Was Hitler a weak Dictator?

Was Hitler a "weak Dictator" ?

In this assignment I am dealing with the political Structure of the Third Reich to explain why I am convinced that Adolf Hitler was not a weak Dictator as it is sometimes suggested, but a very strong and powerful leader.

First I am going to look on some facts that in my oppinion could suggest that Hitler was not the Dictator that had controll abut everything, then I am going to confront these suggestions with an possible explanation for the "political confusion" in the third Reich.

Finally I try to explain why, if you consider all the facts I have mentioned, you should come to the conclusion that Adolf Hitler was "the master of the Third Reich".

1. Hitler, the weak Dictator ?

If You consider the political situation in Germany during the Third Reich as not merely and pay more attention to the background, it is obvious that it was not such a monolith block as the Propaganda tried to show it, it was a confusing existence of rival hierarchies and competing centers of power at the same time.

A very good way to describe this is to look on the letter that the Gauleiter (Gauleader) of Munich - Upper Bavaria, Adolf Wagner, wrote to the Minister of the Interior, Frick in June 1934 : " According to the actual legal Position, the Reichsstatthalter are under your control as you are the Minister of the Interior of the Reich. Adolf Hitler is Reichsstatthalter in Prussia. He has delegated his rights to the Prime Minister of Prussia, Goering. You yourself are at the same time Minister of the Interior in Prussia. As a Minister of the Interior of the Reich, Adolf Hitler and the

Prime Minister of Prussia are under your control. But as you are Minister of the Interior in Prussia at the same time,, you are under the control of the Prime Minister of Prussia, and so you are under your own control as a Minister of the Interior of the Reich. Now I am not a jurist, but I do not think that such a Construction has ever existed before."[1]

Or as Joseph Goebbels wrote into his Diary on the 10th of February 1940 :"General Dissagreement. Ley is arguing with Kerrl against Rosenberg etc.. And this right now in the war, and everybody refers his position to the Fuehrer."[2]

If you compare the two following diagrams, it is easy to see that the structure of the third Reich was a kind of "Doppelstaat"(Double - State) with the traditional Bureaucracy on the one hand, and the Party - Apparatus on the other hand .


In this Diagram, you can see the structure of the state in the Third Reich. At first it seems to be as clear structured and organized as the NSDAP; but there were rivalries between the State - Bureaucracy and the Party - Organizations.


This Diagram shows the structure of the NSDAP as created from Adolf Hitler after 1923. The Party was based on absolute loyalty towards the Fuehrer. There where many Departments which where direct Rivals to the power of the traditional Bureaucracy.

The demise of an centralized government with clear divisions of the areas of responsibility led to the situation that something like a coordinated policy did not take place, each ministry worked independent by its own; at the same time there were a lot of crossings with the Party - Apparatus, but to make this Chaos complete, there where even some "Sonderbeauftragte" (special - emissary) which had gained their mandate on direct order of Hitler. If there where rivalries about one topic between all these, Hitler often waited to decide right in the end, when it already was clear which side would have more support.

Adolf Hitler did not like to take part in Conferences, he preferred to talk in private[1]; Meetings of the Cabinet did not take place regularly, the last Meeting of the Cabinet took place on the 5th of February 1938, but the "Reichsregierung" had lost its power as early as 1935. The only Representative of the State - Bureaucracy, Hans Heinrich Lammers was asked to report to Hitler the last time on the 29th of September 1944[5].

This construction led to a lot of conflicts and caused delays with regard to responsibility areas between the traditional Ministers and the new Party - I

Instances. One reason for this was, that the allocation of responsibilities between the traditional Bureaucracy and the Party was not very clear; e.g. the Gauleiter of the Party where direct rivals of the Reichsstatthalter, the foreign office had its equivalent in the "Diensstelle Ribbentropp" (department Ribentropp of the NSDAP), the Police had their rivals in the SS, the Justice in the "Volksgerichtshof" (People's Court), and even Adolf Hitler had three different chancelleries of the Party with nearly similar areas of responsibility at the same time.[6]

Some Historian stress the fact that there are only a few direct of direct "Fuehrer Befehle" about important topics, but as Hitler said in a secret speech to party leaders in 1937 "Never give a written order if you can give a oral order, never!"[7]; or as the State Secretary in the Foreign Office Ernst von Weizsaecker said ;" Ministerial skill in the Third Reich consisted in making the most of a favorable hour or minute when Hitler made a decision, this often taking the form of a remark thrown out casually, which then went its way as an Order of the Fuehrer"[8].

