. The old fighters' reliance on gut instinct sometimes galled well-educated audiences' sensibilities, but other audiences warmed to their blunt language and folksy manner. Berlin Reichsbank employees, who attended the required evening lectures held in indoor tennis courts, "were shocked at the extremely low level of the lectures." One participant commented, "These methods increasingly work against the speakers." Teachers in Munich complained about the obligatory meetings at which Nazi stalwarts reminisced about their front experiences, described recent rallies, and denounced academic scholarship. But other audiences in Munich rallied to a proselytizer's call, "Race Is Life!" Debunking biological research as "deadly boring," he waxed eloquent about "racial emotions." Instead of studying genes, he told people to trust their "healthy ethnic instincts." Comparing a perfect Aryan physique to a beautiful automobile, he declared, "You know quality when you see it. They both take your breath away."
As Nazi organizers had realized during the 1920s, disappointment provided an opportunity to improve party strategies. After a few public relations fiascos early in 1933, inept racial trainers were not allowed to speak in neighborhoods where "critical intellectuals" could embarrass them. To remedy Nazi dilettantes' confusion about key concepts such as "Nordic race," "Aryan," and "alien blood," racial education was added to speaker-training courses. Indoctrinators learned to sidestep controversial issues such as antisemitism, preparation for war, forced sterilization, and Nazi leaders' hostility to organized religion. Despite scattered complaints, these face-to-face encounters had the potential to create mutual trust by linking Nazi activists to established civic networks. Gradually, ties of benevolence and shared community projects appear to have ameliorated hostilities between old fighters and newcomer Nazis.
In the Nazi press, the emphasis on civic virtue was reflected in scores of mawkish essays. Typical of the genre was an article by a Nazi official that hailed "the moral demands of National Socialism" as a revolution. Unlike the "barricade battles" against democracy, he wrote, old fighters in the new era inspired honor. Rudolf Hess, writing in the Nazis' theoretical journal, described Nazi ideals in moral, not political, terms: "Never place self-interest ahead of Party interests." Authors purged accounts of bloody confrontations from their memoirs, recalling instead their "battles" to expand membership and "struggles" to boost turnout at local meetings. Back in the 1920s, one writer commented, recruiting just one new comrade had been more difficult than signing up 1,000 in 1933. Only because "iron discipline and unshakable faith in the values of Adolf Hitler unified many thousands in Will and Thought" had Nazism triumphed. Now "ideological conquest called for a nonviolent spiritual revolution." A Reichstag delegate and Labor Front official praised "the unbelievable results" achieved when "we begin the task of sinking our Weltanschauung deep in the collective German Volk."
Alongside the propaganda sentinel stood the radio sentinel who received instructions that read like military commands for the conquest of public opinion: "target" critical intersections for loudspeakers; "coordinate" programs with shopping times; and above all, "gather intelligence" about public opinion. District Nazi bosses produced their own weekly broadcasts, often replete with signature music. Goebbels' eager acolytes cast their mission in world-historical terms. After modernization had fragmented communal life and driven peasants into alienated urban Gesellschaft (society), a radio campaign could recreate the lost Gemeinschaft (community). Radio expert Eugen Hadamowsky told his Stormtroopers of the Spirit: "Today, for the first time in history, we have in radio a medium which enables us to mold nations of many millions by daily and hourly influence. Old and young, workers and farmers, soldiers and officials, men and women listen in front of their radios... Loudspeakers call across the athletic fields, the courtyards, the streets and squares of the big cities, the factories and the barracks. A whole nation listens." Modernity, he continued, bred cynicism and anomie, but it also offered the means to re-create community on an entirely new scale. The modern man "longs to be one of a crowd of people who think, feel, and react in the same way. The listener feels he is pat of this great entity that is not torn between countless differences of opinion, but revolves...around a central concern." Government subsidies and do-it-yourself kits made the radios, or "people's receivers," affordable even for the poorest Germans. On Hitler's birthday, primetime broadcasting integrated traditional fare and special celebrations.
* 16:20 Orchestra concert
* 17:00 The Struggle for the Nation
* 18:20 Nation-wide Hitler Youth Oath to Hitler
* 18:30 Mozart String Quartet
* 19:00 Horst Wessel, radio drama
* 21:00 Philharmonic concert
Overnight, Gleichschaltung turned the airwaves brown.
