More from Dorothy Thompson, of the American Dictator.
In 1931, Thompson interviewed Hitler and was underwhelmed by his appearance and demeanor, predicting, erroneously of course, that he would never become the leader of Germany.
Millions of Germans follow Hitler because he has proclaimed war upon the banks, upon the trusts, upon the ‘loan-capital.’ He has asserted time and time again that he will abolish the rule of one class by another. What actually do these statements mean, in terms of practical politics?
I couldn’t find out, and anyone who can is a better interviewer than I. When I dared to interrupt the stream of eloquence by bluntly repeating my question, he replied (rather coyly) that he didn’t intend to hand his program over to his enemies (the German Chancellor) for them to ‘steal.’ . . . People who laughed at Hitler a year ago, now pull serious faces and say: ‘There’s a great deal to the man.’ . . .
This social and economic theory is, to a halfway educated person a tale told by an idiot. . . . But reason never yet swept a world off its feet, and Hitler, an agitator of genius, knows this. Self-interest, expressed in the most pathetic terms, does. Hitler is the most golden tongued of demagogues. Don’t bother about the fact that most of what he says, read the next day in cold news print, is usually plain nonsense. . . . This is the way Hitler writes–but he cannot write; his book is one long speech. Eight hundred pages of Gothic script, pathetic gestures, inaccurate German, and unlimited self-satisfaction. You must imagine the crowds he addresses. . . . Do you wonder that millions follow him? Listening to him they feel themselves exalted. Better times are coming. Just around the corner is the era of Race, when all good Teutons, just by reason of their being Teutons, will come into their own. . . .
Take the Jews out of Hitler’s program, and the whole thing, both the economic program and the racial, collapses. The Jews are responsible for everything. In ‘My Fight’ I find that Mr. Hitler is capable of accusing them of the most contradictory impulses without turning a hair. They are worthless democrats and bloodthirsty plutocrats; they are shabby and given to oriental pomp; unimaginative rationalists and mystic international conspirators; ritual murderers and bloodless intellectuals; crass egotists and sentimentalists; their way is paved with corpses and they are the world’s international pacifists; they are dangerous assimilationists, and a foreign element in the body politic.
It doesn’t, you see, make sense.
But if you want to gauge the strength of the Hitler movement, imagine that in America, an orator with the tongue of the late Mr. Bryan and the histrionic powers of Aimee MacPherson, combined with the publicity gifts of Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee should manage to unite all the farmers, with all the white collar unemployed, all the people with salaries under $3000 a year who have lost their savings in bank collapses and the stock market and are being pressed for payments on the icebox and the radio, the louder evangelical preachers, the American Legion, the D.A.R., the Ku Klux Klan, the W.C.T.U., Mathew Woll, Senator Borah, and Henry Ford–imagine that, and you will have some idea of what the Hitler movement in Germany means.
In one of the great underestimations of history, she predicted that Hitler would falter:
He needs money for this vast organization which he has built up–and banks and great trusts give it to him. . . . What becomes then of his brave words against them? Once in power, will he want to risk another French invasion? What becomes, then, of his sonorous calls to arms? He will have to maintain law and order. What becomes then, of his promises to a revolutionary working class? He has promised to win back all the Germans handed by the peace treaties to other countries. But diplomacy demands concessions . . . . And the Jews? Bismarck’s first speech in the Reichstag was against the Jews. But he lived to have a Jewish banker as his most intimate advisor.
In 1934, Thompson was the first American journalist expelled from Nazi Germany.
Ten years after interviewing Hitler, Thompson reflected on the rise of Nazism in “Who Goes Nazi?”
Germans may be more susceptible to Nazism than most people, but I doubt it. Jews are barred out, but it is an arbitrary ruling. . . . Nazism has nothing to do with race and nationality. It appeals to a certain type of mind. . . .
It’s fun—a macabre sort of fun—this parlor game of ‘Who Goes Nazi?’ And it simplifies things—asking the question in regard to specific personalities.
Kind, good, happy, gentlemanly, secure people never go Nazi. They may be the gentle philosopher whose name is in the Blue Book, or Bill from City College to whom democracy gave a chance to design airplanes—you’ll never make Nazis out of them. But the frustrated and humiliated intellectual, the rich and scared speculator, the spoiled son, the labor tyrant, the fellow who has achieved success by smelling out the wind of success—they would all go Nazi in a crisis.
Believe me, nice people don’t go Nazi. Their race, color, creed, or social condition is not the criterion. It is something in them.
Those who haven’t anything in them to tell them what they like and what they don’t-whether it is breeding, or happiness, or wisdom, or a code, however old-fashioned or however modern, go Nazi. It’s an amusing game. Try it at the next big party you go to.