How did Hitler rise to power? – Alex Gendler and Anthony Hazard

How did Adolf Hitler, a tyrant who orchestrated one of the
largest genocides in human history, rise to power in a democratic country? The story begins at the end
of World War I. With the successful
Allied advance in 1918, Germany realized the war was unwinnable and signed an armistice
ending the fighting. As its imperial government collapsed, civil unrest and worker strikes
spread across the nation. Fearing a Communist revolution, major parties joined
to suppress the uprisings, establishing the parliamentary
Weimar Republic. One of the new government’s first tasks was implementing the peace treaty
imposed by the Allies. In addition to losing over a tenth
of its territory and dismantling its army, Germany had to accept full responsibility
for the war and pay reparations, debilitating its already weakened economy. All this was seen as a humiliation
by many nationalists and veterans. They wrongly believed the war
could have been won if the army hadn’t been betrayed
by politicians and protesters. For Hitler, these views became obsession, and his bigotry and paranoid delusions
led him to pin the blame on Jews. His words found resonance in a society
with many anti-Semitic people. By this time, hundreds
of thousands of Jews had integrated into German society, but many Germans continued to perceive
them as outsiders. After World War I, Jewish success led
to ungrounded accusations of subversion and war profiteering. It can not be stressed enough that these
conspiracy theories were born out of fear, anger, and bigotry, not fact. Nonetheless, Hitler found
success with them. When he joined a small nationalist
political party, his manipulative public speaking
launched him into its leadership and drew increasingly larger crowds. Combining anti-Semitism with
populist resentment, the Nazis denounced both Communism
and Capitalism as international Jewish conspiracies
to destroy Germany. The Nazi party was not initially popular. After they made an unsuccessful attempt
at overthrowing the government, the party was banned, and Hitler jailed for treason. But upon his release about a year later, he immediately began to rebuild
the movement. And then, in 1929,
the Great Depression happened. It led to American banks withdrawing
their loans from Germany, and the already struggling German economy
collapsed overnight. Hitler took advantage
of the people’s anger, offering them convenient scapegoats and a promise to restore Germany’s
former greatness. Mainstream parties proved
unable to handle the crisis while left-wing opposition was too
fragmented by internal squabbles. And so some of the frustrated public
flocked to the Nazis, increasing their parliamentary votes from
under 3% to over 18% in just two years. In 1932, Hitler ran for president, losing the election to decorated war hero
General von Hindenburg. But with 36% of the vote, Hitler had
demonstrated the extent of his support. The following year, advisors
and business leaders convinced Hindenburg to appoint Hitler
as Chancellor, hoping to channel his popularity
for their own goals. Though the Chancellor was only
the administrative head of parliament, Hitler steadily expanded the power
of his position. While his supporters formed
paramilitary groups and fought protestors in streets. Hitler raised fears
of a Communist uprising and argued that only he could restore
law and order. Then in 1933, a young worker was convicted of
setting fire to the parliament building. Hitler used the event to convince
the government to grant him emergency powers. Within a matter of months,
freedom of the press was abolished, other parties were disbanded, and anti-Jewish laws were passed. Many of Hitler’s early radical supporters
were arrested and executed, along with potential rivals, and when President Hindenburg died
in August 1934, it was clear there would be
no new election. Disturbingly, many of Hitler’s early
measures didn’t require mass repression. His speeches exploited
people’s fear and ire to drive their support behind him
and the Nazi party. Meanwhile, businessmen and intellectuals, wanting to be on the right side
of public opinion, endorsed Hitler. They assured themselves and each other that his more extreme rhetoric
was only for show. Decades later, Hitler’s rise remains
a warning of how fragile democratic institutions
can be in the face of angry crowds and a leader willing to feed their anger
and exploit their fears.

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