Could something like it happen again? That is invariably the first question that comes to mind when recalling that Hitler was given power in Germany 75 years ago last week. With the world now facing such great tensions and instability, the question seems more obvious than ever.
Hitler came to power in a democracy with a highly liberal Constitution, and in part by using democratic freedoms to undermine and then destroy democracy itself. That democracy, established in 1919, was a product of defeat in world war and revolution and was never accepted by most of the German elites, notably the military, large landholders and big industry.
Troubled by irreconcilable political, social and cultural divisions from the beginning, the new democracy survived serious threats to its existence in the early postwar years and found a semblance of stability from 1924 to 1928, only to be submerged by the collapse of the economy after the Wall Street crash of 1929.
The Nazis’ spectacular surge in popular support (2.6 percent of the vote in the 1928 legislative elections, 18.3 percent in 1930, 37.4 percent in July 1932) reflected the anger, frustration and resentment ”” but also hope ”” that Hitler was able to tap among millions of Germans. Democracy had failed them, they felt. Their country was divided, impoverished and humiliated. Scapegoats were needed.
It was easy to turn hatred against Jews, who could be made to represent the imagined external threat to Germany by both international capitalism and Bolshevism. Internally, Jews were associated with the political left ”” Socialist and Communist ”” which was made responsible by Hitler and his followers for Germany’s plight.