The Nazi Conscience, ch. 2, "The Politics of Virtue"
by Claudia Koonz
The highest purpose of the ethnic state (Volksstaat) is concern for the preservation of those original racial elements that bestow culture and create the beauty and dignity of a higher human nature. -- Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Chapter 2
Although it may strain credulity to conceive of Adolf Hitler as a prophet of virtue, therein lay the secret of his immense popularity. Modern readers are likely to dismiss Hitler's interminable speeches as vapid, overwrought, and deceitful. But his followers, bitterly disillusioned by the bankrupt promises of liberal democracy, heard them as inspirational. Early in his career, Hitler displayed an unusual ability to intuit his audiences' deepest spiritual as well as political longings. Respondings to Germans' sense of national impotence and their desire for political leadership they could trust, Hitler made himself into a political preacher of virtue. As a campaigner in the 1920s and as Volk chancellor after January 1933, he cultivated a lofty, nonpartisan image by extolling the ethical superiority of the "Aryan" Volk and presented himself as the very model of the virtues he praised: the epitome of selfless devotion, humble origins, and abstemious tastes.
Hitler discovered his genius for persuasion on the streetcorners of Munich in the midst of revolutionary turmoil in 1919. There, as he recalled in Mein Kampf, he came to realize that "all great, world-shaking events have been brought about, not by written matter, but by the spoken word." Because "the mass of people as such is lazy," he observed, they would not read anything that contradicted their views, but they would linger to hear a good speech even if they resisted its message at first. "In these [early] years I often faced an assemblage of people who believed the opposite of what I wanted to say, and wanted the opposite of what I believed. Then it was the work of two hours to life two or three thousand people out of a previous conviction, and finally to lead them across to our convictions and our philosophy of life." Unlike a writer, a speaker "can always see in the faces of his listeners" what rouses them. Audiences provide the attentive listener-orator with the ideas that will incite them. "The speaker will always let himself be borne by the great masses in such a way that instinctively the very words come to his lips that he needs to speak to the hearts of his audience. If he errs....he has the living correction before him." Appropriating the formula of successful salesmen, he would begin by acquainting himself with his audience and studying their reactions to several topics. When he had identified their desires, he would explain confidently why only his Nazi movement could fulfill them. Listeners would say to themselves, "Of course, that's just what I have always believed." After a particularly successful speech, Hitler would boast, "I had before me a surging mass full of the holiest indignation and boundless wrath."
No matter how much his approach changed from one audience to another, Hitler created the impression of constancy by repeating adjectives like "unflinching," "decisive," "relentless," and "absolute." Against his enemies' malevolence, Hitler pledged to restore faith in the Volk. While other politicians tore at Germany's unity, Hitler promised wholeness. More quickly than his rivals, Hitler seized on the most advanced communications media to enhance his appeal. Before the invention of electric amplification, politicians (Hitler included) became hoarse after speaking for 15 minutes to a hundred or so people; with amplification, Hitler could address tens of thousands. Years later Hitler recalled, "Without the loud speaker we would never have cocnquered Germany." Contemporaries often likened Hitler to an actor because of the way he would study his gestures in photographs and perfect his signature poses in front of a mirror. Like a movie star on the silent screen, Hitler would gesticulate wildly and exaggerate his facial expressions. But unlike an actor, he wrote his own scripts.
Hitler's style, with its whiplash verbal violence, florid metaphors, and convoluted syntax, provided the elements of what the historian Ian Kershaw called the "Hitler myth." But Hitler's charisma depended on his message as well as his theatrical skills. Opponents of Nazism heard only hatred as Hitler ranted against the Treaty of Versailles, Communists, rival politicians, and democracy. But they overlooked the pattern of Hitler's speeches in which he counterpoised every outburst of fury with the exalted rhetoric of a higher purpose. To modern readers, these paeans to moral purity and pious tributes to selflessness seem as hypocritical as they are banal. but for Germans who remembered the war fever of 1914 or had grown up listening to their elders' reminiscences, Hitler's blend of idealism and hatred struck a resonant chord.
At three decisive turning points, Hitler's career hung in the balance. In each case, brutal Nazi militias, acting on Hitler's wishes, committed flagrant crimes that might have undone him. The first turning point occurred when Hitler stood trial for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. The next two outbreaks of violence occurred in the early months after Hitler became chancellor in 1933, when Nazi vigilantes terrorized first the Communists and then the Jews. In each case, Hitler demonstrated his consummate skill at preserving his image as the upholder of rectitude.
As a fledgling politician in 1919, Hitler deployed a menu of hatreds that attracted a miniscule band of fanatically loyal followers. In flamboyant phrases, he juxtaposed the "rebirth of Germans' moral and spiritual powers" and the elimination of the Jewish "racial tuberculosis." His earliest speeches seethed with repellant images of rapacious capitalists, craven diplomats, corrupt politicians, and bloodthirsty Bolsheviks -- all of whom, no matter what their surface manifestations, emerged from a single source, "world Jewry." Addressing bitter veterans and disillusioned citizens, he swore "with relentless determination to strike evil at its roots," and, with cold determination, to annihilate it utterly." A friend who asked him how he would solve "the Jewish problem" vividly recalled Hitler's answer.
His eyes no longer saw me but instead bore past me and off into empty space... "Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews... I will have gallows built in rows -- at the Marienplatz in Munich for example -- as many as traffic allows. Then the Jews will be hanged indiscrimiantely, and they will remain hanging until they stink...for as long as the principles of hygiene permit...Other cities will follow suit in this fashion, until all Germany has been completely cleansed of Jews." [Joseph Hell, quoted by Gerald Fleming in Hitler and the Final Solution. Keep in mind that jews are not a good place to get the truth about jews or anything else.]
A police reporter captured the mutual empowerment of orator and audience in a crescendo of hate. After opening a typical speech in 1920 with a lackluster discussion of internatioanl justice, Hitler switched gears to speak of Germans' wartime hatred of Great Britain, and listeners began to shout, "Hurrah! That's right!" When he asked who directed the failed German war effort, the crowd roared, "The Jews." Connecting "Jewry" to "international capital" evoked more stormy applause." "Our Volk must be immunized with the feeling of hatred against everything foreign . . . We must be first and foremost Germans . . . We must exterminate [ausmerzen] the poison if we want to recover. One day the day will come when the sun will break through! [Interrupted by enthusiastic, extended applause.]
