Germans in Britain School Activities

Germans in Britain School Activities


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During the Second World War the British government was constantly monitoring the success of its various policies concerning the Home Front. The government was also aware of the possibility that it might be necessary to introduce legislation to deal with any emerging problems.

It is December 1941. You have been asked to write a report on Germans in Britain. This is to be divided into two sections.

Germans in Britain: Main article

(1) A report on Germans in Britain.

Things you should consider include:

(a) How many Germans were living in Britain on the outbreak of the Second World War?

(b) Why were there so many Germans living in Britain in 1939?

(d) What happened to Germans living in Britain in September 1939.

(e) What happened to Germans living in Britain in May 1940?

(f) Why did people in Britain become more hostile to Germans during the summer of 1940?

(g) What were conditions like in Britain's internment camps?

(2) A report that includes proposals about the changes that you would like to see in government policy. These proposals will then be discussed and voted on by the rest of the class.

Things you should consider include:

(a) Was the government's internment policy fair and sensible?

(b) Was it morally right to deport German internees to Canada and Australia?

(c) Would you make any changes to the government's internment policy?


1. Volunteering

Children, like adults, were caught up in war fever after hostilities broke out in August 1914. Many wanted to join the Army, including nine-year-old Alfie Knight from Dublin. Alfie wrote this letter to Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener, volunteering his services as a front-line despatch rider. In a reply sent by his private secretary, Lord Kitchener thanked Alfie for his offer, but explained that he was 'not yet quite old enough to go to the front'. Some boys succeeded in joining the Army by lying about their age, which was sometimes knowingly overlooked by recruitment officers. Alfie's letter reads:

'Dear Lord Kitchner,

I am an Irish boy 9 years of age and I want to go to the front. I can ride jolley quick on my bicycle and would go as despatch ridder. I wouldint let the germans get it. I am a good shot with a revolver and would kill a good vue of the germans. I am very strong and often win a fight with lads twice as big as mysels. I want a uneform and a revolver and will give a good acount of myself. Pleese send an anencer.


Top 10 facts

  1. World War II lasted from 1939 to 1945.
  2. World War II began when German troops invaded Poland on 1 September 1939.
  3. The UK declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939. It was announced by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain.
  4. While many countries were involved in the war, they each took sides – either with the Allies, or the Axis.
  5. The main Axis countries were Germany, Italy and Japan.
  6. The main Allied countries were Great Britain, the United States, France and the Soviet Union (Russia).
  7. British Prime Ministers during World War II were Neville Chamberlain until 1940, then Winston Churchill.
  8. The Battle of Britain, between the German Luftwaffe and the Royal Air Force, was the first ever battle to be fought only in the air. It was made up of lots of air battles that lasted from 10 July to 31 October 1940.
  9. World War II ended in Europe on 8 May 1945 – this is also known as VE Day (Victory in Europe Day).
  10. World War II carried on for a few months after it ended in Europe, and officially ended when Japan formally surrendered to the Allies on 2 September 1945 (also called VJ Day).

The Occupation of Norway

The occupation of Norway in the spring of 1940 by Nazi Germany was swift and decisive. The German army quickly swept through Norway and in one month established its rule there. Its one weak area in the whole campaign was that many German troops had to be landed by sea and the control of the sea around Norway’s coast was vital.

General von Falkenhorst – Germany’s
overall planner in Norway

The Royal Navy had attempted to fight the German landing fleets at Bergen and Trondheim. However, a clash with the German air force led to damage to the battleship ‘Rodney’ when it was hit by a 500-kg bomb. Though it failed to explode, damage was done to the battleship. A destroyer was lost and three cruisers were also damaged. This convinced the Admiralty that the ships in the area should withdraw and any attacks on German forces attacking Bergen were cancelled.

British submarines operating in the waters south of Norway were more successful in harassing the Germans. The Germans lost the cruiser ‘Karlsruhe’ and the ‘Lützow’ was badly damaged in another submarine attack. The activities of British submarines did a great deal to hinder the activities of German ships moving along the Norwegian coast, but they could never fully stop them. On April 10th, 1940, Skua planes from the Fleet Air Arm sunk the light cruiser ‘Königsberg’. On the same day, six British destroyers attacked ten German destroyers off Narvik. Two German destroyers were sunk in this attack and by 12th April, the remaining eight were sunk by a larger British force led by the battleship ‘Warspite’.

