"We have the power. Now our gigantic work begins."
Those were Hitler's words on the night of January 30, 1933, as
cheering crowds surged past him, for five long hours, beneath the
windows of the Chancellery in Berlin.
His political struggle had lasted 14 years. He himself was 43, that
is, physically and intellectually at the peak of his powers. He had
won over millions of Germans and organized them into Germany's largest
and most dynamic political party, a party girded by a human rampart of
hundreds of thousands of storm troopers, three fourths of them members
of the working class. He had been extremely shrewd. All but toying
with his adversaries, Hitler had, one after another, vanquished them
Standing there at the window, his arm raised to the delirious throng,
he must have known a feeling of triumph. But he seemed almost torpid,
absorbed, as if lost in another world.
It was a world far removed from the delirium in the street, a world of
65 million citizens who loved him or hated him, but all of whom, from
that night on, had become his responsibility. And as he knew-as almost
all Germans knew on January 1933 -- that this was a crushing, an
almost desperate responsibility.
Half a century later, few people understand the crisis Germany faced
at that time. Today, it's easy to assume that Germans have always been
well-fed and even plump. But the Germans Hitler inherited were virtual
During the preceding years, a score of "democratic" governments had
come and gone, often in utter confusion. Instead of alleviating the
people's misery, they had increased it, due to their own instability:
it was impossible for them to pursue any given plan for more than a
year or two. Germany had arrived at a dead end. In just a few years
there had been 224,000 suicides - a horrifying figure, bespeaking a
state of misery even more horrifying.
By the beginning of 1933, the misery of the German people was
virtually universal. At least six million unemployed and hungry
workers roamed aimlessly through the streets, receiving a pitiful
unemployment benefit of less than 42 marks per month. Many of those
out of work had families to feed, so that altogether some 20 million
Germans, a third of the country's population, were reduced to trying
to survive on about 40 pfennigs per person per day.
Unemployment benefits, moreover, were limited to a period of six
months. After that came only the meager misery allowance dispensed by
the welfare offices.
Notwithstanding the gross inadequacy of this assistance, by trying to
save the six million unemployed from total destruction, even for just
six months, both the state and local branches of the German government
saw themselves brought to ruin: in 1932 alone such aid had swallowed
up four billion marks, 57 percent of the total tax revenues of the
federal government and the regional states. A good many German
municipalities were bankrupt.
Those still lucky enough to have some kind of job were not much better
off. Workers and employees had taken a cut of 25 percent in their
wages and salaries. Twenty-one percent of them were earning between
100 and 250 marks per month; 69.2 percent of them, in January of 1933,
were being paid less than 1,200 marks annually. No more than about
100,000 Germans, it was estimated, were able to live without financial
During the three years before Hitler came to power, total earnings had
fallen by more than half, from 23 billion marks to 11 billion. The
average per capita income had dropped from 1,187 marks in 1929 to 627
marks, a scarcely tolerable level, in 1932. By January 1933, when
Hitler took office, 90 percent of the German people were destitute.
No one escaped the strangling effects of the unemployment. The
intellectuals were hit as hard as the working class. Of the 135,000
university graduates, 60 percent were without jobs. Only a tiny
minority was receiving unemployment benefits.
"The others," wrote one foreign observer, Marcel Laloire (in his book
New Germany), "are dependent on their parents or are sleeping in
flophouses. In the daytime they can be seen on the boulevards of
Berlin wearing signs on their backs to the effect that they will
accept any kind of work."
But there was no longer any kind of work.
The same drastic fall-off had hit Germany's cottage industry, which
comprised some four million workers. Its turnover had declined 55
percent, with total sales plunging from 22 billion to 10 billion
Hardest hit of all were construction workers; 90 percent of them were
Farmers, too, had been ruined, crushed by losses amounting to 12
billion marks. Many had been forced to mortgage their homes and their
land. In 1932 just the interest on the loans they had incurred due to
the crash was equivalent to 20 percent of the value of the
agricultural production of the entire country. Those who were no
longer able to meet the interest payments saw their farms auctioned
off in legal proceedings: in the years 1931-1932, 17,157 farms-with a
combined total area of 462,485 hectares - were liquidated in this way.
The "democracy" of Germany's "Weimar Republic" (1918 -1933) had proven
utterly ineffective in addressing such flagrant wrongs as this
impoverishment of millions of farm workers, even though they were the
nation's most stable and hardest working citizens. Plundered,
dispossessed, abandoned: small wonder they heeded Hitler's call.
Their situation on January 30, 1933, was tragic. Like the rest of
Germany's working class, they had been betrayed by their political
leaders, reduced to the alternatives of miserable wages, paltry and
uncertain benefit payments, or the outright humiliation of begging.
Germany's industries, once renowned everywhere in the world, were no
longer prosperous, despite the millions of marks in gratuities that
the financial magnates felt obliged to pour into the coffers of the
parties in power before each election in order to secure their
cooperation. For 14 years the well-blinkered conservatives and
Christian democrats of the political center had been feeding at the
trough just as greedily as their adversaries of the left..
One inevitable consequence of this ever-increasing misery and
uncertainty about the future was an abrupt decline in the birthrate.
When your household savings are wiped out, and when you fear even
greater calamities in the days ahead, you do not risk adding to the
number of your dependents.
In those days the birth rate was a reliable barometer of a country's
prosperity. A child is a joy, unless you have nothing but a crust of
bread to put in its little hand. And that's just the way it was with
hundreds of thousands of German families in 1932..
Hitler knew that he would be starting from zero. From less than zero.
But he was also confident of his strength of will to create Germany
anew-politically, socially, financially, and economically. Now legally
and officially in power, he was sure that he could quickly convert
that cipher into a Germany more powerful than ever before.
What support did he have?
For one thing, he could count on the absolute support of millions of
fanatical disciples. And on that January evening, they joyfully shared
in the great thrill of victory. Some thirteen million Germans, many of
them former Socialists and Communists, had voted for his party.
But millions of Germans were still his adversaries, disconcerted
adversaries, to be sure, whom their own political parties had
betrayed, but who had still not been won over to National Socialism.