Responding to the rabit antisemites in his movement, Hitler would fulminate about "Jewry" as an omnipresent moral danger and swear to "keep alive the flames of idealism...that will inflame all German hearts so powerfully that it will burn out the epidemic of egotism, the Jewish-Mamon spirit." Germans must not rest until "our oppressors lie on the ground before us...smashed [zerschmettert]." Screaming about "filthy Jews" and "the image [Gestalt] of paid traitors and Jewish villains [Kanaillen]," he would work himself into a rage.
In his notes for a speech entitled "Politics and Race" in the late spring of 1923, Hitler answered the question "Why must we destroy the Jew?" with a pledge to protect German "morality, customs, sense of justice, religion, etc." The situation in Germany was bleak. France and Britain demanded overdue reparations payments, while French soldiers occupied the industrial Ruhr River basin. Hyperinflation drove the reichsmark, wich had traded at 4 to the dollar in 1914 and 17 to the dollar in 1919, to over 4 trillion marks to the dollar. Communist and rightwing militias brawled in the streets. This combined diplomatic, economic, and political crisis had all but destroyed public confidence in the Weimar Republic.
With a membership of 55,000, in early 1923 the Nazi Party was largely unknown outside Bavaria. As the situation in Germany deteriorated, the toughs in Hitler's militia, the SA (Stormtroopers) called for revolution. On the night of November 8-9, Hitler gave the order and, together with General Erich Ludendorff and two Bavarian politicians, marched with a brigade of 2,000 brown-shirted SA men into Munich, where they planned to arrest key officials, seize communications, and replace the constitution. At the Odeonsplatz in central Munich, police blocked the street. For less than a minute, shots rang out. Fourteen Nazis and four policemen were killed. The putsch collapsed. Hitler, Ludendorff, and the other conspirators were charged with high treason.
The trial began the following February. As an Austrian citizen who had already violated his parole restrictions, Hitler faced possible deportation or life in prison. His political future depended on his ability to elicit his judges' sympathy. By the end of his second speech, Hitler's "ear" for his audience's desires guided him to mute racial hate and extoll the Volk. This formula defined his public persona from that point forward. Making his selfless devotion to the Volk the centerpiece of his courtroom defense, Hitler told the story of his tiny band of idealists who had dared to sally forth against evil. In long tirades and snappy rejoinders, he converted his botched attempt to overthrow the government into a virtue. "In such a critical movement a Volk cannot be saved by quiet reflection...only fanaticism, hot, reckless, and utterly brutal fanatacism offers the means to rescue a Volk from enslavement."
Hitler's rhetoric worked its magic from the first day of the trial. The conservative but by no means pro-Nazi judges openly admired this audacious
traitor. "Why, he's a colossal fellow, this man Hitler," one remarked to another. Over the next six weeks, Hitler, the uncouth agitator, remade himself into an innocent patriot who had been betrayed by a democracy too weak to defend Germanic honor. As part of his show of humility, Hitler called himself a drummer, but in his towering pretensions to high virtue he resembled a trumpeter.
Hitler transformed his public self from a raging antisemite into a resolute tribune of the Volk who captivated audiences with his vision of "cleanliness everywhere, cleanliness of our government, cleanliness in public life, and also this cleanliness in our culture...that will restore our [national] soul to us." Although he made unmistakeable references to Jews (in, for example, his promise to cure "German lungs" of "racial tuberculosis"), he avoided the diatribes of his earlier speeches. Sharpening the question-and-answer format that later became his stock-in-trade, he caricatured his critics' allegations and countered them with assurances of his own personal virtue. While his co-conspirators insisted on their innocence, Hitler accepted his responsibility for violating a constitution he despised. Against the law of the land, he defended his "moral right before God and the world to represent the nation. That is a moral issue, and not a question of a majority."
With passion verging on hysteria, Hitler cast German history as a melodrama of national sacrifice, virtue, and suffering. From the Wild West novels by Karl May, which he read and reread throughout his life, and the Wagnerian heroes he adored, Hitler crafted a national morality play. Its main characters -- a victimized Volk, an "alien" villain, and a lone hero -- replayed the themes of wartime propaganda that had stirred him as a soldier. Deleting "Jewry" from his oratory, Hitler excoriated the Versailles Treaty and Bolshevism while castigating liberals as too cowardly to defend the Volk. On trial for his political life, he transformed himself from a sectarian agitator into a moral revivalist who called for an ethnic rebirth that would dissolve the boundaries of class, religion, and ideology. As he recalled later, he learned how to "speak to locksmiths and university professors at the same time...in a form...that really lashes them into a wild storm of applause."
The judges allowed him ample time to expound on "two philosophies," weak-willed liberalism versus ethnic honor. What, Hitler thundered, could "morality" mean when liberals allowed the Versailles Treaty, imposed by vindictive enemies, to become "the supreme law of the land"? He ranted against the treaty as "a law which advocated immorality in 414 articles." To violate its provisions was an act of patriotism. Hitler did not deny his militias' treasonous intent but rather enveloped their crimes in rhetorical clouds of "honor, liberty and fatherland." Under the democratic Weimar Republic, Hitler reiterated, "law and morality are no longer synonymous." Because the constitution weakened the nation, democracy -- not foreign powers -- had betrayed the Volk. Ruled by spineless liberals and socialists, the state had deteriorated into a materialistic institution, an "organization of people who apparently have only one goal: to guarantee each other's daily bread."
Flamboyant rhetoric and convoluted syntax conveyed a sense of urgency, a "decisive battle for existence or non-existence." Again and again, Hitler depicted a harsh "struggle of two great philosophies...between the new ethnic [völkische] movement...and pacifist-Marxist values." On one side stood the pure-hearted Nazis and on the other cowardly liberals and socialists who "have soiled everything that was great, noble, sacred." In the witness box, Hitler invoked the high moments in German history, which had been, like Bismarck's breache of the Prussian constitution in the 1860s, treason that succeeded. Instead of "accepting blow after blow with the meekness of sheep," Hitler quoted military theorist Carl von Clausewitz's On War, written at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, to the effect that any nation which voluntarily submits to humiliation is doomed. Hitler added, "It is better to perish with honor."
In his defense, Hitler transformed a fiasco into a publicity coup that spread his name throughout Germany and Europe. After defending treason as patriotic for over six weeks in the witness box, Hitler in his closing speech appealed to a morality that stood above the written law. To his judges he said, "Even if you pronounce us guilty a thousand times over...the goddess of the eternal tribunal of history one day will, with a smile, rip up the Prosecutor's opinion and the verdict of the court. She will acquit us." Hitler strategic blunder of November 9, 1923, became a public relations triumph.