I think if you use this as a proof for Hitler's weakness, you have to be carefully with your conclusions of describing the Political Figure Adolf Hitler, because sometimes the missing of written orders is used as a kind of excuse for the terrible events that took place during the third Reich. A good example for this is the British Historian David Irving, in his Hitler Biography he tries to show that the Holocaust went on without knowing of Hitler, at least until 1943[9]

But nevertheless some historians conclude out of the facts I have mentioned above, that Adolf Hitler was not a strong dictator, and sometimes it is even suggested that Adolf Hitler was not working towards the goals he had laid down in "Mein Kampf", and that he was more a umpire than a leader that sanctioned policy rather than initiating it.[10]

2. Adolf Hitler, the "Master of the Third Reich" ?

To explain the construction of the Third Reich and Hitler's Role in it, it is a good start to go back to the origins of his political career.

When he joined the "DAP"(German Workers Party) in September 1919, the first thing he did subsequent to being elected as the Head of this Party on the 29th of July 1921, after he had been working for this position with determination, was to change the Party in that way, that he was the one and only man with absolute power; the executive of the party wrote "The committee is willing ,..., to give you dictatorial authority..."[11]. After the failed Putsch of 1923 he refunded the "NSDAP" on the 26th of July 1925 and organized his Party as an effective Instrument by introducing of the "Fuehrer Prinzip" which gave absolute Power to him.

After the Elections of 1932 it seemed that the Party would loose Power, because Hitler was not willing to join a cabinet as a minister, he wanted "everything or nothing".

During this period the left wing of the Party under Georg Strasser was speaking up against him, because they wanted to take part in the Government in a Coalition; after Hitler had found out that Strasser already was in secret negotiations with Kurt von Schleicher (former Reichskanzler) about joining the Government, he was able to overcome the opposition and this last try to limit his power failed.

After he was chosen as "Reichskanzler"(Chancellor of the Reich) on the 30th of January 1933, he followed the legal way, but on the 1st of February he convinced the Reichspraesident von Hindenburg to send new elections on the way.

In the period up to the election day, the 3rd of March, Hitler showed very clear that he was looking for more power and showed that he was able to use every chance that seemed useful to him. After the Reichstag was burned on the 26th of February 1933, Hitler reacted at once, and on the next Day the "Reichstagsbrandverordnung" was signed by the Reichspraesident. These "Notverordnung" limited certain "basic - laws"(like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press,..., ), it has been suggested that the NSDAP was involved into the burning of the Reichstag, but it seems that Marinus van der Lubbe was the only one involved. (This Question is of no real importance, the important thing is how Hitler was able to use this incident). I would say that it was right at this point where Hitler transferred from a "Reichskanzler" into a Dictator[12]. The "Ermaechtigungsgesetz" from the 23rd of March was only a way to legalize the Dictatorship that already was existing[13]

The first thing that followed was that the structure of the state was changed during the "Gleichschaltung"(7.4.1934), and the political Situation in the Laender was transferred over to the "Fuehrer - Prinzip".

This structural change was never completed, but it is fair enough to say that if Hitler really would have wanted such a change, he would have ordered it[14].

A very good example that shows that Hitler was willing to react as brutal as necessary to preserve his power is the killing of the Leader of the SA, Ernst Roehm, and the whole leadership of the SA in the Night of long knives on the 30th of June 1934, as a reaction to what the Goebbels - Propaganda called the "Roehm - Putsch". Recent research has shown that there never was a serious attempt of the SA for a Coup d 'Etat[15], the only reason was that the SA wanted more influence and Hitler was not willing to give them more Power; from now on the "Machtergreifung" was finished, as no opposition in his own party or in the state System existed anymore or had any power. From now on Hitler was the the powerful dictator of a Terror - Regime.