The two sides-those for and those against Hitler-were very nearly
equal in numbers. But whereas those on the left were divided among
themselves, Hitler's disciples were strongly united. And in one thing
above all, the National Socialists had an incomparable advantage: in
their convictions and in their total faith in a leader. Their highly
organized and well-disciplined party had contented with the worst kind
of obstacles, and had overcome them..
In the eyes of the capitalists, money was the sole active element in
the flourishing of a country's economy. To Hitler's way of thinking,
that conception was radically wrong: capital, on the contrary, was
only an instrument. Work was the essential element: man's endeavor,
man's honor, blood, muscles and soul.
Hitler wanted not just to put an to the class struggle, but to
reestablish the priority of the human being, in justice and respect,
as the principal factor in production..
For the worker's trust in the fatherland to be restored, he had to
feel that from now on he was to be (and to be treated) as an equal,
instead of remaining a social inferior. Under the governments of the
so-called democratic parties of both the left and the right, he had
remained an inferior; for none of them had understood that in the
hierarchy of national values, work is the very essence of life; ..
The objective, then, was far greater than merely getting six million
unemployed back to work. It was to achieve a total revolution.
"The people," Hitler declared, "were not put here on earth for the
sake of the economy, and the economy doesn't exist for the sake of
capital. On the contrary, capital is meant to serve the economy, and
the economy in turn to serve the people."
It would not be enough merely to reopen the thousands of closed
factories and fill them with workers. If the old concepts still ruled,
the workers would once again be nothing more than living machines,
faceless and interchangeable..
Nowhere in twentieth-century Europe had the authority of a head of
state ever been based on such overwhelming and freely given national
consent. Prior to Hitler, from 1919 to 1932, those governments piously
styling themselves democratic had usually come to power by meager
majorities, sometimes as low as 51 or 52 percent.
"I am not a dictator," Hitler had often affirmed, "and I never will
be. Democracy will be rigorously enforced by National Socialism."
Authority does not mean tyranny. A tyrant is someone who puts himself
in power without the will of the people or against the will of the
people. A democrat is placed in power by the people. But democracy is
not limited to a single formula. It may be partisan or parliamentary.
Or it may be authoritarian. The important thing is that the people
have wished it, chosen it, established it in its given form.
That was the case with Hitler. He came to power in an essentially
democratic way. Whether one likes it or not, this fact is undeniable.
And after coming to power, his popular support measurably increased
from year to year. The more intelligent and honest of his enemies have
been obliged to admit this, men such as the declared anti-Nazi
historian and professor Joachim Fest, who wrote:
For Hitler was never interested in establishing a mere tyranny. Sheer
greed for power will not suffice as explanation for his personality
and energy-He was not born to be a mere tyrant. He was fixated upon
his mission of defending Europe and the Aryan race ... Never had he
felt so dependent upon the masses as he did at this time, and he
watched their reactions with anxious concern.
These lines weren't written by Dr. Goebbels, but by a stern critic of
Hitler and his career..
When it came time to vote, Hitler was granted plenary powers with a
sweeping majority of 441 votes to 94: he had won not just two thirds,
but 82.44 percent of the assembly's votes. This "Enabling Act" granted
Hitler for four years virtually absolute authority over the
legislative as well as the executive affairs of the government..
After 1945 the explanation that was routinely offered for all this was
that the Germans had lost their heads. Whatever the case, it is a
historical fact that they acted of their own free will. Far from being
resigned, they were enthusiastic. "For the first time since the last
days of the monarchy," historian Joachim Fest has conceded, "the
majority of the Germans now had the feeling that they could identify
with the state."..
"You talk about persecution!" he thundered in an impromptu response to
an address by the Social Democratic speaker. "I think that there are
only a few of us [in our party] here who did not have to suffer
persecutions in prison from your side ... You seem to have totally
forgotten that for years our shirts were ripped off our backs because
you did not like the color . . . We have outgrown your persecutions!"
"In those days," he scathingly continued, "our newspapers were banned
and banned and again banned, our meetings were forbidden, and we were
forbidden to speak, I was forbidden to speak, for years on. And now
you say that criticism is salutary!"..
Hitler's millions of followers had rediscovered the primal strength of
rough, uncitified man, of a time when men still had backbone..
Gustav Noske, the lumberjack who became defense minister - and the
most valiant defender of the embattled republic in the tumultuous
months immediately following the collapse of 1918 - acknowledged
honestly in 1944, when the Third Reich was already rapidly breaking
down, that the great majority of the German people still remained true
to Hitler because of the social renewal he had brought to the working
Here again, well before the collapse of party-ridden Weimar Republic,
disillusion with the unions had become widespread among the working
masses. They were starving. The hundreds of Socialist and Communist
deputies stood idly by, impotent to provide any meaningful help to the
Their leaders had no proposals to remedy, even partially, the great
distress of the people; no plans for large-scale public works, no
industrial restructuring, no search for markets abroad.
Moreover, they offered no energetic resistance to the pillaging by
foreign countries of the Reich's last financial resources: this a
consequence of the Treaty of Versailles that the German Socialists had
voted to ratify in June of 1919, and which they had never since had
the courage effectively to oppose..
In 1930, 1931 and 1932, German workers had watched the disaster grow:
the number of unemployed rose from two million to three, to four, to
five, then to six million. At the same time, unemployment benefits
fell lower and lower, finally to disappear completely. Everywhere one
saw dejection and privation: emaciated mothers, children wasting away
in sordid lodgings, and thousands of beggars in long sad lines.
The failure, or incapacity, of the leftist leaders to act, not to
mention their insensitivity, had stupefied the working class. Of what
use were such leaders with their empty heads and empty hearts-and,
often enough, full pockets?
Well before January 30, thousands of workers had already joined up
with Hitler's dynamic formations, which were always hard at it where
they were most needed. Many joined the National Socialists when they
went on strike. Hitler, himself a former worker and a plain man like
themselves, was determined to eliminate unemployment root and branch.
He wanted not merely to defend the laborer's right to work, but to
make his calling one of honor, to insure him respect and to integrate
him fully into a living community of all the Germans, who had been
divided class against class.
