What happened when one lawyer went up against hitler?

  • An angry American traveler found herself plunged into German legal waters this month after allegedly calling federal police officers “Nazis” during a dispute at Frankfurt International Airport.
  • Police say the woman, a 49-year-old professor, became “unreasonable and irritated” when they told her she had too many liquids in her carry-on during a screening for explosives.
  • The issue of too many liquids morphed quickly — by her own account — into a tail-chasing argument over her deodorant:  They insisted it must go; she claimed that made no sense since it was a solid.

It was approximately at this point that police allege she called them “f–ing bastards” and “f–ing German Nazi police.” But she says she never called the police “Nazis.” What they heard was her wondering why she caught flack instead of the “Nazi-looking dude” with a “Hitler's youth haircut” in line behind her.

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The result of the altercation: preliminary criminal proceedings against the woman on suspicion of slander, plus a $260-bill (€207) upfront for any subsequent legal expenses. Days later, her case got worse when she published an incendiary 4,000-word tirade about the incident in the Huffington Post. 

Why it's such a big deal

Nazi insults have a long history in postwar Germany, mainly in the form of comparisons to Hitler or Goebbels or references to the Gestapo and concentration camps.

In 1947, Der Spiegel nicknamed the minister for denazification the “blond Hitler,” in a not-so-subtle reminder that he had been very friendly with the regime before it collapsed.

Less than 20 years later, a West German paper compared East Germany to a concentration camp with its leader Walther Ulbricht as the overseer.

What Happened When One Lawyer Went Up Against Hitler?

Adolf Hitler's totalitarian state glorified war and 'Aryans.' Millions of Jews and others deemed degenerate were murdered

None of this, however, means these comparisons have ever been acceptable in Germany. As linguist Thorsten Eitz notes in a 2010 essay called “Loaded Words,” each time this taboo is broken publicly, the media quickly reprimand the word choice “because it violates the consensus in German society about the singular nature of Nazi crimes.” Hence, it's a disproportionate comparison.

Read more: US tourist beaten for giving Hitler salute in Dresden

The disproportion is even greater when it's hurled at an individual, says Heidrun Kämper, an expert in cultural linguistics and terminology at the Institute for the German Language in Mannheim.

Calling someone a Nazi invokes “the entire spectrum of a totalitarian dictatorship, the belief in conforming to one reality,” Kämper told DW. “It conjures up the oppression known under that type of state.”

The Making of an American Nazi

What Happened When One Lawyer Went Up Against Hitler?

Tom Dilly Littleson

On December 16, 2016, Tanya Gersh answered her phone and heard gunshots. Startled, she hung up. Gersh, a real-estate agent who lives in Whitefish, Montana, assumed it was a prank call. But the phone rang again. More gunshots. Again, she hung up. Another call. This time, she heard a man’s voice: “This is how we can keep the Holocaust alive,” he said. “We can bury you without touching you.”

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When Gersh put down the phone, her hands were shaking. She was one of only about 100 Jews in Whitefish and the surrounding Flathead Valley, and she knew there were white nationalists and “sovereign citizens” in the area.

But Gersh had lived in Whitefish for more than 20 years, since just after college, and had always considered the scenic ski town an idyllic place. She didn’t even have a key to her house—she’d never felt the need to lock her door.

Now that sense of security was about to be shattered.

The calls marked the start of a months-long campaign of harassment orchestrated by Andrew Anglin, the publisher of the world’s biggest neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer. He claimed that Gersh was trying to “extort” a property sale from Sherry Spencer, whose son, Richard Spencer, was another prominent white nationalist and the face of the so-called alt-right movement.

The Spencers had long-standing ties to Whitefish, and Richard had been based there for years. But he gained international notoriety just after the 2016 election for giving a speech in Washington, D.C., in which he declared “Hail Trump!,” prompting Nazi salutes from his audience.

In response, some Whitefish residents considered protesting in front of a commercial building Sherry owned in town. According to Gersh, Sherry sought her advice, and Gersh suggested that she sell the property, make a donation to charity, and denounce her son’s white-nationalist views.

But Sherry claimed that Gersh had issued “terrible threats,” and she wrote a post on Medium on December 15 accusing her of an attempted shakedown. (Sherry Spencer did not respond to a request for comment.)

