Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Understanding How Hitler Became German Helps Us Deal with Modern-Day Extremists

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Understanding How Hitler Became German Helps Us Deal with Modern-Day Extremists

Article excerpt

Understanding how Hitler became German helps us deal with modern-day extremists


This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.


Author: Klaus Meyer, Professor of International Business, Western University

The 80th anniversary of the beginning of the Second World War is approaching. It's important to understand how the conflict and the Holocaust could have happened -- and how we can prevent such atrocities from happening again.

As someone who specializes in international business, I know how rapidly ideas and ideologies can be transported globally. International business scholars are increasingly concerned with the possibility that economic nationalism will lead to deglobalization, reversing decades of economic growth.

This has spurred new debates on the potential consequences of economic nationalism and also examinations of the political processes that cause shifts from liberal democracies to more authoritarian governments. To better understand why countries may abandon liberal democracy, it's instructive to turn to history.

And so it's important to look back at how Adolf Hitler rose to power. Understanding 1930 to 1933 helps us better understand 1939 to 1945. And in an era of rising political extremism around the world, this period of history holds lessons important for the present.

Hitler's ascent involves conservative politicians sharing power with an extremist party and being outmanoeuvred. It features a university courageously resisting ministerial interference, but quickly falling in line when the new regime had cemented its power.

The role of Braunschweig

How the Nazis rose to power begins in Braunschweig, a small state in Germany.

Hitler had his mind firmly set on attaining political power in Germany. But he faced a problem: He did not have German citizenship -- in fact, he was a state-less immigrant living in Germany.

Hitler was born in Austria, moved to Munich in 1913 and revoked his Austrian citizenship in 1925 to avoid being extradited back to his native country. The normal path to German citizenship was cumbersome and uncertain -- and Hitler had a major criminal record, after all, due to his involvement in what's known as the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923.

The issue became urgent when Hitler wanted to run in the 1932 German presidential election. At the time, his party, the NSDAP (Nazi party) shared power in only one of the German states, the small northern free state of Braunschweig (known as Brunswick in English). Hitler therefore asked his party members in Braunschweig to get him citizenship.

Politics in the state of Braunschweig was more polarized than national politics. The state included a substantive urban working class, traditional small businesses and large rural districts. Nationally, German politics of the 1920s was characterized by a succession of multi-party governments bringing together social democrats (SPD) with parties of the centre and centre right.

In Braunschweig, the SPD governed as a majority from 1927 to 1930 under Prime Minister Heinrich Jasper. The centrist and centre-right parties and representatives of small businesses in the state formed an alliance. They viewed the SPD as their main opponent in the 1930 state election, and resented, among other things, the appointment of SPD members to positions in state administration, schools and the university.

Coalition with Nazis

When the SPD lost its majority in the election while the Nazis rose to third place, the alliance parties formed a coalition with Hitler's party. This coalition government gave the Nazi party the position of speaker of Parliament and minister of the interior.

The Nazis used these positions to effectively promote their interests, and despite various crises, the coalition held on until 1933. …

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