By 1934 Germany had the largest number of radios per capita in the world. Clandestine morale monitors were dismayed to see how people stood motionless in awed silence to hear Hitler's voice on loudspeakers in factories, schools, and squares. "Talkie" newsreels and documentary films drew viewers into a space of intimacy with their leaders. Germans purchased at least one movie theater with over a thousand seats. Giant-screen television viewing studios were designed, as one visionary told Hitler, to "plant your picture, my Führer, deep and ineradicably in every German heart." Goebbels' staff masterminded a national radio oath-taking ceremony. On April 8, 1933, 600,000 Stormtroopers stood at attention throughout Germany at the same time. That evening Goebbels imagined them standing "like trees, a vast forest of heroism, a hard manly union." A year later the drama was repeated when 750,000 party leaders, 180,000 Hitler Youth, 1,800 student leaders, and 18,500 Labor Front members stood at attention in front of their radios and simultaneously pledged allegiance to Hitler.
Gradually, the novelty of a voice coming from a box wore off, and many listeners requrested the return of radio broadcasts of the Weimar era. As Hadamowsky ruefully noted, dissatisfied listeners simply turn off their sets. "Without listeners, radio loses its power." After several months of heavy-handed ideological radio programming, Goebbels recalibrated national radio from indoctrination to entertainment. "Political announcements on the radio...have become so ubiquitous that programs constantly change, creating the danger that listeners' interest disappears. Listeners can turn off the radio." Even the primetime National Hour was curtailed. Popular music, consumer tips, drama, serialized novels, newscasts, and advice for housewives, youth, and farmers returned to their former prominence. In the hope of achieving popular acclaim from the broadest possible audience, Nazi media produced a lively vernacular culture and scaled back overtly ideological productions.
In early 1934 Nazi leaders spoke less about winning new followers and more about disciplining recalcitrant Nazis. Hitler ranted about "insane fools, little worms, carpers, little pygmies"; Goebbels lashed out against "killjoys, fault-finders, saboteurs, agitators"; and Göring assailed "interest cliques" and "unproductive critics." Listeners may have wondered who these creatures were. Soon they found out. On the night of June 27-28, 1934, Hitler ordered a special unit of SS men to murder SA Captain Ernst Röhm and 40 of his closest comrades. Before the purge ended, between 80 and 100 people had been killed, including not only Röhm and 40 other Stormtroopers but also political opponents, civil servants, hostile journalists, erstwhile comrades, and retired military officers. Approximately one thousand people were arrested and held without charge for a few weeks, and in some cases for several months, while their offices were ransacked, presumably for incriminating documents that Hitler wanted destroyed. These frantic searches, combined with his payments to blackmailers at the same time, suggest that Hitler worried about the disclosure of facts about his background that he wanted to bury. Perhaps he worried about rumors that he had a Jewish grandfather, or maybe he wanted to thwart gossip about his sexual proclivities. A Führer who in speech after speech flaunted his spotless moral character could ill afford personal scandal or Röhm's threat of a "second revolution" against capitalists and the military. But the fact that the upholder of morality ordered a mass murder demanded a justification that would seem credible in the eyes of ordinary Germans as well as Nazis. Using the formula of his 1924 trial speeches, Hitler stage-managed the aftermath. In much the same way that a political fiasco became a courageous putsch, the purge of June 1934 became known as "The Night of the Long Knives." Success depended on Hitler's ability to strip an obvious crime of its political meaning and reframe it as a moral act.
Immediately after the murders, Hitler withdrew from public view. A press release described his "grave conflicts of conscience" (without further explanation) and supplied lurid details about the "sexual deviants" murdered in their beds at dawn. Goebbels reassured Germans that, as he put it, the "plague boils, hotbeds of corruption, symptoms of degeneracy...are being cauterized." On July 13 Hitler emerged from seclusion and delivered an hour-long radio speech to the Reichstag. Assuming personal responsibility for the purge, as he had for the 1923 putsch, Hitler claimed to have rescued the Volk from a threat so dire that only drastic action could have stopped it. "The National Socialist state will wage a 100 years war, if necessary, to stamp out and destroy...every last trace of this phenomenon which poisons and makes dupes of the Volk...the little colony of drones...deserters and mutineers." In conclusion, he pledged to "protect the morality of the Volk."
After the Röhm purge, Hitler ordered a crackdown against corruption, luxurious banquets, limousines, and drunkenness. In Der Stürmer he told Stormtroopers to cease "storming" in the streets and instead to develop a "stormy inner being." Addressing them in person, he said, "I am determined to...wage the battle for the soul and the unity of the Volk... You will stand beside me as you have in the fifteen years which lie behind us. And just as we succeeded in conquering 90 percent of the German Volk for National Socialism, we will and must be able to win over the last 10 percent... This will be the crowning glory of our victory." The battle of the streets became a campaign to win hearts and minds.
