The Post War Years (1919 – 1921)
After World War I, Hitler remained in the army, which was mainly engaged in suppressing socialist uprisings across Germany including in Munich, where Hitler returned in 1919. After the suppression of the Bavarian Soviet Republic, he took part in “national thinking” courses organized by the Education and Propaganda Department (Dept Ib/P) of the Bavarian Reichswehr Group, Headquarters 4 under Captain Mayr, which helped popularize the notion that there were scapegoats responsible for the outbreak of war and Germany’s defeat including “international Jewry”, communists, and politicians across the party spectrum, especially the parties of the Weimar Coalition. Suspicion of those with mixed loyalties was a fixture in German culture and due to their influence in financial matters as well as (conversely) involvement in the Socialist movement, Jewish people were the obvious choice for a scapegoat.
This was essential to Hitler’s political career and it seems that he genuinely believed in Jewish responsibility, becoming an efficient voice for the propaganda conceived by Mayr and his superiors. In July 1919 Hitler was appointed a V-Mann of an “Enlightenment Commando” for the purpose of influencing other soldiers with the others.
That same month Hitler wrote what is often deemed his first anti-Semitic text, requested by Mayr for one Adolf Gemlich, who participated in the same “educational courses” Hitler had taken part in. In this report Hitler argued for a “rational anti-Semitism” which would not resort to pogroms, but instead “legally fight and remove the privileges enjoyed by the Jews as opposed to other foreigners living among us. Its final goal, however, must be the irrevocable removal of the Jews themselves.”
In July 1919, Hitler was appointed a Verbindungsmann (police spy) of an Aufklärungskommando (Intelligence Commando) of the Reichswehr, both to influence other soldiers and to infiltrate a small party, the German Workers’ Party (DAP). During his inspection of the party, Hitler was impressed with founder Anton Drexler’s anti-Semitic, nationalist, anti-capitalist and anti-Marxist ideas, which favored a strong active government, a “non-Jewish” version of socialism and mutual solidarity of all members of society. Drexler was impressed with Hitler’s oratory skills and invited him to join the party. Hitler joined DAP on 12 September 1919 and became the party’s 55th member. He was also made the seventh member of the executive committee. Years later, he claimed to be the party’s seventh overall member, but it has been established that this claim is false.
Here Hitler met Dietrich Eckart, one of the early founders of the party and member of the occult Thule Society. Eckart became Hitler’s mentor, exchanging ideas with him, teaching him how to dress and speak, and introducing him to a wide range of people. Hitler thanked Eckart by paying tribute to him in the second volume of Mein Kampf.
Hitler was discharged from the army in March 1920 and with his former superiors’ continued encouragement began participating full time in the party’s activities. His aptitude for oratory and propaganda soon became evident and he became chief of propaganda for the party in early 1920. In the spring of 1920 he engineered the change of name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei – NSDAP), usually known as the Nazi party (or, less commonly, the National Socialist party). In the same period, under his influence the party adopted a modified swastika (a well-known good luck charm which had previously been used in Germany as a mark of volkishness and “Aryanism”) along with the Roman salute used by Italian fascists.
By early 1921, Hitler was becoming highly effective at speaking in front of large crowds. In February, Hitler spoke before a crowd of nearly six thousand in Munich. To publicize the meeting, he sent out two truckloads of party supporters to drive around with swastikas, cause a commotion and throw out leaflets, their first use of this tactic. Hitler gained notoriety outside of the party for his rowdy, polemic speeches against the Treaty of Versailles, rival politicians (including monarchists, nationalists and other non-internationalist socialists) and especially against Marxists and Jews.
The NSDAP was centered in Munich, a hotbed of German nationalists who included Army officers determined to crush Marxism and undermine the Weimar republic. Gradually they noticed Hitler and his growing movement as a suitable vehicle for their goals. Hitler traveled to Berlin to visit nationalist groups during the summer of 1921, and in his absence there was a revolt among the DAP leadership in Munich.
The party was run by an executive committee whose original members considered Hitler to be overbearing. They formed an alliance with a group of socialists from Augsburg. Hitler rushed back to Munich and countered them by tendering his resignation from the party on 11 July 1921. When they realized the loss of Hitler would effectively mean the end of the party, he seized the moment and announced he would return on the condition that he replace Drexler as party chairman, with unlimited powers. Infuriated committee members (including Drexler) held out at first. Meanwhile an anonymous pamphlet appeared entitled Adolf Hitler: Is he a traitor?, attacking Hitler’s lust for power and criticizing the violent men around him. Hitler responded to its publication in a Munich newspaper by suing for libel and later won a small settlement.
The executive committee of the NSDAP eventually backed down and Hitler’s demands were put to a vote of party members. Hitler received 543 votes for and only one against. At the next gathering on 29 July 1921, Adolf Hitler was introduced as Führer of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, marking the first time this title was publicly used.
Hitler’s beer hall oratory, attacking Jews, social democrats, liberals, reactionary monarchists, capitalists and communists, began attracting adherents. Early followers included Rudolf Hess, the former air force pilot Hermann Göring, and the army captain Ernst Röhm, who eventually became head of the Nazis’ paramilitary organization, the SA (Sturmabteilung, or “Storm Division”), which protected meetings and attacked political opponents. As well, Hitler assimilated independent groups, such as the Nuremberg-based Deutsche Werkgemeinschaft, led by Julius Streicher, who became Gauleiter of Franconia. Hitler attracted the attention of local business interests, was accepted into influential circles of Munich society, and became associated with wartime General Erich Ludendorff during this time.