The Norwegian army was made ready to fight the Germans. When Hitler had demanded that the Norwegians surrender, the Norwegian reply stated “We will not submit voluntarily: the struggle is already in progress.” However, the Norwegian army was less than fully prepared for the invasion. As the Germans captured key ports and coastal cities, many army commanders moved their units further inland to take advantage of Norway’s rugged interior. Regardless of this, once the German army had organised itself, its progress was fast. By April 13th, just four days after the invasion started, the Germans had moved 70 miles out of Oslo and had captured Halden in the south-east of the city and Kongsberg, 55 miles to the south-west of Oslo. By April 20th, eleven days into the campaign, the German army had advanced 180 miles from the capital. The Norwegians put their faith in help from the British and French armies arriving in an effort to stem the advance of the Germans.

Originally, British planning had sought to establish bases at Narvik and Trondheim. However, the organisation around a landing in Norway had been fraught with problems. Troops in bases at Rosyth and the Clyde had embarked, disembarked and re-embarked so that stores had been lost in the process. Also little field artillery and armour was carried on board. So when the British army sailed it was not well ordered. The first British troops, led by Major-General Mackesy landed at Harstad, off Narvik, on April 15th. Admiral of the Fleet, the Earl of Cork and Orrery, commanded the Royal Navy around Narvik. Both Cork and Mackesy differed on what to do once British troops had landed in Harstad – in the Lofoten Islands and inadequate as a base for such an operation. Earl Cork wanted an immediate attack on Narvik before German forces built up there, while Mackesy wanted a more slow and deliberate campaign. By the time a decision on how to proceed had been made, April had moved on to May.

Why was Mackesy so reticent? He knew that British troops, professionals or not, were not trained to operate in the harsh conditions they found in the north of Norway. He wanted his men to have time to get used to the conditions they found themselves in. While this was happening, the Norwegians in Narvik had to bear the brunt of the fighting against Germany’s mountain troops led by General Dietl.

A major landing at Trondheim was cancelled when the Joint Planning Staff expressed their concerns about it – despite the support for such an operation by Winston Churchill, then Chairman of the Military Co-ordination Committee.

Instead of a major landing by the Allies at Trondheim, smaller landings were made north and south of the city at Namsos and Andalsnes respectively. The idea was that the Allied units would then move against Trondheim itself in a pincer movement. The 146th Infantry Brigade landed at Namsos on April 16th and the 148th Infantry Brigade landed at Andalsnes on April on April 18th. At both landing spots, the British joined up with Norwegian forces.

On April 21st, the Germans attacked the 148th in strength. The 146th had already encountered German troops and both brigades suffered. The Germans had trained troops specifically for war in the mountains and they were suitably equipped. The British were also using Territorial Army troops in Norway who were not a match for the Germans. From April 21st on, the British had to withdraw from the positions they held. On May 2nd, British troops were re-embarking at Namsos and withdrawing from Norway.

British troops captured near Trondheim

Three things had forced the Cabinet and the Chiefs-of-Staff to withdraw from Norway.

  • The British troops in Norway were all from infantry units and other units with different skills were needed in Norway, particularly artillery units.
  • The Germans threatened to cut off the British troops in Norway – loosing so many men would have had serious consequences, both militarily and psychologically, at such an early stage of the war.
  • The Germans dominated the air giving them complete superiority in both aerial attack and defence. Britain only had access to long range Blenheim bombers and fighters carried on Britain’s aircraft carriers. The Fleet Air Arm’s Skuas which had succeeded in attacking the ‘Königsberg’ had been pushed to the very limits of their endurnace. German fighters and bombers could fly from the relative security of their bases in northern Denmark. Refueling and rearming them was an easy process. German planes could spend time over Norway while the planes that Britain had could not – an ironic turnaround compared to the Battle of Britain.

On April 28th, the British commander in Trondheim, General Paget, decided that evacuation was the only option left to the British. This evacuation left Narvik as the only centre of Allied opposition to the German invasion. The Earl of Cork was appointed overall commander of the Allied forces around Narvik. However, Cork faced one major obstacle – the German troops freed up in the southern sectors of Norway, could now help the German troops around Narvik. In this northern sector, Hurricane fighter planes were sent to protect ground troops. The Hurricane was more than a match for the German fighter planes in the region but the damage had already been done.

The German advance throughout Norway was relentless. The campaign in Western Europe was also unfolding and at the end of May, the British Cabinet decided on a withdrawal from the whole of Norway. King Haakon of Norway was embarked with his government on June 7th at Tromsö onto the cruiser ‘Devonshire’ and by June 9th the campaign was over.