On April 1, 1924, the judges announced they would not deport Hitler because he had fought in the Bavarian army and, they added, because he "felt so German." Compared with the sentences handed down to Marxists found guilty of high treason, which ranged from fifteen years to life, Hitler's five-year sentence barely counted as a rebuke. Although sometimes he depicted himself as a martyr who suffered "under lock and key," most of the time he reminisced fondly about his life in a Bavarian detention center as being a university experience financed by the state.
Reading about their Führer's trial speeches, some Nazis worried that their movement had lost its antisemitic edge. Hitler reassured them that his earlier ideas about "the Jewish question" had been "too mild!....only the toughest battle tactics" would suffice to solve "a question that is for our Volk and all peoples a question of life and death." During the summer, his comrade Rudolph Hess transcribed Hitler's daily ruminations with the intention of compiling them as a book, Four and a Half Years of Struggle against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice -- subsequently shortened by his Nazi publisher to Mein Kampf (My Struggle). With Hess as his sole listener, Hitler's racist venom returned in force. He raged about "a parasite in the body of other races that eternally searches for nourishment [Nährboden] for his own race... He is and remains a typical parasite, a freeloader, that spreads like a dangerous bacillus... Wherever it erupts, the host Volk perishes sooner or later." He railed against "ethical and moral poisoning" in the form of "deserters, pimps, and rabble" and "supercilious arrogant know-it-alls." Phobias obsessed him. "If you cut even cautiously into such an abscess, you found -- like a maggot in a rotting body, often dazzled by the sudden light -- a kike." As he paced back and forth dictating his magnum opus to Hess, this autodidact fashioned a Manichean universe in which he pledged to win "the positive struggle for the soul of our Volk" and "exterminate its international poisoners."
Upon his release from prison a scant ten months later, the party press hailed the event as "a Christmas present to the Volk," and Hitler set out to rebuild his fragmented movement. His February 1925 speech to 3,000 followers in the Bürgerbräu beer hall was a triumph of reconciliation. After roiling up the crowd with hatred for the Treaty of Versailles, he called for unity among all ethnic Germans and summoned his warring deputies to renew their allegiance to him, accompanied by ecstatic cheers from the crowd." The new course was set. As he reached out to better-educated audiences, he held his virulent hatreds in check. Of course, when he used phrases like "one single enemy," his comrades understood the meaning. Acutely aware that the authorities could prohibit him from speaking in public or deport him, Hitler had ample reason for caution. In place of lengthy fulminations against Jewry, he would enliven his speeches with racist wisecracks and side comments. He invoked medical metaphors, warning, for example, about "Jewry that wants to create a world of slaves" and "infection of our national ethnic body by blood poisoning." He would link "Jewish" to despised values like urbanism, materialism, and greed. For comic relief, he joked about "upstart Jewish composers, scribblers, painters who drown our Volk in their pathetic trash." In a typical three-hour speech, Hitler would mention Jews in passing, as in a slur against the "Jewish press" for promoting decadent "Jimmy [probably a reference to Jim Crow] culture." He would blame moral degeneration on sexual intercourse between Jews and non-Jews, which he called "racial treason" or "bastardization." Whatever his example, Hitler cast the honest but trusting Aryans as vulnerable to Jewish deceit.
During the late 1920s, Nazi organizers campaigned vigorously to expand their following beyond the less than 6 percent who voted for Nazi candidates. During those years, Hitler perfected his new persona. Rather than proclaiming his racism at every opportunity, Hitler learned to express his racist fury only when it suited his overall strategy. In early 1928, for example, the Catholic Center Party in Bavaria chastised Hitler for his antisemitism and ridiculed him as a "political priest." Hitler turned the tables on his Catholic opponents in two lengthy rebuttals, in February and August. Each speech lasted between two and three hours, and together the transcripts take up 47 closely printed pages. Hearing "much laughter" in response to anticlerical and antisemitic humor, he lambasted his Catholic rivals for their hypocrisy and quoted from their antisemitic posters among all Christians and "Germany for the Germans," near the conclusion of his February speech he raged against Jewish "swindlers," cowards, and the "Jewish hunger for profit and greed for power." Concluding his August speech, Hitler pledged to "battle against poisoning by Jewish blood and culture." Denouncing Marxists who denied racial danger, he warned, "They will come to understand it when their children toil under the Jewish overseer's whip." Having vented his hatred, Hitler closed both speeches with a summons to self-sacrifice. "As you have in the past, give your love to Germany, this unhappy Volk . . . Send your gratitude to those who have offered their lives" for the Nazi movement. Stormy shouts of Heil! and extended applause accompanied his exit. Other than in exceptional circumstances such as these, however, Hitler held his antisemitic fury in check.
Rather than concerning himself with the particular demands of the Nazi Party program, Hitler made himself into the leader audiences could trust. Dedicated followers transformed his phrases into brilliant posters with dramatic slogans such as, "Decline or Future?" "In the Name of National Unity!" "Freedom and Bread!" and "Germany's Fateful Hour." To cheering audiences he exhorted, "If you want to be happy as individuals, then take care that your Volk is alive and free." With "faith and persistence," he reiterated, rebirth was at hand.
Eschewing vicious antisemitism, Hitler preached the virtues of ethnic fundamentalism: he celebrated German uniqueness; invoked organic symbols that depicted a living Volk beset by impurities from within; denounced perfidious foreign enemies; and appealed to the righteousness of a martyred Volk. Hitler reduced complex issues to quaint homilies, as when he represented an imperialistic Volk as a good father who wants to ensure his son's future, or denounced greedy "social snobs" who "cared nothing about a Volk that was healthy in body and soul." To poor peasants, he would say, "Forget your own sorrows, and work hard for your Volk." From speech to speech, the villain shifted, but two stock characters starred in every melodrama: the Volk as an imperiled maiden and Hitler as her savior.
Between March 1925 and January 30, 1933, when he became chancellor, Hitler called out to Germans to abandon divisive rival parties and form "a Unity, a unified Will, with which the Volk will fight for its existence on Earth." Where he had once fulminated against Jewry as a moral danger before his trial, in the late 1920s Hitler glorified the virtuous Volk. One of his longtime followers described the transformation of his Führer after a rally in 1928:
Hitler has changed over the last years. His speeches are, as always, full of emotion and fire, spiced with his sarcastic wit. He makes quick side jabs. But he is much more moderate than before...No smear campaign. Not a single word against the Jews. No pitched attacks. But for all that, Hitler's speeches have a more powerful effect than ever...I would characterize his two-hour speech not so much as a campaign speech or a propaganda talk, but rather as philosophical reflections on the national economy and politics.
