The Nazis on the German Political Stage

From the Lecture series: A History of Hitler's Empire, 2nd Edition

By Thomas Childers, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

After a successful run in the national elections of 1930, the Nazis employed a revolutionary strategy of perpetual campaigning. This was unlike other German political parties who would disappear between elections. Did this exercise prove successful for the Nazis?

Hitler with members of the Nazi Party.
In 1932, the biggest decision confronting Hitler and the Nazis was how to approach the prospect of new presidential elections. (Image: Bundesarchiv/CC-BY-SA/3.0/Public domain)

Nazi Campaigning

With constant campaigning, the Nazis were attracting more members. The Nazi propaganda was a self-financing operation: People would attend the propaganda events for which the Nazis charged admission.

The people came, not necessarily to hear a harangue by Hitler or Joseph Goebbels or Gregor Strasser, but for an evening of entertainment, where there would be dancing, and there would be a band. And at the end of the evening, there would be a speech by a local Nazi and maybe a Nazi speaker.

This tactic of perpetual campaigning came in handy in 1932—the decisive year in the sad and turbulent history of the Weimar Republic. In 1932, the Nazis made the final leap into the mainstream of German political life, and emerged by the year’s end as the largest political party in Germany.

This is a transcript from the video series A History of Hitler’s Empire, 2nd Edition. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

The Inexorable Wave of the Nazis

The Nazis opened the year of 1932 in high spirits. Part of what they tried to sell to the German population was the idea of inevitability. There was an inexorable wave carrying the Nazis to power. They got more votes in each election. Whether it was in a tiny state or a local city hall election, a regional election, momentum was the key.

In 1932, they knew already that there were going to be elections in the two German states of Prussia and Bavaria. Prussia was three-fifths of Germany. It was a huge state in northern Germany. Bavaria was the most important state in the south, the second largest state, and overwhelmingly a Catholic state. So they were already beginning their preparations to think about those campaigns.

Learn more about the Weimar Republic.

The Presidential Elections and the Nazis

But the biggest decision confronting Hitler, Goebbels, and their advisors was how to approach the prospect of new presidential elections. Paul von Hindenburg, the old field marshal who had been elected president in 1925, was set for a new campaign; there had to be a new election in 1932.

A photo of Field Marshall Paul von Hindenburg.
Paul Von Hindenburg was elected the president of Germany in 1925. (Image: Everett Collection/Shutterstock)

Heinrich Brüning, the chancellor of Germany, did not want the old gentleman to carry out a campaign, particularly in these circumstances.

These campaigns in 1930 were carried out against a backdrop of violence. Storm troopers, the Nazi brown shirts, would march out into the streets and battle with the Communists, the Red Front street organization, the Social Democratic street organization.

Brüning then decided to simply have the Reichstag declare Hindenburg president for life. He thought the old gentleman had served his country well; he was the most respected person in German political life. He seemed to stand above all of the parties.

The Nazi Offer for Heinrich Brüning

Personally, for Brüning, Hindenburg was the person who had granted him authority to use the emergency decree power in order to introduce the very unpopular economic measures that Brüning was using. Brüning canvassed all the parties; they agreed that Hindenburg should stay on.

Hitler agreed to have Hindenburg simply be declared president for life. But there were two conditions.

One was that Brüning would resign as Chancellor, and that there would be new elections. This was an offer Brüning thought he could refuse, and so there were going to be presidential elections. Were the Nazis going to challenge Hindenburg? It was a real risk, to challenge him would put Hitler’s newfound prestige on the line.

The Nazis were not conservatives; they were revolutionaries. The conservatives in Germany understood this. How do you deal with this conservative old field marshal without alienating them? Nonetheless, in January 1932, Adolf Hitler decided that he would challenge Hindenburg; he would enter the race for the presidency.

The Media Blitz of the Nazis

The presidential campaigns of 1932 began in February, and the NSDAP was very well prepared. The Nazis launched a massive media blitz unparalleled in German history. Goebbels and his propaganda staff showed what they could do with more money now, with members joining at a great rate.

The Nazis were now able to actually do what they had always hoped to do. They held over 30,000 rallies, meetings, and demonstrations. Millions of leaflets were distributed in this campaign as it was largely event- and print-driven. The Nazis organized the entertainment evenings and Nazi speakers traveled the country from end to end.

Nazi Propaganda for Presidential Elections

The propaganda leadership under Goebbels distributed all sorts of propaganda memoranda to the locals—new slogans for each week, new posters, and leaflets. It would be the National Socialist Day for artisans, for farmers, for white-collar employees, for civil servants, with all the speakers speaking on the same theme all over the country.

Films and phonograph records were distributed. Caravans and motorcycle convoys went through small towns and villages with loudspeakers blaring out Nazi messages.

Learn more about Hitler, the man behind the Nazi movement.

The Nazi Street Organization

An SA unit marching in Berlin in 1932.
The Sturmabteilung was the Nazi street organization that played a crucial role in Hitler’s presidential campaign. (Image: Bundesarchiv/CC-BY-SA/3.0/Public domain)

The “storm troopers”, the Sturmabteilung, in short the SA, were the brown-shirted bullyboys who made up the Nazi street organization. Their job was basically to protect Nazi speakers and mix it up with the Communists or anyone else who caused trouble. The SA was absolutely critical in this period; they were the ones who were out there handing out leaflets. They were the ones who were involved in organizing the marches.

The SA in 1932 would have what they called a common kirchengang; they all went to church together. This was to allay the fears of Catholic voters, with whom the Nazis had not done very well. It was a method of conveying that the Nazis really weren’t pagans, that it was possible to be a Christian and a Nazi at the same time.

The SA would march off into working class neighborhoods in the big cities and hold a demonstration right in the middle of Communist territory or Social Democratic territory. They weren’t just talking. They were out there challenging the Communists and Socialists for the German worker. The workers had to be rescued from Communism, the Nazis argued.

It was a well-planned and well-thought-out campaign for a dynamic leader.

Common Questions about the Nazis on the German Political Stage

Q: What did the Nazis do for Hitler’s presidential campaign?

The Nazis launched a massive media blitz unparalleled in German history.

Q: Why were the Nazis hesitant of challenging Paul von Hindenburg in 1932?

The Nazis thought it was a real risk. Their challenge to the most respected person in German political life would put Hitler’s newfound prestige on the line.

Q: Who were the “storm troopers”?

The “storm troopers”, the Sturmabteilung, in short the SA, were the brown-shirted bullyboys who made up the Nazi street organization.

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