By the standards of World War Two, the campaign in Norway was small. 1,335 Norwegians were killed or wounded, 1,869 British were killed or wounded and 533 French and Polish troops were killed or wounded. The Germans lost 5,660 killed or wounded of whom 1,317 were killed on land with nearly 2,500 being killed at sea. The speed with which Germany conquered Norway was to set a marker for the attack on Western Europe. Britain’s failure in Norway was to also have major political consequences with the resignation of the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who was replaced by Winston Churchill.


Culture in the colonial classroom: A failed attempt at assimilation

As our Philanthropy Initiative continues to explore the history of giving, we're eager to share stories of success and failure. This story of a failure comes from one of our nation’s most famous philanthropists: Benjamin Franklin.

Immigrants were pouring into the country. They spoke a different language. They worshiped in a different way. Leaders were worried about the new residents' loyalty. Would they defend their new home in a possible military conflict, or undermine their neighbors? These were the questions early American leaders faced in the 1700s when thousands of new immigrants—Germans—began arriving in Britain's North American colonies.

German Americans resolutely maintained their religious traditions. This printed and hand-drawn birth and baptismal certificate for a girl named Catharina Waechter, born January 14, 1774, was created by Heinrich Otto in Pennsylvania around 1774. German settlers brought their tradition of decorating documents with German calligraphy to America and continued it as part of maintaining their culture.

Germans arrived in what were then still Britain's North American colonies in force in the 1700s. With a reputation as the "best poor man's country," Pennsylvania attracted many of these immigrants. Large numbers settled in the colony in the 1740s and 1750s. To British Americans, these newcomers were a people apart. Their religion differed. British Americans typically were Reformed Protestants. The Germans, by contrast, were Lutheran, and some German speakers were Moravian, a group deemed unusual by many British North Americans. Moreover, German settlers continued to speak their own language and they maintained their own cultural traditions.

Many German American settlers continued to speak German. This stove plate, or fireback, created in Pennsylvania in 1748, is cast with verse "Gotes brynlein hat waser die fyle" (God's well has water in plenty).

To make tensions worse, not only were German settlers unlike their neighbors of British descent, some leaders were concerned that these newcomers might have an affinity for German-speaking Catholic colonists in neighboring French North American regions. In the 1700s the Protestant British and Catholic French empires were frequently at war, as the two contended for territory and for commercial power. British leaders were often anxious about the loyalty of various groups in the diverse empire. They worried their French neighbors might recruit German settlers from the British colonies to their ranks. Moreover, some German colonists belonged to pacifist churches and wouldn't bear arms.

Animated by these concerns, some leaders of the North American British colonies created charity schools to acculturate the newcomers. Their approach was typical of various missionary and educational ventures aimed at assimilating outsiders to British American culture.

Benjamin Franklin was one philanthropist involved in such efforts. In 1753 he and associates established the Society for Promoting Religious Knowledge and English Language among the German Immigrants in Pennsylvania. The society, led by men in Pennsylvania and Britain, sought to teach German children English plus "the plain and uncontested principles of Christianity," and "no farther degrees of knowledge, than are suited to their circumstances and occupations," in the language of a leader of the effort. Learning both the English language and British Protestantism would, the society's proponents hoped, keep the Germans from joining the French enemy.

Benjamin Franklin wore this suit in Paris in 1778 when he was in France representing the United States diplomatically. Like his political and scientific careers, Franklin’s philanthropic activities were transatlantic.

The effort seemed to have a promising start. Even before the group was formally organized, proponents had been fundraising successfully in Holland, German states, and Britain. Some German families were supportive of the effort, and within a few years, the society had set up 11 schools, educating over 750 children, though some of them were from British backgrounds.

The initial success, however, was not to last. Christopher Sauer, an influential German-language printer, recognized that the effort aimed to assimilate Germans into British American culture. Tapping into German Americans’ anger over doubts about their loyalty, Sauer used his newspaper, the Pensylvanische Berichte, as a platform, to fuel opposition among German Pennsylvanians to the charitable venture. Families withdrew their children, and by 1764 the schools had closed. The endeavor failed.

Although some British American leaders sought to assimilate them, German American colonists maintained their customs and aesthetic traditions. This solid panel chest was made by Christian Selzer in Pennsylvania in 1777.

Regardless of the venture’s failure, German Americans had already begun integrating into the broader society and that trend continued. The largest foreign language immigrant group in the 1800s, German Americans have influenced American religion, culture, philanthropy, business, and more.

Classrooms continue to be a place of negotiation in American history, as we explore in our Many Voices, One Nation exhibition. Meanwhile, our Giving in America exhibition examines other times when geopolitics has shaped philanthropy in America.

Amanda B. Moniz is the David M. Rubenstein Curator of Philanthropy in the Division of Home and Community Life.

The Philanthropy Initiative is made possible by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and David M. Rubenstein, with additional support by the Fidelity Charitable Trustees’ Initiative, a grantmaking program of Fidelity Charitable.

Major support for Many Voices, One Nation was provided by the Wallace H. Coulter Foundation│Sue Van, Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the Zegar Family Foundation.


History KS2: Britain declares war on Germany

Narrator: In September 1939 Britain declared war on Germany, joining the biggest war ever fought in history.

But how did it start? Let's rewind.

Since Victorian times, Germany had been a very large and powerful country at the heart of Europe.

But when it was defeated in the First World War in 1918, Germany had to give up a lot of its land and pay harsh penalties as punishment.

It was also forbidden from having a large army or navy or any air force at all.

This made many Germans very angry. On top of that, in 1929, the Great Depression hit.

There were shortages of food and money all over the world, including in Germany. People lost their jobs and money began to run out.

In 1933, Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany.

Many Germans desperately hoped Hitler would bring change and make life better. He lead the National Socialist Party, the Nazis, and promised to make Germany a powerful country again.

But Hitler also spread hatred. This hatred would eventually lead to The Holocaust, the killing of millions of Jewish people, as well as gay people, disabled people, political opponents, and ethnic groups like the Roma people or the Poles. Simply because of who they were.

Hitler believed that the German race was naturally better than other people, and therefore were entitled to dominate all of Europe.

He planned to forcibly take back all of Germany's lost land as well as capture parts of other countries.

He started in 1938, by sending soldiers to take over, or occupy, Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia, which is now split in to Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Then in September 1939, German troops invaded Poland. Britain and France had agreed to defend Poland against German attack, so they gave Hitler an ultimatum. Withdraw his troops or they would declare war.

At eleven am on Sunday the third of September 1939, Neville Chamberlain, who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom at the time, went on the radio. He explained that the British government had demanded that German troops withdraw from Poland immediately.

But the Germans had not responded, meaning Britain was now at war with Germany.

Moya remembers hearing the news.

Moya: I just remembered that my mother grabbed my dad and he was standing, they were both standing as I remember it. The thing that was running through my mind all the time well, yesterday was my birthday and Iɽ really love that book with the shiny cover that's in Nelly's shop at the post office and will I get it? And if there is a war will you be able to do things like that?

Narrator: Did you know? When the war was announced it wasn't a surprise. The British government had been watching Hitler's advance across Europe for several years and had prepared for the worst.

Moya: People were aware that the possibility of war being declared was in the air. And the year before at school in Hammersmith, we had practiced being evacuated and had our gas masks issued and so on.

Narrator: As well as gas masks, the first air raid shelters were distributed in the year before the war. Plans were also drawn up to prepare for food, fuel and clothing rationing, limiting how much people could have to make sure there would be enough to go round.

To make the war a success, everyone would have to pitch in. Many men were conscripted into the armed forces. At first, women could choose whether to join up, but from 1941 they too were made to serve either in factories or the services. Even Princess Elizabeth, who would later become Queen Elizabeth II, trained as a mechanic and a military truck driver.

However, despite the detailed preparations for war and the enthusiastic participation on the home front, nobody could have possibly have foreseen how long it would last.


Celebrations

Though the Germans are known as very bureaucratic people, they too know how to have fun and enjoy life. The widely attended carnivals and festivals prove this statement best. Both types of events are a joyful period of the year in which whole cities engage in all-out parties and colourful celebrations. The Carnivals have a long history in Catholicism, while today they are celebrated by street parades of people wearing costumes and masks. There is a variety of carnivals and festivals celebrating all spheres of life and joy.

Their weddings are also very special. It is a tradition for the bride to carry bread and salt with her as an omen for food harvest. On the other hand, the groom is supposed to carry grain for good luck and wealth.


Germans in Britain School Activities - History

The Treaty of Versailles Simulation

This simulation has been designed to illustrate the diplomatic processes that were at work during the Versailles Conference in 1919. The simulation is designed for middle school students, but it can be used for all levels. Additional resources have been made available.

Divide the class into the following groups and distribute role playing prompts to each group.

Your group is led by David Lloyd George, who was the prime minister of Great Britain . In Britain most people wanted Germany to be punished: "Make Germany Pay" and "Squeeze them until the pips squeak" were popular slogans, but Lloyd George believed that:

  • Germany should not be treated too harshly it would only lead to more trouble in the future.
  • Germany should be allowed to recover.
  • France should not be allowed to take the Rhineland. Lloyd George was only prepared to make the Rhineland "demilitarized".