At the time, Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin barely knew each other. Spencer, who fancies himself white nationalism’s leading intellectual, cloaks his racism in highbrow arguments.

Anglin prefers the gutter, reveling in the vile language common on the worst internet message boards. But Spencer and Anglin had appeared together on a podcast the day before Sherry’s Medium post was published and expressed their mutual admiration.

Anglin declared it a “historic” occasion, a step toward greater unity on the extreme right.

Tanya Gersh was the target of a months-long campaign of harassment instigated by Andrew Anglin on The Daily Stormer. (Dan Chung / Southern Poverty Law Center)

It was in this spirit that Anglin “doxed” Gersh and her husband, Judah, as well as other Jews in Whitefish, by publishing their contact information and other personal details on his website.

He plastered their photographs with yellow stars emblazoned with jude and posted a picture of the Gershes’ 12-year-old son superimposed on the gates at Auschwitz.

He commanded his readers—his “Stormer Troll Army”—to “hit ’em up.”

“All of you deserve a bullet through your skull,” one Stormer said in an email.

“Put your uppity slut wife Tanya back in her cage, you rat-faced kike,” another wrote to Judah.

“You fucking wicked kike whore,” Andrew Auernheimer, The Daily Stormer’s webmaster, said in a voicemail for Gersh. “This is Trump’s America now.”

Over the next week, the Stormers besieged Whitefish businesses, human-rights groups, city-council members—anyone potentially connected to the targets.

A single harasser called Judah’s office more than 500 times in three days, according to the Whitefish police.

Gersh came home one night to find her husband sitting at home in the dark, suitcases on the floor, wondering whether they should flee. “I have never been so scared in my entire life,” she later told me.

The man who annoyed Adolf Hitler

By Jon Kelly BBC News Magazine

What Happened When One Lawyer Went Up Against Hitler?

A new drama tells the story of a Jewish lawyer who confronted Hitler 80 years ago – earning the dictator's life-long hatred. So who was Hans Litten?

  • In the Berlin courtroom, Adolf Hitler's face burned a deep, furious red.
  • The future dictator was not accustomed to this kind of scrutiny.
  • But here he was, being interrogated about the violence of his paramilitary thugs by a young man who represented everything he despised – a radical, principled, fiercely intelligent Jewish lawyer called Hans Litten.

The Nazi leader was floundering in the witness stand. And when Litten asked why his party published an incitement to overthrow the state, Hitler lost his composure altogether.

“That is a statement that can be proved by nothing!” he shouted.

Litten's demolition of Hitler's argument that the Nazis were a peaceful, democratic movement earned the lawyer years of brutal persecution.

Even his closest friends said he wasn't good with peopleBenjamin Carter Hett, Litten's biographer

He was among the first of the fuehrer's political opponents to be rounded up after the Nazis assumed power. And even long afterwards, Hitler could not bear to hear his one-time tormentor's name spoken.

But although he was among the first to confront Hitler, Litten remains a little-known figure.

Now a drama and an accompanying documentary tell the story of a cantankerous, flawed but ultimately heroic man.

Protests in Germany

By 1942, people living in Germany were increasingly aware of the mass murders in places to the east. As early as January, German Jewish professor Victor Klemperer was recording in his diary rumors of “evacuated Jews” being “shot in Riga [Latvia], in groups,”1 as they left the train.

On March 16, he mentioned Auschwitz for the first time and described it as the “most dreadful concentration camp.”2 By October he was referring to the camp as “a swift-working slaughterhouse.

”3 Klemperer learned of these Nazi abuses despite living in near isolation, thanks to restrictions that had cost him his job, many of his friends, and even his library card. 

Some of the first Germans to speak out against Nazi injustices were a group of students at the University of Munich. In winter 1942, Hans Scholl, his sister Sophie, and their friend Christoph Probst formed a small group known as the White Rose.

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Hans, a former member of the Hitler Youth (see reading, Disillusionment in the Hitler Youth in Chapter 6), had been a soldier on the eastern front, where he witnessed the mistreatment of Jews and learned about deportations. In 1942 and 1943, the White Rose published four leaflets condemning Nazism.