A young Jewish woman who attended a Hitler rally out of curiosity was similarly suprised. The "heiling," she recalled, was so loud she "thought the roof would fall in," but, in her opinion, Hitler said little of substance. He "put up sham accusations, only to refute them, used slogans by the hour, and said nothing else than praise of himself...Nothing even against the Jews."
Exalted by his followers and dismissed as vapid by his opponents, Hitler balanced three themes in his speeches during the early 1930s: outrage against the Versailles victors, verbal abuse of his rivals, and extended ruminations about honor, struggle, glory, and morality. As his most rabid metaphors fell into disuse, he articulated an idealism that fused public virtue and ethnic purity. Thanks to the research of Theodore Abel, we have a vivid portrait of early Nazi joiners to whom these themes appealed. In 1935, when Abel advertised a mock essay contest for the best essay by an "old fighter" on "Why I became a National Socialist," nearly 600 authors submitted entries. in their essays, old fighters cast the decision to join the Nazi Party (or, as they called it, "our Freedom Movement") in moral terms. While spewing contempt for whta they saw as the decadence of Weimar democracy and modernist culture, they fervently described their longing for a principled man of action. One woman recalled being thunderstruck by the appearance of an "idealism for which we have waited so passionately for all these years whether or not we realized it. Yes, our Volk needs knowledge about the meaning of its existence: of knowing what it means to belong to a particular Volk! After he heard Hitler speak in 1926, one old fighter recalled, "The German soul spoke to German manhood through him. From then on I could never swerve in my allegiance to Hitler. It was his unlimited faith in his Volk and his desire to liberate them."
Although antisemitism was not censored from subsequent editions of Mein Kampf, it became easier with each passing year for Hitler's more moderate supporters to attribute the book's vulgar racism to a bygone phase of Hitler's life. Yet the racist planks of the 25-Point Nazi Party Program were clear to anyone who cared to read them: only individuals with "German blood" would be citizens; no Jew could be a civil servant or work in the media; "non-Germans" who had immigrated after 1914 would be expelled from Germany; and department stores (believed by Nazis to be Jewish-owned) would be confiscated and turned over to small shopkeepers. The methods were unclear, but the long-term goal was explicit: "The Party combats the Jewish materialist spirit domestically and abroad." Leaving coarse antisemitism to his deputies, Hitler's politics of virtue elevated him above the party machine he controlled.
Over the years, Hitler elaborated on the biography he had created in Mein Kampf by transforming his palpable failures into a myth of humble origins, terrible obstacles, and iron will. Speaking in the third person, he would open his speeches with a set-piece party narrative in which he reminisced about "an unknown man and German soldier who entered political life, led only by the commands of conscience." In pathos-laden tones, he would remark, "I know why my enemies hate me" and hten proceed to paint a self-portrait of a fearless crusader for justice. While Nazi militias viciously attacked their rivals and hounded Jewish public figures in the 1932 election campaign, Hitler presented himself as a youthful and fearless alternative to the 83-year-old President Hindenburg. His publicity team brilliantly engraved an image of a daring Hitler on the public mind by transporting the candidate on a spectacular speaking tour via airplane. In an era when air travel was considered dangerous, Hitler literally descended from the clouds to address audiences of between 120,000 and 300,000 at major cities. An inexpensive booklet of "art" photos of his airborne speaking tour, printed in an edition of 500,000, enabled Germans who did not actually join the throngs to experience the vicarious thrill of this publicity stunt. Hitler lost the run-off election, but he had implanted his image securely in the public mind.
In January 1933 Hitler used the Nazi Party plurality to negotiate his way into the chancellorship via a series of back-door political deals. In retrospect, his position may seem to have been invulnerable. But at the time, his hold on power appeared tenuous indeed. Between the national elections in July and November 1932, support for Nazi candidates had begun to ebb for the first time. Hindenburg (who personally disliked Hitler) could have dismissed him. Of eleven cabinet ministers in the Hitler government, only three (including Hitler) were Nazis. The 196 Nazi Reichstag delegates were outnumbered by 388 non-Nazi delegates. Yet, grasping the potential of modern media, Hitler engineered the appearance of a mandate.
Within hours of his appointment as chancellor, two announcers, speaking to an estimated 20 million listeners, described the torchlight parade in Berlin and hailed the hardworking new Führer. Speaking in the breathless cadences of sportscasters, they reported, "Cheers continued to well up. Adolf Hitler stands at the window. There is no trace of a victory mood in his face. He was interrupted. And yet his eyes shine over the awakening Germany, over this sea of people from all walks of life...workers of the mind and fist...I hope that our listeners receive just an idea, an inkling, of this great spectacle." Two days later, Hitler pledged to restore "family...honor and loyalty, Volk and Vaterland, culture and economy" and recover the "eternal foundation of our morality and our faith." He declared "merciless war against spiritual, political and cultural nihilism." On February 10 Hitler spoke for two hours, not about politics but about moral rebirth: "To do justice to God and our own conscience, we have turned once more to the German Volk." He concluded to thunderous cheers, "We are not fighting for ourselves, but for Germany!"
Meanwhile, Nazi militias broke the law with impunity. A headline in a daily newspaper reported, "Four die in party clashes." British Ambassador Sir Horace Rumbold warned the Foreign Office in London about the Nazis' "irresponsibility and a frivolous disregard for all decent feeling which is without precedent." An American diplomat described the mood: "In the streets of Stuttgart the spectacle of Fascist bravoes [sic], clad in the military uniforms of the National Socialist Army and going about in groups of four or five, with arrogant and swaggering attitude." A Jewish Berliner, Rudolf Steiner, described how "the atmosphere in the streets changed totally -- instead of people strolling harmlessly, now the SA, Stormtroopers, paraded in brown shirts." The police stood aside as militias "made spaces Jew-free." Nazi crimes were highly visible, but, as in 1924, Hitler framed them as the courageous acts of zealous patriots.
