BBC The Nazis A Warning From History (1997) s01e01 Episode Script

Part 1

Hidden in a forest in what is now the eastern part of Poland, near the border with Russia, lie the remains of a concrete town.
For three crucial years during World War Two, this was home to one of the most infamous figures in world history .
a man who said he and the nation he led would create an empire which would outlast any other.
dieses deutsche Volk emporf Uhren durch eigene Arbeit, durch eigenen Fleiss, eigene Entschlossenheit, eigenen Trotz, eigene Beharrlichkeit, dann werden wir wieder emporsteigen, genau wie die Vater einst auch Deutschland nicht geschenkt erhielten, sondern selbst sich schaffen mussten.
eigenen Trotz, eigene Beharrlichkeit (BACKGROUND MUSIC: GERMAN MARCHING SONG) Here at the Wolf's Lair, his headquarters in the forest of Rastenburg in German East Prussia, Adolf Hitler took decisions which shaped the course of World War Two.
The result was a level of destruction and suffering unprecedented in the history of war.
55 million people died in World War Two.
The Germans took five million Russian prisoners of war alone.
Only two million survived.
And during the war, Hitler authorised a policy unique in all history - the mechanised extermination of an entire people.
All this was possible because the Nazis ruled Germany.
How could it be that a cultured nation at the heart of Europe allowed such a man and the Nazi Party he led to come to power? Leading Nazis explained their success easily.
It was inevitable given the "superhuman" qualities of their leader, Adolf Hitler.
But the true reasons for the Nazis' rise to power are not that simple and are much more alarming.
Nazism, which was to create the Second World War, was born out of the First.
On November 11th, 1918, to the surprise of German front-line troops, the war suddenly stopped.
The myth grew among many surrendered German soldiers that they had been stabbed in the back, that the front-line troops and two million war dead had been betrayed by Marxists and Jews who had fomented dissent back at home.
As these surviving troops returned to the newly democratic Germany, they took their bitterness with them.
It would grow and flourish into Nazism in the south of Germanyin Bavaria.
(BAVARIAN FOLK SONG) Bavaria is a picture-book land famous for its Lederhosen and beer halls.
But at the end of World War One in this traditional heartland of Germany, conditions existed which would create a revolution.
After the war, the Allies continued to blockade Germany, and the returning troops marching through Munich were shocked to discover how much their families were still suffering.
Millions of Germans were hungry and thousands more were dying of tuberculosis and influenza.
Politics were polarised.
Conservatives and socialists each became radical in the face of crisis.
With the whole of Germany in turmoil in the spring of 1919, the unrest in Munich led to a left-wing takeover of the city - the Raterepublik.
This culminated in April 1919 in the Munich Soviet Republic, an attempt to create a Soviet-style government of the city only 18 months after the victory of the Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union.
Government troops were sent in to quash the rebellion and there was open fighting on the streets of Munich.
(GUNFIRE AND EXPLOSIONS) More than 500 people were killed.
The soldiers were supported by the Freikorps - right-wing mercenaries paid for by the government.
Sometimes the Freikorps shot members of the Raterepublik out of hand.
Other Freikorps members, like Fridolin von Spaun, approved of the brutal measures used to suppress Communist revolutionaries in Germany.
Eugene Leviné's father was the Communist leader of the Raterepublik.
He was executed in June 1919.
I understand from my mother that he had been very brave the way he met his death.
And, in fact, he called out "Long live the world revolution!" And I realised that an honourable person would die sooner or later, either on the barricades or put up against a wall and shot.
Eugene Leviné's father was Jewish.
And the anti-Semitic prejudice of those on the right was further fuelled by the fact that of the leadership of the Raterepublik, most were Jewish.
To the Freikorps who celebrated after the suppression of the Raterepublik, the Jews were convenient scapegoats, held to blame for all the country's ills.
And the Freikorps had the support of right-wing officers in the regular army, like Captain Ernst RÃhm, a man with a simple philosophy.
"Since I'm an immature and wicked man, "war and unrest appeal to me more than good bourgeois order.
"Brutality is respected, "the people need wholesome fear.
"They want to fear something.
"They want someone to frighten them and make them shudderingly submissive.