Two respected jurists set the intellectual seal on impunity for state-sanctioned murder. Minister of Justice Hans Gürtner, who was not a Nazi Party member, justified the murders because he feared that otherwise citizens might distrust their government. Carl Schmitt explained that because Hitler's will was the supreme law of the land, "the true Führer is always also judge. The status of judge flows from the status of Führer... The Führer's deed was, in truth, the genuine exercise of justice. It is not subordinate to justice, but rather it is itself supreme justice." Hitler's self-defense made explicit the basis of Nazi jurisprudence: crimes committed in the name of protecting the Volk from moral danger were legal. Declaring his exclusive right to identify that danger and excise it, Hitler justified the curtailment of freedoms as protection against disorder. In just over a year, he had mobilized ethnic populism to replace a constitutional democracy with a regime that could murder in the name of morality -- and make its justification credible in the eyes of most Germans.
Writing during the closing months of World War II, the philosopher Alexandre Koyre alerted readers to the vulnerability of democracies to subversion by ruthless insiders who have no scruples about deceiving their subject-citizens. Koyre observed that, although lying was as old as civilization itself, "modern man -- genus totalitarian -- bathes in the lie, breathes the lie, is in thrall to the lie." Koyre mentioned gangsters, religious fraternities, lobbyists, and sects as well as political cliques. Although hardcore members may be disillusioned when they hear their leaders' public disavowal of their true aims, gradually they come to appreciate the need for leaders' discretion in a mass society. The "truth remains constantly concealed, unuttered" -- and yet intuited, an open secret. Hitler refrained from revealing the depths of his antisemitism in public, confident that the party faithful would grasp the true meaning behind his public silence. He and his deputies forged what Koyre called an "open conspiracy," in which the leadership expresses the deepest purpose of the organization as a "cryptogram" designed to mollify outsiders while accurately communicating its message to insiders.
Addressing the general public, Hitler discussed economics and diplomacy in considerable detail. On only three occasions between April 1933 and the invasion of Poland in September 1939, did Hitler directly vent his phobic racial hatred. Addressing the Reichstag at the 1935 Nuremberg Rally, he delivered a preamble to the laws that destroyed Jewish citizens' legal status in Germany. Against the background of the Spanish Civil War and Mussolini's visit to the Nuremberg Rally in September 1937, Hitler railed against the Jewish-Bolshevik "contagion" and called on the leaders of "civilized" Western European nations to follow his lead in combating the "Jewish-Bolshevist, international league of criminals." Then, on the occasion of the sixth anniversary of his chancellorship, Hitler delivered a radio address in which he predicted that, in the event of world war, Jewry would be "exterminated." Compared with the range of topics he covered in dozens of two- and three-hour speeches, racial policy hardly figured in his pronouncements.
Nevertheless, Hitler found ways of sending "cryptograms" to hardcore Nazis to reassure them that despite his public restraint he had not abandoned the racial core of his beliefs. When denouncing an already unpopular idea, Hitler would casually describe it as Jewish. At the 1934 Nuremberg Rally, for example, he told women Nazis that "the catchword 'women's emancipation'...[was] merely a phrase invented by the Jewish intellect." Another of his rhetorical strategies was to project his hatred of Jews onto his victims who, he alleged, planned to "wage a battle for life and death" until the "final struggle" against the Third Reich. In the process, Hitler injected the concept of lethal racial warfare into public culture.
Mein Kampf itself became a third kind of cryptogram. During the years when Hitler barely mentioned racial policy in public, virulently anti-semitic quotations from Mein Kampf adorned Nazi Party publications. Hitler's words would appear as frontmatter or in decorated boxes adorning articles on racial issues. Perhaps the high point in the canonization of Mein Kampf came on April 20, 1936, Hitler's forty-seventh birthday, when the Reich League of German Government Officials gave their Chief a copy of Mein Kampf that had been transcribed by hand in medieval script on leather parchment. Bound in iron and weighing 75 pounds, this 965-page tome sent a clear signal that whatever Hitler said in public, civil servants understood that the racist promises in Mein Kampf remained as central in 1936 as they had been in 1924.
Needless to say, no one doubted Hitler's antisemitism. but a skillfully managed public relations campaign allowed moderate Germans to rationalize their support for Nazi rule. They could become "yes but" Nazis -- welcome ethnic fundamentalism and economic recovery while dismissing Nazi crimes as incidental. The marketing strategy that allowed this kind of doublethink was established by the end of 1934 and remained in place until the collapse of Nazi rule. No matter what the crime -- whether the "legal" theft of Jewish property, imprisonment in a concentration camp, or murder -- it was committed in public. Hitler declared his intentions openly in Mein Kampf. But Hitler's benign public image and careful news management minimized their impact. Media reporting on concentration camps and mass arrests described Nazi terror as protective. Allegations about victims' guilt were framed in moral, not political, terms, and protesting voices were discredited as foreign-influenced. By preserving his public distance from the unpopular aspects of his rule, Hitler -- flanked by a team of political advertisers -- communicated in cryptograms to the Nazi faithful while reassuring mass audiences that his intentions were benign.