Why Hitler Came Into Power
Theodore Abel’s 1938 book, Why Hitler Came Into Power is perhaps the most important, and yet unknown, book exploring the rise of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party and Adolf Hitler. In early 1934, Abel travelled to Germany after convincing the National Socialist government that had recently come to power that Americans, and the world generally, knew far too little about the National Socialist movement, its ideology, its history and rise to power, and its followers. Abel, working under the auspices of Columbia University, proposed an autobiographical essay contest, in which any member or sympathizer of the NSDAP who had joined prior to the party solidifying its political power over the German state in 1933 could submit an essay explaining his or her background, education, experience, and political affiliations for review.
Abel placed an announcement in June 1934 in party publications which read in part:
400 MARKS IN PRIZES
For the Best Personal Life History of an Adherent of the Hitler Movement
Any person, regardless of sex or age, who was a member of the National Socialist party before January 1, 1933, or who was in sympathy with the movement, may participate in this contest.
Contestants are to give accurate and detailed descriptions of their personal lives, particularly after the World War. Special attention should be given to accounts of family life, education, economic conditions, members in associations, participation in the Hitler movement, and important experiences, thoughts, and feelings about events and ideas of the post-war period.
The prizes will be awarded to authors who have submitted the most detailed and trustworthy accounts. Style, spelling, or dramatic story value will not be considered. Completeness and frankness are the sole criteria, so that even the simplest and most undramatic story will receive full consideration. […]
Abel eventually received 683 manuscripts from a wide variety of National Socialist party members and sympathizers, which he breaks down into age distribution, occupation, class affiliation, and date of joining the NSDAP. Statistical charts and other identifying data are broken down for further analysis as an Appendix. Abel notes that 83 manuscripts were eliminated from consideration, either because they were too short in length and lacking in any detail, or because they were submitted by women, whose entries were used for a separate study published independently of Why Hitler Came Into Power. These manuscripts form the basis for Abel’s work, and numerous excerpts are provided throughout the first two parts of the book from members of the NSDAP themselves, offering readers a unique insight into what motivated and inspired these individuals to join the party and embark on what turned out to be a life long struggle.
In 1986, Why Hitler Came Into Power was re-published with a Foreword written by Thomas Childers, who made some profound observations about Abel’s original and unique research into the NSDAP and the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany. Childers wrote in part:
Abel’s material simply did not fit neatly into the dominate interpretation of National Socialism as a “revolt of the lower middle class.” […]
Abel was struck by the wide variety of motivational factors at work among the respondents, many of which could not be easily subsumed under the interpretive rubric of “lower-middle-class revolt.” […]
These studies have allowed us to identify the social bases of the Nazi following with far greater precision than was ever before possible. Although thematic emphasis and methods differ, these works are in fundamental agreement that support for the NSDAP extended far beyond the lower middle class to elements of the socially established Grossbürgertum (upper middle class) as well as to sizable segments of the blue-collar working class. […]
What attracted members of the upper middle class to the party? Why did many workers turn to the NSDAP? What had drawn them? What role did the NSDAP’s ideological positions play in its popular appeal? How important were Nazi propaganda tactics and organization? These are obviously important questions for any study seeking to explain the sociopolitical dynamics of Nazi success, and it is precisely this set of central issues that Theodore Abel’s work addresses. […]
Abel’s book is comprised of three distinct parts. Part One deals with the history of the NSDAP, with chapters titled The Background of the Hitler Movement, The First Period: 1919 – 1923, The Second Period: 1924 – 1929, and The Third Period: 1930 – 1933. Part Two is analytical in nature, and explains how and why the NSDAP movement gained support. What attracted people to National Socialism? What factors lead to the rise and eventual triumph of the NSDAP in German politics? These and other related questions are addressed in these pages. Abel breaks Part Two into three chapters: Discontent As a Factor, Ideology As a Factor, and The Why of the Hitler Movement.
Finally, Part Three of the book is comprised of six selected autobiographies of the NSDAP members, published in full. Abel publishes the life stories of a worker, an anti-Semite, a soldier, a middle-class youth, a bank clerk, and a farmer – all chosen “to show, in unified, more realistic form, patterns of National Socialist experience separately analyzed in previous chapters.” Abel clarifies that the published accounts in Part Three are “a sample of the material on which the analytical section of the book is based.” These selected manuscripts demonstrate the widespread appeal of National Socialism, which united German nationalists and patriots from all backgrounds, social classes, and education levels. Farmers, merchants, soldiers, veterans, teachers, industrial workers, bureaucrats, managers, fathers, mothers, children – National Socialism appealed to and sought to unify all segments of the German populace, and was largely successful in doing so, especially once firmly in control of the German state.
By relying on primary source material – authentic autobiographies of NSDAP members and sympathizers – Abel offers historians and other interested parties a unique analysis of the rise of Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP not found elsewhere. Abel’s Why Hitler Came Into Power is as important today as it was when it was first published in 1938, not only as a chronicle of the Hitler movement, but also as an analysis explaining how and why the NSDAP came to power. Modern political activists, especially those in the nationalist camp that recognize the insidious and parasitic nature of organized Jewry, have much to learn from the National Socialists and their struggle to gain control of the German state.
NB: This article was originally published on February 7, 2013.