Attired in a white shirt, tie, and black suit with a discreet swastika lapel pin, Chancellor Hitler fulminated about hostile foreign powers, the Bolshevik menace, cultural decline, and spineless liberals. Exuding ethnic fundamentalism, he said barely a word about Jewry. Many observers approvingly commented that Hitler had mellowed. Rumbold, like other seasoned diplomats, was taken in. "It is interesting to note that Hitler has expunged from his litany all the anti-Semitic passages." In a nationally broadcast speech at the Sports Stadium in Berlin, Hitler refrained from traducing "racial enemies" and for well over an hour celebrated the "pillars of our national character." Again and again, Hitler rehearsed the melodrama of a martyred Volk at the mercy of petty political hacks -- the corrupt "party bosses" who had "exterminated the...glorious empire of our past." Assailing the "political parties of decay" that had "distracted and battered...destroyed, shredded up and dissolved an unsuspecting Volk," Hitler deployed his question-and-answer format and lied with aplomb.
On trial in 1924, he had boasted that he was immune to the desire for "personal power, material consideration, or personal vengeance." In 1933 he repeated his performance. Had he grabbed power? No. Accepting the chancellorship "has been the most difficult decision of my life." Was it true, as critics alleged, that he was greedy? Not at all. He worked "neither for salary nor for wages. I have done it for your sake!" So few were his material needs that he lived from his author's royalties from Mein Kampf. "I do not want a Swiss villa or a bank account." To those who doubted his word, he pledged, "We will not lie and we will not cheat." Was it true, as critics alleged, that he had no concrete proposals to address the economic crisis? Yes. Until "a thorough moral purging of the German Volkskörper is complete," he would not concern himself with the economy. What did "health" mean? Hitler rambled on about his aesthetic vision of a pure ethnic culture. The humble footsoldier of the putsch trial now mounted the podium as the Führer of his Volk.
Reaching out to non-Nazis, Hitler even embraced twwo popular causes he despised, pacificism and Christianity. Answering those who maligned him as a warmonger, Hitler retorted, "I have been described as a man who makes bloodthirsty, inflammatory speeches...Gentlemen, I have never made an inflammatory speech...No one wishes for peace and quiet more than the German Volk." He praised Christianity as the "foundation of our entire moral health" and the family as "the germ cell of our ethnic and political body." He called for recovery from "the terrible need of our political, moral and economic existence." Ini a time of collapse, he insisted, "this sovereign nation has no other desire than to gladly invest the power and weight of its political, ethical, and economic values not only toward healing the wounds inflicted on the human race . . . but in cooperation." The cadences of Hitler's February 10 speech at the Sports Palace reminded Rumbold of a "revival meeting." French Ambassador André Francois-Poncet ascribed the mass acclaim to "a moral power." That Hitler could have been seen as a moral authority seems preposterous, iespecially at a time when Nazi militias beat up, tortured, and murdered so-called enemies with impunity. Amidst the widespread fear of chaos Hitler's rhetoric worked its magic.
On the night of February 27-28, 1933, a terrorist attack set the Reichstag ablaze. Headlines called it the first stage of a Communist revolution. Acting on Hitler's "advice" and with cabinet approval, President Hindenburg suspended civil rights. Nazi newspapers called for "hard hammer blows" against "the criminal Communist hand" that caused the fire. Hitler condemned the "dastardly attack" and praised the "self-sacrificing firemen" who saved the Reichstag from total destruction. Using the emergency powers vested in him by President Hindenburg, Hitler authorized Hermann Göring (cabinet minister without portfolio and acting Prussian interior minister) to deputize 10,000 heavily armed SA troops as police auxiliaries. G&öring ordered them to shoot "enemies" at the slightest provocation. Behind them stood nearly a million fellow Stormtroopers joined by other veterans' organizations, spoiling for a fight. When prisoners' lawyers demanded their release, Hitler declared that traitors had no rights. Speaking on rado, Hitler whipped up fears of Bolshevism. The 1917 revolution in St. Petersburg had taken place only two thousand miles from Berlin, and Lenin's Communist Party had a miniscule following compared with the nearly 6 million (or 17 percent) of the German electorate that had supported the Communist Party in November 1932. With images of the Reichstag blaze on the front page of every major newspaper, Nazi rule became the lesser of two evils extremes. Hitler was well on the way to fulfilling a promise he had made a few weeks earlier: "In ten years there will be no more Marxists in Germany."
Observers' confusion about the scale of the repression testifies to the chaos. The American historian Sidney B. Fay reported that 4,000 "enemies" had been jailed in early March. By early April, 20,000 were held in protective custody, according to an estimate by The New York Times. Interior Minister Frick reported 100,000. Rumbold thought that between 30 and 40 people had been murdered, but other sources reported nearly 200. Local Stormtrooper units attacked Jews and Communists with "cattle prods, revolvers, riding whips, cattle chains, steel bundles, shoulder straps, and leather belts" -- "weapons of the spirit," in the words of one disgusted bystander. At Dachau near Munich and Oranienburg near Berlin the government built large concentration camps to house prisoners, and smaller camps proliferated so quickly not even the chief of the Gestapo could keep track.
The violence blended hooliganism with hardened sadism. Teenagers and young Brownshirts outdid themselves in the mental and physical torture of their victims. A French traveler in Germany described the experiences of a Socialist he had met, who "talk[ed] slowly, as if in a dream": "They made me mount a platform, like a trained dog. The prisoners formed the public. They made me say in a loud voice, 'I am the biggest Jewish pig in the city.' Then for a very long time they made me walk on all fours under the table. A young SA leader...with a riding crop entered the room and shouted, 'Well, here's the bastard I've been wanting to beat with my own hands for a very long time!'" Anyone who read Hermann Göring's proclamation in early March understood that the consitution no longer protected anyone. "My fellow Germans!...I don't have to conform to any kind of justice. I am concerned only to exterminate and destroy." Rumors circulated. Resolute foreign journalists verified reports at considerable risk to themselves.
In the March 5, 1933, Reichstag elections, Germans had an opportunity to register their reactions to the new regime. Would fear of Bolshevism outweigh disgust at the Nazis' rampant violence? With unlimited funds, control of the national broadcasting network, and their left-wing critics in jail, the campaign was far from fair. Hitler appealed ot the Volk via national radio. "Once again you can hold your heads high and proud...You are no longer enslaved!" Nazi organizations celebrated thousands of local "freedom bonfires." Goebbels noted in his diary, "All Germany is like a glowing torch. This has indeed become...a 'Day of National Awakening!'" Overwhelmed by "indescribable enthusiasm," Goebbels anticipated a landslide.