In the part of the practical politic it has been shown that Hitler used his power totally to influence the actions in his way. Till the Collapse of the Third Reich Hitler was able to preserve his position within the Regime as the central "Bezugspunkt"(~ point of reference), as a Fuehrer with unquestioned and practically undisturbed Power. How strong Hitler's position was becomes very clear when you remember that Hitler ignored all the warnings of his Generals who wanted him to order a retreat of the German troops in Russia to stabilize the front, and instead ordered the "Geheime Kommandosache Nr.1736/41"(~ Secret Order ) which had the essential, that the Officers and Commanders had to force their troops to fanatic resistance in their positions. With this order Hitler finally took complete Control over all the military decisions, and after he had changed all the important positions with loyal people, no one tried to did resist him.[16]

3. Conclusion

Directly after the second World War the large majority of historians and people, but especially the people who had been prosecuted during the 12 years of the National-Socialist-Dictatorship had the impression that the Third Reich was a rational organized, perfect System of a Terror - Dictatorship; but these Idea was changed partly as it became clear that it was instead a existence of rivaling Departments in the State and Party[17].

In this Chaos Adolf Hitler was the integrating and with unquestioned power leading Person. Of course, there cannot be a one and only answer, it always depends on which school the author is writing for.

As early as 1956 Karl Dietrich Bracher said " The antagonism of the Powerpositions is only in the omnipotent Keyposition of the Fuehrer abolished. Exactly in this Fact, and not in the working of the State per se, lies the deep Idea of the not at all perfect Gleichschaltung. Because the Keyposition of the Dictator is founded especially in the confusing existence of several powergroups at the same time and the personal loyalty."[18]

If you look on the Documents about the National-Socialist Intervention in the Spanish - Civil War it becomes very clear, that not Goering, Ribbentrop or Hess had the last word; Hitler listened to their Arguments but decided absolutely by its own. And their is not a slightest idea that Hitler's Orders, or something that Hitler wanted was delayed or not followed. In this Context the delaying of the Fuehrer - Order to destroy the German - Economy and everything that could be of use for the "Enemy" (19.3.1945) by Albert Speer can certainly not be used as a example for the "weakness" of the Dictator, as at this time the whole state was already collapsing.

It is not as easy as it seems to decide what you take as essential for a "strong/weak" dictator, but if you look at all the different facets of the Structure of the Third Reich I think that it is very clear, that the one figure that was in the center of all the political action and decisions who had the last word in the important decisions was Adolf Hitler, and that he indeed was "the Master of the Third Reich".

The German Historian Rainer Zittelmann wrote to this Topic : " Before you decide about Hitler's strength and weakness the standards which are used to measure Hitler's power and his limitations should be laid down and also compared with other Dictators. Then you probably could consider e.g. Stalin as a weak Dictator with the same right."[19]

Quotes in their original Language

Page 2 :

1 : "Nach der heutigen Rechtslage unterstehen Ihnen als dem Reichsinnenminister die Reichsstatthalter. Adolf Hitler ist Reichsstatthalter in Preussen. Er hat seinen Rechte an den preussischen Ministerpraesidenten Goering deligiert. Sie selber sind aber auch preussischer Innenminister. Als Reichsinnenminister unterstehen Ihnen also rechtlich Adolf Hitler und der preussische Ministerpraesident. Da Sie personengleich mit dem preussischen Innenminister sind, unterstehen sie wiederum dem preussischen Ministerpraesidenten und sich selbst als Reichsinnenminister. Ich bin zwar kein Rechtsgelehrter, glaube aber, dass es einen solche Konstruktion kaum jemals gegeben hat."

2 : "Allgemeine Uneinigkeit. Ley kracht sich mit Kerrl (Reichsminister fuer Erziehung, Wissenschaft und Volksbildung) gegen Rosenberg etc. Und das mitten im Krieg, und jeder beruft sich auf den Fuehrer...".

Page 3 :

8 : "Der Ausschuss ist bereit, ..., Ihnen diktatorische Machtbefugnisse einzuraeumen."

Page 4:

12 : " Was man muendlich mitteilen kann, soll man nicht schriftlich tun, nie !"

Page 5

17: " Der Antagonismus der Machtfunktionen ist einzig in der omnipotenten Schluesselstellung des Fuehrers aufgehoben. Gerade darin, nicht im Funktionieren des Staates per se, liegt die tiefste Absicht der keineswegs perfekten Gleichschaltung. Denn die Schluesselstellung des Diktators ist gerade in dem unuebersichtlichen Neben- und Gegeneinander der Machtgruppen und persoenlichen Bindungen begruendet."