The first leaflet stated the group’s purpose: the overthrow of the Nazi government. In the second leaflet, the group confronted the mass murders of Jews:

We do not want to discuss here the question of the Jews, nor do we want in this leaflet to compose a defense or apology.

No, only by way of example do we want to cite the fact that since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way. Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history.

For Jews, too, are human beings—no matter what position we take with respect to the Jewish question—and a crime of this dimension has been perpetrated against human beings.4

In February 1943, the Nazis arrested the Scholls and Probst and brought them to trial. All three were found guilty and were guillotined that same day. Soon afterward, others in the group were also tried, convicted, and beheaded.

In March 1943, German author Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen wrote in his diary:

The Scholls are the first in Germany to have had the courage to witness for the truth. . . .

On their gravestones let these words be carved, and let this entire people, which has lived in deepest degradation these last ten years, blush when it reads them: . . .

“He who knows how to die can never be enslaved.” We will all of us, someday, have to make a pilgrimage to their graves, and stand before them, ashamed. 5

Although the Nazis were able to destroy the White Rose by executing its members, they could not keep its message from being heard. Helmuth von Moltke, a German aristocrat, smuggled the group’s leaflets to friends in neutral countries.

They, in turn, sent them to the Allies, who made thousands of copies and then dropped them over German cities. As a lawyer who worked for the German Intelligence Service, von Moltke had been aware of the murders for some time but had taken no action.

By late October, he was asking, “May I know this and yet sit at my table in my heated flat and have tea? Don’t I thereby become guilty too?”6

In February 1943, the same month that the first members of the White Rose were arrested, Nazi leaders began to round up the last Jews still living in Berlin and elsewhere in the Reich, in mass arrests the Gestapo called the “Dejudaization of the Reich Territory Actions.

” 7 Thousands were arrested and most were married to non-Jews; as part of “mixed” families, they had not been targeted earlier.

Most of Germany’s Jews had already been deported and murdered, but these new arrests and detentions of about 2,000 Jewish men in intermarriages were the only ones to cause a significant protest.

When the arrested Jews did not return home, their “Aryan” relatives began to search for them and quickly discovered that their loved ones were being held at the Jewish administration building at Rosenstrasse 2-4. Within hours, relatives began to gather there.

Most were women—the arrested men’s wives. As relatives arrived, they began to loudly demand the release of their husbands.

They feared that the men would be deported to killing centers; more than 10,000 other Berlin Jews who were not intermarried were deported to the East during the days of the protest at Rosenstrasse.

When the guards refused to let the protesters enter the building, the group vowed to return every day in protest. They kept their word. The situation came to a head on March 5. Charlotte Israel, one of the protesters, recalled:

Without warning the guards began setting up machine guns. Then they directed them at the crowd and shouted: “If you don’t go now, we’ll shoot.”

Automatically the movement surged backward. . . . But then for the first time we really hollered. . . .

Then I saw a man in the foreground open his mouth wide—as if to give a command. . . . I couldn’t hear it. But then they cleared away. There was silence. Only an occasional swallow could be heard.8

Over the course of several days, the Gestapo released all but 25 of the “mixed-marriage” Jews from the Rosenstrasse prison. Those 25 were sent to the labor camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

But they were released within days and then sent to forced labor positions within Germany, where some died, but most survived the war.

By releasing the men from detention at Rosenstrasse, the Nazis sought to end the protests and eliminate the appearance of dissent in Germany in order to maintain public support for the regime and its larger plans for the annihilation of European Jews.9

By 1944, it was clear to many Germans that their country was losing the war, and opponents of the regime began to take bolder action.

Helmuth von Moltke, who had smuggled White Rose leaflets in 1943, gathered a group of prominent Germans for secret meetings at his country estate. There they plotted how to overthrow Hitler.

Von Moltke did not support assassination, saying, “Let Hitler live. He and his party must bear responsibility.”10

But by summer 1944, other members of von Moltke’s circle were ready to act. On July 20, a member of the group, Claus von Stauffenberg, tried to kill Hitler and his top aides by placing explosives in their conference room. The plot failed.

Hitler and his staff retaliated by arresting and executing suspected conspirators and cracking down on anyone believed to oppose the regime. About 1,000 people either were executed by the Nazis or committed suicide before they could be arrested in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt.