" In Munich, RÃhm was heavily involved in the violent politics of the extreme right, and in 1919 he joined the small German Workers' Party.
Here he met a 30-year-old veteran of World War One, Corporal Adolf Hitler, a man who shared with RÃhm a deep hatred of Communists and Jews.
Hitler had also joined the German Workers' Party in 1919.
His membership card said he was Member 555.
But in reality he was Member 55 because the party started numbering people from 500 so it looked like they had more members.
Hitler was like thousands of ex-soldiers in Munich - drifting without a regular job - but he had one natural talent.
He could channel his hatred and anger at the way the war had ended into powerful speeches.
Hitler spoke repeatedly about what he claimed was the iniquity of the Versailles Peace Treaty signed at the end of World War One.
Under the Treaty, Germany lost large amounts of her own territory and was forced to pay reparations to the victors.
In the early 1920s, inflation spiralled out of control.
In Bavaria, by 1921, Hitler had become leader of the small German Workers' Party, renamed the National Socialist German Workers' Party, or the Nazis for short.
It was still one of many different right-wing parties in Munich, and they still all said the same - Versailles was a crime and the Jews were behind it.
But Hitler's dynamism, together with the uncompromising tone of his speeches, began to attract other prominent Bavarians to the fledgling Nazi Party.
In 1922, a World War One flying ace joined the Nazis, the holder of the "Pour Le Mérite" award for gallantry and commander of the Richthofen Squadron - Hermann GÃring.
"I joined the Party because it was revolutionary, "not because of any ideological nonsense.
" The Nazi Party began to spread its appeal into the Bavarian countryside.
One agricultural student, who was to become a chicken farmer, found in the Nazis an expression of his own obsession with the mystic relationship between German blood and German soil.
"The yeoman of his own acre is the backbone "of the German people's strength and character.
"Cowards are born in towns, heroes in the country.
" The words of another Bavarian, Heinrich Himmler, chicken farmer and later commander of the SS.
In January 1923, Hitler and the Nazis exploited the discontent caused by the French occupation of the Ruhr.
French troops came to enforce reparation payments.
They alienated the Germans.
In Munich in 1923, in the atmosphere of crisis caused by the occupation of the Ruhr, Hitler and the Nazis acted.
Hitler stood on the stage of the Burgerbrau Keller on November 8th, interrupting a right-wing political meeting.
He called for a national revolution to start in Bavaria and overthrow the left-wing government in Berlin.
The next day, the Nazis, with other right-wing parties, marched through Munich to gain support.
They were stopped by the police at the war memorial at the Feldherrnhalle.
The Nazis hoped the army and police, many of whom supported right-wing parties, would join a march on Berlin.
The police didn't support them.
Shots were fired and the marchers were routed.
Hitler fled from the scene.
Four policemen and 16 Nazis lost their lives.
Hitler was tried along with the other leaders of the putsch in early 1924.
The trial was a media sensation, with entrance to the court by ticket only.
The Nazis hadn't just killed four policemen outside the Feldherrnhalle.
They had also organised a bank robbery.
A defiant Hitler told the court "You may pronounce us guilty a thousand times, "but the goddess who presides over the eternal court of history will, with a smile, "tear in pieces the charge of the public prosecutor and the verdict of this court, "for she acquits us.
" Hitler became famous for his apparently brave stand, but it was a con trick, for he knew as he spoke that the judge would be lenient towards him.
Hidden from the public was the truth about Hitler's previous appearance in a Bavarian court.
More than two years before, at the LÃwenbrau Keller, Nazi thugs egged on by Hitler disrupted a left-wing meeting, dragged the speaker off the stage and beat him up.
Almost all the documents about the trial which followed were seized by the Nazis when they came to power and later burnt.
But one or two from this earlier trial survived hidden in the archive and they tell truths the Nazis wanted to hide.
Hitler was given the minimum sentence possible - three months in prison.
But the sympathy of the judge didn't stop there.
He wrote to the Appeal Court in support of Hitler and asked them to reduce his sentence.
As a result, Hitler served only one month in prison and a period on probation.
The judge in Hitler's first trial was called Georg Neithardt, the same judge whom the authorities allowed to preside over the putsch trial.
