Hitler's Comments at a Dinner with the Chiefs of the Army and the Navy (February 3, 1933)
Source of original German text: Handwritten notes by General Lieutenant Liebmann.
Primary sources offer a unique insight into the mindset of those involved at certain times in history. However in order to properly utilise and understand a source it is important to establish certain issues surrounding the source. Including the author of the source and to whom is this person addressing. When and where the source took place and finally what the source is saying and how it says it. Thus this source analysis will analyse Hitler's comments over dinner with the generals as recorded by General Lieutenant Liebmann on the 3rd February 1933.
What we know about Hitler is that he was keen to pursue an aggressive line with regard to international and domestic policy. The desire to smash the Treaty of Versailles and begin rearmament was a key factor in Hitler's popularity. This links back to the Nazis run to prominence when they accused the leaders of the Weimar republic of 'stabbing the German nation in the back' over signing the Versailles treaty. It had been a source of great national humiliation and Hitler would have been aware that the Generals would have felt this acutely as they were the traditional elites of German Society. Hitler would have been aware of the Reichswehr's traditional dislike of the Nazis. Harold Deutsch claims that the leaders "detested its vulgarity and its revolutionary disregard for traditional values (Deutsch 1974:8). Yet he also claims they recognised the compatibility of this authoritarian leadership with their desire for military resurgence. This desire to rearm and challenge the restraints of the treaty of Versailles is also evident in Hitler's plans for 'Lebensraum'. Already at the relatively early stage of 1933 Hitler discusses the need to rearm for the "conquest of new living space in the east and its ruthless Germanization. This is a subject that Hitler referred to on numerous occasions in this period of time, and which was later one of the foundations for the war with Russia. The need to rearm and the consequential desire to gain more land in the East links implicitly to another issue that Hitler mentions in paragraphs 1 and 4 which is the need to prevent the spread of Marxism "ensure that the men subject to military service are not, even before their entry, poisoned by pacifism, Marxism, Bolshevism. Hitler's hatred of pacifism, Marxism and Bolshevism was deep rooted. He PARAPHRASE NEEDED. Hitler's comments are aggressive and his lust for the "Extermination of Marxism root and branch. Is a forecast for what is to happen in Eastern Europe as the Nazis fought their war for 'Lebensraum' and for racial and ideological supremacy.
Hitler is making his comments over a dinner hosted by General Kurt Von Hammerstein-Equord which featured a number of prominent Generals. As such the comments made were intended for this single audience of the traditional elites of German society. Hitler's comments revolve around a central theme of rearmament and breaking the constraints of the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler commented at the dinner that the rebuilding of the armed forces was the "Most important prerequisite for achieving the goal of regaining political power. As well as a cornerstone of Nazism this idea of militarisation would have been popular with the generals. Hitler would have been well aware of the need to gain the generals support, for the planning of rearmament but also to ensure that the generals were allies and not enemies for the future. They were the remnants of the traditional imperial elite rather than modern Nazis. General Von Hammerstein-Equord was of the traditional elite. He was anti-Nazi and was very opposed to the rule of Hitler. As Peter Hoffman wrote in 'German resistance to Hitler' Hammersteinn-Equord "had several times expressed his intention to arrest Hitler if he ever had troops under his command. However his attempts to gain command of significant numbers of troops never materialised and he was relieved of his command of Army detachment A in the West. He was unable to continue and as such resigned from the army on 31st January 1934 when General Kurt Von Hammerstein-Equord resigned rather than work under the Nazis. This old world hierarchy was also evident in the structure of German society. President Paul Von Hindenburg was a former General in the First World War and it was he who appointed Hitler Chancellor and who signed the 'enabling act' in 1933, 2 days prior to Hitler's meeting with the generals. However Hindenburg was in poor health in 1933 and this was something Hitler would have seen as an opportunity to gain greater control of Germany, thus the need to gain the Generals support gained added significance. Only the Generals could prevent Hitler succeeding Hindenburg as only they had the political and military power to prevent Hitler taking office, which is a primary role of Hitler's comments over the dinner.