But when the election returns came in, the mood at campaign headquarters was subdued. German voters, who turned out at a record 89 percent, did not in fact produce a "great triumph." Despite the intimidation and censorship, less than half (43.9 percent) of the voters chose Nazi candidates. A correspondent for The Spectator called the results "morally, a Government defeat [because] 56 percent of the voters of Germany dared to express their hostility." Hitler himself was stunned. Nevertheless, headlines on March 6 proclaimed, "With Adolf Hitler into the Third Reich! Our extraordinary victory. A Great Triumph! The Volk Demands It!" Counting the Nationalists (who had agreed to support Hitler), slightly over half of all voters, or 51.8 percent, voted for Nazi rule. A reporter for The New York Times commented, "It is hard to overlook the fact that a campaign marked by flagrant repression...by unremitting efforts to frieghten the neutral voting masses into support of the Nazi regime, resulted in a bare 51 percent majority for the anti-democratic coalition." To obtain dictatorial power, Hitler needed an amendment to the Weimar constitution, which required the support of two thirdsd of the Reichstag.
Hitler addressed the nation as if from a pulpit, exacerbating listeners' fears of chaos (caused by Nazi militias as well as the Reichstag fire) and exalting ethnic faith. "I can't free myself from believing again in my Volk, I can't escape from the conviction that this nation will once again arise; I can't distance myself from the love of this, my Volk, and I hold on, firm as a rock, to the conviction that some time the hour will come when the millions who hate us today will stand behind us and will with us welcome what has been created together, struggled for under difficulty, attained at such a cost: the new German Reich of greatness and honor and strength and glory and justice. Amen."
With the Communist Party outlawed, Nazi leaders negotiated with Catholic, Liberal, and Nationalist parties. When the vote was taken, only 91 Reichstag delegates, all of them Socialists, voted against granting Hitler dictatorial powers for four years. At an open-air commemoration in Potsdam on March 24, Hitler stood reverently beside Hindenburg and promised, "In order to follow God and our own conscience, we turn yet again to the German Volk" With bowed head he asked, "May divine providence bless us with enough courage and enough determination to perceive within ourselves this holy German space." With thousands of Communists and hundreds of left-wing opponents of Nazism in jail or in exile, Hitler made a public show of calling for curbs on militia violence. But the old fighters had no intention of settling down. With nearly 1,500,000 Nazi Party members (over half of them newcomers) divided into 33 regions and 827 party districts, central authority was stretched thin. Powerful local leaders acted autonomously. A resident who lived near the SA barracks on Friedrichstrasse in Berlin reported: "For several days during the week after elections the neighbors and passers by heard the screams and moans of people inside." When the police broke in, they found 70 Communists, several dead, the others badly beaten. Such violence was excused as an unfortunate side-effect of a campaign to protect the Volk.
During these months, Hitler made some of the most effective radio speeches of his career. From being merely a chancellor, Hitler promoted himself as Volkskanzler, or people's chancellor. He glorified the shabby political deal by which he had been appointed as an "upheaval" and then called it an "outpouring" of ethnic spirit. By March the Nazi takeover had become a "national revolution." The discursive shift from "upheaval" to "revolution" excused acts that would be criminal in normal times as being only the byproduct of a disciplined revolution.
The words of an English reporter reveal how effectively the conceptual shift functioned. When viewed as part of a normal political change, Nazi terror was horrifying. "But once one realizes that what has taken place in Germany during the last few weeks falls nothing short of a national revolution, one is bound to admit that normal standards of political and parliamentary life are for the time being not appropriate measures of judgment." Imagine, he added, what would happen in Britain if Communists tried to burn the Houses of Parliament! With the Nazi takeover cast as a "revolution," Stormtroopers' crimes became collateral damage on the path toward a stable future. Nazi thugs continued their reign of terror with impunity.
Hitler's rhetoric of virtue ascended to new heights. As his putsch trial, he invoked the memory of the two million patriots killed in the Great War and pledged that he would win the battle Weimar politicians had lost by purifying the ethnic community or, as he began to call it, the Volkskörper (ethnic body politic). Rescuing the Volk from a democratic system mired in decay was "the most difficult [task] faced by any German statesman since the beginning of history." Speaking in the voice of prophecy, Hitler announced that "the great age has now dawned for which we have hoped for 14 years. Germany has now awakened." At this point, acclaim from respected Germans who had no prior association with Nazism clinched Hitler's upstanding image. The Protestant theologian Otto Dibelius, who had not previously supported Hitler (and who later joined the resistance), opened his March 21 sermon in Berlin with the text that had been read in the Reichstag on the first day of the Great War: "If God be for us, who can be against us." He rejoiced that at last all Germans lived under "One Reich, one Volk, one God." From other pastors, priests, university rectors, and conservative politicians came similar expressions of gratitude. Crimes against alleged terrorists met with widespread acclaim.
Outrages against Jews, however, evoked very different responses from the very Germans who cheered criminal repression of Marxism. Against the former, Hitler ranted in lurid detail; about the latter he said virtually nothing. Especially in the aftermath of the Reichstag fire, most Germans found the threat of a Communist revolution credible, but only hardcore racists took "Jewry" seriously enough to excuse brutality against defenseless civilians. But the core of Hitler's party support rested on the SA's militancy. After years of operating illegally, Stormtroopers lusted for more, not less, violence. Although it was clear from Mein Kampf that Hitler saw Marxism as a manifestation of subversive Jewish power, he forcefully condemned antisemitic violence. "Harassment of individuals, the obstruction of cars, and disruptions to business are to be put to an absolute stop...Never let yourselves be distracted for one second from our watchword, which is the destruction of Marxism." Where Nazi popularity was low, militias were relatively restrained, but in Nazi strongholds, antisemitic violence increased. Stormtroopers, often joined by an antisemitic association of white-collar workers, pillaged Jewish-owned businesses and harassed individuals who "looked Jewish."
In the eastern German state of Silesia, where Nazism was popular, local toughs "arrested" a livestock dealer in the capital, Breslau, cropped his hair, branded him with a swastika, and rubbed his wounds with salt. Stormtroopers distributed flyers with a message ostensibly signed by Göring: "Any Jewish girl or woman who is on the streets after dark may be assaulted by any Stormtrooper without fear of punishment. I assume responsibility." Nazi thugs treated Jewish prisoners with special cruelty. The historian Fritz Stern, who was seven at the time, recalls the fate of one of his father's patients, the radical Socialist Ernst Eckstein, who was tortured to death in a Nazi jail after his house had been bombed. Stormtroopers invaded Wertheim's Department Store and marched into the local courthouse. Shouting "Out with the Jews!" they insulted bystanders, broke into offices, courtrooms, and judges' chambers, and drove out Jewish judges and lawyers. For over a week, they barricaded the courthosue, demanding "curbs on the influence of the Jewish justice system." When the local police chief asked the national police for help, he was told to avoid clashes with the SA, and a week later he was replaced by a staunch Nazi Party member. Even though the Silesian Jewish community filed a complaint with the League of Nations, attacks continued. Similiar scenarios were repeated in Nazi strongholds throughout Germany.
