Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Morning Of The Day Before

January 29, 1933

Statue Advertising Restaurant, Northern China
(John Woo, Reuters / 2016)

Sunday
(Sh'vat, 5693, for those who do.  Note: The 1933 [Gregorian] calendar is the same as that for 2017.)

Poet Sarah Teasdale dies in New York City after an overdose of sleeping pills. She is most commonly remembered for "There Will Come Soft Rains" (aka War-Time), published in 1920.

There will come soft rains and the smell of the ground,
And swallows circling with their shimmering sound...

And not one will know of the war, not one
Will care at last when it is done.

Not one would mind, neither bird nor tree,
If mankind perished utterly;

And Spring herself, when she woke at dawn,
Would scarcely know that we were gone.
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On January 29, Edouard Daladier, French centrist politician, was asked to assume position of Prime Minister and form a new coalition government, which would last from January to October, 1933.

In 1938, Daladier was again a minister in (yet) another coalition government in France, and with extreme reluctance supported the 1938 Munich agreement to cede the Sudeten portions of Czechoslovakia to Germany, and (presumably) avoid a general European war.

Returning to Paris after the agreement was signed, Daladier expected hostile crowds, but was instead warmly cheered. A combat veteran of the Western Front in WW1, Daladier understood: The Great War had been such a monumental bloodletting for the world, a fall of European empires and whole ways of life, that few people wanted to see new monsters on the horizon.

However, Daladier understood that Munich was nothing but appeasement. He had no illusions about the ultimate intentions of Hitler and the nazis -- to him, Munich only delayed what he saw as an inevitable war. 

Seeing the crowds cheering his arrival -- to the man on the street, war over Czechoslovakia had been averted! Yay! -- Daladier turned to an aide and said sadly, "Ah, these morons".
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German Chancellor General Kurt von Schleicher had resigned on January 28th. The recently re-elected German President, Paul von Hindenburg, had to appoint a replacement who could form a new government. On January 29th he offered the position to Franz von Papen, who refused.

von Papen had already been Chancellor from June through November, 1932. The possibility of another civil war in Germany between the extreme right and extreme left was growing, and von Papen had tried and failed to resolve tensions. On January 29th he suggested to Hindenburg that Hitler be named Chancellor -- because, he explained to the old Field Marshall, Hitler could be controlled.
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The Weimar Republic had survived the 1919 civil war between the Center-Right and the 'Spartikus' Left (which became the Communist Party), only because the Center begged the German army to crush the Leftists. That bargain linked the survival of a moderate democratic republic to the officer class, heavily linked to Prussia's landed nobility -- part of the same mixed bag of conservatives which had always been on top under the Kaisers. 

The 1929 stock market crash (Thanks, America! Didn't see that coming!) resounded around the world. By 1932, the Depression had kicked Germany's population to the curb. The most significant aspect of the country's politics was how the majority appeared to gravitate to one extreme or the other in their political spectrum. Times were desperate; there wasn't much of a Center left to hold.

On the left were the Communists (KPD) and Red Front. On the right were a number of nationalist / conservative parties; the nazis (NSDAP) were the most radical.

Something usually glossed over in summary histories about the period is the backstage maneuvering by the same traditional conservative layers of German society, attempting to maintain a grip on power. In April of 1932, a national election was held: Hitler ran against Hindenburg for the Presidency of the German Republic -- and while the NSDAP overall made gains in the Reichtag, Hiter wasn't popular enough to beat the Old Man.  

National elections for Reichstag deputies saw support for the nazis rise to 37% : they were the majority party. Anyone who wanted to govern in Germany's parliamentary system would need their support (Remember, however -- Hitler's stated position was to eliminate all political parties in Germany, except his own).

In May of 1932, the moderate conservative government was frightened there would be an eventual revolution from the Left  -- enough that General Kurt von Schleicher, and a previous Chancellor, Franz von Papen, held secret meetings with Hitler to offer a proposal. 

In order to keep the KPD and the nazis from fighting in the streets, the brownshirts and SS had been banned from holding public rallies and marches. von Schleicher told Hitler the ban would be lifted -- also, the Reichstag would be dissolved, and new elections called. The then-Chancellor, Heinrich Bruening, would be dismissed by Hindenburg.  von Papen would replace him... and Hitler would support von Papen's conservative nationalist government. 

Conservatives were just as frightened of Hitler and his NSDAP as they were the Kommunisten Partei Deutschland. This was an attempt to appease Hitler by including the nazi party in a legitimate government -- the nazis would have a minister or two in the cabinet, he was told; they would have a real 'seat at the table'. Hitler agreed to von Schleicher and von Papen's offer -- only in order to have the ban on nazi public appearances lifted. 

So, Bruening was dismissed; von Papen was named by Hindenburg as Chancellor. However, Hitler had no intention of being co-opted into von Papen's government, and said so -- that he considered von Papen's government a 'temporary measure'.

When the political situation continued to deteriorate through 1932, Hitler claimed to be the only political figure who could hold the Republic together. He requested a meeting with President von Hindenburg so that he could demand to be appointed Chancellor. 

In a humiliating session, the old Field Marshall treated Hitler like the ex-Gefreiter (Lance Corporal) he was, and refused Hitler's demands. The entire episode fed into Hitler's general delusions, and made it impossible for the conservatives to later offer him anything less than what he wanted -- to control the government of Germany.
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On January 29th, 1933, the New York Times ran three separate articles about events in Germany.  The first looked at European stock markets, saying “apprehensions [are] generally felt over the fresh evidence of Hitler’s influence in the German situation.”

The second summarized events in Germany, stating that Hindenburg was seeking a coalition government -- and that Hitler could only be made part of it through a guarantee that his power and that of the nazis would be limited. Many leading intellectuals in Germany had serious misgivings about any government that might include Hitler -- “a straight Parliamentary government headed by [him]... is not envisaged in sober-minded political quarters.”

The third article was a long piece on Mussolini, Stalin, and Hindenburg. Hitler was only briefly mentioned, in comparison with Hindenburg; the article spoke of Hitler's "extreme policies", and inferred that he and the nazis were not the future of Germany in the same way that Mussolini and his fascists, and the Soviets under Stalin, appeared to be.
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Monday, January 30, 1933

Adolf Hitler appointed Chancellor of the Weimar Republic.
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