The fellow Nazi members marched to the center

The Great War had left Germany in a state of mass
panic, hysteria and confusion. The republic’s decision to sign the Treaty of
Versailles was seen as evidence that the government had betrayed the people and
the nation’s honor. The German elections of 1928 saw the Nationalist
Socialist’s German Worker’s Party (NSDAP) garner a mere 2.6% of the total
votes, equivalent to only 12 seats in the Reichstag. Four years later, the
NSDAP saw an exponential increase in their popularity when they were able to
gain 37.27% of the total votes, significant of 230 seats in the Reichstag,
becoming the most powerful, influential and quantitatively, the largest party
in all of Germany. This topic is significant and worthy of a historical
investigation due to its broad scope and understanding of the various
influential factors which allowed for the increasing successes of the Nazi
Party. The gap between 1928 and 1932 displayed an exponential increase in the
power and influence of the party as their total votes rocketed from a lowly
2.6% to 37.37%. In order to maximize the efficiency of this essay, I decided to
focus on the elections of 1932 and the reasons behind the Nazi’s incredible
electoral success. It was due to this sudden increase in votes and seats in the
Reichstag, I was able to formulate the following research question, “To what
extent can propaganda techniques be attributed to the Nazi Party’s electoral
success in the early 30s?”

            After
joining the Nationalist Socialist’s German Worker’s Party in 1919, then called
the German Worker’s Party, Adolf Hitler soon became its leader in 1921. Fueled
by his frustrations due to the loss of World War I, Hitler took the reins of
the party in promoting German pride and anti-Semitism. In attempts to seize
power, he organized what would later be known as the Beer Hall Putsch or the
Munich Putsch, in which Hitler and his fellow Nazi members marched to the
center of Munich resulting in the death of approximately 4 officers and 16 Nazi
members. After this failed coup attempt, “One scarcely heard of Hitler or the
Nazi’s” (Shirer, pg. 104) as they had become a laughing stock and often at the
centre of jokes and ridicule. In the elections of May 1928, Hitler and his
party managed to gain only 12 seats and poll a mere 810, 000 out of a possible
31 million votes. The NSDAP’s popularity was slowly declining as it had lost 10
seats since the elections of 1924. Hitler however, was adamant on attaining
power legally and believed he was able to do so. His time in jail after the
events of the Munich Putsch provided much needed time to focus his thoughts and
ideas and prepare the party for better functionality and effectivity.

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            After
a decline in the influence of the party, Hitler soon realized that propaganda
would become a powerful tool in furthering his selfish causes and was
instrumental in providing much needed growth, popularity and resources. Using
the plane and his dynamic oratory as his “tools”, Hitler persuaded the masses
to turn away from the republic and support the party, advertising promises of a
better future. Along with propaganda being vital in the expansion and influence
of the NSDAP during the elections of 1932, the failures of the Young Plan,
economic state, the Great Depression and the fall of the Weimar Republic were
crucial in constructing the powerful regime that ruled until their eventual
collapse in 1945. This paper will seek to analyze the role of each factor in
the expansion of Nazi popularity and their eventual success in the elections of
1932.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Young Plan

            Following
the conclusion of World War I, the nation of Germany was placed under
increasing pressure to fulfill the demands put forth by The Treaty of
Versailles. The Treaty, signed in 1919, demanded approximately 132 billion gold
marks (US $33 billion) be paid in reparations to account for the mass
destruction of government and civilian property caused by the damages of war. A
nation already suffering from increasing economic and political strains was
unable to comply with the rigid terms of the treaty. As a result, the Young
Plan was introduced in August 1929, and was formally adopted by the nation in
January 1930. Headed by American industrialist Owen Young, a representative who
had previously been involved in the formation of the Dawes Plan of 1924, the
plan was presented by the committee. The theoretical sum of 132 billion gold
marks was established by the Inter-allied reparations commission, however,
after the Dawes Plan was put into action, the sum was significantly reduced to
a practical 50 billion gold marks. Even with the support of the Dawes Plan, it
was evident that Germany would not be able to meet the annual payments
willingly over a period of time. To further aid Germany’s economic situation,
the Young Plan further reduced the required payments by approximately 20
percent (Dunlap, Annette B. 2016). Furthermore,
the Young plan portioned the annual payments, which were situated at
approximately 2 billion gold marks (US $473 million), into two categories; a
conditional and unconditional part equal to one third and two thirds of the sum
respectively.