Dorothy Thompson reported that the March pogroms sent thousands of Jews abroad. Arturo Toscanini protested Nazi crimes by canceling his contract to conduct at the Bayreuth Wagner Festival. Albert Einstein convened a "moral tribunal" against Nazi atrocities. When the police ransacked the home of the Jewish theologian Martin Buber, international Christian and Jewish organizations objected. Protesters against Nazi antisemitism in England, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania called for a boycott of German products. The American Jewish Congress and the Organization of Jewish War Veterans sponsored a protest rally at Madison Square Garden on March 27 and threatened to boycott German manufactured goods.
Whereas violence against Communists met with acclaim in Germany and abroad, racist terror backfired. New damage control strategies were in order. Against a credible danger, severe measures seemed warranted; where a threat seemed fraudulent, people around the world objected. The international news media condoned the repression of leftists but despised violence against Jews. "Germany's isolation is extraordinary," Goebbels exclaimed. At Hitler's urging, Vice Chancellor von Papen wrote an open letter reassuring the American Chamber of Commerce that Jews were safe in Germany. The financier Hjalmar Schacht met with Jewish leaders in New York. Göring apologized to the major Jewish organizations in Germany, telling them that Communists had suffered more than Jews from Nazi violence. Government delegations met with American business organizations and circulated reassurances to the press. Hitler remained a cipher in public. Even an experienced observer of Germany in the U.S. Embassy believed that "there is much reason to believe that the Chancellor, Mr. Hitler, does not approve of the indiscriminate and general action which has been taken against Jews...He is believed to be very moderate in his views in this respect. A New York Times reporter predicted that "Hitler will abandon his anti-Semitic stand."
As always, Nazi leaders responded to public opinion in Germany as well as abroad. Already in 1933, networks were being established to monitor what Nazis called "mood and attitude." It soon became clear that most Germans deplored lawless attacks on Jews. Avoiding race and speaking in the most general terms, Hitler pledged, "The Volk shall now for all eternity act as custodian of our faith and our culture, our honor and our freedom!" While Stormtroopers beat up Jews and defaced Jewish property, Hitler spoke for hours about "the rich blossoming and flourishing," the "new life," the "renaissance," "the moral purge of the ethnic body politic," "honor and dignity," and the "unity of spirit and will." Although news of antisemitic attacks was censored, pogroms took place in full public view. In theory, Hitler might have defended antisemitic terror, as he had championed the repression of suspected Bolsheviks after the Reichstag fire. But at this crucial point he did not invest his immense popularity in defending pogroms.
Within days of the Reichstag's vote to give Hitler dictatorial powers for four years, plans for a national boycott against Jews were announced in the press. Although it seems clear that Hitler drafted the April 1 boycott announcement, he did not sign it. One the eve of the boycott, Hitler underscored his distance from the action by leaving Berlin. Goebbels mounted a national publicity campaign that depicted the action as self-defense against "a clique of Jewish men of letters, professors, and profiteers" who maligned Nazi rule in the foreign press. Like Nazis' vindication of anti-Communist terror, propaganda described the boycott as protective. "As a basic principle, it should be stressed that the boycott is a defensive measure which was force on us." On March 28, Goebbels noted in his diary, "The boycott organization is complete. We only need to press the button. Then it starts." As on the eve of the March elections, he exuded confidence. Addressing Germans on the radio, he commanded all shoppers to "defend" themselves against "troublemakers and profiteers of this treasonous smear campaign." Headlines screamed, "The Worldwide Jewish Campaign against Germany!" and "Foreign Jewry Calls for Murder!" Automobiles displayed signs, "Jewry Declares War against Germany!" and "The Jews Are Our Misfortune!" Posters told German women shoppers to avoid Jewish businesses. "For 14 years you, German women, have marched shoulder to shoulder with the brown front against the Jews...The battle is hard and relentless. Personal considerations must be extinguished...Do not spend a single penny in a Jewish business! Not only today, but forever, the Jew must be expelled from the Volk and state!" On April 1 pairs of SA men were to station themselves in front of all "Jewish" businesses to prevent potential customers and clients from entering.
The Jewish literary scholar Viktor Klemperer wrote in his diary on March 30: "Mood as before a pogrom in the depths of the Middle Ages or in deepest Czarist Russia. We are hostages." Rabbi Leo Baeck observeed that a thousand years of Jewish history in Germany had come to an end. Neither of them, however, considered leaving. No one knew what to expect. "The scene here is capable of changing with such kaleidoscopic rapidity...that one must constnatly bear in mind the evil possibilities which are latent in the situation," wrote George A. Gordon, the interim chargé d'affaires in the U.S. Embassy.
Even before it began, the boycott revealed disarray among the Nazi faithful and apathy among non-Nazis. What made a business "Jewish" -- its stockholders, its name, or its owners? Why, zealots asked, were foreign-owned "Jewish" businesses, like the 82 Woolworth stores in Germany or Hollywood movies, exempted? Even some Nazis disapproved of the boycott because it was so obviously counterproductive. In large cities like Cologne, which had a passionately antisemitic Gauleiter (regional leader), a determined cadre of Stormtroopers smashed store windows and posted signs, "Germans Defend Yourselves! Don't Buy From Jews!" but where Nazism was weak, Stormtroopers let their posts, drank a few beers, and marched through the streets singing antisemitic songs. An American who walked through Berlin, for example, called the boycott "a tame affair," adding, "I still feel that the majority of the people on the street were inclined to treat the matter as more or less of a joke (if they were not personally involved!) and that they will continue to buy at their favorite stores regardless of the boycott. Ordinary Germans were divided between, as one witness recalled ominously, those who "shook their heads" in disgust and those who "cursed the Jews."
After disappointing results, Goebbels proclaimed victory. "The Reich government is pleased to announce that the counter-boycott against the agitation of Germany's enemies has been a success." But to a British journalist he admitted, "The weapon of a defensive boycott if used too often can only become blunt. The influence of German Jews must be limited through other incremental measures." The national boycott was never repeated. Having authorized it, Hitler said nothing about Jewish policy in public until he announced the Nuremberg Racial Laws in September 1935. A Business Week reporter concluded, "The best informed authorities in Berlin expect a steady decline of jingoist action against the Jews." A conservative British journalist concurred: "Herr Hitler has not inaccurately been called the most moderate member of his own party."
Adapting to dmoestic and foreign disapproval, Nazi leaders experimented with what contemporaries called a "cold pogrom." Quotas, preferential status for non-Jews, and restrictive membership clauses in occupational and social organizations institutionalized "respectable" antisemitism. At first, the measures seemed confused. "The harsh and ridiculous are being indiscriminately mingled in Germany to-day," wrote a British reporter. Among many absurdities, he noted that "Jewish medical students (in so far as any Jews are permitted still to study medicine) are not to be allowed to dissect non-Jewish corpses." In Cologne and Berlin, municipal officials terminated Jewish physicians' right to reimbursement from the national medical insurance program (Krankenkasse). In Thuringia and Cologne, service and construction contracts with Jewish firms were canceled. Some Christian parents withdrew their children from classes taught by Jewish teachers. A Nazi criminal refused to be tried by a Jewish judge. Conductors Bruno Walter and Otto Klemperer were not allowed to complete their concert seasons. Fritz Stern noted acidly that Richard Strauss, the celebrated composer of "A Heroic Life" (Ein Heldenleben), quickly stepped to the podium to replace a banished Jewish conductor.
Scattershot local measures were supplemented by the national April Laws, which imposed quotas on Jewish lawyers, ended medical reimbursements for Jewish physicians, and dismissed state employees (including educators) who had Jewish ancestors. By expelling outspoken Marxists from the civil service at the same time, the antisemitic laws were presented as part of a wider "housecleaning." Laws "against overcrowding in the schools" established a numerus clausus for Jewish children and expelled teachers. At a time when up to a third of new graduates in the professions could not find jobs, the prospect of "clearing out" Jewish competition had an obvious appeal for non-Jews. Regional occupational associations sent letters to "esteemed colleagues" whom they believed to be Jewish, requesting them to fill out ancestry questionnaires, return their official seals, resign their membership numbers, and submit their military service records together with identification photos.
The April Laws drew opposition from unexpected quarters. President Hindenburg told Hitler that the expulsion of "my old Front soldiers" with Jewish ancestors was "utter anathema to me...If they were worthy of being called up to fight and bleed for Germany, they ought also to be seen as worthy of remaining in their profession to serve the Fatherland." In his carefully worded response, Hitler assured the president that he would exempt all frontline veterans and their children. This unexpected gesture of conciliation reassured many. Since the possibility of appeal remained, ethnic cleansing had the gloss of due process. Even though vicious antisemitic outbursts continued, the existence of new laws, many softened by exception clauses, held out hope that vulgar antisemitism could be contained.
Reactions to the cold pogrom were mixed. On May 4, George S. Messersmith described Jews' "moral suffering such as I have not seen anywhere and under any conditions heretofore." Others were more sanguine. "Though thousands of Jewish professional men throughout Germany will find themselves faced with starvation, the numbers condemned to that fate are less than at first seemed probable." To many, the April Laws merely formalized the kinds of exclusions common elsewhere. In the United States, for example, Hollywood actors changed their names to obscure their "racial" backgrounds, and Supreme Court Justice James McReynolds refused to speak to his fellow justices who were Jewish. Rumbold, whose personal efforts aided many Jews in Germany, explained the April Laws to the Foreign Office. "Nobody could deny that the legal profession, the medical profession, and the teaching profession [in Germany] were swamped by Jews, that all the bank directorships were in their hands, tha the press...was in their clutches, that entry into the theaters, the broadcasting corporation, not to mention the cinema, or such purely Jewish institutions as the Stock Exchange, was debarred to the blue-eyed Teutonic stock." Journalists uncritically borrowed two of Hitler's favorite terms, "moral cleansing" and "purging," in their dispatches. A U.S. diplomat reported that "office-holding Jews and Gentiles of varying shades of Communistic, Socialistic and Republican belief have been dismissed with impartial thoroughness." He spoke of "German racial culture" and added "cleaning out" to his vocabulary. The ease with which foreigners accepted the cold pogrom suggests something of their own assumptions about Jews.
After April 1933, daily life seemed more orderly for most Jewish citizens. Ignoring the jeers of loudmouth SA men, non-Jewish shoppers and merchants continued to patronize the businesses that offered the best quality and price, regardless of the ethnicity of storeowners. Patients who could pay for their own medical treatment consulted their Jewish family doctors as they always had. Jewish war veterans, called "Hindenburg exceptions," remained at their posts. Of 4,585 Jewish lawyers in Germany, two thirds kept their positions because they had fought at the front. Truancy laws meant that only Jewish children who resided near Jewish schools (of which there were very few) were expelled from public schools. A fateful pattern was established: after devastating physical violence against the Jews, the regime curbed unsanctioned racial attacks and in their place enacted antisemitic laws. Many victims and bystanders failed to appreciate the threat of these bureaucratic strategies that in the long run proved far more lethal than sporadic attacks.
An eyewitness who later left Germany recalled his countrymen's reactions. "The people did not seem very enthusiastic, but nobody did anything about it." Some of the best evidence for Germans' general indifference toward Nazi antisemitism appears in Gestapo reports that complain about peasants who refused to switch to Aryan dealers because they saw no reason to place ideology above profit, especially in hard times. The virulently antisemitic tabloid Der Stürmer (The Stormtrooper) printed hundreds of indignant letters from readers describing shoppers who forced their way past SA guards and denigrating wives of local Nazi leaders and civil servants who continued to "shop Jewish."
While most Germans did not endorse radical anti-Jewish measures, militant Nazis felt empowered to persecute Jews at will. Despite orders for restraint, they smashed windows at night and scrawled graffiti near Jewish homes. Hitler Youth members taunted Jews in the street with "Yid" or "Jewish Pig." Roving gangs of Nazi hoodlums assaulted Jews and their property. Nazi leaders, like other successful revolutionaries, confronted a dilemma: the violence that fed their most loyal followers repelled the newcomers on whom political stability rested.
As the chief of a powerful state, with a sophisticated media network, Hitler deployed the politics of virtue to detach his persona from party radicals and reach out directly to the Volk. To achieve the broad consensus on which his continued power would rest, Hitler in effect de-Nazified his public image by refining the myth of his personal virtue and summoning his Volk to celebrate ethnic revival.
[END CHAPTER TWO]