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The Early Years of Germany’s Nazi Movement


After World War I, a humiliated Germany blamed its leaders for its defeat. Hitler and the Nazi movement tried to overthrow the weak government. Hitler was imprisoned and wrote his Mein Kampf manifesto, which promoted fascism, denounced Jews, and resonated with nationalistic Germans.

Complete Video Script

In 1918, World War I ended, leaving 10 million dead and Europe in ruins. The chaotic aftermath of the war created fertile ground for the seeds of fascism. Nowhere was that more true than in defeated and devastated Germany.

Imagine Germany after 1918. For four long years, they'd fought bravely — lost over two million men, and then surrendered. Veterans limped home to a country in shambles. Their emperor had been toppled, replaced by a weak democracy. Their nation was humiliated with especially harsh terms of surrender — including an Allied demand for Germany to pay costly war reparations. Cynical Germans were convinced their own leaders had sold them out and surrendered too early…they called it "the stab in the back." The economy was horrible — people needed jobs…terrible inflation wiped out savings…it took literally a wheelbarrow of nearly worthless currency to buy a loaf of bread. Germans had no faith in their government['s ability] to get society back on track.

In this vacuum of power, a fringe movement — claiming to be the champion of the oppressed — emerged. They dressed in intimidating brown-shirt uniforms, roamed the streets in gangs, and wanted to restore Germany's national pride. They called themselves the National Socialists, or "Nazis." Their leader: Adolf Hitler.

Those early Nazis found a natural base here in Munich. While a pleasant and idyllic city today, this capital of Bavaria was known for its conservative and nationalistic passions. Nazi street gangs violently attacked unwanted outsiders: Jews and Communists.

In 1923, in a beer hall like this, the original Nazi leadership gathered their followers. They were impatient and eager to take power. Hitler waved his pistol in the air, and called for the revolution to begin.

Hitler led the ragtag revolutionaries in the beer hall into the streets of Munich, planning to overthrow the government.

But that attempted revolt, called the "Beer Hall Putsch," failed. After a bloody confrontation, the police crushed it here at Odeonsplatz. Hitler was arrested and sent to jail, and it seemed that Germany's fascist movement was finished before it got off the ground.

Unable to overthrow the government by force, Hitler resolved to take it by political means. While in prison, he wrote Mein Kampf (or "My Struggle"), which preaches his message of uniting all ethnic Germans and giving them more space to live. The book remains potent to this day — particularly for Germans, like Andreas Clemens.

Rick: Could Germans just buy this?
Andreas: Until recently it was illegal to buy or sell it in Germany.
Rick: So, if I was to read the Mein Kampf, what's the writing like?
Andreas: Well you can see that Hitler had problems with grammar — part of it is gibberish; it's very hard to get through. The book is one of the most published books in history, and every German household had that book. And they probably tried to read it and they gave up 10, 20 pages in.
Rick: And this, I would imagine, lays out the main points of the fascist future. What are those points?
Andreas: He's saying that democracy doesn't work, that it's a flawed system that can be manipulated by outside forces for their own gain; he's blaming communists for it — ultimately at the end of everything it's the Jewish "world conspiracy," so Jews are behind everything that's wrong with the world; that he has a solution for that, and the solution is fascism or National Socialism…and that he can make Germany strong — he can unite the country; he can unite the master race and get us back to our rightful status.