Your group is led by Georges Clemenceau, who was the prime minister of France he was nicknamed "The Tiger". He wanted to make Germany pay for all of the damage that France had suffered during the four years of fighting. Also, your nation has been attacked by Germany twice in the past half century. He also wanted to make sure that a war like this would never happen again. He had three main demands:

  • Germany must return Alsace-Lorraine to France this had been taken by Germany in 1871.
  • Germany must pay Reparations to France to cover the cost of rebuilding the parts of France that had been destroyed during the war (750,000 houses and 23,000 factories had been destroyed).
  • France should be allowed to take possession of the Rhineland (the area near the River Rhine) this was to stop Germany attacking France in the future.

The Allies also gave Germany a new form of government based on proportional representation. It was intended to prevent Germany being taken over by a dictatorship, but it led to the creation of more than thirty political parties none of them was big enough to form a government on its own.

Germany had not been allowed to the Peace Conference and were told to accept the terms or else. Most Germans had believed that the Treaty would be lenient because of Woodrow Wilson 's Fourteen Points. Many Germans did not believe that the German army had actually been defeated in 1918 because Germany had not been invaded. One of these people was Corporal Adolf Hitler , who had been in hospital in November 1918 recovering from gas-blindness. Like many others he came to believe that the army had been "stabbed in the back" by the "November Criminals", the politicians who had signed the Armistice which had brought the Great War to an end on 11th November 1918.
Several of the clauses of the Treaty were thought to be very harsh. It was going to be almost impossible to pay the Reparations. In fact, the German government gave up after only one year, and the War Guilt Clause seemed particularly unfair. How could Germany be the only country to blame for the war? After all it had started when a Serbian shot an Austrian. It was felt that Germany had simply been made a scapegoat by the other countries for all that had happened.

  • Accept all of the blame for the war, the "War Guilt Clause".
  • Reduce its army to 100,000 men and was not allowed to have conscription (draft).
  • Reduce the navy to 6 warships and was not allowed to have any submarines.
  • Destroy all of its air force .

Your delegation is led by Woodrow Wilson , the President of the United State of America. The USA had only declared war on Germany in April 1917 and it had suffered no damage whatsoever. Wilson arrived in Europe with the "Fourteen Points", which he hoped would help prevent wars in the future. The most important of these were:

  • The peoples of Europe should be allowed to decide their own future he called this "Self-determination" and he wanted an end to the empires which European countries had built up. He was not prepared to allow Italy to take the Adriatic coast.
  • A League of Nations should be set up to settle disputes between countries in the future.
  • Many politicians, especially senators who must approve (ratify) in the United States opposed the League of Nations because they fear it will tell the US what to do or where to fight. This leads them to oppose the treaty.

Your delegation is led by Vittorio Orlando, who was the prime minister of Italy . Italy had declared war on Germany in 1915 after the Secret Treaty of London . In the treaty France and Britain had agreed that Italy would be given the Adriatic coast at the end of the war.
When Orlando arrived at Versailles he expected France and Britain to keep their promise.

Italy wanted to be given the two small areas of Istria and the South Tirol. The Adriatic coast should be made part of a new country called Yugoslavia , which included Serbia and Bosnia.

New Central European Nations (Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria)

Most of the discussions were about Germany , but the leaders also tried to redraw the map of Europe . They wanted to break up the Austro-Hungarian Empire and give self-determination to the peoples of eastern and central Europe .

Give land to Belgium , France , Denmark and Poland . The land given to Poland became known as the "Polish Corridor" and it separated the main part of Germany from East Prussia.

Poland , Lithuania , Latvia , Estonia and Finland were formed from land lost by Russia .
Czechoslovakia and Hungary were formed out of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

1) Students will meet first within their own delegations. They must establish in writing their demands from the other groups and they must write what they are willing to give up as a nation. They can write a rough draft called a "proposal" using a chart of "concessions and "demands" on each side of the page.

2) Students will then meet in the hall of Mirrors. Each nation will present its demands and concessions. The teacher will summarize these on the board or over head.

3) Then distribute or display the sample treaty and have the delegations fill in blanks decided upon by the teacher. For each blank, have the delegations vote on the topic.

4) Have students sign the treaty according to national delegations.

5) If time remains, debate the treaty in a mock senate and have a student delegation from the Senate vote on the treaty. Discuss how history would have been different if such a treaty had been approved by the Senate.


Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler led Germany throughout World War Two. His desire to create an aryan race was paramount in his ethos and political campaigns. Hitler had no intention of letting the Russians capture him and putting him on trial – hence his suicide. How did Adolf Hitler rise to such power in Germany – a power that was to see Germany devastated by May 1945 when World War Two ended in the west?

Hitler’s early life

Adolf Hitler was born on April 20th 1889 in a small Austrian town called Braunau, near to the German border.

His father – Alois – was fifty-one when Hitler was born. He was short-tempered, strict and brutal. It is known that he frequently hit the young Hitler. Alois had an elder son from a previous marriage but he had ended up in jail for theft. Alois was determined that Hitler was not going to go down the same road – hence his brutal approach to bringing up Hitler. The background of Alois was a potential source of embarrassment for the future leader of Nazi Germany.

Hitler’s father was the illegitimate child of a cook named (Maria Anna) Schicklegruber. This cook, the grandmother of Adolf Hitler, was working for a Jewish family named Frankenberger, when she became pregnant. Frankenberger paid Schicklegruber, a paternity allowance from the time of the child’s birth up to his fourteenth year.From a secret report by the Nazi Hans Frank.
– Written in 1930

Alois was a civil servant. This was a respectable job in Brannau. He was shocked and totally disapproving when the young Hitler told him of his desire to be an artist. Alois wanted Hitler to join the civil service.

Hitler’s mother – Klara – was the opposite of Alois – very caring and loving and she frequently took Hitler’s side when his father’s poor temper got the better of him. She doted on her son and for the rest of his life, Hitler carried a photo of his mother with him where ever he went.

Hitler was not popular at school and he made few friends. He was lazy and he rarely excelled at school work. In later years as leader of Germany, he claimed that History had been a strong subject for him – his teacher would have disagreed !! His final school report only classed his History work as “satisfactory”. Hitler’s final school report (September 1905) was as follows:

French Unsatisfactory Geography Satisfactory
German Adequate Gymnastics Excellent
History Satisfactory Physics Adequate
Mathematics Unsatisfactory Art Excellent
Chemistry Adequate Geometry Adequate

Hitler was able but he simply did not get down to hard work and at the age of eleven, he lost his position in the top class of his school – much to the horror of his father.

Alois died when Hitler was thirteen and so there was no strong influence to keep him at school when he was older. After doing very badly in his exams, Hitler left school at the age of fifteen. His mother, as always, supported her son’s actions even though Hitler left school without any qualifications.

Hitler’s early career

When he started his political career, he certainly did not want people to know that he was lazy and a poor achiever at school. He fell out with one of his earliest supporters – Eduard Humer – in 1923 over the fact that Humer told people what Hitler had been like at school.

Hitler was certainly gifted in some subjects, but he lacked self-control. He was argumentative and bad-tempered, and unable to submit to school discipline….moreover, he was lazy. He reacted with hostility to advice or criticism.
– Humer

Humer had been Hitler’s French teacher and was in an excellent position to “spill the beans” – but this met with Hitler’s stern disapproval. Such behaviour would have been seriously punished after 1933 – the year when Hitler came to power. After 1933, those who had known Hitler in his early years either kept quiet about what they knew or told those who chose to listen that he was an ideal student etc.

Hitler in Vienna

Hitler had never given up his dream of being an artist and after leaving school he left for Vienna to pursue his dream. However, his life was shattered when, aged 18, his mother died of cancer. Witnesses say that he spent hours just staring at her dead body and drawing sketches of it as she lay on her death bed.

In Vienna, the Vienna Academy of Art, rejected his application as “he had no School Leaving Certificate”. His drawings which he presented as evidence of his ability, were rejected as they had too few people in them. The examining board did not just want a landscape artist.

Without work and without any means to support himself, Hitler, short of money lived in a doss house with the homeless. He spent his time painting post cards which he hoped to sell and clearing pathways of snow. It was at this stage in his life – about 1908 – that he developed a hatred of the Jews.

He was convinced that it was a Jewish professor that had rejected his art work he became convinced that a Jewish doctor had been responsible for his mother’s death he cleared the snow-bound paths of beautiful town houses in Vienna where rich people lived and he became convinced that only Jews lived in these homes. By 1910, his mind had become warped and his hatred of the Jews – known as anti-Semitism – had become set.

Hitler called his five years in Vienna “five years of hardship and misery”. In his book called “Mein Kampf”, Hitler made it clear that his time in Vienna was entirely the fault of the Jews – “I began to hate them”.