Page 6

19 : " Bevor ueber Schwaeche und Staerke Hitlers befunden wird, sollte man also die Mass-staebe offenlegen und dabei Hitlers Macht und ihre Grenzen auch mit der anderer Diktatoren vergleichen. Dann wuerde sich vermutlich herausstellen, dass sich mit dem gleichen Recht beispielsweise auch Stalin als schwacher Diktator bezeichnen liesse."

N.B. All the Sources of these Quotes are mentioned in the Footnotes !


Bracher, Karl Dietrich / Funke, Manfred / Jacobsen, Hans-Adolf(Hrsg) : Deutschland 1933 - 1945, Neue Studien zur nationalsozialistischen Herrschaft, Bundeszentrale fuer politische Bildung, Bd. 314, Bonn 1992

Bracher / Funke / Jacobsen(Hrsg), Nationalsozialistische Diktatur 1933 - 1945, Eine Bilanz, Bundeszentrale fuer politische Bildung Bd.192, Bonn 1986

Bundeszentrale fuer politische Bildung, Informationen zur politische Bildung Bd. 123/126/127 Der Nationalsozialismus, Bonn 1991

Irving, David : Hitlers' War, London 1977

Kershaw, Ian : The Nazi Dictatorship - Problems and Perspectives of Interpretations, London 1989

Knopp, Guido : Hitler, Eine Bilanz, Siedler Verlag, Berlin 19

Zentner, Christian(Ed.) : Bild der Geschichte, Hitler, Hamburg 1989

[1] Informatinen zur politische Bildung, Heft 123/125/127, Bonn 1991,P.75 N.B. As all the Qoutes were in german, I translated them by myself; on Page 11/12 you can find the Quotes in their original Language.

[2] Informationen zur politischen Bildung,Heft 123/125/127, Bonn 1991, P.75

[3] Informationen zur politischen Bildung,Heft 123/126/127, Bonn 1991,P.30

[4] Informationen zur politischen Bildung, Heft 123/126/127, Bonn 1991, P.30

[5] Ruck, M., Fuehrerabsolotismus und polykratisches Herrschaftsgefuege-Vefassunsstrukturen des NS Staates, in : Deutschland 1933-145, Neue Studien zur nationalsozialistischen Herrschaft, Bonn 1992, P.56

[6] Knopp, G., Hitler-Eine Bilanz-, Berlin 1995, P.206f

[7] Knopp, G., Hitler-Eine Bilanz, Berlin 1995, p.289

[8] Bullock,A. Hitler-A Study in Tyranny,1962,P.730, in : Simpson, William, Hitler and Germany, Cambridge1994,P.83

[9] Irving, D., Hitler's War, London 1977, P.71ff.(In newer editions of his book he modified some passages of it, as he now totally denies the ecistence of eamination camps)

[10] Simpson,W.,Hitler and Germany, Cambridge 1994, P.80

[11] Steffahn, H.,Hitler Biografie Von Braunau nach Berlin, in : Bild der Geschichte, Hitler, Hamburg 1989, P.19

[12] Knopp, G., Hitler-Eine Bilanz-,Berlin 1995 P.183f.

[13] Knopp, G., Hitler-Eine Bilanz-, Berlin 1995, P.187.

[14] Kershaw, I., The Nazi - Dictatorship, London 1989, P.72.

[15] Knopp, G., Hitler-Eine Bilanz, Berlin 1995, p.197

[16] Knoop, G., Hitler-Eine Bilanz, Berlin 1995, P.262 ff.

[17] Hildebrand, K., Monokratie oder Polykratie? Hitlers Herrschaft und das dritte Reich, in : Nationalsozialistische Diktatur 1933-1945 - Eine Bilanz, Bonn 1986, P.73

[18] Hildebrand, K., Monokratie oder Polykratie? Hitlers Herrschaft und das dritte Reich, in : Nationalsozia -

listische Diktatur 1933-1945 - Eine Bilanz, Bonn 1986, P.73.f.

[19] Zittelmann, R., Hitler Bild im Wandel, in : Deutschland 1933-1945, Bonn 1992, P. 500

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