Hitler Was Bad Way Before He Invaded Europe

The 20th century’s most defining event was Hitler’s rise to power, culminating in World War II and the Holocaust.  One would think the details of this watershed moment in world history would still resonate in mankind’s collective consciousness. Yet Joe Biden flippantly told Trump, “We had a good relationship with Hitler before he in fact invaded Europe.”

This shows a profound misunderstanding of the abject depravity of the Third Reich and callous disrespect for the memory of the millions it savagely murdered. The Holocaust and War are well documented and remembered, but the reality of pre-War Germany seems largely forgotten and in desperate need of remedy. 

First, Germans never elected Hitler. In a complicated scheme of political intrigue, Germany’s aging war hero, Hindenburg, then president, appointed Hitler Chancellor in 1933.  But with Germany’s parliamentary system, Hitler’s powers were still checked.

Four weeks later, Germany’s parliament -- the Reichstag -- burned to the ground. Communist Marinus Lubbe was blamed for the fire and guillotined, although historians still debate the actual events. Some evidence suggests the Nazis set the blaze, using the “inept and witless” Lubbe as a cover.

A French leader called it “a gross, cynical, camouflage that could not fool the public in any other country but Germany.” Too late for Lubbe but, in 1998, Germany overturned his conviction. Whether Hitler and his Nazi Party started the fire or not, Hitler wasted no time capitalizing on it. 

Hitler used the fire to foment a crisis. He sent his Brownshirts out to terrorize the opposition parties – they raided houses, confiscated papers, and arrested hundreds. He then called an emergency session to consolidate his power. With the opposition either arrested or intimidated, the Nazis passed the infamous Enabling Act, which effectively voided the Weimar Constitution, giving Hitler near-dictatorial powers.  Only Hindenburg and the feckless minority parties remained in his way.

Hitler could not tolerate even feckless dissent, so he held a referendum to give him the public imprimatur he craved.  The ballot had two boxes to mark:  Do you support Hitler’s policies, and do you approve a one-party system? Voters could either mark the boxes or not. 

However, the Nazis had made it a capital offense to be in “possession of printed matter opposing the regime” such as an unmarked ballet.  With SS men standing sentry at every poll, not marking your ballot was a perilous act of bravery. The SS rounded and returned to the polls those who defiantly refused to vote. The referendum passed overwhelmingly.

The following year Hindenburg died.  Diabolically, Hitler didn’t simply assume the presidential power, which would have maintained some slight balance of power between a new Chancellor and President Hitler.  Instead, Hitler brazenly proclaimed, “Every authority proceeds from the people” and called a plebiscite.

The plebiscite asked only one question: “Should the office of Chancellor and President be combined?”  The preordained result made Hitler the unchallenged ruler of Germany, not Chancellor, not President, but Fuhrer. Immediately afterward, all police and military were forced to swear their allegiance to Hitler. 

Hitler completed his rise to power in 1934. He waited five years to invade the rest of Europe but began persecuting Jews immediately. Despite his censoring the German papers, details of his atrocities leaked out. Even the New York Times reported the stories:

The Times relayed how, “late Friday night, when the couple had gone to bed, the doorbell rang. When the wife answered, five armed Nazis entered. Crying ‘Death to Jews!’ they attacked her husband using bludgeons and chairs, beating him unconscious.”  With her husband hospitalized, the wife produced “blood-stained pajamas and a blood-clotted club ... as proof of her story.” 

It told how a “Czech woman and her Jewish husband, returning to their Berlin home after the theatre, were attacked in the street by Nazis. The husband, hoping to escape, jumped on a tramcar, but was dragged out and carried off. Nothing has been heard of him since.”  

And the Times reported on a physician from the Berlin hospital “carried off one night by Nazis in his own car to a woodland on the outskirts of the city and then coerced into signing his resignation.”  It became customary, the Times added, “to find almost any morning in the woodlands surrounding Berlin the bodies of men killed by bullets or beatings. The police report them as ‘unidentified suicides.’” 

Hitler’s unmistakable contempt for Jews in Mein Kampf, left little doubt that these reports were true. Unashamedly and with absolute conviction he trumpeted:

“By fighting off the Jews, I am doing the Lord's work.” 

“From being a feeble world citizen, I became a fanatic antisemite.” 

“The personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew.” 

As decent people read the news in horror, rallies against Hitler broke out worldwide.  One organization wrote

No event has occurred since the Great War more shocking . . . than the German pogrom against the Jews. The pogrom has discharged qualified Jews from the faculties of universities; it has ordered judges from the bench, forbidden distinguished men the further practice of law and medicine. It has refused to many Jews the right to earn their livelihood. Jewish children have been dismissed from schools and universities. We call upon all nations to unite in protest.

In 1933, the Nazis established Dachau, the first of the concentration camps we associate with the Holocaust. Six years later, Hitler invaded Poland, precipitating mankind’s bloodiest war, and two years after that he began the Holocaust. Still, it was clear in 1933 that both were inevitable. Each year it worsened. By 1938, Hitler’s self-described “fanatic antisemitism” had turned Germany into an antisemitic powder keg ready to detonate. 

When 17-year-old Polish Jew Herschel Grynszpan, a Paris resident, learned the Nazis had deported his penniless family from Germany, he engaged in a rare act of vengeance for a Jew and assassinated German ambassador Ernst vom Roth. The Nazis used that assassination as the spark for Kristallnacht —- the Night of Broken Glass. 

It’s hard to imagine the scale of the Kristallnacht pogrom to rid the country of Jews. The New York Times reported, “Scores of bombs were placed in synagogues blowing out windows and … walls. Floors that had been soaked with kerosene readily caught fire. Torah rolls, prayer books ... were heaped in the streets and burned.”

In all, hundreds of synagogues were burned to the ground; thousands of Jewish owned businesses were looted; Jewish homes were ransacked, their furniture and belongings were thrown out the windows to cheering crowds; and 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to concentration camps. A Jewish woman who survived remembered that a “young girl threw a scarf at me and suggested I hang myself with it.”  Such was German sentiment for the Jews. 

And the War was still a year away. Hitler’s genocidal hatred for the Jews didn’t simply materialize with the War. It had been on full display as soon as he took power.  So before desecrating the memory of the millions murdered by this monstrous madman in an attempt to score political points, Biden would have done well to understand the institutionalized inhumanity of Hitler’s pre-War Germany. 

Marc Garrett is the author of “A Survivor Remembers the Holocaust:  The Amazing True Story of Leon Sperling”

Image: Hitler and Hindenburg. Public Domain.