The Year That Made Hitler: 1924
by Peter Ross Range
Little Brown and Company, 2016
In the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, the name of Adolf Hitler has been repeatedly invoked. Hysterical comparisons have been made between the German dictator (from 1934-45) and the billionaire real estate magnate, Donald Trump, one of the Republican candidates for president.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Again, the evil genius that was Hitler is grossly underestimated by the pundits – while a windbag, and political lightweight, such as Trump, who was born into the lap of luxury, is given an unwarranted status. “The Donald” is simply feeding off the emotions/fears of the royally-pissed-off electorate. It’s a below-the-belt tactic well known to political aficionados.
Pundits have short memories. They’ve forgotten how George H.W. Bush, (Dubya’s daddy), played the race card – to wit: the notorious Willie Horton TV ads – to bring down his presidential opponent Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988 election. Dirty tricks in politics in the U.S. have takes many forms and have a long, despicable history.
In the book, The Year That Made Hitler: 1924, the author, Peter Ross Range, focuses on a critical time in the political life of Hitler. This was the year he spent as a prisoner in Landsberg Prison, just outside of Munich (November 11, 1923 to December 20, 1924.) In fact, it was a make or break time for him and his revenge-seeking Nazi party.
The setting is post World War I, in Bavaria, in the south of Germany. It’s a heavily Catholic area with a population reeling from the harmful effects of the war. The economy had collapsed and hyperinflation had reached epic levels. Try this: “a loaf of bread cost 200 billion marks. Savings were destroyed and food shortages had sparked riots.”
(As an aside, one of the Nazi concentration camps located in Germany, after the brutal Nazis took power in 1934, was at Dachau, near Munich. It wasn’t a death camp, no gas chambers, but thousands of inmates nevertheless died there, including “621 Catholic priests, 477 of them of Polish heritage.” (See the collection of stories compiled by Bedrich Hoffmann, And, Who Will Kill You…The Chronicle of the Life and Sufferings of Priests in the Concentration Camps; Pallottinum; 1994.)
Getting back to post-WWI, the French occupied parts of the Ruhr region as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, they had also had seized the Alsace-Lorraine area. The German people were hit, too, with a $12.5 billion reparation obligation and “humiliated by the ‘sole guilt’ clause of the treaty.” Bavaria was a hotbed of “nationalistic parties and groups.” It was then known as the “putsch (coup d’etat) capital” of the federated German state.
Political violence was endemic and irrational hatred of Jews common place. The big lie/myth, repeated ad nauseam, that enflamed the German populace was that WWI was lost not on the battlefield. It was lost because of a conspiracy of political hacks, “The November Criminals,” with Jews predominating, that had “stabbed the country in the back.”
Communist leaders in Berlin, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, both Jews, in 1919, were assassinated, along with Matthias Erzberger, who had signed the WWI armistice. A right-wing hit squad took credit for “more than 350 political murders,” during this reign of terror. This included the killing of Walther Rathenau, “a German foreign minister and a Jew.”
The hatred of the Jews by right-wingers was fueled also by their fears of Marxism. Around this same time, the Bolsheviks had came to power in Russia. The Czar and his family were slaughtered. Jews, because of past bloody pogroms, had played a minor part in the upheaval and its aftermath. See, “Stalin and His Hangmen: The Tyrant and Those Who Killed for Him,” Donald Rayfield. The Nazi propagandists, however, ignored the real facts, and blamed “a Jewish conspiracy” for the Russian Revolution.
Enter in late 1923, Adolf Hitler! The former private from WWI was living in a cheap sublet in Munich. A native of Austria, he was viewed as “a failed artist and drifter.” Hitler generally awoke late in the day and haunted the “raucous beer halls of the city at night.” But, he did a have a job of sorts. Hitler was a spy for the German Army (Reichswehr)! He was hired in 1919, to place under surveillance workers’ political clubs for any pro-Marxist activities, and to also “promote German nationalism.”
In September, 1919, Hitler was assigned to check out a small group, then called the “German Workers’ Party.” He spoke at their meeting and the “demagogue” was born. The power of his voice and his talent for speaking were evident to all. The clique that was dominating this organization were all raving “anti-Semites.” Hitler soon became their messiah. The German Workers’ Party morphed into National Socialist Party of the Nazis.
Fast forward to November 8, 1923, the date of the failed coup in Munich against the national government. Hitler was its leader. The author Range captures brilliantly every move and counter-move of this history-shattering event. It starts in a beer hall and ends up on the blood-stained streets of Munich. Fifteen Nazis were killed and Hitler was injured. Two days later, he was hauled off to Landsberg Prison. The coup had failed. Hitler had failed miserably and the nascent Nazis Party was shattered.
Yet, a remarkable rebirth, a transformation, was soon coming. Within a decade, it would shake the world to its roots. Hitler, and his Nazis Party (NSDAP), would then be at center stage. How could that be?
Hitler was able to turn his trial for “High Treason” into a smashing victory. He acted mostly as his own lawyer, brilliantly at times, and got away with blaming everybody but himself for the failed coup. In the process, he gained national and global notoriety and “political martydom.” Author Range brings you inside the Munich courtroom with his detailed account of this compelling legal drama.
Even Hitler’s conviction was turned into a positive for Hitlers. His sentence was reduced, via a pardon, from five years to 13 months. The prison at Landsberg couldn’t have been cozier for him and his adoring cronies. It was more like a vacation lodge, only with guards. Instead of “disgrace and obscurity,” imprisonment ended up for Hitler as “springboard for success.”
Landsberg Prison was used by Hitler as a time for him of “learning, self-reflection and clarification of his views.” It is while housed in cell #7, that he composed his political manifesto, Mein Kampf/My Struggle. It is not true, the author wrote, that he dictated his book to fellow prisoner, Rudolf Hess. Hitler typed it himself on a portable Remington, which was given to him by a female devotee. The rest as they say is history. It was indeed a dark, lethal one, filled with massive crimes against humanity.
There were just so many times during these early tumultuous days that the sinister Hitler could have been stopped. A good stiff jail sentence would have done the trick and/or deportation to Austria and obscurity. Most, however, didn’t see just how dangerous Hitler was, until it was too late.
Author Range deserves credit for brilliantly and concisely bringing this important slice of history to visability. Hitler’s life in 1924, changed him, and because few were paying attention, it changed the world, too, forever.
Editor’s Note: Bill Hughes is author of “Baltimore Iconoclast.” It can be found at: http://bookstore.iuniverse.com/Products/SKU-000076922/Baltimore-Iconoclast.aspx