In January 1933, Hitler's victorious troops were already largely
proletarian in character, including numerous hardfisted street
brawlers, many unemployed, who no longer counted economically or
Meanwhile, membership in the Marxist labor unions had fallen off
enormously: among thirteen million socialist and Communist voters in
1932, no more than five million were union members. Indifference and
discouragement had reached such levels that many members no longer
paid their union dues. Many increasingly dispirited Marxist leaders
began to wonder if perhaps the millions of deserters were the ones who
saw things clearly. Soon they wouldn't wonder any longer.
Even before Hitler won Reichstag backing for his "Enabling Act,"
Germany's giant labor union federation, the ADGB, had begun to rally
to the National Socialist cause. As historian Joachim Fest
acknowledged: "On March 20, the labor federation's executive committee
addressed a kind of declaration of loyalty to Hitler." (J. Fest,
Hitler, p. 413.)
Hitler than took a bold and clever step. The unions had always
clamored to have the First of May recognized as a worker's holiday,
but the Weimar Republic had never acceded to their request. Hitler,
never missing an opportunity, grasped this one with both hands. He did
more than grant this reasonable demand: he proclaimed the First of May
a national holiday..
I myself attended the memorable meeting at the Tempelhof field in
1933. By nine o'clock that morning, giant columns, some of workers,
others of youth groups, marching in cadence down the pavement of
Berlin's great avenues, had started off towards the airfield to which
Hitler had called together all Germans. All Germany would follow the
rally as it was transmitted nationwide by radio..
In the dark, a group of determined opponents could easily have heckled
Hitler or otherwise sabotaged the meeting. Perhaps a third of the
onlookers had been Socialists or Communists only three months
previously. But not a single hostile voice was raised during the
entire ceremony. There was only universal acclamation.
Ceremony is the right word for it. It was an almost magical rite.
Hitler and Goebbels had no equals in the arranging of dedicatory
ceremonies of this sort. First there were popular songs, then great
Wagnerian hymns to grip the audience. Germany has a passion for
orchestral music, and Wagner taps the deepest and most secret vein of
the German soul, its romanticism, its inborn sense of the powerful and
Meanwhile the hundreds of flags floated above the rostrum, redeemed
from the darkness by arrows of light.
Now Hitler strode to the rostrum. For those standing at the of the
field, his face must have appeared vanishingly small, but his words
flooded instantaneously across the acres of people in his audience.
A Latin audience would have preferred a voice less harsh, more
delicately expressive. But there was no doubt that Hitler spoke to the
psyche of the German people.
Germans have rarely had the good fortune to experience the enchantment
of the spoken word. In Germany, the tone has always been set by
ponderous speakers, more fond of elephantine pedantry than oratorical
passion. Hitler, as a speaker, was a prodigy, the greatest orator of
his century. He possessed, above all, what the ordinary speaker lacks:
a mysterious ability to project power.
A bit like a medium or sorcerer, he was seized, even transfixed, as he
addressed a crowd. It responded to Hitler's projection of power,
radiating it back, establishing, in the course of myriad exchanges, a
current that both orator and audience gave to and drew from equally.
One had to personally experience him speaking to understand this
This special gift is what lay at the basis of Hitler's ability to win
over the masses. His high-voltage, lightning-like projection
transported and transformed all who experienced it. Tens of millions
were enlightened, riveted and inflamed by the fire of his anger,
irony, and passion.
By the time the cheering died away that May first evening, hundreds of
thousands of previously indifferent or even hostile workers who had
come to Tempelhof at the urging of their labor federation leaders were
now won over. They had become followers, like the SA stormtroopers
whom so many there that evening had brawled with in recent years.
The great human sea surged back from Tempelhof to Berlin. A million
and a half people had arrived in perfect order, and their departure
was just as orderly. No bottlenecks halted the cars and busses. For
those of us who witnessed it, this rigorous, yet joyful, discipline of
a contented people was in itself a source of wonder. Everything about
the May Day mass meeting had come off as smoothly clockwork.
The memory of that fabulous crowd thronging back to the center of
Berlin will never leave me. A great many were on foot. Their faces
were now different faces, as though they had been imbued with a
strange and totally new spirit. The non-Germans in the crowd were as
if stunned, and no less impressed than Hitler's fellow countrymen.
The French ambassador, André François-Poncet, noted:
The foreigners on the speaker's platform as guests of honor were not
alone in carrying away the impression of a truly beautiful and
wonderful public festival, an impression that was created by the
regime's genius for organization, by the night time display of
uniforms, by the play of lights, the rhythm of the music, by the flags
and the colorful fireworks; and they were not alone in thinking that a
breath of reconciliation and unity was passing over the Third Reich.
"It is our wish," Hitler had exclaimed, as though taking heaven as his
witness, "to get along together and to struggle together as brothers,
so that at the hour when we shall come before God, we might say to
him: 'See, Lord, we have changed. The German people are no longer a
people ashamed, a people mean and cowardly and divided. No, Lord! The
German people have become strong in their spirit, in their will, in
their perseverance, in their acceptance of any sacrifice. Lord, we
remain faithful to Thee! Bless our struggle!" (A. François-Poncet,
Souvenirs d'une ambassade à Berlin, p. 128.)
Who else could have made such an incantatory appeal without making
himself look ridiculous?
No politician had ever spoken of the rights of workers with such faith
and such force, or had laid out in such clear terms the social plan he
pledged to carry out on behalf of the common people.
The next day, the newspaper of the proletarian left, the "Union
Journal," reported on this mass meeting at which at least two thirds-a
million-of those attending were workers. "This May First was victory
day," the paper summed up.
With the workers thus won over, what further need was there for the
thousands of labor union locals that for so long had poisoned the
social life of the Reich and which, in any case, had accomplished
nothing of a lasting, positive nature?
Within hours of the conclusion of that "victory" meeting at the
Tempelhof field, the National Socialists were able to peacefully take
complete control of Germany's entire labor union organization,
including all its buildings, enterprises and banks. An era of Marxist
obstruction abruptly came to an end : from now on, a single national
organization would embody the collective will and interests of all of
Although he was now well on his way to creating what he pledged would
be a true "government of the people," Hitler also realized that great
obstacles remained. For one thing, the Communist rulers in Moscow had
not dropped their guard-or their guns. Restoring the nation would take
more than words and promises, it would take solid achievements. Only
then would the enthusiasm shown by the working class at the May First
mass meeting be an expression of lasting victory.
How could Hitler solve the great problem that had defied solution by
everyone else (both in Germany and abroad): putting millions of
unemployed back to work?
What would Hitler do about wages? Working hours? Leisure time?
Housing? How would he succeed in winning, at long last, respect for
the rights and dignity of the worker?
How could men's lives be improved-materially, morally, and, one might
even say, spiritually? How would he proceed to build a new society fit
for human beings, free of the inertia, injustices and prejudices of
"National Socialism," Hitler had declared at the outset, "has its
mission and its hour; it is not just a passing movement but a phase of
The instruments of real power now in his hands-an authoritarian state,
its provinces subordinate but nonetheless organic parts of the
national whole-Hitler had acted quickly to shake himself free of the
last constraints of the impotent sectarian political parties.
Moreover, he was now able to direct a cohesive labor force that was no
longer split into a thousand rivulets but flowed as a single, mighty
Hitler was self-confident, sure of the power of his own conviction. He
had no intention, or need, to resort to the use of physical force.
Instead, he intended to win over, one by one, the millions of Germans
who were still his adversaries, and even those who still hated him.
His conquest of Germany had taken years of careful planning and hard
work. Similarly, he would now realize his carefully worked out plans
for transforming the state and society. This meant not merely changes
in administrative or governmental structures, but far-reaching social
He had once vowed: "The hour will come when the 15 million people who
now hate us will be solidly behind us and will acclaim with us the new
revival we shall create together." Eventually he would succeed in
winning over even many of his most refractory skeptics and
His army of converts was already forming ranks. In a remarkable
tribute, historian Joachim Fest felt obliged to acknowledge
Hitler had moved rapidly from the status of a demagogue to that of a
respected statesman. The craving to join the ranks of the victors was
spreading like an epidemic, and the shrunken minority of those who
resisted the urge were being visibly pushed into isolation-The past
was dead. The future, it seemed, belonged to the regime, which had
more and more followers, which was being hailed everywhere and
suddenly had sound reasons on its side.
And even the prominent leftist writer Kurt Tucholsky, sensing the
direction of the inexorable tide that was sweeping Germany, vividly
commented: "You don't go railing against the ocean." (J. Fest, Hitler,
pp. 415 f.)
"Our power," Hitler was now able to declare, "no longer belongs to any
territorial fraction of the Reich, nor to any single class of the
nation, but to the people in its totality."
Much still remained to be done, however. So far, Hitler had succeeded
in clearing the way of obstacles to his program. Now the time to build
So many others had failed to tackle the many daunting problems that
were now his responsibility. Above all, the nation demanded a solution
to the great problem of unemployment. Could Hitler now succeed where
others had so dismally failed?..
Unemployment could be combated and eliminated only by giving industry
the financial means to start up anew, to modernize, thus creating
millions of new jobs.
The normal rate of consumption would not be restored, let alone
increased, unless one first raised the starvation-level allowances
that were making purchases of any kind a virtual impossibility. On the
contrary, production and sales would have to be restored before the
six million unemployed could once again become purchasers.
The great economic depression could be overcome only by restimulating
industry, by bringing industry into step with the times, and by
promoting the development of new products..
Nearly ten years earlier, while in his prison cell, Hitler had already
envisioned a formidable system of national highways. He had also
conceived of a small, easily affordable automobile (later known as the
"Volkswagen"), and had even suggested its outline. It should have the
shape of a June bug, he proposed. Nature itself suggested the car's
Until Hitler came to power, a car was the privilege of the rich. It
was not financially within the reach of the middle class, much less of
the worker. The "Volkswagen," costing one-tenth as much as the
standard automobile of earlier years, would eventually become a
popular work vehicle and a source of pleasure after work: a way to
unwind and get some fresh air, and of discovering, thanks to the new
Autobahn highway network, a magnificent country that then, in its
totality, was virtually unknown to the German worker.
From the beginning, Hitler wanted this economical new car to be built
for the millions. The production works would also become one of
Germany's most important industrial centers and employers.
During his imprisonment, Hitler had also drawn up plans for the
construction of popular housing developments and majestic public
Some of Hitler's rough sketches still survive. They include groups of
individual worker's houses with their own gardens (which were to be
built in the hundreds of thousands), a plan for a covered stadium in
Berlin, and a vast congress hall, unlike any other in the world, that
would symbolize the grandeur of the National Socialist revolution.
"A building with a monumental dome," historian Werner Maser has
explained, "the plan of which he drew while he was writing Mein Kampf,
would have a span of 46 meters, a height of 220 meters, a diameter of
250 meters, and a capacity of 150 to 190 thousand people standing. The
interior of the building would have been 17 times larger than Saint
Peter's Cathedral in Rome." (W. Maser, Hitler, Adolf, p. 100.)
"That hall," architect Albert Speer has pointed out, "was not just an
idle dream impossible of achievement."
Hitler's imagination, therefore, had long been teeming with a number
of ambitious projects, many of which would eventually be realized.
Fortunately, the needed entrepreneurs, managers and technicians were
on hand. Hitler would not have to improvise.
Historian Werner Maser, although quite anti-Hitler-like nearly all of
his colleagues (how else would they have found publishers?) - has
acknowledged: "From the beginning of his political career, he [Hitler]
took great pains systematically to arrange for whatever he was going
to need in order to carry out his plans."
"Hitler was distinguished," Maser has also noted, "by an exceptional
intelligence in technical matters." Hitler had acquired his knowledge
by devoting many thousands of hours to technical studies from the time
of his youth.
"Hitler read an endless number of books," explained Dr. Schacht. "He
acquired a very considerable amount of knowledge and made masterful
use of it in discussions and speeches. In certain respects he was a
man endowed with genius. He had ideas that no one else would ever have
thought of, ideas that resulted in the ending of great difficulties,
sometimes by measures of an astonishing simplicity or brutality."