            Though
the plan was intended to aid the economy and significantly reduce Germany’s
obligations towards the Treaty, it was not met with equal appreciation from
other parts of the political spectrum. Many citizens and conservative groups
opposed the plan as it was seen as an issue and proved that the Weimer
government had betrayed the nation by agreeing to its terms. Seeing the Young
plan as an act of treachery and victimization, a coalition was formed
consisting of various conservative groups, one of them including Adolf Hitler
and the Nationalist Socialist German Workers Party (NAZI Party). Alfred
Hugenberg, the man who spearheaded the charge against the Young plan, aimed to
enact Freiheitsgesetz
(Liberty
Law) which would renounce all reparations and would ensure that any German
official involved in their collection would be punished under criminal offense.
In order to cement the law in German society, the Reichstag required 10 percent
of eligible voters to sign a petition favouring the law. However, if the
Reichstag opposed the law, it would be put to a national referendum. Both
Hugenberg and Hitler sought to exploit one another in an attempt to further
their own purposes. Hugenberg intended to use Hitler as “a drummer to win back
the masses to the rightist cause” (Bendersky, pg. 59). Hitler on the other
hand, saw Hugenberg as “a key to national attention, to respect among
middle-class voters, and to financial resources from big businesses” (pg. 59). Together
they created a mass of propaganda in hopes of “aggravating popular discontent
and to fire hatred wherever possible” (pg. 59). Due to the campaign being
headed by rightists, big businesses and other influential rightist groups
supported it, allowing the Nazis to gain nationwide popularity. Hitler, who was
once banned in speaking in many places, was now permitted to legally hold
speeches and employ the use of his dynamic oratory to attract individuals and
inspire the large crowds.

            Although
the referendum of November 1929 resulted in a failure, with “less than 14
percent of the voters in favour of rejecting the Young plan” (pg. 59), Hitler
and his party benefited greatly. The Nazi Party had now gained widespread
recognition throughout the nation allowing them to access greater financial
resources in the future. Adolf Hitler had now risen from the shadows and
established himself as a “politician of national stature who appeared to have
the confidence of Hugenberg” (pg. 59). He had risen through the ranks and found
to be a respectable ally by many high-ranking German politicians and business
elites. His political campaign against the Young Plan had received major
publicity through media owned by Alfred Hugenberg, allowing him and the
Nationalist Socialist Workers Party to gain credibility and respectability
amongst the German citizens. This newfound power and influence gave rise to the
Nazi Party and the spread of their ideologies across the nation finally
allowing them to reach their goal of power and ruling when Hitler was finally appointed
the Chancellor of Germany in January 1933.

 

 

Fear
of Communism and a weakened government

            After
suffering extreme economical failures, Germany was now at the mercy of a new
formation of government. Citizens were keen on establishing a government who
they could trust and one that would represent the needs of the people. The
nation was slowly recovering from an age of economic failure and an atmosphere
of despair. Employment rates had risen since 1932 and for the first time in its
history, the number of unemployed individuals remained below 1 million. However,
Hitler was confident that the “good times would not last” (William L. Shirer,
pg. 103). Though Germany did experience a few years of economic gain and
success, it was built upon foreign loans from America, which were required to
“keep Germany prosperous” (pg. 103). The nation was heavily reliant on the
loans generously granted by the United States between 1924 and 1930, and were
in debt of approximately 7 billion dollars. This era of prosperity was shortly
outlived in the October of 1929, when the stock market crashed and the full
effects of the disaster took a toll on the nation.

            To
add fuel to the already catastrophic fire, which erupted throughout Germany,
the country experienced the death of a highly respectable and honorary figure
on the 3rd of October 1929. Gustav Stresemann was the leader of the
Weimar republic, a man who had cemented the republic’s history and it seemed as
though no individual was capable of replacing him. Stresemann had “exhausted
himself” in order to “restore defeated Germany to the ranks of the big powers”
and to guide the nation into a time of “political and economic stability” (pg. 119).
He had carried the weight of Germany on his shoulders and was perhaps the
greatest factor in its growth, improvement and stability. After his premature
death, a coalition by the name of ‘The Great Coalition’ was formed in 1923
consisting of four main democratic parties. The purpose of this coalition was
to unite the Social democrats with the DVP, the party that had been previously
led by Stresemann himself. Without his leadership and political skills, the
party was unable to work together in unison as they had done so previously and
thus began to separate due to opposing interests.

            In
a time of confusion and fear, a new Weimar government was formed. General Kurt
von Schleicher who was keen on the idea of ‘presidential governments’ governing
Germany toyed upon this new form of government. Schleicher’s plan was to
increase the power of the president by relying less on the legislative body and
more on the authority of the president in order to create a confident and
powerful leadership needed to stabilize the increasing pressure on Germany’s
economy. With the employment of Articles 25, 48 and 53, Schleicher was able to
construct his idea of presidential government. This ‘formula’ allowed for Paul
von Hindenburg, the then president of Germany, to appoint any individual as
Chancellor based on Schleicher’s choosing who would then rule under the demands
of Article 48 of the German constitution. Article 48 was a topic of much debate
and controversy as it allowed for emergency powers to be granted to the
president without the prior approval of the Reichstag. In an atmosphere crowded
by chaos and disorganisation, Heinrich Brüning was appointed Chancellor on March 28, 1930, and as
per plan, was personally chosen by Kurt von Schleicher. Brüning hoped to
alleviate Germany’s growing troubles by restoring balance to the government and
to “rescue the country from the growing slump and political chaos” (pg. 120). Unfortunately,
Brüning’s conscious efforts to restore Germany to its once noble rank was a
tragedy as he ironically “dug the grave for German democracy” (pg. 120), and unknowingly
“paved the way for the coming of Adolf Hitler” (pg. 120).

            After
failing to garner support from the majority of the Reichstag to approve his
expenditures in his financial program, Brüning invoked Article 48, allowing him
to use the emergency powers to self-approve his request. The Reichstag quickly
responded to his action by issuing a demand for a withdrawal. The government
was slowly collapsing at a time when it was needed most, and in an effort to
cushion the consequences, Brüning demanded the dissolution of the Reichstag and
ordered a new election to take place on the 14th of September 1930.

            The
years that followed were a time of havoc as the government had become unstable
and unreliable. Atmospheres of despair and fear settled in as the German people
were sceptical of the future of Germany and whether stability would ever be
brought to its economy and failing government. The death of Stresemann had left
a scar on German history as the government desperately sought to fill his shoes
with an appropriate leader who would mirror his success and bring glory back to
the German nation. A nation on its knees was a prime environment for Hitler and
his party who preyed and exploited its weakness, using their oratorical dynamic
to sway the people. “The climate was ripe for exploitation” (Bendersky, pg. 65).

Hitler jumped upon the opportunity
to exploit the weakness of the German government and began to recruit
unemployed citizens into his party. Using the airplane as his “tool” Hitler
began to sway the people with his enthusiastic and overpowering speeches, and
aimed to divert individuals who voted for the right-wing parties to his own. Using
a wave of mass propaganda, Hitler was able to instil the idea of hate towards
the government and promised to repair the damaged Germany had faced over the
years. Suffering from starvation, unemployment and lack of general welfare,
people ignored the pleas of the government and rushed to the seemingly
nourishing arms of the ‘perfect’ party.

 

Economic
state and The Great Depression

            The
German economy had struggled following the aftermath of World War I, however,
it became a national crisis when the failure of the referendum led to a
decrease in business activity.     By late
1929, 2 million German citizens remained unemployed. However, this increase in
unemployment was the least of Germany’s worries as on the 24th of
October 1929, the Wall Street stock market crashed. Often referred to as the
‘Great Crash’, the effect was disastrous on many industrialized nations, not
excluding Germany. A country built upon foreign loans, especially from the
United States, and tied down by reparation debts, was extremely vulnerable to
an economic collapse. Germany found themselves at the forefront of the crisis
as they were bombarded with demands of loan repayments while their exports
slowly decreased. The decrease in production resulted in German employees being
freed from the responsibilities of work and as businesses began to fail, the
unemployment statistics rose to a staggering 6 million by 1932. At the
epicentre of what was being termed as ‘The Great Depression’, “as many as 20
million people out of a population of 65 million were living on public
assistance” (Bendersky, pg. 60). As the atmosphere of anguish and desperation
set in, citizens began to lose hope in the Weimar republic creating a
“reservoir of discontentment that could be tapped by those offering radical
solutions” (pg. 60). Individuals began to turn away from the republic and began
to seek a path of “revolutionary action” (pg. 60). The Great Depression caused
mass panic, as individuals were flooded with reminders of the effects of the
hyperinflation Germany faced during the year of 1923. Concerned about a
potential mirroring effect of the hyperinflation, which left individuals
penniless, citizens began to lose hope in the republic.

            Hitler
idealised this situation as a prospect for extending his political grasp on
Germany and sprang into action alongside his party. The effects of the Great
Depression had caused a wedge between the various political parties, and
instead of maturely, sorting the matter out, the parties began to squabble. The
Nazi’s began to make a concentrated effort in recruiting those who had
experienced unemployment and began to steadily increase the party’s numbers. As
individuals were forced out into the streets of Germany and left to starve,
citizens were desperate to place blame on something. Some placed blame on the
Treaty of Versailles while others berated the Weimar republic for failing to
take action and finding a solution. As Germany began to grow restless, Hitler
and his party resorted to “fear tactics” (pg. 61) in order to recruit members.
The Nazi’s portrayed themselves as the sole group that were concerned for the
welfare of the German people and were willing to support and stand up for them.
This created a sense of trust and reliance amongst the German citizens and by
1932, the number of Nazi seats in the Reichstag rose from 12 to 230.

            With
the aid of the Young Plan, the Nazi Party had seen a greater balance in their
financial situation. As a result, they began to compete with other right wing
parties in an attempt to ‘capture’ their supporters. The party, which consisted
of highly trained orators, were unmatched in their energy and toyed with the
people’s distress and confusion. Aiding their eventual success in the
elections, the Nazi’s exploited the problems of larger political parties such
as the DNVP (Deutsch-Nationale Volkspartei), which sought to benefit
larger businesses. The Nazi party however, advertised their campaign as one
that would support the interests of the citizens or the “little man, whether he
be worker, middle class or, farmer” (pg. 34). In addition, they critiqued the previous
failures of the government and outlined their seemingly perfect party, one that
offered hope in what seemed a hopeless situation.

