Periodically over the last few months I've been dipping into a most fascinating historical exploration. I am in no hurry to finish it, which is why I am only on page 231 of William Shirer's massive 1200+ page Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. Despite my slowness, it is an intriguing read.
Here I learned of the almost comic “Beer Hall Putsch” where a young and fiery Hitler burst onto the view of Germany brandishing a pistol at a large beer hall and calling for a revolution in Germany. Bluffing that three government leaders he held hostage were in support of his putsch, Hitler garnered enough public support to throw the city of Munich into confusion. The next morning Hitler—still brandishing his pistol—marched through the streets of Munich with three thousand followers at his back.
But this revolution of November 1923 fell into the cracks of the pavement after a firefight with the police. Hitler fled as the rest of his Nazi cohorts scattered across the countryside and across Europe to avoid arrest. Most of them, including Hitler, were unable to avoid arrest, but Hitler turned even this dismal turn of events into a speaking platform for his movement. And after nine months in prison he was back on the street, feverishly polishing off the tarnish from his image.
While Hitler gave up his revolutionary aspirations after his arrest and imprisonment, his rise to absolute power was not entirely legal, and certainly not peaceful, although it was done with the consent of the German people. Hitler realized he must overthrow the German Republic from within so he began winning over the voting populace to the Nazi party. It was a long and seemingly impossible road for the once ridiculed Austrian Vagabond; yet ultimately, the blame for Hitler's rise to power rests with the German people. Even a year and a half after his appointment as Chancellor, when Hitler illegally combined the office of Chancellor and President into one Fuehrer, the German people were given one last chance to remove someone whose words and actions had clearly been leading the nation towards totalitarianism. William Shirer writes of Hitler's final grab for power:
“That the 'law' was illegal also made little difference in a Germany where the former Austrian corporal had now become the law itself. That it was illegal was obvious... But what mattered the law now? ...And the German people? On August 19 , some 95 per cent of those who had registered went to the polls, and 90 per cent, more than thirty-eight million of them, voted approval of Hitlers usurpation of complete power” (229-230).
Shirer goes on in astonishment to note:
“the overwhelming majority of Germans did not seem to mind that their personal freedom had been taken away, that so much of their culture had been destroyed and replaced with a mindless barbarism, or that their life and work had become regimented to a degree never before experienced even by a people accustomed for generations to a great deal of regimentation... a newly arrived observer was somewhat surprised to see that the people of this country did not seem to feel that they were being cowed and held down by an unscrupulous and brutal dictatorship. On the contrary, they supported it with genuine enthusiasm. Somehow it imbued them with a new hope and a new confidence and an astonishing faith in the future of their country” (231).
And what were the origins of this new “hope” and “faith in the future?” Much of it came from the writings of a neurotic Englishman named Houston Chamberlain, also known as “the father of Nazism.” Chamberlain, made no secret that he believed his once influential writings and thoughts were inspired from outside of himself by demons. Chamberlain looked on his writings with admiration, sometimes “unable to recognize them as his own work, because they surpassed his expectations” (105). Shirer writes:
“Once, in 1896, when he was returning from Italy, the presence of a demon became so forceful that he got off the train at Gardone, shut himself up in a hotel room for eight days and, abandoning some work on music that he had contemplated, wrote feverishly on a biological thesis until he had the germ of the theme that would dominate all of his later works: race and history” (105).
Needless to say, Chamberlain's views about the Aryans were not just racist, but also “shoddy” and preposterous (105-107); nevertheless, the early Nazi press heralded his writings as the “gospel of the Nazi movement” (109).
Seeing the outcome of such a hate-filled and racist “gospel” at the foundation of a government should make us thankful that the “gospel” at the foundation of the American government was, believe it or not, the Gospel; the good news of Jesus coming to reconcile man with God, and man with man. (For example, the most cited author of the American Founders was the apostle Paul.) As can be seen, an era so dark in the world's history, as the Nazi era was, did not come about through benign neighborly love. Its roots were demonic and its trunk a rejection of Jesus' command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. New York, Simon and Schuster. 1960