Many billions of marks would be needed to begin the great
socioeconomic revolution that was destined, as Hitler had always
intended, to make Germany once again the European leader in industry
and commerce and, most urgently, to rapidly wipe out unemployment in
Germany. Where would the money be found? And, once obtained, how would
these funds be allotted to ensure maximum effectiveness in their
Hitler was by no means a dictator in matters of the economy. He was,
rather, a stimulator. His government would undertake to do only that
which private initiative could not.
Hitler believed in the importance of individual creative imagination
and dynamism, in the need for every person of superior ability and
skill to assume responsibility.
He also recognized the importance of the profit motive. Deprived of
the prospect of having his efforts rewarded, the person of ability
often refrains from running risks. The economic failure of Communism
has demonstrated this. In the absence of personal incentives and the
opportunity for real individual initiative, the Soviet "command
economy" lagged in all but a few fields, its industry years behind its
State monopoly tolls the death of all initiative, and hence of all
For all men selflessly to pool their wealth might be marvelous, but it
is also contrary to human nature. Nearly every man desires that his
labor shall improve his own condition and that of his family, and
feels that his brain, creative imagination, and persistence well
deserve their reward.
Because it disregarded these basic psychological truths, Soviet
Communism, right to the end, wallowed in economic mediocrity, in spite
of its immense reservoir of manpower, its technical expertise, and its
abundant natural resources, all of which ought to have made it an
industrial and technological giant.
Hitler was always adverse to the idea of state management of the
economy. He believed in elites. "A single idea of genius," he used to
say, "has more value than a lifetime of conscientious labor in an
Just as there are political or intellectual elites, so also is there
an industrial elite. A manufacturer of great ability should not be
restrained, hunted down by the internal revenue services like a
criminal, or be unappreciated by the public. On the contrary, it is
important for economic development that the industrialist be
encouraged morally and materially, as much as possible.
The most fruitful initiatives Hitler would take from 1933 on would be
on behalf of private enterprise. He would keep an eye on the quality
of their directors, to be sure, and would shunt aside incompetents,
quite a few of them at times, but he also supported the best ones,
those with the keenest minds, the most imaginative and bold, even if
their political opinions did not always agree with his own.
"There is no question," he stated very firmly, "of dismissing a
factory owner or director under the pretext that he is not a National
Hitler would exercise the same moderation, the same pragmatism, in the
administrative as well as in the industrial sphere.
What he demanded of his co-workers, above all, was competence and
effectiveness. The great majority of Third Reich functionaries - some
80 percent-were never enrolled in the National Socialist party.
Several of Hitler's ministers, like Konstantin von Neurath and
Schwerin von Krosigk, and ambassadors to such key posts as Prague,
Vienna and Ankara, were not members of the party. But they were
"Herr Schacht," he said, "we are assuredly in agreement on one point:
no other single task facing the government at the moment can be so
truly urgent as conquering unemployment. That will take a lot of
money. Do you see any possibility of finding it apart from the
Reichsbank?" And after a moment, he added: "How much would it take? Do
you have any idea?"
Wishing to win Schacht over by appealing to his ambition, Hitler
smiled and then asked: "Would you be willing to once again assume
presidency of the Reichsbank?" Schacht let on that he had a
sentimental concern for Dr. Luther, and did not want to hurt the
incumbent's feelings. Playing along, Hitler reassured Schacht that he
would find an appropriate new job elsewhere for Luther.
Schacht then pricked up his ears, drew himself up, and focused his big
round eyes on Hitler: "Well, if that's the way it is," he said, "then
I am ready to assume the presidency of the Reichsbank again."
His great dream was being realized. Schacht had been president of the
Reichsbank between 1923 and 1930, but had been dismissed. Now he would
return in triumph. He felt vindicated. Within weeks, the ingenious
solution to Germany's pressing financial woes would burst forth from
his inventive brain.
"It was necessary," Schacht later explained, "to discover a method
that would avoid inflating the investment holdings of the Reichsbank
immoderately and consequently increasing the circulation of money
"Therefore," he went on, "I had to find some means of getting the sums
that were lying idle in pockets and banks, without meaning for it to
be long term and without having it undergo the risk of depreciation.
That was the reasoning behind the Mefo bonds."
What were these "Mefo" bonds? Mefo was a contraction of the
Metallurgische Forschungs-GmbH (Metallurgic Research Company). With a
startup capitalization of one billion marks - which Hitler and Schacht
arranged to be provided by the four giant firms of Krupp, Siemens,
Deutsche Werke and Rheinmetall-this company would eventually promote
many billions of marks worth of investment.
Enterprises, old and new, that filled government orders had only to
draw drafts on Mefo for the amounts due. These drafts, when presented
to the Reichsbank, were immediately convertible into cash. The success
of the Mefo program depended entirely on public acceptance of the Mefo
bonds. But the wily Schacht had planned well. Since Mefo bonds were
short-term bonds that could be cashed in at any time, there was no
real risk in buying, accepting or holding them. They bore an interest
of four percent-a quite acceptable figure in those days-whereas
banknotes hidden under the mattress earned nothing. The public quickly
took all this into consideration and eagerly accepted the bonds.
While the Reichsbank was able to offer from its own treasury a
relatively insignificant 150 million marks for Hitler's war on
unemployment, in just four years the German public subscribed more
than 12 billion marks worth of Mefo bonds!
These billions, the fruit of the combined imagination, ingenuity and
astuteness of Hitler and Schacht, swept away the temporizing and
fearful conservatism of the bankers. Over the next four years, this
enormous credit reserve would make miracles possible.
Soon after the initial billion-mark credit, Schacht added another
credit of 600 million in order to finance the start of Hitler's grand
program for highway construction. This Autobahn program provided
immediate work for 100,000 of the unemployed, and eventually assured
wages for some 500,000 workers.
As large as this outlay was, it was immediately offset by a
corresponding cutback in government unemployment benefits, and by the
additional tax revenue generated as a result of the increase in living
standard (sping) of the newly employed.
Within a few months, thanks to the credit created by the Mefo bonds,
private industry once again dared to assume risks and expand. Germans
returned to work by the hundreds of thousands.
Was Schacht solely responsible for this extraordinary turnaround?
After the war, he answered for himself as a Nuremberg Tribunal
defendant, where he was charged with having made possible the Reich's
I don't think Hitler was reduced to begging for my help. If I had not
served him, he would have found other methods, other means. He was not
a man to give up. It's easy enough for you to say, Mr. Prosecutor,
that I should have watched Hitler die and not lifted a finger. But the
entire working class would have died with him!
Even Marxists recognized Hitler's success, and their own failure. In
the June 1934 issue of the Zeitschrift für Sozialismus, the journal of
the German Social Democrats in exile, this acknowledgement appears:
Faced with the despair of proletarians reduced to joblessness, of
young people with diplomas and no future, of the middle classes of
merchants and artisans condemned to bankruptcy, and of farmers
terribly threatened by the collapse in agricultural prices, we all
failed. We weren't capable of offering the masses anything but
speeches about the glory of socialism.
VI. The Social Revolution
Hitler's tremendous social achievement in putting Germany's six
million unemployed back to work is seldom acknowledged today. Although
it was much more than a transitory achievement, "democratic"
historians routinely dismiss it in just a few lines. Since 1945, not a
single objective scholarly study has been devoted to this highly
significant, indeed unprecedented, historical phenomenon.
Similarly neglected is the body of sweeping reforms that dramatically
changed the condition of the worker in Germany. Factories were
transformed from gloomy caverns to spacious and healthy work centers,
with natural lighting, surrounded by gardens and playing fields.
Hundreds of thousands of attractive houses were built for working
class families. A policy of several weeks of paid vacation was
introduced, along with week and holiday trips by land and sea. A
wide-ranging program of physical and cultural education for young
workers was established, with the world's best system of technical
training. The Third Reich's social security and workers' health
insurance system was the world's most modern and complete.
This remarkable record of social achievement is routinely hushed up
today because it is embarrasses those who uphold the orthodox view of
the Third Reich. Otherwise, readers might begin to think that perhaps
Hitler was the greatest social builder of the twentieth century..
Nevertheless, restoring work and bread to millions of unemployed who
had been living in misery for years; restructuring industrial life;
conceiving and establishing an organization for the effective defense
and betterment of the nation's millions of wage earners; creating a
new bureaucracy and judicial system that guaranteed the civic rights
of each member of the national community, while simultaneously holding
each person to his or her responsibilities as a German citizen: this
organic body of reforms was part of a single, comprehensive plan,
which Hitler had conceived and worked out years earlier.
Without this plan, the nation would have collapsed into anarchy.
All-encompassing, this program included broad industrial recovery as
well as detailed attention to even construction of comfortable inns
along the new highway network.
It took several years for a stable social structure to emerge from the
French Revolution. The Soviets needed even more time: five years after
the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, hundreds of thousands of Russians
were still dying of hunger and disease. In Germany, by contrast, the
great machinery was in motion within months, with organization and
accomplishment quickly meshing together..
Hitler personally dug the first spadeful of earth for the first
Autobahn highway, linking Frankfurt-am-Main with Darmstadt. For the
occasion, he brought along Dr. Schacht, the man whose visionary credit
wizardry had made the project possible. The official procession moved
ahead, three cars abreast in front, then six across, spanning the
entire width of the autobahn..
Hitler's plan to build thousands of low-cost homes also demanded a
vast mobilization of manpower. He had envisioned housing that would be
attractive, cozy, and affordable for millions of ordinary German
working-class families. He had no intention of continuing to tolerate,
as his predecessors had, cramped, ugly "rabbit warren" housing for the
German people. The great barracks-like housing projects on the
outskirts of factory towns, packed with cramped families, disgusted
The greater part of the houses he would build were single story,
detached dwellings, with small yards where children could romp, wives
could grow vegetable and flower gardens, while the bread-winners could
read their newspapers in peace after the day's work. These
single-family homes were built to conform to the architectural styles
of the various German regions, retaining as much as possible the
charming local variants.
Wherever there was no practical alternative to building large
apartment complexes, Hitler saw to it that the individual apartments
were spacious, airy and enhanced by surrounding lawns and gardens
where the children could play safely.
The new housing was, of course, built in conformity with the highest
standards of public health, a consideration notoriously neglected in
previous working-class projects.
Generous loans, amortizable in ten years, were granted to newly
married couples so they could buy their own homes. At the birth of
each child, a fourth of the debt was cancelled. Four children, at the
normal rate of a new arrival every two and a half years, sufficed to
cancel the entire loan debt.
Once, during a conversation with Hitler, I expressed my astonishment
at this policy. "But then, you never get back the total amount of your
loans?," I asked. "How so?" he replied, smiling. "Over a period of ten
years, a family with four children brings in much more than our loans,
through the taxes levied on a hundred different items of consumption."
As it happened, tax revenues increased every year, in proportion to
the rise in expenditures for Hitler's social programs. In just a few
years, revenue from taxes tripled. Hitler's Germany never experienced
a financial crisis.
To stimulate the moribund economy demanded the nerve, which Hitler
had, to invest money that the government didn't yet have, rather than
passively waiting-in accordance with "sound" financial principles-for
the economy to revive by itself.
Today, our whole era is dying economically because we have succumbed
to fearful hesitation. Enrichment follows investment, not the other
Even before the year 1933 had ended, Hitler had succeeded in building
202,119 housing units. Within four years he would provide the German
people with nearly a million and a half (1,458,128) new dwellings!
Moreover, workers would no longer be exploited as they had been. A
month's rent for a worker could not exceed 26 marks, or about an
eighth of the average wage then. Employees with more substantial
salaries paid monthly rents of up to 45 marks maximum.
Equally effective social measures were taken in behalf of farmers, who
had the lowest incomes. In 1933 alone 17,611 new farm houses were
built, each of them surrounded by a parcel of land one thousand square
meters in size. Within three years, Hitler would build 91,000 such
Everywhere industry was hiring again, with some firms-like Krupp, IG
Farben and the large automobile manufacturers-taking on new workers on
a very large scale. As the country became more prosperous, car sales
increased by more than 80,000 units in 1933 alone. Employment in the
auto industry doubled. Germany was gearing up for full production,
with private industry leading the way.
