Hitler has always portrayed the moment he heard about the surrender in Pasewalk as the moment he decided to become a politician. Later on he liked to tell that he had had some sort of vision there to make Germany great once more. All this fits nicely into the Führer myth, the man destined to save Germany. It is not right though, this step was only taken in the course of 1919. Nevertheless, it is obvious that in this period, the two aspects of his political ideology were quietly being fused together: his antipathy towards the Jews and his fear for the left.
After Hitler had been discharged from hospital on November 19th, 1918, he found Germany in chaos (see Third Reich page 7). As the real progress of the war had been kept secret from the German population by censorship and propaganda, the German surrender hit unexpectedly and very hard. This fed the idea they had been abandoned, betrayed, the so-called dagger legend. The mood therefore was embittered and rebellious. After the October revolution in Russia in 1917, Germany knew its own November revolution. In imitation of the Soviets in Russia, councils consisting of laborers and soldiers were established all over the country. They took over control in many cities. This was most noticable in Bavaria where socialdemocrats under Kurt Eisner had seized power and proclaimed the Freistaat Bayern (Free state of Bavaria). After Eisner was assassinated, the Communists took power. However, they stood no chance against the Freikorpse (Free Corps), nationalistic paramilitary organisations that ultimately ‘liberated’ Munich.
Adolf Hitler remained conspicuously on the sidelines. He did not make himself available to the Bavarian government, nor did he join the Freikorpse. He quietly awaited developments in his barracks in Munich. Right after the end of the so-called Raden regime did he show his true face and sided openly with the counter revolution. In this connection, he was ‘discovered’ by Karl Mayr. Captain Mayr was a member of an intelligence agency that was tasked with spreading anti-Communist and nationalistic ideas withinh the army. Hitler was one of the first informers of this organisation and from 1919 onwards, he delivered lectures himself about subjects as ‘Peace terms and reconstruction’, ‘Emigration’ and ‘Social and political slogans.’ There Hitler discovered his greatest talent: he could speak! This was confirmed by various witnesses: "In particular Mister Hitler is a born speaker who forces the audience to listen to him and to think along with him by his fanatism and his popular conduct during a meeting"
In his speeches, anti-Semitism was the focal point. The audience proved very susceptible to this. For the first time, the basic elements of Hitler’s ideology came to the front: anti-Semitism based on a racial theory and the creation of a unifying nationalism based on the necessity to combat the power of Jews at home and abroad. In a letter to his colleague Adolf Gemlich, he wrote: "The ultimate, unshakable goal must be the total elimination of the Jews." Hitler stood not alone in this attitude: it was spread widely in circles of the rejuvenated ‘Reichswehr’ and the Freikorpse.
On September 12th, 1919, Hitler, as informer, attended a meeting of the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (D.A.P. or German Workers Party) in Munich, one of the many populist-nationalist groups that had emerged from the Alldeutsche Verband after 1918. In itself, there was nothing special about the D.A.P. but Hitler became impressed by a pamphlet the chairman, Anton Drexler handed to him. Apparently he was particularly impressed by the central theme of the pamphlet; the notion that nationalism and socialism be connected, in other words, the laborers had to be freed from the so-called false doctrine of marxism and won over to the national cause. Hitler joined the party, in particular as it offered him a chance to manoeuvre himself into the spotlight and to reform the party after his own ideas.
In mid October 1919, he delivered his first big speech in the hall of a brewery in Munich. This turned out to be a really succesful experience and it gave him more self confidence. Each time, more and more people attended the meetings of the D.A.P. Within the shortest time possible, Hitler evolved into the star among the speakers in the party. He lashed out vehemently against the Treaty of Versailles and the Jews. Together with Anton Drexler, Hitler started working out a party programme (see Programme N.S.D.A.P.) The programme contained nothing new but contained existing notions: the unification of all Germans in one Greater-Germany, rejection of the Treaty of Versailles and a racial anti-Semitism. This programme was received well on February 24th, 1920. The DAP and Hitler as well, did not amount to anything yet; he was little more than an agitator of a non-descript racial party to which the press hardly paid any attention. The base of the party had to be expanded if Hitler ever wanted to play a significant role.
Even though Hitler was an irreplacable factor in the expansion of the party, the circumstances were to his advantage as well. For decades, elements of nationalsocialism had been present in Germany and in other European countries: nationalism, anti-socialism, biological anti-Semitism, social Darwinism, racism (see Third Reich page 3). This involved the so-called populist racism, the belief in a harmonious German social and hierarchic order. Add to this the explosive mixture of economic misery, an instable society and the collective trauma of the lost war in combination with someone who manages to exploit these circumstances cleverly and ruthlessly. All that attributed to the succes of the party which was renamed Nationalsocialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (N.S.D.A.P. or Nationalsocialist German Workers Party).
The powerbase of the party expanded slowly but surely. Under the influence of Hitler, the party was very active and increasingly surpassed the other movements. Almost every week, demonstrations and meetings were held, in particular in Bavaria. Hitler showed himself tireless and inimitable at other meetings as well. Ever more people showed up at meetings of the N.S.D.A.P. The number of party members increased as well: from 190 in January to 3.300 in August 1921. People like Rudolf Hess (Bio Hess), Hitler’s future secretary and Alfred Rosenberg, (Bio Rosenberg) the future ideologist of the party, joined the movement.
The message these people heard was invariably the same: Hitler’s boundless agitation against Versailles was paired with hate-filled attacks on the Weimar Republic and its representatives. Hitler left no doubt that in his opinion the democratic system was outdated: "Do away with those party political machinations that are wrecking our people," he called out in April 1920. With this he also played on a widely spread anti-democratic and anti-parliamentary mood. The central theme in alomst all speeches was a declaration of war on Jewry for which he received, according to witnesses: "a stormy and continous approval and applause." The Jews, in Hitler’s view a destructive, parasitic race that attempted to achieve world domination, had to be eliminated from society. Thus the foundation for a racially pure ‘Volksgemeinschaft’ (people’s society) had already been laid.
Supported by Karl Mayr and Dietrich Eckhart, a publicist who introduced Hitler to the higher circles who were going to finance the party, the N.S.D.A.P. grew into an important factor of power in Bavaria. Hitler himself became chairman of the party in 1921 with dictatorial powers and founded his own paramilitary unit, the SA (Sturmabteilung or stormtroopers). A captain in the Reichswehr, Ernst Röhm emerged as its key figure. This SA did not only act as bodyguard for the party and its most prominent figures but also did not hesitate to ‘engage the enemy’: political opponents and Jews were dealt which drastically. Soon, the SA dominated the streets of Munich.
In 1922, a large rightist demonstration against the government took place in Munich. Obviously, the N.S.D.A.P. participated and Hitler was one of the speakers. The progress of the demonstration showed that the people’s agitator from the beer halls and his movement had grown into a factor of power in the camp of the rightists that could no longer be ignored. Some well known figures like Hermann Göring, (Bio Göring) the future second man within the party and in particular Julius Streicher, future editor of the anti-Semitic weekly Der Stürmer, joined the party and the number of members rose to over 20.000. The power of the N.S.D.A.P. in Bavaria grew in such a way that the authorities considered a coup by Hitler and his party a very real possibility.