It must have been obvious to Hitler that the court would be lenient towards him.
And they were.
Hitler had attempted revolution, incited murder, and his followers had robbed a bank.
He served nine months in Landsberg prison.
But even so, by 1924, it seemed that Hitler and the Nazis had become an irrelevance.
(GERMAN CABARET MUSIC) In the mid-1920s, the German economy recovered as inflation was reduced to single figures.
The Weimar government borrowed money from the Americans which it then used to pay the French and British their reparations.
The good times were financed by short-term credit.
There were Germans who disapproved of the "Weimar decadence".
They joined non-political groups like the Wandervogel, who called for a return to an older, simpler way of life.
One small political party sought to capitalise on this longing for old-fashioned values.
In the mid-1920s, the Nazi Party was small but radical.
Their party programme promised that if the Nazis came to power, German Jews would be stripped of German citizenship and even expelled from the country.
(QUESTION IN GERMAN) The fantasy of a world Jewish conspiracy was openly preached by the Nazis and believed.
Along with anti-Semitism went the belief that violence was an indispensable part of the political process.
The party had its own paramilitary wing, the brown-shirted Storm Troopers, whose job was to protect Nazi meetings, intimidate the followers of other parties and drum up support.
Towering over the small party was the personality of the man now called the Führer - Adolf Hitler.
The way the Nazi Party was evolving around Hitler was the way it would be structured when the Nazis ruled much of Europe - and the structure was strange.
Though these images of Nazi Party offices in the 1920s seem ordered, the administration of the party was chaotic.
Hitler hated committee meetings and disliked arbitrating between rivals.
The Führer was disorganised and often late.
One prominent Nazi, Gottfried Feder, complained to Hitler "I regard your time management as very damaging for the entire movement.
" Yet the party still functioned.
Hitler was a passionate believer in the law of natural selection - the rule of the jungle.
"Men dispossess one another "and one perceives that, at the end of it all, "it is always the stronger who triumphs.
"The stronger asserts his will.
"It's the law of nature.
" Hitler's obsession with this idea of the survival of the fittest meant that when a party member wrote to him in 1925 and asked to be appointed leader of his local branch, the letter was answered by Max Amann, one of Hitler's closest confidants.
"Herr Hitler takes the view that it is not the job of the party leadership "to appoint party leaders.
"You state that almost all the local members have confidence in you, "so why don't you take over leadership of the branch?" (CHEERING) But now, seven years after Hitler had become leader, the Nazi Party was failing dismally in the great struggle.
Despite the obvious enthusiasm of the party faithful, the Nazis could not get themselves elected to power.
In the 1928 election, the Nazis got just 2.
6% of the vote.
The vast majority of the German electorate, over 97%, rejected them and their leader.
This secret government report, compiled just before the 1928 election, says that the Nazi Party has "no noticeable influence on the great masses of the population".
The Nazis were a tiny fringe party, almost a joke.
Yet just four years and eight months later, Hitler was Chancellor of Germany.
For the Nazis were helped by circumstance.
Germany suffered.
A sudden drop in world agricultural prices brought poverty to the countryside and then the Wall Street Crash heralded a world economic slump.
The Americans called in their loans.
German unemployment rose to five and a half million in 1931.
Unemployed lived rough inside the cities as Germany became economically the worst hit nation in the world.
And then, just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse, they did.
The five major banks crashed in 1931.
More than 20,000 German businesses folded.
Now the middle class was suffering.
In the economic crisis, the Nazis' vote increased.
They still said the same - Versailles was a crime, Jews should be denied citizenship and Germany must be reborn.
Their message hadn't changed, but now more Germans were ready to hear it.
In this economic crisis, people who had never seen or heard Hitler still voted Nazi.
(RECORDING OF HITLER SPEECH) In a remote town in German East Prussia like Neidenburg, in 1928, the Nazis got 2.
3% of the vote.
In 1930, their vote leapt up to 25.
8%, yet Hitler didn't visit here and there was no Nazi Party organisation in the town.
It wasn't just the Nazis who began to do well.
The Communists started to pick up votes too.
Something sinister was happening to this new democracy.
It seemed to be splitting apart as voters rushed to the extremes.
