In 1919 Hitler joined the German Worker's Party. He was quickly appointed party spokesman, and later propaganda director. In 1920 something happened that would change his life. There was a split in the party. Chairman Drexler and others began the process of a merger with a party called the National Socialist Party. According to Drexler, their views were similar and working out a compromise of their differences would not be too difficult. Hitler was outraged. He said compromised is not possible. Our principles are what we are. He told them if members of the NS party wanted to quit their party and join the DAP that was one thing. But no compromise is tolerable.
When Drexler decided to go on with his plans, Hitler threaten to resign. Drexler was not a fool. He knew losing Hitler would cripple them. He did the only thing he could. He offered to resign and appoint Hitler to succeed him. This is just what he did. Now Hitler was the chairman.
In due time the National Socialist Party did merge with the German Workers Party, but there were no important compromises. The merger was done on Hitler's terms. Now they were the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) or the NSDAP for short.
At the time, they did not use the word Nazi. Indeed, it was their opponents that first starting calling them that - as an insult. Originally Nazi was an unflattering word used to describe peasants - those who work with the land such as farmers and ranchers. As Hitler believed that the peasantry was the backbone of the country he did not find it insulting as their opponents hoped.
By this time notable people were joining the party such as publisher Ernst Hanfsdtangel, Dr. Joseph Goebbels, General Erich Ludendorf, and World War I Flying Ace Herman Goering. Pictured in order listed on the left.
The Beer Hall Putsch
In 1923 the NSDAP staged a coup that would have transferred power in Bavaria to them. It failed. In a way, the Beer Hall Putsch was almost a fluke to have even occurred. Several of Hitler's political opponents tricked him into believing that all the right wing factions in Bavaria were planning some sort of action and invited him to take part. It was supposed to be several weeks away and the NSDAP was to carry on with "business as usual". In reality the other factions were consolidating their power and influence with the government rather than against it - and Hitler was deliberately being excluded.
He was outraged and almost on the spur of the moment he ordered immediate action. Military leaders General Ludendorf and Storm Trooper Leader Ernst Rohm (pictured on the right) went into action. Certain leaders, both military and civilian were seized, and the Storm Troopers and other supporters began to march on the government building. However, someone tipped the government off and the militia was waiting for them.
Hitler refused to back down. Leading the way he advanced towards the soldiers. When they opened fire, Hitler was hit in the arm by one of the first shots fired. He fought to stay and lead, but as he was wounded, his lieutenants forced him away for his own protection.
He fled to the house of Ernst Hanfsdtangel. Hanfsdtangel's wife Helena bandaged his wound and they waited for Ernst to return. By the time that happened the NSDAP had fled.
Hitler knew there would have to be consequences for this action, and after receiving proper treatment for his wounds he turned himself in.
At his trial, the judges were very impressed by Hitler, and when he, and he alone pleaded guilty to the crime of treason, they sentenced him to pay a fine of 1,000 gold marks, and five years in prison, eligible for parole in nine months. He was released after serving the minimum sentence. It was during this time he became close friends with Rudolf Hess, and acting as his secretary, Hess helped Hitler write "Mein Kampf". Pictured on right.
After his return to political activism, the NSDAP began winning elections in the Reichstag. Under German law, if enough members of the Reichstag walked out on a vote, a new election had to be held. Hitler had his men do this on several occasions forcing new elections. Each time the NSDAP won more seats.
In 1928 the NSDAP had only 12 seats. By 1930 they were the second largest party in the Reichstag and controlled over one third of the votes. With the right wing voting with them for the most part, they basically controlled the legislature. That left the presidency.
In 1929 General Ludendorf ran for president. He was defeated by President Paul Von Hindenburg (pictured on the left) by a landslide.
In 1932 Hitler became an official citizen of Germany and himself ran for president. He lost, but not by a landslide. After the stock market crash of 1929, party membership had risen sharply.
Hitler had another idea. In reality, the chancellor, who controlled the Reichstag had more influence than even the president. Every time Hindenburg appointed a chancellor, the NSDAP walked out of the Reichstag forcing more elections. Hindenburg found himself in a position where he had no choice but to appoint Hitler as chancellor. He had achieved his goal: Leader of his people. But there was still more to do.
The Enabling Acts
In 1934 he called on President Hindenburg to sign an emergency powers act he called The Enabling Acts. Hindenburg refused unless it was approved by the Reichstag. The Enabling Acts basically enacted a form of Martial Law. The Reichstag narrowly passed the Acts. However Hitler would still have to wait for the death of Hindenburg before he would become the one and only Fuhrer. This happened when Hindenburg died of natural causes in August of 1934.
Next: The Pre-War Third Reich next Monday.