Nazi Germany: A New History
by Klaus P. Fischer
Continuum, 734 pp., $37.50
The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution
by Henry Friedlander
University of North Carolina Press, 421 pp., $34.95
On June 14, 1922, a time of mounting inflation in Germany and growing dissatisfaction with the national government, then headed by Josef Wirth and Walther Rathenau, and following a policy of seeking to fulfill the terms of the Versailles Treaty, a group of Bavarian monarchists and other dissidents met in Munich. According to a secret Central European Summary of the British SIS, based on the notes of “a sure source” in Munich, those who attended included the former First Quartermaster General of the Imperial Army, Erich Ludendorff, the wartime commander of the Royal Bavarian Life Guard, Franz Ritter von Epp, now a free corps leader in Thuringia, the reactionary monarchist Gustav von Kahr, soon to be Bavarian State Commissioner, a Herr Mertl, “the confidence man of Bishop Waitz of Innsbruck,” representing the Patriotic Societies of Munich, and a Herr Pittinger of the Bavarian Bloc for the Maintenance of Public Order. It also included Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Munich section of the National Socialist Party, an organization that was still small, though growing, and whose guiding principles were not yet clearly defined.
The record of the meeting is worth close attention. After a report on the mixed reception of propaganda for a restoration of the Wittelsbach dynasty in the rural districts of Bavaria, the meeting turned to a discussion of the difficulties of forming a central organization for the groups working for the reestablishment of a strong Germany, given their number and their differences in tactics. It was suggested that compromise was needed, and concessions from the various groups.
This appeared to agitate Hitler, who, after some obscure interjections, seized the floor and shouted that the gathering was simply following in the footsteps of “the capitalist Jew-government” in Berlin, which had recently thrown him into prison because he wanted “to tell the truth to the nationalist proletariat.” (He had been jailed in January for disrupting a meeting in the Löwenbräukeller of an opposition group and injuring its leader, and had served four weeks of a three-month sentence.) There was nothing else to do, he claimed, than to unite for a time with the extremists of the left, “for the purpose of delivering them from the hands of the Jews and of making use of them later to get the power into our own hands.” Compromises were half-measures of which the nation had had enough.
This suggestion of possible collaboration with the Bolshevists caused a violent uproar and cries of “Throw him out!” The tumult was so great, indeed, that the speaker was requested by the chairman to leave the meeting, which he did with threatening looks, shouting, “You will live to regret the treachery which you are committing against the German race today; you will recognize too late what a power I have behind me.”
Leaving aside what the incident tells us about the central position that anti-Semitism played in Hitler’s thinking from the very beginning of his career and his willingness to sacrifice political principle to …