By 1942, people living in Germany were increasingly aware of the mass murders in places to the east.

Some of the first Germans to speak out against Nazi injustices were a group of students at the University of Munich. In winter 1942, Hans Scholl, his sister Sophie, and their friend Christoph Probst formed a small group known as the White Rose.

Hans, a former member of the Hitler Youth, had been a soldier on the eastern front, where he witnessed the mistreatment of Jews and learned about deportations. In 1942 and 1943, the White Rose published four leaflets condemning Nazism. The first leaflet stated the group’s purpose: the overthrow of the Nazi government.

In the second leaflet, the group confronted the mass murders of Jews:

We do not want to discuss here the question of the Jews, nor do we want in this leaflet to compose a defense or apology.

No, only by way of example do we want to cite the fact that since the conquest of Poland three hundred thousand Jews have been murdered in this country in the most bestial way. Here we see the most frightful crime against human dignity, a crime that is unparalleled in the whole of history.

For Jews, too, are human beings—no matter what position we take with respect to the Jewish question—and a crime of this dimension has been perpetrated against human beings. 1

In February 1943, the Nazis arrested the Scholls and Probst and brought them to trial. All three were found guilty and were guillotined that same day. Soon afterward, others in the group were also tried, convicted, and beheaded.

In March 1943, German author Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen wrote in his diary:

The Scholls are the first in Germany to have had the courage to witness for the truth. . . .

On their gravestones let these words be carved, and let this entire people, which has lived in deepest degradation these last ten years, blush when it reads them: . . .

“He who knows how to die can never be enslaved.” We will all of us, someday, have to make a pilgrimage to their graves, and stand before them, ashamed. 2

Although the Nazis were able to destroy the White Rose by executing its members, they could not keep its message from being heard. Helmuth von Moltke, a German aristocrat, smuggled the group’s leaflets to friends in neutral countries.

They, in turn, sent them to the Allies, who made thousands of copies and then dropped them over German cities. As a lawyer who worked for the German Intelligence Service, von Moltke had been aware of the murders for some time but had taken no action.

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By late October, he was asking, “May I know this and yet sit at my table in my heated flat and have tea? Don’t I thereby become guilty too?”3

Hacia 1942, las personas que vivían en Alemania estuvieron cada vez más al tanto de los asesinatos masivos en lugares del Este.

Algunos de los primeros alemanes en manifestarse contra las injusticias de los nazis fueron un grupo de estudiantes de la Universidad de Múnich. En el invierno de 1942, Hans Scholl, su hermana Sophie, y su amigo Christoph Probst, formaron un pequeño grupo conocido como la Rosa Blanca.

Hans, antiguo miembro de las Juventudes Hitlerianas, había sido soldado en el frente Este, en donde fue testigo del maltrato a los judíos y se enteró de las deportaciones. En 1942 y 1943, la Rosa Blanca publicó cuatro folletos en los que condenaban el nazismo. El primer folleto declaraba el objetivo del grupo: el derrocamiento del gobierno nazi.

En el segundo folleto, el grupo confrontaba los asesinatos masivos de los judíos:

Aquí no queremos discutir la cuestión de los judíos, ni queremos que este folleto suponga una defensa o una apología. No, solo queremos citar, a manera de ejemplo, el hecho de que desde la conquista de Polonia trescientos judíos han sido asesinados en este país de la manera más salvaje.

Aquí vemos los crímenes más espantosos contra la dignidad humana, un crimen sin precedentes en toda la historia.

Porque los judíos también son seres humanos, sin importar la opinión que tengamos con respecto a la cuestión judía, y se ha perpetrado un crimen de esta dimensión contra seres humanos.1

En febrero de 1943, los nazis arrestaron a los hermanos Scholl y a Probst y los llevaron a juicio. Los tres fueron hallados culpables y guillotinados ese mismo día. Poco después, otros integrantes del grupo también fueron juzgados, condenados y decapitados.

