Reasons for the increasing support given to NSDAP by the German people in the period 1923 - 1936.

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Reasons for the increasing support given to NSDAP by the German people in the period 1923 - 1936. 

The NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei), who were in the early 1920s, “a small and not particularly distinctive element in the multifarious and fragmented German volkisch movement” had become by 1936 the ruling organisation of German society. There were many factors influencing the German mass support to swing towards the party during 1923-36. In the face of economic turmoil, the overbearing influence of foreign countries on their Fatherland and the inability of presiding governments in dealing with crisis, the German people lived in national outrage and desperation. These feelings were further heightened by events such as the French invasion of the Ruhr, hyperinflation, and the depression. The period’s lack of continuity and lack of progressive change under the Weimar Republic had caused Germany’s people to lose confidence in their country’s future and they began to believe that under the Republic, Germany will never be able emerge from the chaos to it’s rightful position in the world stage. In the background of such social turmoil, the ruthlessly opportunistic Nazi leadership began accumulating support as a result of desperate people searching for desperate solutions. Willing to use any situation to their own advantage they portrayed themselves as the only solution to Germany’s problems. No where else to turn, the people began giving their support to the NSDAP. In addition to the social conditions of post-war Germany, the party’s well-organised and closely controlled nature, enabling strong and enthusiastic following behind the leadership was also an important factor in drawing public support, and so was Hitler’s extraordinary gift for speech making, which the Nazis used to the highest possible advantage. Later after 1933 with the Nazis in power, support was maintained through aggressive propaganda, which made much of Hitler’s domestic, and foreign policy successes. Although the achievements of the Nazi administration were quite extraordinary it was this constant propaganda that persuaded the people that all was well in the Third Reich.

There are three key events that broke the continuity of post-war Germany and led to great social unrest. This loss of continuity corresponds to changes in the relationship between NSDAP and the German people. The period progressed through three different phases as a consequence of these events. Firstly there was the French takeover of the Ruhr in 1923, sparking off an era of hyperinflation, renewed nationalist outrage, and social turmoil. Then in 1929, just as the economy was stabilising the Great Depression hit Germany and “stopped it dead in it’s tracks”. This triggered a mass social turn towards extremism as the people started searching for radical solutions. And finally the appointment of Hitler as chancellor sealed the fate of democratic Germany and the Weimar Republic and began the Nazi rule in Germany. The overall changes in the Nazi party’s progress and success in electoral terms correspond to “the events of discontinuity” quite clearly as outlined by Sebastian Haffner in The Meaning of Hitler; “…In the 1920s through his oratory and demagogy Hitler hardly ever gained more than 5% of all Germans as his followers; in the Reichstag elections of 1928 it was 2.5%. The next 40% were driven into his arms by the economic plight of 1930-33 and by the total helpless failure of all other governments and parties in the face of that plight. The remaining decisive, 50% he gained after 1933 mainly through his achievements.”

The renewed sense of national outrage and desperation caused by the French takeover of the Ruhr and hyperinflation in 1923 provided Hitler with an opportunity to lift the NSDAP’s public profile. Although the attempted putsch in Munich failed (after which he realised that power must be taken by “legal” means) he used the trial to his great advantage. Using the bitter anti-French and anti-anything-foreign sentiment that prevailed, he reminded the public of the Treaty of Versailles, the “November Criminals”, the “stab in the back” legend and the pathetically weak and divided governments from the past and present that were unable to look after the peoples interests as they were spending their time quarrelling amongst themselves. Then he called for unity under a strong leader, defiance of the Treaty of Versailles and the foreign powers, the remilitarisation of Germany and everything else the public wished for. The trial lasted 24 days and reached the front pages on a daily basis. With the eyes of Germany on him “he pleaded guilty. Not for treason – but for patriotism.” Most Germans living in the economic chaos of hyperinflation sympathised to a great extent with his voiced opinions and this layed down the beginnings of the Nazi party’s support.

However the NSDAP failed to extend on this good fortune as the leadership had become fragmented during Hitler’s term in jail. Therefore Hitler spent the next five years reorganising, restructuring and reunifying the party under his control. Although they did not make much of an impact on the electorate, the party had now become a highly efficient, enthusiastic and tightly knit political force, much unlike the government coalitions. This attracted many patriots, militarists and anyone else who felt the need for a strong government under a decisive leader. This was specially evident during the depression era.

Hitler’s own oratory skills and personality was an effective and vital instrument in the hands of the Nazis. Preferring to draw on the audience’s emotions he would keep the content pitched at the lowest level. Making them listen to what they wanted to hear would give the responders a sense of security which they would compare with the instability of the country. As Gregor Strasser observed, Hitler had an ability to read the collective mind of the congregation; “Hitler responds to the vibration of the human heart with the delicacy of a seismograph... enabling him, with a certainty with which no conscious gift could endow him, to act as a loudspeaker proclaiming the most secret desires, the least permissible instincts, the sufferings and personal revolts of a whole nation." Frequently arriving late to create a tense atmosphere he would begin almost all his speeches in a hesitant manner as if waiting to receive some sort of response from his audience. He would then build up tempo and manage to take everyone else with him to the climax. The reactions of the audience was reported by an American journalist Stanley High; “When, at the climax, he sways from one side to the other, his listeners sway with him; when he leans forward they also lean forward and when he concludes they either are awed and silent or on their feet in a frenzy."

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Hitler’s personality was also used by Nazi propaganda experts to attract and gain the support of many Germans who had no one else to place their patriotic pride in. Later when in power the “Fuhrer myth” was to play an important part in maintaining the enthusiastic support of the public.

The NSDAP was able to target a broad range of social groups with their energetic and tireless campaigning. The strategy used was to adjust the content of their propaganda to suit the audience. Hitler himself used this method quite masterfully in his speeches. When he spoke to the workers ...

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