Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Great War leaves Germany ripe for revolution

Hitler served in WWI on the Western Front, France and Belgium, as a runner. A runner meant carrying messages along the line, and it was dangerous. He was the equivalent of a Private First Class in American army terms (Lance Corporal, British.) Runners get shot at a lot.

Hitler participated in several of the major battles along the Western Front, including Ypres. Ypres saw 40,000 men killed in 20 days. Hitler was decorated for bravery twice, winning both the iron cross second class and the iron cross first class - very unusual for such a low-ranking soldier. However, he was never promoted to full corporal because regimental command thought he lacked leadership skills.

Let me repeat that. Hitler was about 27 years old now, and he had not exhibited leadership skills.

Later in this series of posts I will contend that Hitler became a charismatic people magnet almost overnight. I believe I can show evidence to support that unlikely statement. But for now, remember that during the war, he didn't exhibit any of these talents.

Some have said he wasn't promoted simply because he wasn't (yet) a German citizen. I don't believe that. You can, if you want.

Although Hitler's job was dangerous, at least it brought him often to regimental headquarters. In between runs he worked on his artwork, drawing cartoons and illustrations for an army newspaper.
As the war was coming to a close, in October of 1918, Hitler was gassed. He was admitted to a field hospital, temporarily blinded by mustard gas. For the life of me, I can't make the connection, but Hitler was to say later it was during this time in the hospital waiting for his sight to return that he first became convinced that his life purpose was to "save Germany." Maybe YOU can figure out what the two things have to do with one another. I am more concerned that his gassing gave him the seed of an idea; in his book Mein Kampf there is a short passage that goes by quickly but makes me blink:

When the government began printing money to cover debts, hyper-inflation occurred and German money became worthless. At one time, they were printing 50-million mark notes. These were worth about $1 American for a while and then nothing. People used to write grocery lists on the backs of million mark notes - ironically, since they couldn't buy groceries. Soon it cost too much to print money.

In the above description, I am touching only on the highlights to give an overview of the German despair following WWI, and, admittedly, I am giving the point of view of the Germans who believed in the "stabbed-in-the-back" theory: Hitler and his friends, for example. Obviously the victors had a different point of view. The allies felt the German army was defeated (and it was, according to Western history books). France had suffered great damage and had lost 1.5 million dead, so they NEEDED reparations to rebuild.

As an American, I do not share the "stabbed-in-the-back" theory; I think Germany started the war and that its Empire and aristocracy got almost what it deserved. I say "almost" because the Kaiser spent his last days in comfort at his country estate in the Netherlands. But I write the account so you can see the way Hitler and thousands of other Germans felt.

Next: We learn a new word: Putsch.


  1. I've been looking at an old map of Germany - pre 1871 - and the boundaries are very different from a modern map. Incredibly so. I know there was great French resentment at losing Alsace and Lorraine for example in 1871 so I can well imagine the reverse in 1919 after the Treaty of Versailles.

  2. Not sure about the Iron Cross 1st class. I think it is Kershaw who claims there were no records of his receiving this (he removed all records concerning himself in 1933). So I suspect only the 2nd class was genuine.

    His comments regarding the end of the war appear to be political invention, something he was well capable off! Funny how politicians can interpret things!

    It was said in 1919 that war would follow in 20 years, and I suppose that is why during WW2 there would be no end until,Berlin fell.



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