En marzo de 1943, el autor alemán Friedrich Reck-Malleczewen escribió en su diario:

Los hermanos Scholl son los primeros en Alemania que han tenido el coraje de defender la verdad… En sus tumbas dejaron talladas estas palabras haciendo que todas estas personas, que han vivido en la más profunda degradación estos últimos diez años, se sonrojen cuando las lean:… “El que sabe morir nunca podrá ser esclavizado”. Todos nosotros, algún día, tendremos que hacer un peregrinaje a sus tumbas, y pararnos ante ellas, avergonzados.2

Aunque los nazis pudieron destruir a la Rosa Blanca ejecutando a sus miembros, no pudieron impedir que su mensaje fuera escuchado. Helmuth von Moltke, un aristócrata alemán, llevó los folletos del grupo a amigos en países neutrales.

Ellos, a su vez, se los enviaron a los aliados, quienes hicieron miles de copias y luego los lanzaron sobre ciudades alemanas. Como abogado que trabajó para el Servicio de Inteligencia Alemán, von Moltke estaba al tanto de los asesinatos desde hacía un tiempo, pero no había hecho nada.

A finales de octubre, se preguntaba: “¿Puedo saber esto y aun así sentarme a la mesa en mi cálido apartamento y tomar el té? ¿Eso no me hace culpable también?”.3

  1. What examples of protest and resistance does this reading describe? Who were the protesters, and what factors motivated them to speak out or take action? 
  2. What impact, if any, did these examples of protest and resistance have? Does this reading reveal anything about how much the Nazis cared about public opinion? 

A Sobering Look at How Quickly Hitler Transformed Germany

Continue reading the main story

The right-wing elites were confident they could use him to their advantage.

Yes, Adolf Hitler was ridiculous and vulgar, a tin-pot demagogue instead of a smooth politician, but he knew how to excite the nationalist base and deliver a whopper of a speech.

Germany’s conservative politicians assured one another that they would still be the ones to pull the puppet strings. As one of them put it, “In two months, we’ll have pushed Hitler so far into a corner that he’ll squeal.”

Needless to say, the adults in the room overestimated their own powers of containment. In “Hitler’s First Hundred Days,” the historian Peter Fritzsche shows how Hitler and the National Socialists wasted little time after he was appointed chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933, in crushing what remained of the Weimar Republic and installing “the 20th century’s most popular dictatorship.”

The changes were audacious, and they were swift. On Day 4, Hitler and his conservative allies censored any press that showed “contempt” for government. On Day 7, he established links between his brownshirt paramilitaries and the official law-and-order apparatus of the state.

The Reichstag fire on Day 29 gave Hitler the pretext he needed to get President Paul von Hindenburg to sign an emergency decree suspending civil liberties, and the Reichstag elections a week later consolidated the Nazis’ grip on power.

On Day 61, the Nazis organized a nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses, and six days later purged the civil service of Jews.

“A quarter past 11 led, in only 100 days, to the Thousand Year Reich,” Fritzsche writes, referring to the hour before midnight when Hitler and the conservative elites made their back-room deal to appoint him chancellor.

Germany 1933: from democracy to dictatorship

Go in-depth

In 1933, Hitler came to power and turned Germany into a dictatorship. How did the Nazi party come to power and how did Hitler manage to eliminate his opponents?

Germany became a republic in 1919. After losing the First World War, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated. Many Germans were dissatisfied with the new situation. They longed for a return to the Empire. Many people also believed that the ruling social democrats were to blame for losing the war. Nevertheless, things started to look up from the mid-1920s onwards.

And then in 1930, the global economic crisis hit. Germany could no longer pay the war debts stipulated in the Versailles Peace Treaty. Millions of Germans lost their jobs. The country was in a political crisis as well. Cabinets were falling, and new elections were held all the time. It seemed impossible to form a majority government.

This was the backdrop to the rise of the German National Socialist Workers' Party (NSDAP). When it was founded in 1920, it was only a small party. But Hitler used his oratory talent to attract more and more members. The party was characterised by extreme nationalism and antisemitism.

In November 1923, Hitler even led a coup attempt. It was a complete failure. Hitler ended up behind bars and the court banned the NSDAP. At the end of 1924, Hitler was released after serving a relatively short sentence. However, his political career was not over. In prison he had written Mein Kampf, setting out his plans for Germany.