Alois Pfaller had joined the Communist Party in the late 1920s and now started taking on the Nazis in the streets.
(SONG) (NEW SONG) Hitler said that he was the strong man who could solve the economic crisis at the head of a dynamic party that promised to rebuild the country around national unity.
And Hitler campaigned in a fresh way.
In his 1932 "Hitler over Germany" presidential election campaign, he travelled by aeroplane to 20 cities in seven days.
Though he was to lose the election to President Hindenburg, Hitler had established himself as a credible alternative leader of Germany.
The Nazi Party proposed little in the way of detailed policies, but it offered order, discipline and the personality of Adolf Hitler.
Fridolin von Spaun met him in the early 1930s.
By 1932, the majority of Germans, in voting for Communists and Nazis, were voting for parties openly committed to overthrowing German democracy.
Democracy had arrived in Germany at the end of World War One.
Now the majority of Germans wanted to be rid of it.
Hitler made it clear that a vote for the Nazis was a vote for dictatorship.
As a result of the elections of July 1932, the Nazis became the biggest party in Germany, with 37% of the vote.
Now only one man stood between Hitler and the Chancellorship - President Hindenburg, the man Hitler challenged for the Presidency and lost.
Hindenburg met Hitler on August 13th, 1932.
Hitler demanded to be Chancellor.
Hindenburg refused and his State Secretary recorded the reasons why.
"He could not bring himself to give government power to a single party "which did not represent the majority of the electorate "and which, furthermore, was intolerant, lacking in discipline "and frequently even appeared violent.
" But then different pressure groups began to lobby President Hindenburg.
A group of businessmen, including the former President of the Reichsbank, Hjalmar Schacht, wrote to Hindenburg, saying Hitler must get the Chancellorship for the good of Germany.
New pressures came as the results of an army war game arrived.
The author of the report said that in the event of civil unrest, the army couldn't control the Nazis and the Communists.
"It's been shown that the forces of law and order of the Reich "and of the German states "would in no way be strong enough to protect the country "against National Socialists and Communists and protect the borders.
" But if there were pressures on Hindenburg as 1932 came to a close, there were also pressures on the Nazis.
The crowds waiting outside the Nazis' headquarters in Munich in December weren't aware of the problems the party faced.
The party was going bankrupt because of the cost of fighting so many elections.
One of the key figures in the party, Gregor Strasser, had just resigned, and the Nazi vote had dropped to 33% in the November 1932 election.
It looked like their support had peaked.
But powerful figures on the traditional right felt they had to negotiate with Hitler.
They too wanted to eliminate democracy and destroy the Communists, and without Hitler and the Nazis they had no access to mass support.
A former Chancellor, the aristocratic von Papen, came up with a deal.
Hitler could be Chancellor if he, von Papen, was Vice-Chancellor and only two other Nazis were in the Cabinet, surrounded by conservatives.
The theory was Hitler would be "tamed".
(CHEERING) As a result, Hindenburg offered Adolf Hitler the Chancellorship on January 30th, 1933.
Von Papen crowed, "We've hired him," and the new Cabinet posed for the cameras.
The Nazis later tried to rewrite history to say that Hitler became Chancellor simply because it was his destiny, but Hitler had been helped into power by economic circumstance and the support and miscalculation of others.
It all happened so fast in those days.
After one had seen it come gradually, the Communist Party line - to which I still officially belonged - was that it doesn't matter if Hitler gets to power.
He'll soon have proved himself incompetent and then it's our turn.
For some extraordinary reason, they didn't realise that he would change the law once in power, which he did very smartly.
On January 30th, 1933, the same day Hitler was appointed Chancellor, the Nazis held a torchlight celebration parade in Berlin.
The revolution had begun.
(DRUMS BEAT, SINGING) There were a few Storm Troopers who had Jewish girlfriends.
And therefore a lot of German Jews thought, "Oh, well, it's not going to be so bad.
"They have Jewish girlfriends.
They can't hate us all.
" Oh, it's heartbreakingI Immediately after Hitler's appointment as Chancellor, one of Hindenburg's closest comrades from World War One, General Ludendorff, wrote to him "I prophesy to you solemnly "that this accursed man "will take our Reich into the abyss.
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