Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939

Suggested by Kung Fu Zu • A modern comprehensive biography on Hitler up to the age of 50. Although his youth is covered, it concentrates on the period after the end of WWI and Hitler’s amazing and unlikely rise to power.
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20 Responses to Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    This is the first major Hitler biography since Ian Kershaw’s trilogy. The author is a German journalist/historian.

    I have read a number of Hitler biographies and a fair amount about Nazi Germany, but this book has some information and ideas which I have not run into before.

    The idea which is the most noticeable departure from previous books on Hitler is Ullrich’s assertion that Hitler’s anti-Semitism became radicalized in Munich, not in Vienna.

    Hitler was a maximalist in his political aims. Several times he was offered positions in government, but he would not accept any unless he was given the Chancellorship. The author illustrates how many German nationalist conservatives finally helped Hitler into power, thinking that they could control him. Franz von Papen is the most common name one hears in this regard, but Ullrich shows how much responsibility von Hindenburg bears in this case. Without von Hindenburg and many others, Hitler would have most likely ended up a failed political leader.

    In addition to the political side, Ullrich goes into some detail on Hitler’s private life. He debunks the many sensational tales about Hitler’s supposed sexual deviancy and makes a good case that his relationship with Eva Braun was not one of mere companionship. On the other hand, the author makes too much of Hitler’s supposed inferiority complex as regards the aristocracy and academia.

    Ullrich maintains that Hitler’s genius was two-fold. The first being his incredible rhetorical skills. He could hypnotize audiences. The second was Hitler’s amazing acting ability, which helped with crowds but was probably more important with his personal meetings.

    Perhaps not surprisingly, Hitler was a very talented mimic and could have his inner circle in tears of laughter with his impersonations of his friends and foreign dignitaries. It was said he did a perfect Mussolini.

    As with any world-historical figure, one asks how and why Hitler was able to achieve what he did. For many years I have believe that in addition to his political talents the basis for both Hitler’s success and failure lies within his urge to bet the house in the most spectacular way when everyone else was betting against him. He lost one of his first bets of this sort when the Beer Hall Putsch failed. But he took advantage of and learned from this loss. After that he became more successful in his bets and they paid off enormously. In fact, they were so profitable that it is clear Hitler began to believe in his infallibility. And this is where the seeds of his downfall were planted in his earlier success.

    Had Hitler controlled his appetites and consolidated the German Reich after the take over of the Sudetenland, France and Great Britain would likely gone on believing him less than a world threat. But once German troops marched into Prague and made Bohemia and Moravia German protectorates, the rest of the world began to prepare for war.

    I am looking forward to the second volume of Ullrich’s biography. It has appeared in German and if I can find it in a library here I will check it out. Otherwise I will have to wait for the English translation.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    Hitler might have gotten away with going after the Polish Corridor and Danzig (maybe even Upper Silesia) if he hadn’t gobbled up Czecho-Slovakia (as it was spelled after the Munich deal). That could still be justified on demographic grounds (as was the seizure of Memel, which was too minor for anyone else to care). But Munich left him convinced that “our enemies are little worms” — which meant he didn’t need to care. He thought he could do whatever he pleased and they’d never do anything about it.

    Hanna Reitsch, in discussing matters with her Allied interrogators (who were interested because she was one of the last to see him and live to tell the tale, having flown her friend Ritter von Greim to the Chancellery to receive command of what was left of the Luftwaffe), thought the key was his successful occupation of the Rhineland. Once he got away with that, he kept trying more until someone finally stopped him.

    In reality, this was inevitable. Somewhere, sometime, someone was finally going to stop him. It would have been easiest in the Rhineland, or maybe Austria, and surely also over the Sudetenland. (He even faced a serious plot to overthrow over the latter, though we can never know if Halder could actually have finally gone ahead with it in the end. Perhaps someone like Oster or Witzleben might have done so in his place.) If it hadn’t been Poland, it would have been somewhere else.

    Note that Kershaw’s biography was divided into 2 volumes titled Hubris and Nemesis. The time division should probably have been the same as this one, but he actually made his split a little earlier. Note that Göring was put in charge of the Four Year Plan to achieve autarky in 1936. For all practical purpose, Hitler from that point on was definitely intending to go to war, and anticipating the likelihood of Britain and France trying to stop him eventually.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    thought the key was his successful occupation of the Rhineland. Once he got away with that, he kept trying more until someone finally stopped him.

    Yes, all historians I have read conclude this to be the case. It would have taken one French division to march into the Rhineland and that would have been the end of Adolf.

