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Sven Felix Kellerhoff
under the Swastika
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ebook im be.bra verlag, 2014
© der Originalausgabe:
berlin edition im be.bra verlag GmbH
KulturBrauerei Haus 2
Schönhauser Allee 37, 10435 Berlin
Übersetzung /Translation: Penny Croucher, London
ISBN 978-3-8393-4113-1 (epub)
ISBN 978-3-8148-0155-1 (print)
The Path to Power
On foreign soil
“Battle for Berlin”
Transfer of power
Total power by conquest
“Falling into line”
The beginning of the persecution of the Jews
Hitler and the capital
The Berliners and the “Führer”
National Socialist City
The politics of architecture
“People’s Community” and persecution
Daily Life in the War
Living with the bombing
Transportation to death
The air battle for Berlin
Persecution and resistance
The final battle
Nazi Adresses in Berlin
Even Hitler is overwhelmed by the enthusiasm which greets him. He asks his photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann: “Where has Goebbels managed to get hold of so many torches in such a short space of time?” Indeed the NSDAP Gauleiter of Berlin, experienced as he is in masterminding impressive backdrops for his “Führer”, has surpassed even himself on this afternoon. It was not until just before 5 p.m. that the new Minister for the Interior, National Socialist Wilhlem Frick, lifted the ban that had existed on holding demonstrations at the Brandenburg Gate. Just two hours later all the members of the SA, the NSDAP and other Hitler sympathisers who heard Goebbels’ rallying call, gather at the Kleiner Stern in the Tiergarten, the junction of Bellevueallee and Charlottenburger Chaussee. Torches are handed out, marching and brass bands set up the beat and soon tens of thousands of boots are hitting the asphalt in perfect time. At about 8.30 p.m. the front of the procession reaches its destination, the Reich Chancellery. The whole march past takes over three hours and the jubilant Berliners on Wilhelmplatz brave the freezing temperatures until gone mid-night.
Goebbels, who on this evening makes his first radio broadcast ever, goes into raptures: “It is so moving for me to see how, in this city where we began six years ago with only a handful of people, the whole population is rising up and how they are all marching past; workers, citizens, farmers, students and soldiers – a great national community.” On the same night he writes in his diary: “Endless. A million people on the move. The old man (Reich President Paul von Hindenburg) takes the salute. In the next building is Hitler. It is a new era! A spontaneous explosion of the people. Indescribable. More and more crowds.” The British Ambassador, who also sees the marching columns from his Embassy in Wilhelmstrasse, gives a more truthful account of the events. Sir Horace Rumbold reports back to the Foreign Minister in London: “The Nazi press maintain that about half a million people took part in the torch procession, evidently without knowing that to complete such a parade it would have taken one hour for 10,000 men marching in lines of six and that for four hours 50,000 is the maximum number possible.”
Quite apart from the question of numbers the few original photos of the torch procession are disappointing – underexposed and out of focus or blurred. There are no moving pictures at all. So, in the weeks that follow, the resourceful and unscrupulous Goebbels stages the torchlight procession twice more for the lenses of picture journalists and cameramen: once for the propaganda film “SA man Brand” and then, on an even larger scale, for the production of “Hans Westmar”, also a feature film about the victory of National Socialism in Germany. Most of the photographs and all the film shots depicting the torchlight procession through the Brandenburg Gate come from these two staged versions of the parade. Right from the very start the new regime is based on lies and deception.
Democratically minded Berliners do not celebrate on 30th January 1933; the good feeling they had enjoyed on the occasion of the traditional Press Ball two days earlier has evaporated. The pacifist and Hitler opponent, Harry Graf Kessler writes with horror in his diary: “Today Berlin is in carnival mood. SA and SS troops and other steel helmets in uniform fill the streets, spectators cram the pavements. (…) The whole of Wilhelmsplatz is teeming with gaping crowds.” Theodor Eschenburg, an employee of a large business concern, hears the radio coverage of the torchlight procession at an evening function in the exclusive home of one of his company directors. As they listen, the assembled company, all of a conservative persuasion, become increasingly dumbstruck. The 28 year old Eschenburg interrupts the silence with the question, “When will we be rid of Hitler again?” Max Liebermann, the Berlin artist, who lives in a building right next to the Brandenburg gate, expresses his feelings on this evening very succinctly: “It makes me want to vomit – but I couldn’t stuff enough food down my throat.” The darkest epoch in the history of the German capital begins with the torchlight procession through the Brandenburg Gate on 30th January 1933. This evening unleashes the indescribable violence which starts in Germany, spreads through Europe and eventually has consequences for the whole world. Millions upon millions of people lose their lives because of National Socialism and Hilter’s war destroys so many cultural and economic values. Six decades later, the traces of twelve years of Nazi dictatorship from 1933 until 1945 are still evident – even if the divisions in Berlin, Germany and Europe have been overcome.
