Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Nazification of North America


Excerpt from "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," by William L. Shirer

from pages 188 - 196
"Women and children were to be sent in front of terrorist groups."

The theory which Hitler had evolved in his vagabond days in Vienna and never forgotten—that the way to power for a revolutionary movement was to ally itself with some of the powerful institutions in the State—had now worked out in practice pretty much as he had calculated. The President, backed by the Army and the conservatives, had made him Chancellor. His political power, though great, was, however, not complete. It was shared with these three sources of authority, which had put him into office and which were outside and, to some extent, distrustful of the National Socialist movement.

Hitler's immediate task, therefore, was to quickly eliminate them from the driver's seat, make his party the exclusive master of the State and then with the power of an authoritarian government and its police carry out the Nazi revolution. He had been in office scarcely twenty-four hours when he made his first decisive move, springing a trap on his gullible conservative "captors" and setting in motion a chain of events which he either originated or controlled and which at the end of six months would bring the complete Nazification of Germany and his own elevation to dictator of the Reich, unified and defederalized for the first time in German history.

Five hours after being sworn in, at 5 P.M. on January 30, 1933, Hitler held his first cabinet meeting. The minutes of the session, which turned up at Nuremberg among the hundreds of tons of captured secret documents, reveal how quickly and adroitly Hitler, aided by the crafty Goering, began to take his conservative colleagues for a ride.*(1) Hindenburg had named Hitler to head not a presidential cabinet but one based on a majority in the Reichstag. However, the Nazis and the Nationalists, the only two parties represented in the government, had only 247 seats out of 583 in Parliament and thus lacked a majority. To attain it they needed the backing of the Center Party with its 70 seats. In the very first hours of the new government Hitler had dispatched Goering to talk with the Centrist leaders, and now he reported to the cabinet that the Center was demanding "certain concessions." Georing therefore proposed that the Reichstag be dissolved and new elections held, and Hitler agreed. Hugenberg, a man of wooden mind for all his success in business, objected to taking the Center into the government but on the other hand opposed new elections, well knowing that the Nazis, with the resources of the State behind them, might win an absolute majority at the polls and thus be in a position to dispense with his own services and those of his conservative friends He proposed simply suppressing the Communist Party; with its 100 seats eliminated, the Nazis and the Nationalists would have a majority. But Hitler would not go so far at the moment, and it was finally agreed that the Chancellor himself would confer with the Center Party leaders on the following morning and that if the talks were fruitless the cabinet would then ask for new elections.

Hitler easily made them fruitless. At his request the Center leader, Monsignor Kaas, submitted as a basis for discussion a list of questions which added up to a demand that Hitler promise to govern constitutionally. But Hitler, tricking both Kaas and his cabinet members, reported to the latter that the Center had made impossible demands and that there was no chance of agreement. He therefore proposed that the President be asked to dissolve the Reichstag and call new elections. Hugenberg and Papen were trapped, but after a solemn assurance from the Nazi leader that the cabinet would remain unchanged however the elections turned out, they agreed to go along with him. New elections were set for March 5.

For the first time—in the last relatively free election Germany was to have—the Nazi Party now could employ all the vast resources of the government to win votes. Goebbels was jubilant. "Now it will be easy," he wrote in his diary on February 3, "to carry on the fight, for we can call on all the resources of the State. Radio and press are at our disposal. We shall stage a masterpiece of propaganda. And this time, naturally, there is no lack of money."(2)

The big businessmen, pleased with the new government that was going to put the organized workers in their place and leave management to run its business as it wished, were asked to cough up. This they agreed to do at a meeting on February 20 at Goering's Reichstag President's Palace, at which Dr. Schacht acted as host and Goering and Hitler laid down the line to a couple of dozen of Germany's leading magnates, including Krupp von Bohlen, who had become an enthusiastic Nazi overnight, Bosch and Schnitzler of I. G. Farben, and Voegler, head of the United Steel Works. The record of this secret meeting has been preserved.

