Did Hitler ever admire his enemies

National Socialism and World War II

Hans-Ulrich Thamer

To person

Born in 1943, is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at the University of Münster. His main research interests are National Socialism and European Fascism.

Publications including: Seduction and violence. Germany 1933-1945, (The Germans and their Nation, Vol. 5), Berlin 1986; National Socialism, Stuttgart 2002.

For a long time, the western nations interpreted Hitler's aggressive foreign policy only as a revolt against the Versailles Treaty. They built on "appeasement". In this way the National Socialists were able to use the years until 1938 and prepare for the next war.

Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler salute at a military parade in Munich on the occasion of Mussolini's state visit. (& copy AP)


In National Socialist foreign policy, too, tradition and revolution, as well as the familiar and the unimaginable, were intertwined. Initially, however, the revolutionary, which was supposed to disrupt the international order, hardly emerged. Rather, it was hidden behind the claim to a revision of the Versailles treaty system of 1919, as it had apparently been unanimously represented by all parties to the Weimar Republic. All national ideas, from changing the German borders to restoring German great power positions to plans for a Central European hegemony and colonial reconquest, which many national groups had propagated, were only instruments for Hitler and the hard core of the National Socialist movement. They were the mask behind which Hitler hid his plans for expansion and living space, and conversely, their gradual fulfillment gave the Fiihrer myth ever new nourishment and steadier existence.

The conquest program in the east and the idea of ​​a habitat war were only the dreams of a minority. The fact that they quickly became a determining factor in German foreign and world politics had a lot to do with Hitler's person and politics, but also with the domestic and foreign political conditions, interests and perceptions that Hitler encountered and influenced.

The prerequisite for this was Hitler's rise from a propagandist of a völkisch-nationalist protest movement to Reich Chancellor and charismatic leader, who also integrated the various goals and interests of the conservative-Nazi coalition into foreign policy in his person. On the other hand, the prerequisite was the consistency with which the ideologue Hitler clung to his dream of an eastern empire. At the same time, he had the tactical ability to use the national goals and emotions of his partners for his own purposes. None of his followers had the determination that drove Hitler time and again to an all-or-nothing policy. What is more, concerns about the ever greater risks of a policy of breaches of treaty and acts of aggression increasingly frightened even the closest followers, including the careless power politician Göring. But the constant play with fire was neither detrimental to the allegiance of the allegiance nor to the leadership cult of the masses. Every time the regime was able to implement its policy of risk and breach of contract without significant international resistance, the relief at home turned into an even greater admiration for Hitler's apparent political genius. This brought, if it did not already exist, the approval of the old power elites and the national bourgeoisie. For Hitler this was only the platform for the next step.

Because the dogmatic fixation on a war, which, in Hitler's terminology, was supposed to serve the conquest of "living space" and the annihilation of alleged "racial enemies" had little to do with the emotions and goals of the widespread German nationalism, even if Hitler and his Executives seem to have made themselves its most ardent proponents and successful executors. While the thoughts and actions of many of his followers initially moved along the lines of traditional nationalism and Wilhelmine imperialism, for Hitler such concepts and their carriers were only a means to an end. The fact that he was able to achieve a large part of his domination and foreign policy goals step by step was not only due to his tactical skill and dogmatic will. It was also due to the willingness to cooperate and the loyalty of the traditional leadership groups in the military, bureaucracy and business and, to a large extent, to the unusually favorable international constellations and developments that Hitler knew how to use for himself.

When two provisions of the Versailles Treaty fell with the end of the reparation obligations and the recognition of military equality in the summer of 1932, the German Reich had already been given greater room for maneuver in foreign policy before the National Socialists came to power. In addition, as a result of the global economic crisis there was an increasing destabilization of the international system, as the collective conflict regulation mechanisms became more and more fragile and each state was only fixated on its own economic survival. This instability had to invite the "political have-nots" among the powers that have hitherto felt themselves to be neglected by the international order to realize their power-political desires.

The principle of collective security had already been weakened by the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and their withdrawal from the League of Nations in March 1933, which had had no negative consequences for Japan. National Socialist Germany increased the pressure of the revisionist powers and thus contributed to the further threat to international stability.

Programmatic goals

These favorable starting conditions for Hitler's foreign policy were contrasted with less favorable ones. At first, there was concern all over the world after Hitler came to power. It resulted less from his anti-Semitism or from internal measures taken against the communists and other political parties, but rather from the fact that a party had come to power that was considered to be the spearhead of German revisionism. The European neighbors feared that Hitler would tear up the international treaties, arm Germany and join Austria to the German Reich. However, some foreign politicians and diplomats also hoped that government responsibility would induce Hitler to moderate.

For the Hitler government everything came down to concealing the actual goals in the first critical phase of foreign policy. The idea was to give the impression that there was no specific National Socialist foreign policy at all, only the continuation of the traditional Weimar revision policy. Hitler's strategy of concealment was accommodated by the fact that the German national side had also taken precautions to maintain continuity in foreign policy. Not only Foreign Minister Konstantin Freiherr von Neurath (1873–1956) and his State Secretary Bernhard Wilhelm von Bülow remained in office, the foreign policy apparatus was also to keep a free hand.

State Secretary von Bülow, who was certain that "the foreign policy implications of the change of government" was minor, once again formulated the foreign policy goals that the presidential cabinets had pursued since 1930 in a memorandum. It was the program of a revision policy with the aim of the early restoration of Germany's great power, which, in contrast to the policy of Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann (1878–1929) in the Weimar Republic, chose a more aggressive style, but still felt bound by international treaties and conventions . The way back to the great power should lead to the economic and military strengthening of the German Reich as quickly as possible. The aim was to enable it to achieve its territorial goals, namely the annexation of Austria and the regaining of the lost colonies, and thus to regain the political position it had held before 1914.

After taking power, Hitler first formulated his foreign policy ideas on February 3, 1933 in his address to generals of the Reichswehr. In it he not only indicated to the army leadership with astonishing frankness that he was willing to pursue politics with high risk. Rather, he announced that he wanted to prepare and carry out the "conquest of new living space in the East" and its "ruthless Germanization" in several stages. First of all, a complete domestic political transformation of Germany with the aim of "exterminating Marxism" and "strengthening the will to defend" is necessary. All other foreign, economic and defense policy measures must be subordinated to this one goal. For this reason, the revision policy, including participation in the disarmament policy of the League of Nations, had to be continued for the time being in order to ensure the shielding of the actual armament and conquest policy.

Hitler's postulate of "regaining political power" interested the military primarily because it was linked to the "building up of the armed forces", and that corresponded to their own interests and plans. Because both in 1928/29 and in 1932 the Reichswehr leadership had already drawn up secret rearmament programs. Despite the planning stage, while they were still in the process, they developed their own military-political dynamic and sooner or later would have had to largely bind a new government and, in terms of foreign policy, have led to a revision of the military articles of the Versailles Treaty.

In his address, Hitler developed the basics of what he had been giving in his speeches and especially in his program "Mein Kampf" since the mid-twenties. However, in front of the officers he only vaguely indicated his actual long-term goals, namely the conquest of the Soviet Union and the establishment of a racially justified world domination. Beyond the formulation of these key programmatic elements, Hitler had little idea of ​​how these goals could actually be achieved. At most, the tactical rules and the corresponding flexibility in the pursuit of the goals became clear and showed the superiority of the political propagandist and tactician Hitler over the generals, who held on to the implementation of their rearmament policy relatively rigidly.