From then on, the Nazis were to stick to the law and try to gain power by means of elections. They benefited from the economic crisis that began by the end of the 1920s. The Nazis used the crisis to condemn the government and the Versailles peace treaty. Their strategy was effective. In the 1928 elections, the NSDAP gained 0.8 million votes; in 1930, the number had increased to 6.4 million.

The Nuremberg Laws

Winter 2010, Vol. 42, No. 4

By Greg Bradsher

  • It was in Nuremberg, officially designated as the “City of the Reich Party Rallies,” in the province of Bavaria, where Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party in 1935 changed the status of German Jews to that of Jews in Germany, thus “legally” establishing the framework that eventually led to the Holocaust.
  • Ten years later, it would also be in Nuremberg, now nearly destroyed by British and American heavy bombing, where surviving prominent Nazi leaders were put on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
  • The war in Europe ended in May 1945, and soon the attention of the Allies turned to prosecuting those Third Reich leaders who had been responsible for, among other things, the persecution of the Jews and the Holocaust.
  • The trials began November 20, 1945, in Nuremberg's Palace of Justice, which had somehow survived the intense Allied bombings of 1944 and 1945.

The next day, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson, named by President Harry S. Truman as the U.S. chief counsel for the prosecution of Axis criminality, made his opening statement to the International Military Tribunal.

“The most serious actions against Jews were outside of any law, but the law itself was employed to some extent. They were the infamous Nuremberg decrees of September 15, 1935,” Jackson said.

The so-called “Nuremberg Laws”— a crucial step in Nazi racial laws that led to the marginalization of German Jews and ultimately to their segregation, confinement, and extermination—were key pieces of evidence in the trials, which resulted in 12 death sentences and life or long sentences for other Third Reich leaders.

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But the prosecution was forced to use images of the laws from the official printed version, for the original copies were nowhere to be found.

However, they had been found earlier, by U.S. counter-intelligence troops, who passed them up the line until they came to the Third Army's commander, Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. The general took them home to California. There, they remained for decades, their existence not revealed until 1999.

  1. Finally, this past summer, the original copies of the laws, signed by Hitler and other Nazi leaders, were transferred to the National Archives.
  2. Third Reich Began Persecutions Years Before Laws Enacted in 1935
  3. The Nuremberg Laws made official the Nazi persecution of the Jews, but the “legal” attack on the Jews actually began two years earlier.

After the Nazis took power in Germany in 1933, they became increasingly engaged in activities involving the persecution of the Jewish and other minority populations. They did it under the color of law, using official decrees as a weapon against the Jews.

In 1933 Jews were denied the right to hold public office or civil service positions; Jewish immigrants were denaturalized; Jews were denied employment by the press and radio; and Jews were excluded from farming. The following year, Jews were excluded from stock exchanges and stock brokerage.

During these years, when the Nazi regime was still rather shaky and the Nazis feared opposition from within and resistance from without, they did nothing drastic, and the first measures appeared, in relative terms, rather mild.

After Germany publicly announced in May 1935 its rearmament in violation of the Versailles Treaty, Nazi party radicals began more forcibly demanding that Hitler, the party, and the government take more drastic measures against the Jews. They wanted to completely segregate them from the social, political, and economic life of Germany. These demands increased as the summer progressed.

On August 20, 1935, the U.S. embassy in Berlin reported to the secretary of state:

To sum up the Jewish situation at the moment, it may be said that the whole movement of the Party is one of preparing itself and the people for general drastic and so-called legal action to be announced in the near future probably following the Party Congress to be held in Nuremberg beginning on September 10th. One has only to review the statements made by important leaders since the end of the Party's summer solstice to realize the trend of affairs.

James G. McDonald, high commissioner for refugees under the League of Nations, then in Berlin, wrote in his diary August 22 that “New legislation is imminent, but it is difficult to tell exactly what the provisions will be. Certainly, they will tend further to differentiate the Jews from the mass of Germans and to disadvantage them in new ways.”

William E. Dodd, the American ambassador to Germany, on September 7 sent a long dispatch to the secretary of state regarding current development in the “Jewish Situation.” He reported “it appears that even now discussions are still continuing in the highest circles respecting the policy to be evolved at the Nuremberg party Congress.” He added:

It is believed that a declaration respecting the Jews will be made at Nuremberg which will be followed by the announcement at the Congress itself, or shortly thereafter, or a body of legislation whose ultimate character will depend upon the result of the discussions now in progress. Either one or the other will probably contain drastic features to appease the radicals but may be offset by certain appearances of moderation to be emphasized later to facilitate such dealing abroad. . . . An idea that may influence policy at Nuremberg, and in any case now seems to be uppermost in the minds of Party extremists, is that, however drastic the measures adopted, they will be formally rooted in law, and that the sanctity with which law is regarded, and the discipline with which it is observed in Germany, may impress foreign opinion favorably.

  • On September 9, McDonald wrote Felix Warburg, a major American Jewish leader, that he was unable to get a clear picture what may be expected in the threatened new legislation, but “One can only be certain that the result will be to penalize the Jews in various ways and on the basis of pseudo-legality, which causes grim forebodings.”
  • Nazi Rally in Nuremberg Hailed Passage of the Laws
  • At their annual rally held in Nuremberg on September 15, Nazi party leaders announced, after the Reichstag had adopted them, new laws that institutionalized many of the racial theories underpinning Nazi ideology.

The so-called Nuremberg Laws, signed by Hitler and several other Nazi officials, were the cornerstone of the legalized persecution of Jews in Germany. They stripped German Jews of their German citizenship, barred marriage and “extramarital sexual intercourse” between Jews and other Germans, and barred Jews from flying the German flag, which would now be the swastika.

On September 16, Ambassador Dodd sent a cable to the secretary of state about the Nuremberg Laws. He wrote:

The True Story of the Reichstag Fire and the Nazi Rise to Power

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and where there’s fire, conspiracy theories are sure to follow. At least, that’s what happened in Germany on February 27, 1933, when a sizeable portion of the parliamentary building in Berlin, the Reichstag, went up in flames from an arson attack.

It was the canary in the political coal mine—a flashpoint event when Adolf Hitler played upon public and political fears to consolidate power, setting the stage for the rise of Nazi Germany. Since then, it’s become a powerful political metaphor. Whenever citizens and politicians feel threatened by executive overreach, the “Reichstag Fire” is referenced as a cautionary tale.

Whether it’s a congressman referencing the fire to question President George W. Bush, a comparison of President Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler, or numerous pundits invoking the incident to foment fear over President Donald Trump’s next potential executive order, the German arson is an irrepressible political motif.

It’s become a kind of political shorthand—a reference so familiar that New York Times columnist Paul Krugman only had to use the word “fire” in the headline of an inflammatory column about the Trump administration to call up images of national chaos and power grabs.

But the true story of the climactic event is far more complicated than the headlines suggest.

Germany’s first experiment with liberal democracy was born of the 1919 Weimar Constitution, established after the conclusion of World War I. It called for a president elected by direct ballot, who would appoint a chancellor to introduce legislation to members of the Reichstag (who were also elected by popular vote).

The president retained the power to dismiss his cabinet and the chancellor, dissolve an ineffective Reichstag, and, in cases of national emergency, invoke something known as Article 48, which gave the president dictatorial powers and the right to intervene directly in the governance of Germany’s 19 territorial states.

Following a stint in jail for his failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923, Hitler poured his energy into attaining power through legal channels. He rose to the head of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nazis), and by 1928 the group’s membership exceeded 100,000.

The Nazis denounced the Weimar Republic and the “November criminals,” politicians had signed the Treaty of Versailles.

The treaty forced Germany to accept responsibility for World War I, pay huge remunerations, transfer territory to their neighbors and limit the size of the military.

Despite its considerable growth, the Nazi party won only 2.6 percent of the vote in the 1928 election. But then the Great Depression hit, sending the U.S.

and Europe into an economic tailspin and shooting the number of unemployed up to 6 million people in Germany (around 30 percent of the population). The sudden slump caused massive social upheaval, which the Nazis exploited to gain further political traction. By 1930, the Nazis won 18.

3 percent of the Reichstag vote and became the second largest party after the Social Democrats, while the Communist party also grew to ten percent of the vote.

The economic unrest of the early 1930s meant that no single political party had a majority in the Reichstag, so fragile coalitions held the nation together. Faced with political chaos, President Paul von Hindenburg dissolved the Reichstag again and again. Frequent elections followed.

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