In February 1914, in an attempt to escape his misery, Hitler tried to join the Austrian Army. He failed his medical. Years of poor food and sleeping rough had taken their toll on someone who as a PE student at school had been “excellent ” at gymnastics. His medical report stated that he was too weak to actually carry weapons.

Hitler and World War One

In August 1914, World War One was declared. Hitler crossed over the border to Germany where he had a very brief and not too searching medical which declared that he was fit to be in the German Army. Film has been found of the young Hitler in Munich’s main square in August 1914, clearly excited at the declaration of war being announced……..along with many others.

In 1924, Hitler wrote “I sank to my knees and thanked heaven…….that it had given me the good fortune to live at such a time.” There is no doubt that Hitler was a brave soldier. He was a regimental runner. This was a dangerous job as it exposed Hitler to a lot of enemy fire. His task was to carry messages to officers behind the front line, and then return to the front line with orders.

His fellow soldiers did not like Hitler as he frequently spoke out about the glories of trench warfare. He was never heard to condemn war like the rest of his colleagues. He was not a good mixer and rarely went out with his comrades when they had leave from the front. Hitler rose to the rank of corporal – not particularly good over a four year span and many believe that it was his lack of social skills and his inability to get people to follow his ideas, that cost him promotion. Why promote someone who was clearly unpopular?

Though he may have been unpopular with his comrades, his bravery was recognised by his officers. Hitler was awarded Germany’s highest award for bravery – the Iron Cross. He called the day he was given the medal, “the greatest day of my life.” In all Hitler won six medals for bravery.

Hitler seen here on the right

Hitler after World War One

In the mid-1930’s, Hitler met with the future British Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden. It became clear from discussions that they had fought opposite one another at the Battle of Ypres. Eden was impressed with the knowledge of the battle lines which Hitler had – far more than a corporal would have been expected to know, according to Eden.

The war ended disastrously for Hitler. In 1918, he was still convinced that Germany was winning the war – along with many other Germans. In October 1918, just one month before the end of the war, Hitler was blinded by a gas attack at Ypres. While he was recovering in hospital, Germany surrendered. Hitler was devastated. By his own admission, he cried for hours on end and felt nothing but anger and humiliation.

By the time he left hospital with his eyesight restored he had convinced himself that the Jews had been responsible for Germany’s defeat. He believed that Germany would never have surrendered normally and that the nation had been “stabbed in the back” by the Jews.

“In these nights (after Germany’s surrender had been announced) hatred grew in me, hatred for those responsible for this deed. What was all the pain in my eyes compared to this misery ?”

Adolf Hitler remained in the German Army after World War One ended in November 1918. Seething with anger at Germany’s defeat, Hitler was employed as a V-Man. Hitler’s job was to visit as many political organisations as possible to check out whether they were right wing, centre politics or left wing. In particular, in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, both the government and army wanted to know who the socialists or communists were. The terms of the Treaty of Versailles only added to Hitler’s anger during this period in his life.

Hitler also worked within the Education Department of the army and his task here was to lecture returning soldiers on the dangers of communism, socialism and pacifism. Senior officers were impressed with Hitler’s skills as a speaker. It was at this time that the corporal, who was a loner, discovered his greatest talent – public oratory. The gas attack Hitler had suffered had affected his vocal chords and he spoke in a manner that few had heard before. Many who later heard Hitler speak at public rallies claimed that his voice had hypnotic qualities to it. In November 1922, Truman Smith, an American spy based in Germany, wrote:

The most important political force in Bavaria at the present time is the National Socialist German Workers Party….Adolf Hitler…is the dominating force in the movement….his ability to influence a large audience is uncanny.
– Truman Smith

Karl Ludecke, who published a book called “I knew Hitler”, wrote the following about the first time that he heard Hitler speak:

Hitler was a slight, pale man with brown hair parted to one side. He had steel-blue eyes…he had the look of a fanatic….he held the audience, and me with them, under a hypnotic spell by the sheer force of his conviction.

What Hitler spoke about to the returning soldiers also hit home: the betrayal of the soldiers by politicians the stab-in-the-back (of the soldiers) by the Jews the failure of democratic politics and the disaster communism would be for Germany. His thoughts were widely held – but Hitler’s audience in 1918 to 1919 was very small and his impact was very little.

Hitler and the German Worker’s Party

In September 1919, Hitler visited, as a V-Man, a meeting of the German Workers’ Party. The party name indicated that it had socialist leanings with its “workers'” tag. It was, in fact, an extreme, anti-Semitic, anti-communist, right wing nationalist party led by Anton Drexler. At Hitler’s visit, it only had 40 members. Hitler informed the army that it posed no threat to Germany. After this visit, Hitler joined the party as it seemed to represent all that he believed in. He quickly became the party’s propaganda officer.

