To what extent was the rise to power of Hitler due to personal appeal and ability?

From the May 2006 Paper 2 DP History exam


To what extent was the rise to power of Hitler due to personal appeal and ability?

Timed in-class essay from a student who eventually scored a '6' in the course:





"The [Nazi party] should not become a constable of public opinion, but must dominate it. It must not become a servant of the masses, but their master!"- Adolf Hitler. This was the view from a man who under other circumstances, would have made a brief appearance in the annals of history and then be forgotten forever. Instead, he became the dictator of an entire nation, and then became the sole reason for the deaths of at least 6 million innocents. As the head of the Nationalist Socialist German Worker's Party, Hitler was an ambitious man whose sole purpose was to become head of Germany. However, at the peak of his support, he only had 44% of support in the Reichstag--never even a majority. In fact, the year before he took chancellorship, the Nazi Party was experiencing a dramatic fall in the number of seats in the Reichstag. The eternal question remains; how did Hitler come to power if his party never even had majority support? Hitler's appointment to chancellorship on January 30th of 1933 was the culmination of a series of events that led Hindenburg to appoint him chancellor--the effects of the economic depression, his appeal to the people and to the Reichstag, the growing power he was wielding through terror, and the miscalculation and ineffective plotting of others.

The Great Depression because of the Wall Street Crash in October 1929 had a terrible effect on Weimar Germany--because of the horrible conditions, Hitler's support gained momentum, making him a viable contender in the eyes of those that mattered. The German economy collapsed after the US withdrew its loans from the banks of Weimar Germany, and soon, unemployment was rampant. In 1928, before the Depression, unemployment levels were at 2 million people, or 8 percent of the population. However, only 3 years after the advent of the Depression, 1932, unemployment was at 6 million people, or about 29.9 percent of the population. This shows the rapid decline of conditions in the Weimar Republic. Because of their situation, the people turned toward Hitler, who seemed to them to be a beacon of change and an end to the democracy the public hated so much. As two chancellors had been appointed by 1932, von Papen and Schleicher, and neither had done much to combat the growing numbers of unemployment, the public was more than ready for a change in leadership, and hoped it to be Hitler. He presented himself as the salvation for the German people, and the German people accepted that illusion. It is extremely significant to note that the people were not the ones that elected Hitler into chancellorship--rather it was the President at the time. However, Hitler's support from the people was nevertheless a factor in his rise to power, as President Hindenburg noted that Hitler's popularity with the public would spill over into support for him if Hindenburg displayed to the people that he was taking Hitler under his wing.

Hitler's personal decisions and powers also helped him gain the chancellorship--once Hindenburg saw the public's and the Reichstag's attraction to him, Hitler became a contender for Hindenburg. His speeches and oratorical powers of persuasion and convincing were legendary in the political circles, and Hindenburg and his aides took note of his influence in speech-making as well. He was aware of the people's problems and what they craved to hear, and how best to craft his policies and present them so as to have the maximum effect upon his audience. It must be taken into account that in 1928, the Nazis held a mere 2.6 percent of the vote in the Reichstag, but because of their merging with other parties in the following years, the Nazis were brought into a socially influential right-wing coalition, as a result making connections with wealthy financial backers. His propaganda was also a great factor in his growing influence in the political sphere. His Nazi propagandist Jospeh Goebbels began an intensive media campaign that continued to focus on the points that Hitler was pushing in his 25-point plan: eradication of the Jews because of their usurping of jobs and money, and Germans over all. Through their intense campaigning, the entire public spectrum was appealed to, and this made Hitler a strong presence in the political field, in terms of public support. This public support also helped him gain votes in the Reichstag, even though he never had a majority in it, he still had a substantial percentage--44% in 1932. He especially had the support of the right-wing conservative members in the Reichstag. All these factors made Hindenburg realize Hitler's influence with the Reichstag, specifically with the anti-democratic right-wingers, and contemplate his value. Hitler's personal decisions and powers such as his oratorical gifts, his use of propaganda, and his reformation of the party all served for Hindenburg to take note of Hitler's expanding political presence.

Hitler's path to chancellorship was also marked by his use of terror to achieve his aims, and the President's decision to fight that. At the creation of the Treaty of Versailles, one of the conditions placed upon Germany was the limitation of the Weimar Republic's army to that of 100,000 men, a minuscule military. As Hitler expanded his Party, he created sub-organizations such as the SA, SS, and the Gestapo. He called them his bodyguards, his stormtroopers, and his secret police, but in reality they served him as his own private army. Hitler used his army to strike terror into the hearts of his opponents--he sent them out to carry out ruthless killings of opponents. In total, his personal military numbered at around 2 million men, more than twenty times greater in numbers than the official governmental military. Furthermore, because of Hitler's financial support, arming his men was possible. In short, Hitler had a massive, fully-armed military at his disposal. If Hitler were to create trouble with his SS and SA, the official military did not have enough power to suppress it. Additionally, Hitler's army would be extremely effective in crushing Communist revolt, especially if in collaboration with the governmental army. President Hindenburg was able to see that if Hitler were to start a revolution with his men, there would be chaos and terror presiding over all. With this in mind, Hindenburg realized that if Hitler were in the chancellor position, his army would be under control and even more effective when crushing the Communists, who Hindenburg despised. Because of Hitler's use of terror and force to advocate his party, the President came to realize Hitler's use in the chancellorship position.

As Hindenburg closely watched Hitler's political movements and saw his usefulness if appropriately harnessed, he collaborated with his aides to plan a method to control Hitler, which was the reason for his final appointment to chancellorship. Von Papen was the chancellor in 1932, but the Reichstag gave him next to no support when he tried to pass legislation. He had the support of Hindenburg, however had no rapport with the parliament. Therefore, General Schleicher, a fervent anti-republican, convinced Hindenburg to dismiss Papen. In December of 1932, Schleicher formed a new government, but lost Hindenburg's support within a month. Finally, the decision came to offer the position of chancellorship to Hitler. This was the culmination of Hindenburg's tracking of Hitler, and his ulterior motives to giving Hitler the chancellorship were numerous. Firstly, he had noted Hitler's popularity with the people, and had noticed that this popularity had given him significant influence within the Reichstag. Even though Hitler did not have majority support in the parliament, the support he did have was much weightier than that of the two previous chancellors. Secondly, Hindenburg considered Hitler's power over his multitudinous army, the SS and the SA. If Hitler were to initiate a revolution with his military at the head, Hindenburg would be powerless to stop it. He then realized that if he brought Hitler on his side, he could "tame" him by providing him with governmental responsibility, and in doing so, Hitler's popularity in the Reichstag would transfer to him. Furthermore, if Hitler were harnessed, his army could be utilized to combat Communist uprisings, and there would be no danger of Hitler using the SA and SS against the government itself. Von Papen and Hindenburg listed these apparent benefits in giving the chancellorship to Hitler, and therein lies the truth to Hitler's ascent to power. Most importantly, Hitler did not take power per se, but was handed it by others in authority. Nevertheless, certain factors such as his popularity and his terrorizing helped him into power, but overall Von Papen and Hindenburg provided Hitler with the chancellorship--through their plotting and miscalculation.