‘Guardian of the Grail’

Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler; drawing by David Levine

For more than fifteen years Henry Ashby Turner, of Yale, has devoted his energies to collecting the evidence to answer the question, what part did big business play in Hitler’s rise to power? His conclusions are certain to arouse controversy. Few earlier historians of the Third Reich, including myself, escape censure; but it is those for whom the connection between capitalism and Nazism is still an article of faith who will protest most loudly. This is unlikely to perturb Professor Turner who, in the final pages of German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler,1 summarizes the indictment his critics are likely to bring against him and restates his confidence in the historical method he has followed. But controversy should not be allowed to obscure the value of the most impressive and original contribution to the study of Nazism in years, matched only by Richard Hamilton’s Who Voted for Hitler?

Since I have been asked to write a review of a quite different book, this introduction may appear gratuitous. However, not only is Professor Turner the editor of Hitler—Memoirs of a Confidant (an earlier and fuller version of which was published in German in 1978), but his interest in their author, Otto Wagener, arose naturally from his inquiry into the role of big business. More important, it is only within the frame of Turner’s inquiry that it is possible to “place” Wagener and to evaluate the picture he draws of Hitler. For his memoirs are certainly not an account to be taken at face value without understanding the part that Wagener (like other peddlers of economic nostrums) had in the Nazi movement, and his relationship to Hitler.

Otto Wagener was born in 1888 into a solidly middle-class Protestant family in Baden. His father was the head of a medium-sized company that manufactured sewing machines and bicycles. After attending the Gymnasium, the son went to a special military school and later to the Prussian War Academy in Berlin. He reached the rank of captain in the First World War and was then appointed to the General Staff (1916). After Germany’s defeat Wagener acted as an officer in the Freikorps, and was involved in fighting in the Baltic region, Silesia, Saxony, and the Ruhr. He served a term in prison after taking part in the Kapp Putsch which failed to overthrow the Republic in 1920; then he went into business and became active in anti-republican politics in Baden.

Wagener’s life was transformed in the summer of 1929 when he was unexpectedly asked by Hitler, whom he had not previously met, to become Chief of Staff of the brown-shirted SA. Throwing up his business career, he took full-time work in the Nazi party, of which he was then not yet a member. At the beginning of 1931, Wagener handed over office as SA Chief of Staff to Ernst Röhm and became head of…

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