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First of a series by SEFTON DELMER telling the inside story of the Führer's rise, Delmer knew Hitler well during his struggle for power. In this series he outlines the life of the man whose decisions affect the whole world; tells how and why those decisions are made.
JUNE 1919. The Lance-Corporal looked ill, hungry, and apathetic as he sat on his chair, moodily pulling at the ends of his drooping moustache. (Once it had been a Kaiser moustache. The ends of it had turned up with martial ferocity. Now it was an ex-Kaiser moustache, its ends turned down.)
Around him in the barrack room of the 2nd infantry Regiment in Munich sat other soldiers, all dressed as he was in shabby, outworn field-grey uniforms showing signs of front-line wear. There was no cloth for new uniforms in the Munich of June 1919.
The war was over. But revolution and disorder were still sweeping Germany. Communists had attempted to seize the Government power from their Social Democrat allies, together with whom in 1918 they had overthrown the Kaiser.
The socialists in order to fight the Communists had called in the help of the returning army under their monarchist officers. These soldiers in the barrack room had themselves only a month ago been fighting communists in the streets of Munich. The blockade was still in force and there was no cloth for uniforms.
At the blackboard at the end of the room stood a sergeant major, speech making on Germany's future. It was part of a debate. The sergeant was putting in a word for the Jews. "We might as well blame the bicyclists for having lost the war". He said "Why the bicyclist's? you ask. Well, why the Jews?" There was a snigger. The joke was still new just then.
The Lance-Corporal stopped pulling at his moustache. His cold grey eyes went black and hot with fury. Standing to attention he asked the officer-in-charge for leave to speak. Then glaring at the sergeant, he began in a low rough voice. Slowly and deliberately he spoke. "While we soldiers were at the front we were stabbed in the back by traitors at home who made the revolution. That's why we lost the war. Who were these traitors? Who made the revolution? Who reaped the profit? Around us we see a whole nation suffering but among us some are thriving and prosperous. Who are these people who are getting fat while we starve? Comrades the Jews, the Jewish bankers, the Jewish stockbrokers are the real profiteers of our misfortune."
The soldiers in the barrack room cried, "Sehr Richtig" which is a German way of saying "Hear hear." The Lance-Corporal didn't stop for another twenty minutes, and when he sat down his hair was dishevelled, perspiration streamed down his face, his voice almost gone. Even the officer was impressed. Captain Mayer was his name. I met him in 1932 when he was one of the members of the Reichsbanner, the republican anti-Nazi storm troops. He did not like to be reminded of what he did now. Captain Mayer took the Lance-Corporal aside and asked him whether he would care to become one of the army's political instructors, a job which until then had been reserved for officers.
He would first be put through an instructors training course, he said and then be sent out to spread the gospel of patriotism and nationalism among German soldiers and civilians, to win them away from the Marxists, pacifists and internationalists, who had got hold of them. "What do you say Lance-Corporal Hitler?" he asked, when he had finished explaining. The Lance-Corporal brought his heels sharply together, "Zu Befel Herr Captain" he said, Adolf Hitler had accepted.
And thus was born, at the age of thirty, the Adolf Hitler we know today, Adolf Hitler the political soldier for whom, as for his Reichswehr chiefs, the war had never ended. For whom the peace when it was signed was just an armistice in which to liquidate the new regime established by the revolution of 1918, rearm Germany and take up once more the fight for German world domination. Don't forget this Reichswehr origin of Hitler. It is the real key to his career. All along he has been the Reichswehr's man.
The Reichswehr gave him men, they gave him advice, they trained his storm troopers, they gave him money, they helped him get more money from the industrialists. But above all they gave him their influential protection, the protection of those who within a few weeks of the downfall of the Kaiser and the end of the old regime had once more become the real rulers of Germany.
For that is what they were from the moment that socialist President Friedrich Ebert had a secret telephone line plugged through from his office to Field-Marshall von Hindenburg's G.H.Q. and Socialist War Minister Gustav Noske reorganised the army under its old officers to help fight the Communists.
Hitler's remarkable personal achievement is that starting from scratch as one among many political agitators operating for the Reichwehr, starting in the lowest rank of them all, he quickly worked his way up to leadership of one of the Reichswehr's most important political instruments, the National Socialist party.
Then he proceeded to make that party so strong that when, in the autumn of 1932, the Reichswehr chiefs wanted to drop him, they found he was to powerful to ignore. They had to let him in on the Government racket.
Guess what was the first effect on Hitler of his new found dignity as a political instructor? He shaved off the ends of that ex-Kaiser moustache; he clipped it short. The Lance-Corporal wanted to look like an officer.
It was a historic moment that morning in the Munich barbers; the beginning of a new era when, with a clip of the scissors and a stroke of the razor, the Kaiser moustache became a Hitler moustache.
The odd thing is that during the previous thirty years of his life Hitler had never really been a success.
At school - the Realschule in Linz - his master reported: "The boy Adolf is quick enough in the uptake, but has no application or powers of concentration." As a matter of fact he is still not very good at concentrated reading. I have watched him skipping through books, just taking a glance at a page here and there. He can't be bothered with heavy stuff, prefers reading little snippets from newspapers. "Let me lay down the general line," he says to his Cabinet colleagues when they press him for closer instructions. "I can't be bothered with the details."
Hitler himself says in "Mein Kampf" that at school he was only interested in history and drawing. He claims rather grandly that at the age of twelve he already had an understanding of the menace of the Hapsburg dynasticicism in Austria to the cause of Pan-Germanism, the union of all German-speaking men in one great German Empire.
He did not stay at school for long. Soon after the death of his father (a minor customs official who in 1879, ten years before Adolf's birth in the little border town of Braunau had changed his name from Alois Schickelgruber to Alois Hitler) he gave up going to school altogether. And he cannot have been more than thirteen or fourteen at the time.
Then his mother died and Adolf with a basket full of clothes and a few shillings in his pocket went off to Vienna determined to become a great painter. But again he failed. He ploughed the entrance examination for the Vienna Art Academy, and they would not have him at the Architect's School because he did not have the necessary grounding in mathematics.
So young Adolf began drifting about among Vienna cafe and beer house Bohemians - on the police books he was registered as an art student - doing a spot of drawing or painting now and then, visiting museums, listening to debates in the Austrian Parliament, picking up an odd job of work here and there as a builders labourer.
His money gave out and one time he found himself in the streets begging for bread.
A man called Hanisch - he has disappeared mysteriously following the annexation of Austria - tells how, in a shelter for down-and-outs at the Vienna south railway station, he met Adolf Hitler and became his partner in selling hand painted postcards. Hitler did the painting, Hanisch the hawking.
As works of art they were not terrific. Mostly they were photographs which Hitler diligently copied and then coloured. But as genuine Hitlers they command a high price today.
Hanisch tells that Hitler was only able to start on this water-colourist's career, which kept him in bread and lodging for the rest of his stay in Vienna, by having a few shillings sent to him by his elder sister Angela Raubel, in whose favour at their mother's death he had generously renounced his share of their father's pension.
This sister by the way is the only one of his brother's and sister's whom Hitler liked. Many years later he introduced me to her up in at his mountain chalet in Berchtesgaden. I remember her as a simple, comfortable frau, in an apron and black housekeeper's dress.
I watched her looking at her brother. She worshipped him in terror and awe as a divine miracle.
In 1913 Hitler went to Munich, were he continued his Bohemian life, reading newspapers, talking politics, selling occasional watercolours to the frame makers who wanted something to fill up there space. After five years of hell in Vienna, he says this was the happiest time of his life.
There is a record of his having been rejected by the Austrian Army doctor's in Salzburg, where he went in the summer of 1913 to report for military service. They pronounced him physically unfit. And that is probably the real reason why on August 3, 1914 he applied for permission to join the Bavarian army.
Four years he spent at the front, but he never got beyond the rank of Lance-Corporal.
I once asked him why that was, "I did not want promotion. I wanted to remain among the common soldiers," said Hitler.
There is something in that. Even today Hitler does not feel at home among officers and generals. He prefers the company of simple folk like Schaub, his valet-adjutant, Heinrich Hoffman, his photographer, and Sepp Dietrich, the ex-cavalry sergeant captain of his bodyguard.
But that would not have prevented him becoming a sergeant.
No, there must have been some other reason.