Adolf Hitler had his first experience of politics in Upper Bavaria, especially in the beer cellars of Munich and this was where his speeches, with their mixture of anti-Semitism and nationalist prejudice, were best received. In Berlin, by contrast, the National Socialists, founded in 1919 as the “German Workers’ Party”, enjoyed very little popularity and at first attracted no more than a few hundred supporters. Neither was there any enthusiasm for the exaggeratedly hate-ridden and hectoring speeches of the Nazi leader.
For Hitler Berlin was always a target in both senses of the word; both as an object of hatred and of desire, at the same time a measure of what he despised and yet his own personal “Promised Land”. Since his four brief visits to Berlin as a soldier after the First World War, Hitler’s relationship with the capital had been characterised by deep division. On the one hand his world view included the rejection of modern city life but on the other hand he was fascinated by the workings of a metropolis and by Berlin in particular. This contradiction is revealed in Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”, a confused book written in 1924-25 which is mainly a montage of stereotypes. At one point in the book the leader of the National Socialists attacks the city as a “merely a collection of blocks of flats and nothing more. It is difficult to see how a special attachment is to develop with such a meaningless place.” Yet only a hundred pages on he writes: “The geopolitical significance of such a centrally situated city cannot be underestimated. A political movement can only gain long-term power by being part of the aura of a place suffused with the magical charm of a Mecca or Rome, and has as its substance an inner unity and pays homage to the summit of this unity.” Despite all his criticism of modern cities Hitler had realised very early on that winning the political battle for Berlin would be decisive in the acquisition of power in and over Germany and for this reason, from 1920 onwards, he kept returning to the capital, sometimes for weeks at a time.
Some of his most important financial supporters lived here. His party was always hard up and constantly needed funds, not only because their leader was unemployed but also because they were producing a newspaper, the Völkische Beobachter (People’s Observer), which ran at a loss. Hitler’s first base in Berlin was the city home of the piano manufacturer Edwin Bechstein who lived near Museumsinsel (Museum Island). In these early years Bechstein’s wife Helene was one of the NSDAP’s most generous donors. She enjoyed entertaining Hitler and his “national” friends and sometimes even pawned jewellery or paintings to help out the charismatic bohemian from Munich. The Bechsteins’ house at number six Johannisstrasse in central Berlin, which Hitler’s confidant from those days Ernst Hanfstaengel jealously and condescendingly called “one of the grandest boxes in the inner city”, was destroyed in the “Battle for Berlin” at the end of April 1945.
It was another sponsor who organised Hitler’s first political appearance in Berlin. The former Director of Siemens, Emil Gansser, invited his protégé to the elegant “National Club”, where he was to address the “inner circle” of senior officers, officials and businessmen and Hitler made his first speech there at the end of May 1922. The “National Club” was situated directly opposite the eastern entrance of the Reichstag; on this site today stands the Jakob-Kaiser-Haus, a parliamentary office building. Hitler’s words evidently attracted interest as he was asked back for a repeat performance on 5 June 1922, but they failed to have any political effect and in spite of the (shortlived) support from the Berlin industrial baron Ernst von Borsig not enough money was raised to fund the NSDAP in Berlin. However, a few months later a Berlin group of the Munich splinter party emerged under the name of “Grossdeutsche Arbeiterpartei” (Workers’ Party of Greater Germany), but they were unable to increase their membership to much more than their original 194 founder members, mainly because the democratically inclined Prussian Police rigorously and cleverly prevented any attempts by the right-wing extremists to get round the Prussia wide ban on the NSDAP which came into force on 15 November 1922. Throughout 1923 the Nazis remained insignificant in the capital. When Hitler called for a “march on Berlin” after the Munich Putsch on 8 November, there was only a small band of about 40 faithful followers who were ready to support the “coup d’état” – not a very impressive fighting force to conquer a city of millions.
Thanks to sympathetic judges in Bavaria, Hitler only had to serve one fifth of his already short sentence for high treason. By the end of 1924 he was free again and his first long journey took him back to Berlin. The German capital was clearly his most important destination outside Munich – as it had been between 1920 and 1923. In mid-March 1925, only two weeks after the lifting of the ban and the subsequent founding of a nationwide NSDAP, he met up with other politicians from the extreme right. This particular visit to Berlin is noteworthy because the talks were held in the Reichstag building in which, according to the accounts written by his own party, the Nazi “Führer” claimed never to have set foot before 1933. The insignificance of the NSDAP at this time can be demonstrated by the results of the first ballot in the Reich Presidential election on 29 March 1925 when World War I General Erich Ludendorff, the candidate supported among others by Hitler, gained just 1.1% of the votes overall and as little as 0.4% in Berlin. Even more shattering was the result of the first election in which Hitler’s Party took part; in 1925 in the local elections in Berlin the NSDAP polled 137 votes in Spandau, the only borough where they had a candidate. The official records list this as last place.