This source was created on the 3rd February 1933 which is significant because it was just two days after Hitler became Chancellor. He was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenburg as already mentioned, this is significant because it highlights a change in the hierarchy of leadership within Germany. No longer was the Chancellor an aristocrat or member of the military. Hitler was an ordinary soldier in the First World War and represented the working and middle classes. Germany had been turbulent since the 1918 armistice and Hitler realised that in order to be in a strong position to gain full control of Germany he would need to gain the support of the traditional elite as was earlier mentioned. The generals were largely of the old military class and as such they agreed with Hitler's views regarding rearmament, the treaty of Versailles and a feeling of anti-Bolshevism/Marxism. Harold Deutsch has suggested that the majority of the traditional officer class entertained anti-republican and anti-Social democrat prejudices (Deutsch 1974:7). There are other sources from Hitler during this period, which show an aggressive focus upon rearmament and upon anti-Bolshevism. Most prominent was the signing of the Anti-Comintern pact on 35th November 1936 where Germany and Japan promised to "mutually keep each other informed concerning (Comintern international)...will confer upon the necessary measure of defense, and will carry out such measures (http://avalon.law.yale.edu/wwii/tri1.asp online: acc. 2/12/2009). This quote from the Anti-Comintern Pact highlights how by 1936 the anti-Bolshevic feeling within the Nazi party and traditional society had been presented on an international scale.
The manner in which Hitler communicates his ambitions with the generals is revealing. The source conveys Hitler's comments in an assertive and assured manner. There is a repetition of language that is often assertive or even aggressive which is seen in the source.
"Refusal to tolerate...cancer of democracy...poisoned by pacifism, Marxism, Bolsheivism (http://germanhistorydocs.ghidc.org/sub_document.cfm?document_id=1538 online:acc 2/12/2009).
These quotes from source highlights an aggressive, assertive and repetitive style that can be seen in many of the Nazis propaganda campaigns from this period. For example in 1928 Hitler relased his 'zweites buch' or second book, which stated more of his racial views which were every bit as aggressive as his plans for foreign policy as outlined in his comments in the source. It is likely that Hitler chose this aggressive and assertive style to convey his comments in order to impress the generals with his clarity and vision for the future. This style of direct and plain speaking was popular as it offered hope and instilled a sense of courage to the population of Germany who still carried the humiliation of being forced to accept guilt for the start of the First World War due to the Treaty Of Versailles.
What the source says is that Hitler already had plans and ambitions for geographical, ideological and military expansion and was preparing to embark upon the beginning of his rule in an authoritarian manner. This is evident when he said "living space too small for the German people He then goes on to state the need for 'Germanization and conquest of new land in the East'(paraphrasing?).This is presented in an assertive manner by Hitler through the use of language which increases the sense of intent. The words 'ruthless', 'germanization' and "cancer of democracy present Hitlers earlier statement with a right wing undercurrent which was useful in the situation that he was in because the generals were the traditional elites of society and there had long been a history of right wing leaders, the most famous perhaps being Otto Von Bismarck. His desire to form an authoritarian Government is evident as he said Germany needed "tightest authoritarian state leadership, he wanted to clamp down upon opposition parties within Germany. Hitler refers to Bolshevism, Marxism and Pacifism as poisonous ideologies in the source. Hitler also discusses the need to strengthen the resolve of the nation to fight and to do so for their survival, "only a struggle can save us. What Hitler is saying is that the whole nation must be wholly behind any expansion plans in order to succeed with his ambitions to break the constraints of the Treaty of Versailles.Ultimately the source is laying out Hitler's plans for domestic stability, foreign expansion and military rearmament.
Munich, Archive of the Institute for Contemporary History, No. 167/51, fol. 39; reprinted in Thilo Vogelsang, Dokumentation: Neue Dokumente zur Geschichte der Reichswehr 1930-1933", Vierteljahreshefte fr Zeitgeschichte 2 (1954), Heft 4, pp. 434-35
THE AVALON PROJECT 2008. Anti Comintern Pact. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/wwii/tri1.asp. (accessed 2nd December 2009)
HITLERS COMMENTS AT A DINNER WITH THE CHIEFS OF THE ARMY AND THE NAVY (February 3, 1933) http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/sub_document.cfm?document_id=1538 (online:acc 2/12/2009)
Hoffmann,P.(1988) 'German resistance to Hitler'. Harvard University Press, Massachusetts
Deutsch, H. (1974) 'HITLER and HIS GENERALS'. University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis