By Christoph Strupp


Wednesday marks the 80th anniversary of Hitler's rise to power in
Germany. Correspondence from foreign diplomats in Berlin at the time
reveals the extent to which they underestimated the dangers of the
Nazi Party.

"The political situation now is so complicated and is subject to so
many psychological factors that it is impossible to make any definite
forecast," George S. Messersmith, the United States consul general in
Berlin from 1930 to 1934, wrote in a dispatch to the State Department
on Feb. 3, 1933.


Four days earlier, Reich Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher had been
dismissed just weeks after his election. His replacement was Adolf
Hitler. "It may, I believe, be accepted," wrote Messersmith, "that
whether the Hitler regime lasts for a few months or for a longer
period, it is only a phase in the development towards more stable
political conditions and that this government will be followed by one
which will show greater elements of stability than any which Germany
has had for some years. The people are politically tired."

Along with other observers, diplomats in Berlin in 1933 did not
immediately recognize that the appointment of the new government marked
a historical turning point. At that early stage, no one predicted that
the Nazi regime would last for 12 years and end with a disaster on the
scale of World War II. Initially, Hitler's cabinet was viewed as just
another in a series of more or less short-lived German governments.

A day after Messersmith's pronouncements, US Ambassador Frederic M.

Sackett noted that political tensions were again visibly increasing and
that "the makeup of the present cabinet, with its normally discordant
elements, furnishes a fertile field for trouble." Sackett did not
believe the National Socialists were strong enough to govern.

His doubts appeared to be confirmed by the number and descriptions
of ministerial posts within the cabinet -- Wilhelm Frick was made
interior minister, Hermann Goring a minister without portfolio.

In Sackett's opinion, the real power lay in the hands of
Vice-Chancellor Franz von Papen and Minister for Economics Alfred
Hugenberg. It was a view that echoed his American colleagues'
earlier observations. On Jan. 30, 1933, the embassy in Berlin sent
out a telegram reporting on the appointment of Hitler and the new
cabinet, emphasizing the "reactionary and monarchist influence"
at work in the new government. At first, many diplomats believed
that this conservative containment of Hitler would ensure that the
government's agenda would not be determined by the National Socialists'
radical ideology.

But, in subsequent weeks, the regime began to unleash its campaign of
violence and terror -- on a governmental and administrative level as
well as on the street. It was only once foreign consulates started
seeing rising demand for immigration visas and a growing exodus to
neighboring countries that the significance of the events of January
30 began to sink in.

A Blow To Democracy

Influential figures within the diplomatic corps -- such as French
Ambassador Andre Francois-Poncet, British Ambassadors Horace Rumbold
and his successor, Eric Phipps, Danish envoy Herluf Zahle and Consul
General Messersmith -- nicknamed "40-page George" in Washington
on account of his lengthy missives -- reported extensively on the
Nazi policy of Gleichschaltung, enforcing political conformity in
all sectors, from the economy and trade associations to the media,
culture and education.

"Democracy in Germany has received a blow from which it may never
recover," wrote Frederic Sackett after the March 5 elections for the
Reichstag, as Germany's parliament was then called. "Germany has been
submerged under a huge Nazi wave. The much-heralded 'Third Reich' has
become a reality." In early April, Andre Francois-Poncet complained
that developments had failed to engender "heroes or martyrs," and
that German democracy had failed to save face or indeed itself.

The diplomats tried to convey to their ministries back home what it
meant to be living in a dictatorship, which still appealed to many
as a "new start" after the crisis of the preceding years. It found
support in a wide range of social groups, including former members
of Germany's workers' parties. The diplomats were at pains to spell
out that the Nazis' political opponents and the country's Jewish
communities were not the only ones confronted with lawlessness and
persecution, but that vast swathes of the population were as well.

Fear pervaded public life, with most people accepting the new status
quo out of sheer intimidation. From the outset, the diplomats also
reported on mass rallies of fanatical crowds stirred up by propaganda,
their radical fervor seemingly even eclipsing that of the Nazi Party.

The contradictions in their reports had nothing to do with their
political stances. The same confusion was expressed by later opponents
of the war, neutral powers and even representatives of fascist Italy.

It reflected the nature of the Nazi regime. From its very inception,
it excluded and mercilessly persecuted demographic groups whille
at the same time providing those it viewed as belonging to the
Volksgemeinschaft, the "community of the (German) people," with
attractive ideological and material incentives.

Toward the end of March 1933, French Ambassador Francois-Poncet
wrote that, in many respects, "the Nazis demonstrate a certain double
tendency. Some are destructive, grasping, power-hungry and willing to
satisfy the needs of the revolutionary zealots of the SA," referring
to the paramilitary group known as the "brownshirts." But others, the
ambassador added, want to present themselves as having moderation,
reason and spirit of political reconciliation and are keen to win
over the high-minded members of the population.

Under the circumstances, reliable predictions were out of the question
in those first weeks. But attacks on the Nazis' political opponents --
non-conformists and, first and foremost, Jews -- became more frequent.

Observers were in broad agreement that the snowballing violence and
"practically unrestricted persecution of a race," as Messersmith put
it on the eve of the boycott on Jewish businesses introduced on April
1, would at some point lead to acts of international aggression.

"It is now quite clear that it is the most extremely national
government which one can conceive of," wrote Messersmith on May 9.

"Although it desires very earnestly peace for the next few years in
order to consolidate its position, there is on the other hand every
reason to believe that once the consolidation is achieved 'the new
Germany' will strive in every way to impose its will on the rest of
the world."

Christoph Strupp is a research assistant fellow at the Research Center
for Contemporary History in Hamburg (FZH).

This article originally appeared in German on einestages.de, SPIEGEL
ONLINE's history portal.


From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress