How did we get from World War One to World War Two? Most people have a vague understanding of the rise of Adolf Hitler. Germany was suffering economically and emotionally from their defeat in the Great War. There was some feeling of betrayal and mistrust regarding the communists and Jews.
However, the story is much more complex. This is the focus of Nigel Jones’s The Birth of the Nazis. Jones takes on a tour of Germany between the end of the first war and the rise of Hitler. We find that Hitler was not a fluke but almost inevitable because of what was happening in Germany.
Russia had succumbed t the communist revolution and there were many who were trying to bring revolution the Germany. Some were supportive of this, while others had a deep hatred for communism. These debates did not remain within he lecture halls.
While the communists took to arms, their enemies were more organized and successful. This manifested mostly in the Freikorps. These were made up of veterans who struggled returning to civilized life and found these paramilitary organizations to be attractive.
The result was brutal suppression of any opposition. The Freikorps were not limited by the rules of the traditional military and terror was the order of the day.
In some ways the title of this book is misleading. Hitler and the Nazis are not major players until the last fifty pages. It is more a history of the Freikorps in the first third of the twentieth century. However, they are a necessary background for understanding how the Nazis came to power as they swam in the same social waters.
There is some continuity between the Freikorps and the SA (Brownshirts) who helped in Hitler’s rise to power. They suffered the same fate as the SA, with many of their leaders being killed in Hitler’s purge of the SA.
I found the The Birth of the Nazis to be a helpful introduction to the German history between the wars. It really filled a lot of gaps for me.