Hitler and Germany: A dark and complex relationship

What took Adolph Hitler from homeless crank to as messiah-like figure.

Australian author/historian Paul Ham has used a clear, at times even racy style to make accessible to general readers quite complex issues relating to warfare in the twentieth century. His massive tome Vietnam: The Australian War is my nomination for the greatest book ever written by an Australian.

In that work, he combined an extraordinary volume of research of documents with interviews with eye witnesses to examine every facet of Australia’s response to that ill-starred adventure, even down to a consideration of the motives of politicians and draft dodgers.

Ham’s latest effort is far briefer – less than eighty thousand words – The Making of the Führer: Young Hitler examines the personality and rise of Adolph Hitler, from his birth until the period just after the publication of his manifesto Mein Kampf.

Much of the material revealed is new even to a student of recent European history. For example, Hitler, before World War I at times expressed respect for the ability of those of Jewish faith to survive in the face of on-going persecution. Having spent more than a year living homeless on the streets of Vienna, virtually a tramp, Hitler’s so-called dignity was salvaged by his entry into a shelter for homeless men, which had been created and was supported by a Jewish charity. Ham also records that Hitler was exposed to the pre-war success of minor politician Karl Lueger in blaming the Jewish for various social woes.

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Ultimately, Hitler’s anti-Jewish propaganda was demonstrably absurd. He claimed that Jewery was responsible for both Russian Communism and German capitalism. In the face of mass Jewish refugee floods from Bolshevik persecution, he blamed Jews for the German defeat in World War I despite the demonstrable fact that Jewish casualties in defence of The Fatherland were proportionate to their tiny proportion of Jews – around one per cent – of German population during the war.

Ham’s work is excellent in tracking the descent of German suffering and despair during the war and in its aftermath. The punitive terms of the post-war the treaty meant that having made appalling sacrifices during the war, the mass of Germans suffered greater hardship having surrendered than had been the case while fighting. The terms of the treaty saw that massive inflation which caused the value of the mark to fall from about four to the American dollar pre-war to some hundreds of millions of marks to the dollar, making less than worthless the savings and possessions of millions of Germans. Under the provisions of the treaty, there could be no relief for Germans other than to rise up in the war against their oppressors.

Ham records a convincing picture of Hitler finding a new confidence and purpose in his very courageous performance in World War One – he was twice awarded The Iron Cross for his efforts, once on the recommendation of a senior officer who was Jewish. Many Germans and Austrians had pre-war, subscribed to the absurd professions of “Social Darwinism” which held that Aryan was manifestly the superior of human races, entitled to world domination.

Searching for an explanation for the wretchedness to which they had been reduced, these were not people to lay blame at the feet of their own leadership; rather Hitler, as he rose in influence, was able to employ the “stab in the back” rhetoric widespread in his homeland and succeeded in convincing many that international Jewry had manipulated events to achieve Germany’s misery – this despite the fact that Germany’s tiny Jewish population suffered as much as anyone from Germany’s post-war woes.

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Ham traces the fates of those many seeking political prominence who used and promoted Hitler – his powerful rhetorical skills were seen as an invaluable tool in furthering their ambitions. Recorded is Hitler’s skill and ruthlessness in replacing, even causing the murder of those who might aspire to prevent or challenge his rise to power.

Clearly, it is Ham’s view that is Germany had, for some reason, not been led to a return to war by Hitler, someone else would have filled that role.

An invaluable addition to our understanding of events in the twentieth century.

The Making of the Führer: Young Hitler, by Paul Ham, is available in paperback, or digital format from the publisher, Penguin Books Australia. Click here for details