The formation of the NSDAP Nazi Party

In early 1920, the party changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) which quickly got corrupted to ‘Nazi’ by both enemies and supporters alike. Hitler wrote out the party’s beliefs in the so-called 25 Point Party Programme. This party programme was a curious mixture – right wing nationalism anti-capitalism anti-socialism anti-wealth etc.

This rag-bag mixture would have been laughable in normal circumstances but Germany was not in normal circumstances. The NSDAP played on the Germans hatred of the Treaty of Versailles (which it said it would ignore) the belief that Germany had been stabbed in the back. Even in its early days, the NSDAP tuned in to many peoples’ emotions. However, in 1920, the party was just one of many right wing parties that seemed to exist in Germany at this time.

In a 1920 leaflet, the NSDAP blamed 300 bankers and financiers throughout the world for dictating policy to the world and holding it to ransom.

“Shake off your Jewish leaders…………Don’t expect anything from the Bolsheviks (the Russian Communists)…………(The Russian government) is nine-tenths Jewish. Bolshevism is a Jewish swindle.”

This touched a raw nerve in some Germans. Former soldiers who had been in the Free Corps joined the Nazi Party and their ‘skills’ were used to break up meetings of other political parties. The use of violence became a way of life for the Nazis.

Regardless of this, the party made little headway in politics. It did benefit from one great advantage in Weimar Germany – the electoral system used proportional representation in deciding results. Any party that got more votes than the cut-off would get some seats in the Reichstag. This favoured the Nazis. They could not afford expensive election campaigns as Karl Ludecke related in his book “I knew Hitler”.

“The organisation lived from day-to-day financially, with no treasury to draw on for lecture halls rents, printing costs, or the thousand-and-one expenses which threatened to swamp us. The only funds we could count on were small, merely a drop in the bucket.”

Up to 1923, the Nazi Party was small and noisy. Its importance was mainly in the Munich area of Bavaria. Money, or lack of it, was always a problem. The 1923 hyperinflation crisis proved to be an opportunity too good to miss for the now party leader – Hitler.

Hyperinflation ruined the middle class. The poor had little and they lost most of the little they had. The rich lost a lot but as rich people they could keep their heads above water. The middle class did not have the cash reserves of the rich but they led comfortable lives. These lives were now ruined by hyperinflation and they blamed the government.

The Nazi Party march on Munich

Hitler planned to seize the most important city in the south – Munich – and to use the city as a base to launch an attack on the rest of Germany, hoping that the angered middle class would rise up in support of him throughout the nation.

On November 8th, 1923, Hitler and 2000 Nazis marched through the streets of Munich to take over a meeting at the Munich Beer Hall. This meeting was being chaired by the three most important people in Bavarian politics – Hans Seisser, Otto von Lossow and Gustav von Kahr. Depending on whose account you read, Hitler strode to the front of the meeting and declared that when convenient von Kahr would be declared regent of Bavaria, the Berlin government would be tried as traitors, Seisser would be made head of Germany’s police…….but as the time was not convenient. He, Hitler, would take charge of the country. He stated that on the following day, the Nazis would march on the War Ministry and set up government there.

On the 9th November, the Nazis started on their march only to be met by armed police. What happened next varies. When the police fired on the leading marchers, the official Nazi biography of Hitler published in 1934 stated that he saved the life of the man next to him who had been shot.

Another unofficial version – by Rudolf Olden – claims that on the first shot Hitler ran away to a waiting car to be driven to the Bavarian mountains and safety. He would not have known that 13 Nazis had been shot dead by the police.

Hitler’s arrest

Regardless of what happened and what Hitler did, the march was a disaster for the Nazis and could have easily spelt the end of the Nazi Party. Ironically, the Beer Hall Putsch was to launch Hitler into national fame. He was arrested for treason and put on trial. This trial was to make Hitler very famous and may well have saved the Nazi Party from collapse.

From 1924 to 1929, Adolf Hitler, following his experiences at Landsberg Prison, decided that all that he did at a political level would be legal and above board. If he wanted to sell the Nazi dream to the people of Weimar Germany, then he had to be seen as being a legitimate party leader and not one associated with violence and wrong-doing. Hitler’s approach was to highlight the failings of the other political parties in Weimar Germany.

As a policy, it was to fail. Between 1924 and 1929, the Nazis were politically very weak. Their representation in the Reichstag was very low compared to other parties.


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