20thCHR 8i4 print.indd - Hodder Education

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Chris Culpin

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Chris Culpin examines the ‘cult of the leader’ that surrounded Hitler and asks why he became so revered, and why his popularity finally waned AQA AS Totalitarian ideology in theory and practice, c.1848–c.1941 AQA AS Life in Nazi Germany 1933–45 Edexcel AS From Second Reich to Third Reich: Germany, 1918–45 Edexcel A2 From Kaiser to Führer: Germany, 1900–1945 OCR (A) AS Democracy and dictatorship in Germany 1919–63 OCR (A) AS Dictatorship and democracy in Germany 1933–63 OCR (A) A2 Nazi Germany 1933–45


20thCHR 8i3 print.indd 2

Argument Man-made pseudo-hero Hitler’s life went through different stages: unlikeable individual in early life, headline-grabbing fanatic in the 1920s, and propagandised great hero-leader (Führer) who ultimately failed to fulfil his promises and was scorned 1930–45.


here are problems in trying to give a straight answer to the question in the title of this article. When are we talking about, for example? For the first 30-odd years of his life Adolf Hitler was not liked by his family, his school, or his pre-war Vienna acquaintances. Then in the last 30 months of his life he was (covertly) scorned by the German people who, recognising at last that they had been lied to, blamed him for the disaster they knew was about to overwhelm them.

Yet we have seen the photos of Hitler’s popularity at its peak in the 1930s: the crowds of smiling admirers surrounding him while he awkwardly embraces little fair-haired children. It is easy to dismiss such images

Enquiring history: it makes you think! Chris Culpin and Steven J. Mastin’s new book Nazi Germany 1933–45 is being published by Hodder Education in the Enquiring History series. It will be available in September 2013 as both paperback and e-book (www. hoddereducation.co.uk). The Enquiring History series helps you with the most difficult part of history — thinking through the issues. Examiners report that A-level history candidates often let themselves down because they know a lot but they don’t think hard enough about the question. Deeper thinking = improved understanding = better grades.

20th Century History Review

20/12/2012 17:17

The sources for what the German people really thought pose problems for the historian. There are the reports from government, police, party and Sicherheitsdienst (SD) security services. These were confidential, and did not hide criticisms, but people knew what trouble they could get into by commenting unfavourably on the Nazi government, and particularly on Hitler himself. There are, on the other hand, the reports sent secretly from Germany to the Social Democrat Party (SPD, or SoPaDe) abroad. Naturally they were eager to latch on to any antiNazi murmurings. We are limited, as historian Ian Kershaw says in The Hitler Myth: ‘However imperfect, the historian’s judgement, based on patient source criticism…and a readiness to read between the lines, must suffice’.

Hitler’s emergence as the adored leader was slow. If the Beer-Hall Putsch had succeeded, the war hero Lüdendorff would have taken power. Already, though, Hitler’s charisma as a speaker had begun to work. Not only the dim and mentally unstable Hess, but also Himmler, Rosenberg, Göring, Streicher and Goebbels all devoted themselves to him from 1922/23 onwards. Goebbels wrote in his diary in 1925: ‘Adolf Hitler, I love you because you are both great and simple at the same time. What one calls a genius’. Early converts to Nazism describe hearing Hitler for the first time as being like a religious conversion: ‘There was only one thing for me, either to win with Adolf Hitler or to die with him. The personality of the Führer had me totally in its spell’. The cult of leadership started at this time: the title of Führer, the personal bodyguard known as the Schutzstaffel (SS) and the salute, compulsory from 1926. By the end of the ‘quiet years’, 1925–31, Hitler’s leader