Hitler’s Final Years
In the last three years of Hitler’s tenure as leader of Germany, the Fuhrer’s increased activity and intervention in domestic affairs surprised Party members. A great deal of Hitler’s old comrades were shocked to find themselves removed from power whether by decree or liquidation, with many stating that a Second Night of the Long Knives had been instituted. Hitler was later to have stated, “It is time for new, untainted blood.”
One surprising change made by Hitler was the decentralization of the economy. Some claim this was due to Hitler’s increasing annoyance with Party members and their corruption, spoiled their standing in his eyes. Having read Ludwig Erhard’s War Finances and Debt Consolidation, Hitler called Erhard in for a meeting detailing the reorganization of the German economy. Impressed by Erhard’s comments, Hitler stripped Goering and others of their economic authority centralizing it under Erhard’s Ministry of Economics. Erhard would immediately dismantle the Byzantine bureaucracy that had been erected, abolishing the price-fixing and production controls that had been enacted by the Nazi administration. A proponent of Neoliberalism, Erhard’s authority grew allowing for a vast privatization of the economy, most notably of corporations and combines from the SS, though some SS and Party members, enriched during the previous Nazi years, bought up substantial holdings. Slave labor, however, would remain under SS control, though slave labor found itself used more for shoring up labor shortages in order to create jobs for returning soldiers. To prevent the economy becoming too consolidated in a few hands, Erhard passed anti-cartel legislation that broke up the largest corporations that threatened to create monopolies. Also, tax rates were lowered in order to spur growth. Another battle, only partially successful, was the minimization of welfare legislation. It was a loss softened by Erhard’s success in achieving a change in policy from autarky to gradual integration of the European economy under German hegemony. Hitler agreed with this change when Erhard explained that to unify the European economy would stave off future wars thus preserving Germany’s holdings.
Every Nazi organization and office came under the scrutiny of Erhard who was tasked to ferret out corruption and decrease government expenditures. This served to grant Erhard a great deal of power which he, rather than use to enrich himself, he used to purge some of the worst excesses from Nazi authority. Goering came into direct opposition to many of the changes being wrought. The matter finally was decided by Hitler. Upset by the excessive extravagances Goering enjoyed, the power mongering of his old friend, and the increasing problems wrought by the Reichsmarschal’s drug abuse, Hitler had Goering “retired,” Goering stripped of all offices but allowed to keep a ceremonial standing in the Party.
One major change enacted by Erhard was the breaking up of the German Labor Front. Upset by Robert Ley’s running of the organization and its bloated bureaucracy, Ley was arrested, his finances and properties seized, and the organization dissolved allowing for private independent labor movements to arise anew. One reason for Hitler’s sudden support for change in this area of the economy was believed to be a method to counter the power of business leaders who would resist Erhard’s economic plans. Kesselring would replace Goering as the new leader of the Luftwaffe.
The new office of Wehrbeauftragter was created to receive and investigate citizens’ complaints regarding governmental maladministration. This officer was granted wide-ranging oversight and investigative powers with access to all government facilities, documents and information systems and can order a police investigation if necessary. If they determined that a government official(s) has not acted in accordance with the law, the officer can advise on the proper application of the law, reprimand the official or in the extreme case order the criminal prosecution of the official. Partly because of their prosecutorial powers, the officer enjoys considerable respect and her or his legal opinions are usually strictly followed. Their legal interpretations carry a lot of weight in the absence of a court precedent.
In periodicals, Hitler allowed a mild amount of liberalism to return with the partial resurgence of a free press, if only to counter and shame Party officials who failed to do their jobs as well as to re-establish the Reich’s readership, citing the gradual drop-off of subscriptions and, with Goebbels’ constant propaganda, a creation of disbelief in anything said by the government. After realizing the bubble he had been in for years, Hitler determined that an independent voice offered the best method to discern what was truly happening in the Reich.
This pragmatism spilled over into education and the sciences. After the refutation of physics as a Jewish science, among other subjects, Diebner’s discovery of the atomic bomb, along with other discoveries, engendered a change of opinion including Hitler’s decision to personally invest in the electron microscope in order to discover the secrets of “inner space.” This interest in technology was furthered by Hitler’s orders to scour occupied territories for patents and tech. A major coup was discovered at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey where the research of Clarence Hickman was uncovered revealing the suppressed invention of magnetic recording tape. This patent alone would lead to vast advances in mass storage putting Germany at the forefront of computer technology over the decades.
