It is unlikely that anti-Semitism was as powerful in its motivational force for recruits in the Party’s ‘mass phase’ after 1929-30 as it had been for the early activist core of the NSDAP. A striking feature of the Abel material—and more than half of the sample came from members who had joined the Party before its ‘take-off in 1930—is indeed that even among ‘Old Fighters’ of the Movement—according to Merkl’s ranking of‘main ideological theme’—only about one-eighth saw antiSemitism as their most salient concern, while what he calls ‘strong ideological antisemites’ comprised only 8.5 per cent of the total sample. Merkl summarized his findings as follows: ‘A breakdown by dominant ideological theme ... shows about one-third to be primarily preoccupied with the solidaristic Volksgemeinschaft and over one-fifth to be superpatriots. Nearly that many are devotees of Hitler’s personal charisma. About one-seventh appears to be motivated mostly by their antisemitism. ... Ranked by the chief object of their hostility, Abel’s early Nazis by two-thirds turned out to be anti-Marxists.’ Merkl pointed out, of course, that these other categories by no means excluded anti-Semitic feelings, which were encountered in around two-thirds of the ‘biographies’ In fact, one could go further and claim that the negative image of the Jew provided a common denominator which was able to combine and provide justification for all these ideological themes.
However, the figures are certainly compelling enough to suggest that features other than anti-Semitism dominated the image of the Nazi Party in the eyes of its pre-1933 membership. If we accept that Hitler was regarded by most if not all as the embodiment of the Party, it would seem that, for most new recruits to the Nazi Movement during the rise to power, his own undoubted extreme antiSemitism formed a secondary rather than primary component of his image and appeal.
In the absence of modern opinion-surveys, the motivation of Nazi voters can only be inferred. But if we extend the above argument, drawn from the motivation of‘Old Fighters’ of the Party to the wider electorate, we would have to conclude that here—probably to an even greater extent—Hitler’s image was not dominated by his obsession with the ‘Jewish Question’. This inference gains some backing from the comparison of the content of Hitler’s speeches—revealing his self¬ profile—in the early 1930s, when the Nazi Movement was making huge electoral gains, with .the early 1920s, when it was a fringe völkisch sect. Examination of election propaganda before the 1930 ‘breakthrough’ poll has indicated that attacks on Jews provided more of a background than a main theme, and it appears that Hitler’s speeches tended not to tackle the ‘Jewish Question’, especially if dealing with an upper middle-class audience. By 1932, when Hitler was running for Reich President and the Nazi Movement was gaining the support of over a third of the population, the ‘Jewish Question’ scarcely featured in Hitler’s public addresses. Jews and the ‘Jewish Question’ were mentioned as such neither in Hitler’s New Year exhortation to his Party at the beginning of 1932, nor in his notorious speech to the Düsseldorfer Industrieklub in January, nor in his ‘Appeal to the Nation’, sold as a record in July and typical of his election addresses in the first half of the year.11 The main target was clearly ‘Marxism’ and the Weimar ‘system’, and the main message that he alone and his Movement offered the hope of salvation from these and from the disaster which they had brought upon Germany. Of course, for Hitler himself—and for some of his oldest and most fanatical supporters—all these ills were reducible solely to the ‘Jewish Question’, a point of dogma which was a fundamental premiss within the Nazi Movement. But the public image of Hitler at this time did not reflect the pre-eminence of the ‘Jewish Question’ in his own thinking. Though his popular image undoubtedly embodied the broad ideological prejudices and aspirations of the masses—including antiSemitism-it appears hard to argue that at the time that Hitler was gaining his widest electoral support the ‘Jewish Question was the decisive element in his growing appeal. The absence of verbal onslaughts against the Jews is also a striking feature of Hitler’s public speeches in the years 1933 and 1934. The ‘Jewish Question’ is not touched upon in a single major public address by Hitler in this period of the ‘seizure’ and consolidation of power—a time, as we saw earlier, in which his popularity was greatly extended and the ‘Führer myth’ massively enhanced. Only the exhortation to ‘all Party organizations’ on 28 March 1933 to carry out a nation-wide boycott aimed at Jewish businesses, goods, doctors, and lawyers, starting on 1 April, concentrated explicitly on the ‘Jewish Question’. Proclamations to the Party after the ‘seizure of power’ generally went out under Hitler’s name. In this case, however, though the style is recognizably Hitlerian (apart from the accompanying specific instructions for implementing the boycott, which seem to have been composed by Goebbels), the ‘appeal’ was signed collectively by ‘the Party Leadership’. No one, of course, could have imagined that the boycott was proceeding without Hitler’s express support. But the wording of the ‘appeal’ couched the action solely in terms of justifiable retaliation for the ‘campaign of agitation’ and ‘lies’ in the foreign press allegedly initiated by Jewish emigrants, and the claim that ‘hardly a hair had been touched’ on Jewish heads in the course of the ‘national revolution’ was meant to suggest that the Party Leadership (including Hitler) was ignorant of the daily maltreatment of Jews which had taken place at the hands of the Party rank-and-file. It was possible, therefore, so far as Hitler was specifically linked to the boycott at all, to see him only in connection with presumed justifiable action, and detached from the ‘unfortunate excesses’ of Party activists. As is well known, the boycott was less than a resounding success in terms of popular reactions, and, as an organized nation-wide affair, was called off after only a single day. The relative lack of resonance of the boycott can only have indicated to Hitler that he had been right to keep a fairly low public profile on the ‘Jewish Question’. Nor did the ‘Jewish Question’ feature in either Sieg des Glaubens or Triumph des Willens, the films of the first two Party rallies after the ‘seizure of power’, in which the Führer cult was so prominently projected of overt reference to the ‘Jewish Question’ in his major speeches, and the omission of his name as a signatory to the boycott ‘appeal’ can only be seen as a deliberate policy to detach the Führer himself in his public image from the violent anti-Jewish rhetoric and actions of which he privately approved. As we have seen, it appears that, despite his own obsessions, Hitler was politically aware from an early date— perhaps as early as 1923—that a wider currency than anti-Semitism was needed to distinguish the NSDAP from the purely sectarian politics of other völkisch groups, to extend the Party’s appeal, and to make a serious bid for power. The closer he came to attaining power, the more, purely for presentational purposes, anti-Semitism had to be subordinated to or subsumed within other components of the Hitler image. And once he had become Head of Government, the need to detach himself in public from the distasteful gutter tactics of his activist anti-Semites was prompted above all by foreign political considerations as well as by the necessity to avoid gratuitous alienation of the conservative German establishment around Hindenburg, whose own ingrained anti-Semitism nevertheless stopped short of arbitrary open violence. Moreover, by 1935, if not before, it was being made abundantly clear that anti-Semitic outrages and terroristic hooliganism aimed at Jews by Party activists were generally un¬ popular among the public at large. Nevertheless, by this time the violence provoked by the new anti-Semitic wave and incited by propaganda had put the ‘Jewish Question’ back in a high place on the agenda, and pressure was mounting from within the Party for antiSemitic legislation to fulfil the aims of the Party programme, and from the public for regulations to put an end to the ‘individual actions’ which had characterized the summer of violence. Hitler could no longer remain aloof from the ‘Jewish Question’.
In his address to the assembled Reichstag at the Nuremberg Party Rally np 15 September 1935, Hitler took up the ‘Jewish Question’ in a major public speech for the first time since becoming Reich Chancellor, recommending acceptance of the three laws placed before it—the ‘Flag law’, and the two notorious anti-Jewish ‘Nuremberg Laws’ (the Reich Citizenship Law, preventing Jews from becoming citizens of the Reich, and the ‘Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour’, banning marriage and sexual relations between Jews and ‘Aryans’). As in 1933, he accused the Jews abroad of stirring up agitation and boycotts against Germany, and claimed that this had made an impact on Jews inside Germany itself, whose public provocative behaviour had stirred up countless complaints and calls for action by the government. He justified the ‘legal regulation of the problem’ as the only way of heading off the likelihood of spontaneous ‘defensive actions of the enraged population’, and claimed the German government had been compelled ‘by the idea of being able, through a once and for all secular solution, of perhaps creating a basis on which the German people might possibly be able to find a tolerable relationship with the Jewish people’. If this hope was not fulfilled, and international agitation continued, he threatened, the situation would have to be re-examined. In subsequent speeches the same day, Hitler exhorted the Party and nation to maintain discipline, and not to depart from the path of legality in the matter. He emphasized that the laws opened up to Jews the possibility of their separate existence within Germany in all spheres of life, and renewed the command forbidding all ‘individual actions’ against Jews. The hypocrisy of Hitler’s expressed sentiments needs no emphasis. But in terms of his public image as seen at the time, he had been careful to distance himself from the unpopular anti-Jewish terror of the Nazi mobs and had placed himself on the side of legality. Reactions among Party members varied. Some activists were disappointed at the emphasis on legal measures and discouragement of ‘direct action’ and felt that legislation did not go far enough in tackling the ‘Jewish Question’. Others suspected the truth: that Hitler’s public stance did not represent his real feelings on the issue. A situation report from Hesse in March 1936 expressly mentions the opinion, allegedly widely held among the population in the area, 1 though undoubtedly reflecting above all the views of Party activists, ‘that the Führer had for outward appearances to ban individual actions against the Jews in consideration of foreign policy, but in reality was wholly in agreement that each individual should continue on his own initiative the fight against Jewry in the most rigorous and radical form.'