    It should also be noted that there is a major question as to how well the Wehrmacht would have been able to handle the Czech army which was well armed and consisted of something like 20 divisions, if I recall correctly. In any case, the German public was not at all prepared for going to war over Bohemia and Moravia.

  4. Timothy Lane says:

    The Czechs also had strong fortications on their border with Germany, some parts being as strong as the Maginot Line. But since Poland and Hungary also had border claims against Czechoslovakia (though Hungary also was worried about how Romania and Yugoslavia would respond), the country was probably doomed. But meanwhile France could have pushed through the embryonic Westwall with its weak defenses.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      Probably the biggest problem for the Czechs arose with the German Anschluss of Austria. Once that was complete, the Czechs were in a geographical vice. Germany could attack from three sides.

      It was also a problem that the Sudetenland was annexed as the Czech’s strongest fortifications against Germany lay within that area. So did one of the Skoda factories, I believe.

  5. Steve Lancaster says:

    I understand the fascination with hitler and WWII. Hitler was the first media super star political leader. His speeches and mannerisms were crafted to appeal to the camera and radio. In the 19th century he would never have achieved the leadership of any European nation, although many of the historical leaders were avid anti-semites just as bad as Hitler. Hitler was just not of the class to be much more than a low talent landscape painter. Most of the rest of the Nazi leadership were also failed artists and intellectuals of one kind or another. None of them had the practical political skill to craft a genuine mass movement and make it work.

    Hitler’s biggest failure, IMHO was that he could not transition from leader of a mass movement to practical leadership, thus the mixed messages and divided leadership of Germany. Nearly every department had a competing bureaucracy somewhere else with overlapping functions. It seems the mistrust of totalitarian regimes almost always is central to their ultimate demise. It took the USSR longer but the internal rot was the same.

    When Albert Speer took over armaments he was shocked at the heater-skelter nature of the war effort. He did a credible job of streamlining but by 1943 he knew Germany was going to lose the war. He says he even told Hitler, however there is no record of a conversation like that. Speer would not make a record out of fear and Hitler could not continence being told he was wrong.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I believe much of the fascination with both Hitler and Stalin is due to the origins of these two. Neither came from the upper classes and neither rose through education to the ranks of national leadership. How two such “Nobodies” could achieve more power than any other Western leaders, before or after them, is worth study.

      Of course, one of the answers is that the old world in which they would never have succeeded was destroyed by those brilliant gentlemen who ran it. This left a huge void which had to be filled by someone and given the mood of the world after WWI it is perhaps not surprising that totalitarian types filled it. The world was looking for answers and most people will latch on to the easy reply.

      I believe it is a fact that almost all who gain political power are exactly the type who should never have it. The degree of the evil in each particular case will vary, but the rule holds true. That is why George Washington is so great. He was the big exception to the rule. He did not have the unquenchable thirst for power.

      The above rule being true, it is virtually inevitable that political systems will degenerate. Some take more and some less time, but the venality and corruption of leaders will eventually take a country down the path to perdition. I see certain similarities to what is happening now to what happened in the 1920s in Europe. I do not believe we are yet in the 1930s. But there is no doubt the left is pushing the political to extremes and this will provoke a response sooner or later. See what is happening in Venezuela.

      • Steve Lancaster says:

        I see third century Rome, but that is a difference without distinction.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Would that make the Black God the equivalent of Elagabalus? I suppose Trump could be Caracalla. And all we have to look forward to, eventually, is . . . Diocletian. Well, maybe we can stop with Aurelian, though the Romanians might not like that.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            When reading about Elagabalus, I had to double check to make sure that he wasn’t some pajama boy from modern San Francisco.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              Oooh, that’s good. He rose too high too young to become a responsible adult. But that’s probably similar to many Pajama Boy types.

              I see Elagabalus as the 4th of the really wacko emperors. The first 3 are Caligula, Nero, and Commodus. (I like to pronounce the latter with the stress on the second sentence. If you have enough rural background to know what a commode is, you’ll understand why.)

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                Hell, I’ve got enough rural background that I even know what an outhouse is, and have used more than one in the past.

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                The first 3 are Caligula, Nero, and Commodus

                Nero was one of the worst people in history. I don’t know much about Commodus other than Joaquim Phoenix made him look evil.