Not every field would see changes in Nazi policy. In religion, Hitler would not relent as the Reich continued to strip away great amounts of Christian dogma to craft a secular state religion. Cinema, likewise, remained in Goebbels’ hands.
In order to help boost the economy and lower the governmental budget, Hitler allowed for a demobilization of Reich forces, selling obsolete weapons and vehicles to other countries and reducing the forces. The German military would still be sizable due to the need for occupation forces throughout the vast tracts of German territory. The military further saw reorganization as the Waffen SS and paratroopers were absorbed into the Wermacht, the Luftwaffe saw itself greatly downsized removing virtually all ground forces from its command, and the Kriegsmarine was granted control over naval aviation. Investment in nuclear weapons continued in order to ensure German supremacy in this field.
The Sturmabteilung found itself dissolved as an unnecessary organization, its members aided in finding employment in the vast amount of manufacturing jobs created by Germany’s expanding economy as well as many others accepting land in the eastern territories as well as others emigrating to new Reich territories in Africa. Many called the dissolution the end of an era in Nazi politics.
Due to the stripping away of a great deal of SS support, it wasn’t surprising when Himmler was purged. Seen by Hitler as a growing and irrational power that had to be curbed, Himmler found himself the victim of the very organization he had fostered, replaced by Heydrich.
Martin Bormann, Hitler’s personal secretary, proved a valuable ally in the reorganization of the state’s bureaucracy placing central authority as paramount, though still allowing a fair amount of local autonomy to the numerous gau if it did not interfere with the national agenda. Many competing agencies found themselves merged allowing for an increase in efficiency and a decrease of intra-governmental conflict. Through Bormann, Hitler tightened his grip on the gauleiters, bringing to heel through action and Fuhrer orders the drift of central authority that Hitler had allowed to occur over the years.
The Reichstag saw a partial restoration of its powers with Hitler declaring that after his retirement in 1950, the 1933 Enabling Act would be rescinded. This was accompanied by the gradual return of local elections, though gauleiters would remain nationally appointed. Hitler’s interest in the political realm would also see his drafting of a new civil service decree that withdrew the requirement of Party membership while enforcing a certain standard to become a civil servant.
Some have posited that these relaxations in central authority were due in part to Hitler’s preparation to retire leaving a stable state, his disgust with his Party comrades corruption, his belief that the state had achieved enough cohesion and the Party enough success that strict authority was no longer needed, and the soothing presence of Hitler’s wife, Inge.
Strikingly beautiful, the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Inge was a former ballet dancer and singer whose regal bearing and noble stature served Hitler well in dealing with foreign dignitaries. Hitler himself was said to be wholly smitten by her saying that to be in her presence, “was akin to Heaven. How could any man know suffering with her beside them?” A popular hostess at the Berghoff, she was further beloved by the German volk due to her charities aiding the poor and her meeting with and caring for wounded soldiers. It was said that, upon seeing Inge for the first time, Adolf Hitler pursued her ardently drawn by both her artistic abilities and physical presence.
When asked about her husband, Inge was known to say, “He is very serious and responsible, always trying to carry the world on his shoulders and rarely letting others know that he needs help and support. If not for me, I fear what would have become of him. He needs me, and I him.” Inge helped to instill a light-heartedness in her husband, allowing him to enjoy himself.
It was said that when Hitler was in his darkest moods and suffered great trepidation in his choices, Inge could give him calm and restore his confidence with the simplest words. Inge was able to make Hitler consider secondary choices to decisions and to encourage his interaction with the populace. She was known to even follow Hitler to the front despite his ardent demands to the contrary, so committed was Inge to her Fuhrer.
Inge was worshipped by German society, making constant forays out to the most exclusive restaurants and meeting with the upper classes of businessmen, industrialists, artists, and organizations bringing Hitler into a world that had hitherto refused his admittance. She legitimized him. Quiet amongst such company, Inge spoke in Hitler’s stead helping to ingratiate him with the upper crust.
Together, Inge and Hitler would have a family of three children: Wolfgang, Siegfried, and Klara. It was for them, above all else, that Hitler would reiterate his desire to leave behind a Germany of possibility.