The new government lavished every assistance on the private sector,
the chief factor in employment as well as production. Hitler almost
immediately made available 500 million marks in credits to private
This start-up assistance given to German industry would repay itself
many times over. Soon enough, another two billion marks would be
loaned to the most enterprising companies. Nearly half would go into
new wages and salaries, saving the treasury an estimated three hundred
million marks in unemployment benefits. Added to the hundreds of
millions in tax receipts spurred by the business recovery, the state
quickly recovered its investment, and more.
Hitler's entire economic policy would be based on the following
equation: risk large sums to undertake great public works and to spur
the renewal and modernization of industry, then later recover the
billions invested through invisible and painless tax revenues. It
didn't take long for Germany to see the results of Hitler's recovery
Economic recovery, as important as it was, nevertheless wasn't
Hitler's only objective. As he strived to restore full employment,
Hitler never lost sight of his goal of creating a organization
powerful enough to stand up to capitalist owners and managers, who had
shown little concern for the health and welfare of the entire national
Hitler would impose on everyone-powerful boss and lowly wage earner
alike-his own concept of the organic social community. Only the loyal
collaboration of everyone could assure the prosperity of all classes
and social groups.
Consistent with their doctrine, Germany's Marxist leaders had set
class against class, helping to bring the country to the brink of
economic collapse. Deserting their Marxist unions and political
parties in droves, most workers had come to realize that strikes and
grievances their leaders incited only crippled production, and thus
the workers as well.
By the of 1932, in any case, the discredited labor unions were
drowning in massive debt that realistically could never be repaid.
Some of the less scrupulous union officials, sensing the oncoming
catastrophe, had begun stealing hundreds of thousands of marks from
the workers they represented. The Marxist leaders had failed:
socially, financially and morally.
Every joint human activity requires a leader. The head of a factory or
business is also the person naturally responsible for it. He oversees
every aspect of production and work. In Hitler's Germany, the head of
a business had to be both a capable director and a person concerned
for the social justice and welfare of his employees. Under Hitler,
many owners and managers who had proven to be unjust, incompetent or
recalcitrant lost their jobs, or their businesses.
A considerable number of legal guarantees protected the worker against
any abuse of authority at the workplace. Their purpose was to insure
that the rights of workers were respected, and that workers were
treated as worthy collaborators, not just as animated tools. Each
industrialist was legally obliged to collaborate with worker delegates
in drafting shop regulations that were not imposed from above but
instead adapted to each business enterprise and its particular working
conditions. These regulations had to specify "the length of the
working day, the time and method of paying wages, and the safety
rules, and to be posted throughout the factory," within easy access of
both the worker whose interests might be angered and the owner or
manager whose orders might be subverted.
The thousands of different, individual versions of such regulations
served to create a healthy rivalry, with every factory group vying to
outdo the others in efficiency and justice.
One of the first reforms to benefit German workers was the
establishment of paid vacations. In France, the leftist Popular Front
government would noisily claim, in 1936, to have originated legally
mandated paid vacations-and stingy ones at that, only one week per
year. But it was actually Hitler who first established them, in 1933
-- and they were two or three times more generous.
Under Hitler, every factory employee had the legal right to paid
vacation. Previously, paid vacations had not normally exceed four or
five days, and nearly half of the younger workers had no vacation time
at all. If anything, Hitler favored younger workers; the youngest
workers received more generous vacations. This was humane and made
sense: a young person has more need of rest and fresh air to develop
his maturing strength and vigor. Thus, they enjoyed a full 18 days of
paid vacation per year.
Today, more than half a century later, these figures have been
surpassed, but in 1933 they far exceeded European norms.
The standard vacation was twelve days. Then, from the age of 25 on, it
went up to 18 days. After ten years with the company, workers got a
still longer vacation: 21 days, or three times what the French
socialists would grant the workers of their country in 1936.
Hitler introduced the standard forty-hour work week in Europe. As for
overtime work, it was now compensated, as nowhere else in the
continent at the time, at an increased pay rate. And with the
eight-hour work day now the norm, overtime work became more readily
In another innovation, work breaks were made longer: two hours each
day, allowing greater opportunity for workers to relax, and to make
use of the playing fields that large industries were now required to
Whereas a worker's right to job security had been virtually
non-existent, now an employee could no longer be dismissed at the sole
discretion of the employer. Hitler saw to it that workers' rights were
spelled out and enforced. Henceforth, an employer had to give four
weeks notice before firing an employee, who then had up to two months
to appeal the dismissal. Dismissals could also be annulled by the
"Courts of Social Honor" (Ehrengerichte).
This Court was one of three great institutions that were established
to protect German workers. The others were the "Labor Commissions" and
the "Council of Trust."
The "Council of Trust" (Vertrauensrat) was responsible for
establishing and developing a real spirit of community between
management and labor. "In every business enterprise," the 1934 "Labor
Charter" law stipulated, "the employer and head of the enterprise
(Führer), the employees and workers, personnel of the enterprise,
shall work jointly toward the goal of the enterprise and the common
good of the nation."
No longer would either be exploited by the other-neither the worker by
arbitrary whim of the employer, nor the employer through the blackmail
of strikes for political ends.
Article 35 of the "Labor Charter" law stated: "Every member of an
enterprise community shall assume the responsibility required by his
position in said common enterprise." In short, each enterprise would
be headed by a dynamic executive, charged with a sense of the greater
community-no longer a selfish capitalist with unconditional, arbitrary
"The interest of the community may require that an incapable or
unworthy employer be relieved of his duties," the "Labor Charter"
stipulated. The employer was no longer unassailable, an all-powerful
boss with the last word on hiring and firing his staff. He, too, would
be subject to the workplace regulations, which he was now obliged to
respect no less than the least of his employees. The law conferred the
honor and responsibility of authority on the employer only insofar as
he merited it..
In the Third Reich, the worker knew that "exploitation of his physical
strength in bad faith or in violation of his honor" was no longer
tolerated. He had obligations to the community, but he shared these
obligations with every other member of the enterprise, from the chief
executive to the messenger boy. Finally, the German worker had clearly
defined social rights, which were arbitrated and enforced by
independent agencies. And while all this had been achieved in an
atmosphere of justice and moderation, it nevertheless constituted a
genuine social revolution..