            As
frustration and fear increased, Hitler began to exploit the people’s weaknesses
as he began to realise that the decline in economy and the desperation of the
German people increased, they would be willing to accept any form of support,
even from the Nazi’s. Using this to his advantage, Hitler began advertising
promises of a stable government and a “new era of national rejuvenation and
economic recovery” (pg. 66). Hitler and his party began to exaggerate the
conditions under which the German people would reside if they chose to be led
by the republic, often aided by demonstrations on the streets, which led to
brutal violence among citizens. Witnessing such demonstrations and believing
the rhetoric spewed by the Nazi Party, middle class citizens began to believe
that the republic and other forms of government were incapable of leading the
people to success and eventual economic recovery and so began to turn towards
Hitler for help and support. Hitler and his party had adhered to their goal to
“polarize the country” and to force the middle class citizens into choosing
between supporting the right and the left. The Nazi’s decision to portray
themselves as “defenders” (pg. 67) of the German people and fighters against
the rise of Communism allowed them to toy with the mindsets of their supporters
and resulted in their eventual success in the federal elections of July 1932.
Having risen in the limelight, the federal election of 1932 was the last
election before World War II. Hitler’s decision to invoke the “Enabling Act”
gave him dictatorial abilities, which in turn allowed him the power to dissolve
all existing political parties and the Reichstag. This decision effectively
allowed Hitler to welcome his post as the sole ruler of Germany, a goal he had
envisioned since the beginning of his political campaign.

 

 

Conclusion

            Over
the years, the rise of the Nazi Party and their eventual control of the nation
of Germany had remained a debate between historians over the years. The effects
of Hitler’s rise to power and the popularity of the Nazi Party appealed to
historians in different lights, and often resulted in various interpretations
and perspectives. Of these historians, Mary Fulbrook accounted the success of
the NSDAP to a “combination of two discrete sets of factors; first, their
distinctive organisation and strategy; and secondly, the wider socio-economic
conditions which created climates of opinion and set of grievances on which the
Nazi’s could prey”. On the other hand, Sherree Owens Zalampas, another credible
historian, attributed the success to “Hitler’s theatricality” and his
“oratorical force” which “electrified large audiences”. Furthermore, Ian
Kershaw claimed that without the “changed conditions, the product of a lost
war, a revolution and a pervasive sense of national humiliation, Hitler would
have remained a nobody”. Though historians debate over the key factors, which
placed Hitler and his tyrant regime into power, many agree that the hostile
environment of Germany and the dynamic oratory of Hitler and his party allowed
for his success.

            Through
a detailed evaluation of the key reasons outlined in this paper, the effects of
propaganda techniques employed by the NSDAP were vital towards the party’s
elections. Though the influence of other key factors mention prior in this
paper were responsible for increasing the credibility, influence and power of
Hitler’s party, they would be meaningless without the use of powerful
propaganda which aided them. Though the Young Plan resulted in a major failure,
Hitler employed the use of fierce propaganda, which strengthened his reputation
amongst the nation and provided much needed national recognition. The people’s
fear of Communism and the collapse of the Weimar government was preyed upon by
the Nazi’s via the use of powerful propaganda, which attacked the emotions of
the people, ones who were already in a state of fear and despair. The events of
the Great Depression and the failing economy of Germany provided a stage for
Hitler to spew his rhetoric and propaganda, using the fears of the German
people to his advantage and securing their votes in favour of his party.

            The
use of aggressive propaganda was a primary reason for the successful elections
of 1932. Coupled with the successive failures of the economy and the overall
state of Germany, the NSDAP were exposed to an environment riddled with an
opportunity to succeed. Their key tool was their ability to sway the people and
provide hope to the hopeless, using their false promises and effective
propaganda techniques to lure the masses. The techniques were a form of
communication between the ‘everyday man’ and the party. It was due to their
ability to enforce such techniques that they were able to launch attacks on
their enemies, criticize those who opposed them and smartly relay their ideas
and plans to the public. Opposition failed to realise the perfect opportunity
had arisen to harbour the votes of the people in their favour, but it was
Hitler who recognised the ‘now or never’ situation and quickly acted upon it,
leading to his eventual success. Propaganda was the concrete base upon which
the Nazi ideologies were built upon; the Young Plan, the failure of the Weimar
republic, and the effects of the economic downfall of Germany were merely walls
that provided the strength that Hitler and the Nazi’s required to lead to their
eventual successes in July 1932.