In 1934, Social Democrat journalist Karl Heiden, wrote this important, critical, contemporary and insightful account of the rise of Nazism from its 1918 origins as Anton Dexler’s German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) through to the eve of the Röhm purge in the 1934 ‘Night of the Long Knives’. It is not a retrospective or a “history” but a description by someone who lived through the period of the gradual accretions of change, complicity, and abdication of moral authority that marked the unfolding of Nazi barbarism.
Heiden, who left Germany in 1932, closely monitored the rise of Hitler and National Socialism from the earliest days. Early on he recognised in Hitler the assiduous narcissistic agitator desperate for the adulation of the masses. For him that was an end in itself — not a politically expedient means to an end. He describes Hitler’s transition from humble German army liaison officer into ‘the Leader’, cunningly manipulating Germany’s mainstream politicians and business leaders as well as the competing NSDAP factions, such as those led by Julius Streicher and Captain Ernst Röhm, who posed a threat to Hitler’s master plan. By these means, and with the full support of the Reichstag who handed him absolute power, he crushed all opposition. As Hitler constantly and relentlessly reiterated to the German people, he alone could fix things and make Germany great again!
By July 1934 he had abolished the Presidency, declared himself Führer and Reich Chancellor and was in unchallenged control of the German State. As a result, over the next 11 years, six million Jews and countless Roma people (“Gypsies”), gay people, people with disabilities, anarchists, socialists, and dissidents were murdered or rounded up and shipped to death camps in Germany and German-occupied Europe. His subsequent invasions of Western and Eastern European countries turned them into agrarian and industrial support systems for his Third Reich, and resulted in the enslaving and slaughtering of peoples his ideology deemed ‘inferior’; the invasion of the Soviet Union alone resulted in the deaths of some 27 million people.
Heiden’s ‘A History of National Socialism’ provides chilling insights into how a hateful, cruel and anti-social ideological mindset, combined with the theatrical rantings of a charismatic and manipulative sociopath, was able to stoke xenophobia, insecurity and fear among his resentful target followers, foment savagery, loutishness, promote tribalism, crassness, ignorance and irrational pseudoscientific belief systems, facilitate murder, sow toxic seeds of distrust among lifelong friends and neighbours, convince people to abandon the fundamental ideas of humanity and freedom, indulge their basest instincts and, generally, pervert and corrupt the hearts and minds of modern and, seemingly, liberal and cultured people. It couldn’t happen here again, could it?!