Hitler began a long speech with a sop to the industrialists. "Private enterprise," he said, "cannot be maintained in the age of democracy; it is conceivable only if the people have a sound idea of authority and personality . . . All the worldly goods we possess we owe to the struggle of the chosen . . . We must not forget that all the benefits of culture must be introduced more or less with an iron fist." He promised the businessmen that he would "eliminate" the Marxists and restore the Wehrmacht (the latter was of special interest to such industries as Krupp, United Steel and I. G. Farben, which stood to gain the most from rearmament). "Now we stand before the last election," Hitler concluded, and he promised his listeners that "regardless of the outcome, there will be no retreat." If he did not win, he would stay in power "by other means . . . with other weapons." Goering, talking more to the immediate point, stressed the necessity of "financial sacrifices" which "surely would be much easier for industry to bear if it realized that the election of March fifth will surely be the last one for the next ten years, probably even for the next hundred years."

All this was made clear enough to the assembled industrialists and they responded with enthusiasm to the promise of the end of the infernal elections, of democracy and disarmament. Krupp, the munitions king, who, according to Thyssen, had urged Hindenburg on January 29 not to appoint Hitler, jumped up and expressed to the Chancellor the "gratitude" of the businessmen "for having given us such a clear picture." Dr. Schacht then passed the hat. "I collected three million marks," he recalled at Nuremberg.(3)

On January 31, 1933, the day after Hitler was named Chancellor, Goebbels wrote in his diary: "In a conference with the Fuehrer we lay down the line for the fight against the Red terror. For the moment we shall abstain from direct countermeasures. The Bolshevik attempt at revolution must first burst into flame. At the proper moment we shall strike."

Despite increasing provocation by the Nazi authorities there was no sign of a revolution, Communist or Socialist, bursting into flames as the electoral campaign got under way. By the beginning of February the Hitler government had banned all Communist meetings and shut down the Communist press. Social Democrat rallies were either forbidden or broken up by the S.A. rowdies, and the leading Socialist newspapers were continually suspended. Even the Catholic Center Party did not escape the Nazi terror. Stegerwald, the leader of the Catholic Trade Unions, was beaten by the Brownshirts when he attempted to address a meeting, and Bruening was obliged to seek police protection at another rally after S.A. troopers had wounded a number of his followers. Altogether fifty-one anti-Nazis were listed as murdered during the electoral campaign, and the Nazis claimed that eighteen of their own number had been done to death.

Goering's key position as Minister of the Interior of Prussia now began to be noticed. Ignoring the restraining hand of Papen, who as Premier of Prussia was supposedly above him, Goering removed hundreds of republican officials and replaced them with Nazis, mostly S.A. and S.S. officers. He ordered the police to avoid "at all costs" hostility to the S.A., the S.S. and the Stahlhelm but on the other hand to show no mercy to those who were "hostile to the State." He urged the police "to make use of firearms" and warned that those who didn't would be punished. This was an outright call for the shooting down of all who opposed Hitler by the police of a state (Prussia) which controlled two thirds of Germany. Just to make sure that the job would be ruthlessly done, Goering on February 22 established an auxiliary police force of 50,000 men, of whom 40,000 were drawn from the ranks of the S.A. and the S.S. and the rest from the Stahlhelm. Police power in Prussia was thus largely carried out by Nazi thugs. It was a rash German who appealed to such a "police" for protection against the Nazi terrorists.

And yet despite all the terror the "Bolshevik revolution" which Goebbels, Hitler and Goering were looking for failed to "burst into flames." If it could not be provoked, might it not be invented?

On February 24, Goering's police raided the Karl Liebknecht Haus, the Communist headquarters in Berlin. It had been abandoned some weeks before by the Communist leaders, a number of whom had already gone underground or quietly slipped off to Russia. But piles of propaganda pamphlets had been left in the cellar and these were enough to enable Goering to announce in an official communiqué that the seized "documents" proved that the Communists were about to launch the revolution. The reaction of the public and even of some of the conservatives in the government was one of skepticism. It was obvious that something more sensational must be found to stampede the public before the election took place on March 5.

*This cabinet meeting, of course, was private, and, like most of the other conferences, many of them taking place in the strictest secrecy, held by Hitler and his political and military aides during the Third Reich, its proceedings and decisions were not accessible to the public until the captured German documents were first perused during the Nuremberg trial.
A great many of these highly confidential discussions and the decisions emanating from them—all regarded as state secrets—will henceforth be chronicled in this book, which, from here to the end, largely rests on the documents which recorded them at the time. At the risk of somewhat cluttering the pages with numbers indicating notes, these sources will be indicated. No other history of a nation over a specific epoch has been so fully documented, I believe, as that of the Thrid Reich, and to have left out reference to the documents, it seemed to the author, would have greatly weakened whatever value this book may have as an authentic historical record.


On the evening of February 27, four of the most powerful men in Germany were gathered at two separate dinners in Berlin. In the exclusive Herrenklub in the Vosstrasse, Vice-Chancellor von Papen was entertaining President Hindenburg. Out at Goebbels' home, Chancellor Hitler had arrived to dine en famille. According to Goebbels, they were relaxing, playing music on the gramophone and telling stories. "Suddenly," he recounted later in his diary, "a telephone call from Dr. Hanfstaengl: 'The Reichstag is on fire!' I am sure he is telling a tall tale and decline even to mention it to the Fuehrer." (4)

But the diners at the Herrenklub were just around the corner from the Reichstag.

Suddenly [Papen later wrote] we noticed a red glow through the windows and heard sounds of shouting in the street. One of the servants came hurrying up to me and whispered: "The Reichstag is on fire!" which I repeated to the President. He got up and from the window we could see the dome of the Reichstag looking as though it were illuminated by searchlights. Every now and again a burst of flame and a swirl of smoke blurred the outline. (5)

The Vice-Chancellor packed the aged President home in his own car and hurried off to the burning building. In the meantime Goebbels, according to his account, had had second thoughts about Putzi Hanfstaengl's "tall tale," had made some telephone calls and learned that the Reichstag was in flames. Within a few seconds he and his Fuehrer were racing "at sixty miles an hour down the Charlottenburger Chaussee toward the scene of the crime."

That it was a crime, a Communist crime, they proclaimed at once on arrival at the fire. Goering, sweating and puffing and quite beside himself with excitement, was already there ahead of them declaiming to heaven, as Papen later recalled, that "this is a Communist crime against the new government." To the new Gestapo chief, Rudolf Diels, Goering shouted, "This is the beginning of the Communist revolution! We must not wait a minute. We will show no mercy. Every Communist official must be shot, where he is found. Every Communist deputy must this very night be strung up."(6)

The whole truth about the Reichstag fire will probably never be known. Nearly all those who knew it are now dead, most of them slain by Hitler in the months that followed. Even at Nuremberg the mystery could not be entirely unraveled, though there is enough evidence to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that it was the Nazis who planned the arson and carried it out for their own political ends.

From Goering's Reichstag President's Palace an underground passage, built to carry the central heating system, ran to the Reichstag building. Through this tunnel Karl Ernst, a former hotel bellhop who had become the Berlin S.A. leader, led a small detachment of storm troopers on the night of February 27 to the Reichstag, where they scattered gasoline and self-igniting chemicals and then made their way quickly back to the palace the way they had come. At the same time a half-witted Dutch Communist with a passion for arson, Marinus van der Lubbe, had made his way into the huge, darkened and to him unfamiliar building and set some small fires of his own. This feeble-minded pyromaniac was a godsend to the Nazis. He had been picked up by the S.A. a few days before after having been overheard in a bar boasting that he had attempted to set fire to several public buildings and that he was going to try the Reichstag next.

The coincidence that the Nazis had found a demented Communist arsonist who was out to do exactly what they themselves had determined to do seems incredible but is nevertheless supported by the evidence. The idea for the fire almost certainly originated with Goebbels and Goering. Hans Gisevius, an official in the Prussian Ministry of the Interior at the time, testified at Nuremberg that "it was Goebbels who first thought of setting the Reichstag on fire," and Rudolf Diels, the Gestapo chief, added in an affidavit that "Goering knew exactly how the fire was to be started" and had ordered him "to prepare, prior to the fire, a list of people who were to be arrested immediately after it." General Franz Halder, Chief of the German General Staff during the early part of World War II, recalled at Nuremberg how on one occasion Goering had boasted of his deed.

At a luncheon on the birthday of the Fuehrer in 1942 the conversation turned to the topic of the Reichstag building and its artistic value. I heard with my own ears when Goering interrupted the conversation and shouted: "The only one who really knows about the Reichstag is I, because I set it on fire!" With that he slapped his thigh with the flat of his hand.*

*Both in his interrogations and at his trial at Nuremberg, Goering denied to the last that he had any part in setting fire to the Reichstag.
Van der Lubbe, it seems clear, was a dupe of the Nazis. He was encouraged to try to set the Reichstag on fire. But the main job was to be done—without his knowledge, of course—by the storm troopers. Indeed, it was established at the subsequent trial at Leipzig that the Dutch half-wit did not possess the means to set so vast a building on fire so quickly. Two and a half minutes after he entered, the great central hall was fiercely burning. He had only his shirt for tinder. The main fires, according to the testimony of experts at the trial, had been set with considerable quantities of chemicals and gasoline. It was obvious that one man could not have carried them into the building, nor would it have been possible for him to start so many fires in so many scattered places in so short a time.

Van der Lubbe was arrested on the spot and Goering, as he afterward told the court, wanted to hang him at once. The next day Ernst Torgler, parliamentary leader of the Communists, gave himself up to the police when he heard that Goering had implicated him, and a few days later Georgi Dimitroff, a Bulgarian Communist who later became Prime Minister of Bulgaria, and two other Bulgarian Communists, Popov and Tanev, were apprehended by the police. Their subsequent trial before the Supreme Court at Leipzig turned into something of a fiasco for the Nazis and especially for Goering, whom Dimitroff, acting as his own lawyer, easily provoked into making a fool of himself in a series of stinging cross-examinations. At one point, according to the court record, Goering screamed at the Bulgarian, "Out with you, you scoundrel!"

JUDGE [to the police officer]: Take him away.

DIMITROFF [being led away by the police]: Are you afraid of my question, Herr Ministerpraesident?

GOERING: You wait until we get you outside this court, you scoundrel!

Torgler and the three Bulgarians were acquitted, though the German Communist leader was immediately taken into "protective custody," where he remained until his death during the second war. Van der Lubbe was found guilty and decapitated.(7)

The trial, despite the subserviency of the court to the Nazi authorities, cast a great deal of suspicion on Goering and the Nazis, but it came too late to have any practical effect. For Hitler had lost no time in exploiting the Reichstag fire to the limit.

On the day following the fire, February 28, he prevailed on President Hindenburg to sign a decree "for the Protection of the People and the State" suspending the seven sections of the constitution which guaranteed individual and civil liberties. Described as a "defensive measure against Communist acts of violence endangering the state," the decree laid down that:

Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and association; and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications; and warrants for house searchers, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property, are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.

In addition, the decree authorized the Reich government to take over complete power in the federal states when necessary and imposed the death sentence for a number of crimes, including "serious disturbances of the peace" by armed persons.(8)

Thus with one stroke Hitler was able not only to legally gag his opponents and arrest them at his will but, by making the trumped-up Communist threat "official," as it were, to throw millions of the middle class and the peasantry into a frenzy of fear that unless they voted for National Socialism at the elections a week hence, the Bolsheviks might take over. Some four thousand Communist officials and a great many Social Democrat and liberal leaders were arrested, including members of the Reichstag, who, according to the law, were immune from arrest. This was the first experience Germans had had with Nazi terror backed up by the government. Truckloads of storm troopers roared through the streets all over Germany, breaking into homes, rounding up victims and carting them off to S.A. barracks, where they were tortured and beaten. The Communist press and political meetings were suppressed; the Social Democrat newspapers and many liberal journals were suspended and the meetings of the democratic parties either banned or broken up. Only the Nazis and their Nationalist allies were permitted to campaign unmolested.

With all the resources of the national and Prussian governments at their disposal and with plenty of money from big business in their coffers, the Nazis carried on an election propaganda such as Germany had never seen before. For the first time the State-run radio carried the voices of Hitler, Goering and Goebbels to every corner of the land. The streets, bedecked with swastika flags, echoed to the tramp of the storm troopers. There were mass rallies, torchlight parades, the din of loudspeakers in the squares. The billboards were plastered with flamboyant Nazi posters and at night bonfires lit up the hills. The electorate was in turn cajoled with promises of a German paradise, intimidated by the brown terror in the streets and frightened by "revelations" about the Communist "revolution." The day after the Reichstag fire the Prussian government issued a long statement declaring that it had found Communist "documents" proving:

Government buildings, museums, mansions and essential plants were to be burned down . . . Women and children were to be sent in front of terrorist groups . . . The burning of the Reichstag was to be the signal for a bloody insurrection and civil war . . . It has been ascertained that today was to have seen throughout Germany terrorist acts against individual persons, against private property, and against the life and limb of the peaceful population, and also the beginning of general civil war.

Publication of the "documents proving that Communist conspiracy" was promised, but never made. The fact, however, that the Prussian government itself vouched for their authenticity impressed many Germans.

The waverers were also impressed perhaps by Goering's threats. At Frankfurt on March 3, on the eve of the elections, he shouted:

Fellow Germans, my measures will not be crippled by any judicial thinking . . . I don't have to worry about justice; my mission is only to destroy and exterminate, nothing more! . . . Certainly, I shall use the power of the State and the police to the utmost, my dear Communists, so don't draw any false conclusions; but the struggle to the death, in which my fist will grasp your necks, I shall lead with those down there—the Brownshirts. (9)

Almost unheard was the voice of former Chancellor Bruening, who also spoke out that day, proclaiming that his Center Party would resist any overthrow of the constitution, demanding an investigation of the suspicious Reichstag fire and calling on President Hindenburg "to protect the oppressed against their oppressors." Vain appeal! The aged President kept his silence. It was now time for the people, in their convulsion, to speak.

On March 5, 1933, the day of the last democratic elections they were to know during Hitler's life, they spoke with their ballots. Despite all the terror and intimidation, the majority of them rejected Hitler. The Nazis led the polling with 17,277,180 votes—an increase of some five and a half million, but it comprised only 44 per cent of the total vote. A clear majority still eluded Hitler. All the persecution and suppression of the previous weeks did not prevent the Center Party from actually increasing its vote from 4,230,600 to 4,424,900; with its ally, the Catholic Bavarian People's Party, it obtained a total of five and a half million votes. Even the Social Democrats held their position as the second largest party, polling 7,181,629 votes, a drop of only 70,000. The Communists lost a million supporters but still polled 4,848,058. The Nationalists, led by Papen and Hugenberg, were bitterly disappointed with their own showing, a vote of 3,136,760, a mere 8 per cent of the votes cast and a gain of less than 200,000.

Still, the Nationalists' 52 seats, added to the 288 of the Nazis, gave the government a majority of 16 in the Reichstag. This was enough, perhaps, to carry on the day-to-day business of government but it was far short of the two-thirds majority which Hitler needed to carry out a new, bold plan to establish his dictatorship by consent of Parliament.


(1) NCA, III, pp. 272-75 (N.D. 351-PS).

(2) Goebbels, Kaiserhof, p. 256.

(3) See affidavit of Georg von Schnitzler, NCA, VII, p. 501 (N.D. EC-439); speeches of Goering and Hitler, NCA, VI, p. 1080 (N.D. D-203); Schacht's interrogation, NCA, VI p. 465 (N.D. 3725-PS); Funk's interrogation, NCA, V. p. 495 (N.D. 2828-PS).

(4) Goebbels, Kaiserhof, pp. 269-70.

(5) Papen, op. cit., p. 268.

(6) Rudolf Diels, Lucifer ante Portas, p. 194.

(7) For sources on the responsibility for the Reichstag fire see: Halder's affidavit, NCA, VI, p. 635 (N.D. 3740-PS); transcript of Gisevius' cross-examination on April 25, 1946, Trial of the Major War Criminals [hereafter cited as TMWC], XII, pp. 252-53; Diehl's affidavit, Goering's denial, TMWC, IX, pp. 432-36, and NCA, VI pp. 298-99 (N.D. 3593-PS); Willy Frischauer, The Rise and Fall of Hermann Goering, pp. 88-95; Douglas Reed, The Burning of the Reichstag; John Gunther, Inside Europe (Gunther attended the trial at Leipzig). There are many alleged testaments and confessions by those claiming to have participated in the Nazi firing of the Reichstag or to have positive knowledge of it, but none, so far as I know, has ever been substantiated. Of these, memoranda by Ernst Oberfohren, a Nationalist deputy, and Karl Ernst, the Berlin S.A. leader, have been given some credence. Both men were slain by the Nazis within a few months of the fire.

(8) NCA, III, pp. 968-70 (N.D. 1390-PS).

(9) NCA, IV, p. 496 (N.D. 1856-PS).