                Caligula is a more nuanced character. There is some historical material which indicates that he started out a reasonably good and competent person. There is a dramatic break in his character which seems to have come about after he survived a severe illness. Perhaps his brain was damaged by an extremely high fever. In any case, he became a true nut afterwards.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Caligula may have started well and ended bad, but he certainly ended bad. Commodus is generally considered extremely bad, and some historians figure that Marcus Aurelius made a big mistake in having a son and then making him his successor. The era of the 5 good emperors involved each emperor adopting a good replacement — Nerva to Trajan to Hadrian to Antoninus Pius to Marcus Aurelius and his brother.

                After Commodus things really went to hell, with the Praetorian Guard selling the imperium to the highest bidder, who was unable to fulfill his promise. (I think this was after the Senate chose Pertinax, who tried to reform the guards and paid the expected price for it.) Eventually Septimus Severus took over and started a dynasty of sorts. Then — during the mid 3rd century — things really went crazy as the empire almost collapsed.

                When Aurelian came in, the majority of the empire was in rebellion. He restored the empire, but only ruled 4 years.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Hermann Göring was the closest thing to a significant person among the Nazis. His father served a spell as colonial governor of German Southwest Africa, though not during the Great Revolt that led to the genocide of the Hereros (which would have been so appropriate, when you think about it).

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        Goering was vital for introducing Hitler into the upper-class and monied circles of Weimar Germany. The amount of money he raised for the Nazi party was very large.

        And Goering was a true war hero having won the Blue Max and being the last commander of the Red Baron’s Flying Circus.

        Goering’s father also served in Haiti. He was consul general.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          At war’s end, Göring and his flyers had to fly their planes to an Allied airfield to surrender them. They foreshadowed the scuttling of the German ships at Scapa Flow by landing hard to disable their planes.

  6. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    When studying Hitler and Stalin, one is struck by their very different personalities and paths to power. Alan Bullock wrote a book about the two almost thirty years back. It was titled “Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives,” a take on Plutarch I suppose.

    As a young man, Stalin was a thug, bank robber , community organizer and possible murderer. Violence was one of the tools he used for his purposes which had to do with destroying the Russian government. He was in Siberia during WWI thus had no experience of the horrors seen my millions. He was active in bringing about the October Revolution and during this time and following civil war he already started on his trail to mass murder. He was quite cold blooded in this. People noted that he often had people slaughtered not because he did not like them or thought them bad, but because he could send political messages with their murders.

    He was not particularly well liked among other Bolsheviks and was barely known among the general population. He came to power because Lenin saw him as a useful tool in consolidating, expanding and maintaining power for the Bolsheviks.

    Stalin had little rhetorical talent and did not inspire the people. It is very unlikely that he would have reached the pinnacle of power without Lenin’s support and then early death. But he was a very skilled bureaucrat and manipulator. Only after some years of mass propaganda which created a cult of personality was he seen as the Great Stalin.

    As a young man, Hitler went from aspiring artist and vagrant in Vienna to a Bohemian painter in Munich. He seemed to be drifting to nothing in particular when WWI broke out. This left a huge impression on him and the reversal of Germany’s humiliating loss became an obsession.

    He found his voice, literally, in the heated political atmosphere of Weimar Germany. And with this voice, he was able to draw people to him in amazing ways. There are many testimonies of his incredible allure and ability to almost hypnotize his listeners. It was through force of will that he reached the top. He was anything but a bureaucrat and disliked paperwork.

    Winston Churchill, who was an ardent anti-Bolshevik from the moment the October Revolution took place, later became even more anti-Nazi. I have long wondered why someone who despised the Bolsheviks as much as Churchill did, would later find common cause with them against Nazism. I believe the reason lies in Churchill’s judgment as to the character of Germans and Russians. Churchill saw Germany as an extremely disciplined, efficient, well organized and powerful country. And these characteristics united under Prussian Militarism, scared him more in the long term than Bolshevism in a primitive country with a people who were anything but disciplined and sober.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Churchill considered Hitler the greater threat at the time. He may even have been right, but the price of Stalin’s help made him a greater threat than Hitler ever had been. Of course, Churchill probably didn’t realize what a fool FDR could be as he declined physically (and probably mentally).

      I read the Bullock book at the time it came out. Perhaps he could have called it Two Monsters.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        the price of Stalin’s help made him a greater threat than Hitler ever had been.

        I agree with you.

        I believe it should also have been clear to Churchill that Communism was built around a secular theology which did not start with Stalin and would continue after Stalin died. But Nazism, being basically created by and built around the Fuhrer, would likely collapse with his death. One doesn’t need to have the advantage of hindsight to see this. I think that Churchill, knowing history, should have realized it.

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