Factories and shops, large and small, were altered or transformed to
conform to the strictest standards of cleanliness and hygiene:
interiors, so often dark and stifling, were opened up to light;
playing fields were constructed; rest areas where workers could unbend
during break, were set aside; employee cafeterias and respectable
locker rooms were opened. The larger industrial establishments, in
addition to providing the normally required conventional sports
facilities, were obliged to put in swimming pools!
In just three years, these achievements would reach unimagined
heights: more than two thousand factories refitted and beautified;
23,000 work premises modernized; 800 buildings designed exclusively
for meetings; 1,200 playing fields; 13,000 sanitary facilities; 17,000
To assure the healthy development of the working class, physical
education courses were instituted for younger workers. Some 8,000 were
eventually organized. Technical training was equally emphasized.
Hundreds of work schools, and thousands of technical courses were
created. There were examinations for professional competence, and
competitions in which generous prizes were awarded to outstanding
masters of their craft.
Eight hundred departmental inspectors and 17,300 local inspectors were
employed to conscientiously monitor and promote these improvements.
To provide affordable vacations for German workers on a hitherto
unprecedented scale, Hitler established the "Strength through Joy"
program. As a result, hundreds of thousands of workers were now able
to make relaxing vacation trips on land and sea each summer.
Magnificent cruise ships were built, and special trains brought
vacationers to the mountains and the seashore. In just a few years,
Germany's working-class tourists would log a distance equivalent to 54
times the circumference of the earth! And thanks to generous state
subsidies, the cost to workers of these popular vacation excursions
was nearly insignificant..
Was Hitler's transformation of the lot of the working class
authoritarian? Without a doubt. And yet, for a people that had grown
sick and tired of anarchy, this new authoritarianism wasn't regarded
as an imposition. In fact, people have always accepted a strong man's
In any case, there is no doubt that the attitude of the German working
class, which was still two-thirds non-Nazi at the start of 1933, soon
changed completely. As Belgian author Marcel Laloire noted at the
When you make your way through the cities of Germany and go into the
working-class districts, go through the factories, the construction
yards, you are astonished to find so many workers on the job sporting
the Hitler insignia, to see so many flags with the swastika, black on
a bright red background, in the most densely populated districts.
Hitler's "German Labor Front" (Deutsche Arbeitsfront), which
incorporated all workers and employers, was for the most part eagerly
accepted. The steel spades of the sturdy young lads of the "National
Labor Service" (Reichsarbeitsdienst) could also be seen gleaming along
Hitler created the National Labor Service not only to alleviate
unemployment, but to bring together, in absolute equality, and in the
same uniform, both the sons of millionaires and the sons of the
poorest families for several months' common labor and living.
All performed the same work, all were subject to the same discipline;
they enjoyed the same pleasures and benefited from the same physical
and moral development. At the same construction sites and in the same
barracks, Germans became conscious of what they had in common, grew to
understand one another, and discarded their old prejudices of class
After a hitch in the National Labor Service, a young worker knew that
the rich man's son was not a pampered monster, while the young lad of
wealthy family knew that the worker's son had no less honor than a
nobleman or an heir to riches; they had lived and worked together as
comrades. Social hatred was vanishing, and a socially united people
was being born.
Hitler could go into factories-something few men of the so-called
Right would have risked in the past-and hold forth to crowds of
workers, at times in the thousands, as at the huge Siemens works. "In
contrast to the von Papens and other country gentlemen," he might tell
them, "in my youth I was a worker like you. And in my heart of hearts,
I have remained what I was then."
During his twelve years in power, no untoward incident ever occurred
at any factory he visited. Hitler was at home when he went among the
people, and he was received like a member of the family returning home
after making a success of himself.
But the Chancellor of the Third Reich wanted more than popular
approval. He wanted that approval to be freely, widely, and repeatedly
expressed by popular vote. No people was ever be more frequently asked
for their electoral opinion than the German people of that era-five
times in five years.
For Hitler, it was not enough that the people voted from time to time,
as in the previous democratic system. In those days, voters were
rarely appealed to, and when they expressed an opinion, they were
often ill-informed and apathetic. After an election, years might go
by, during which the politicians were heedless and inaccessible, the
electorate powerless to vote on their actions.
To enable the German public to express its opinion on the occasion of
important events of social, national, or international significance,
Hitler provided the people a new means of approving or rejecting his
own actions as Chancellor: the plebiscite.
Hitler recognized the right of all the people, men and women alike, to
vote by secret ballot: to voice their opinion of his policies, or to
make a well-grounded judgment on this or that great decision in
domestic or foreign affairs. Rather than a formalistic routine,
democracy became a vital, active program of supervision that was
The articles of the "Plebiscite Law" were brief and clear:
1.The Reich government may ask the people whether or not it approves
of a measure planned by or taken by the government. This may also
apply to a law.
2. A measure submitted to plebiscite will be considered as established
when it receives a simple majority of the votes. This will apply as
well to a law modifying the Constitution.
3. If the people approves the measure in question, it will be applied
in conformity with article III of the Law for Overcoming the Distress
of the People and the Reich.
The Reich Interior Ministry is authorized to take all legal and
administrative measures necessary to carry out this law.
Berlin, July 14, 1933.
From the first months of 1933, his accomplishments were public fact,
for all to see. Before end of the year, unemployment in Germany had
fallen from more than 6,000,000 to 3,374,000. Thus, 2,627,000 jobs had
been created since the previous February, when Hitler began his
"gigantic task!" A simple question: Who in Europe ever achieved
similar results in so short a time?..
In his detailed and critical biography of Hitler, Joachim Fest limited
his treatment of Hitler's extraordinary social achievements in 1933 to
a few paragraphs. All the same, Fest did not refrain from
The regime insisted that it was not the rule of one social class above
all others, and by granting everyone opportunities to rise, it in fact
demonstrated class neutrality-These measures did indeed break through
the old, petrified social structures. They tangibly improved the
material condition of much of the population. (J. Fest, Hitler, pp.
Not without reason were the swastika banners waving proudly throughout
the working-class districts where, just a year ago, they had been
unceremoniously torn down.