Hitler and Strasser
Hitler et Moi. By Otto Strasser. (Grasset. zr frs.) " I WANT something really horrible," said the lady next me at the bookstall on Reading Station, running through the serried ranks of detective fiction on sale. She might have done worse than choose this book. It is horribly fascinating, to me far more so than any work of fiction, more even than an Elizabethan tragedy, with which it has at least this in common, that the murders are multiple. And yet it is no mere sensation-mongering, but a reli- able and an important contribution to contemporary history. It is a matter of the greatest urgency that people should know what Hitler and the gangsters around him are really like—the " money- making murderers," as Mr. Duff Cooper quite rightly called them.
Our troubles are largely due to the fact that people in high place in this country never realised what sort of men they were dealing with or what they were up against; as Mr. Herbert Morrison said once, very mildly, " They don't seem to read anything." The particular value of Strasser's book lies in the fact that it is close-up evidence from one of the very few Nazi leaders who was on intimate terms with Hitler and his gang, and who, in spite of disagreeing, got away and survived to tell the tale.
The tale he has to tell is the whole disgraceful heart and centre of our contemporary world : the rise to power of the Nazi party in Germany, and since 1933, in Europe, their ascension to a position from which to dominate the lives of all of us. It is inconceivable that our rulers should have allowed this to happen if they had realised all that would flow from it ; but for what they are responsible for they will answer at the bar of history. As Strasser has said, no German government got more understanding and propitiation from abroad than Hitler's ; Foreign Secretary after Foreign Secre- tary asked them to state what they wanted. No wonder they never got an answer, for it was the domination of Europe they wanted, and our elimination. In these circumstances, those who allowed themselves to be taken in bear a heavy responsibility.
Strasser has a great deal to tell us, much that is new and much that we knew before in better perspective. For instance, there is a brilliant and convincing chapter on the personality of Hitler, the technique of political seduction, of isolating his enemy—whether a public or a private one, an individual or a party or a State—ruining him, marking him down with pitiless, vindictive severity, an un- sleeping memory. There are so many examples of it sown through- out the book. Yet why did not our people dealing with this man know about it before? Surprise, Strasser tells us, is always an element in Hitler's technique—surprise and, we might add, the sudden concentration of superior forces and their brutal and relent- less use. How true that has been all the way along, against oppo- nents within his party, inside Germany, then against Austria, Czecho-Slovakia, Poland, Norway —. But why have our people not realised it before? It was there for all to see. It was not merely surprise, for often Hitler told us what he meant to do; it was the paralysed waiting of the rabbit for the stoat to catch up with it.
The chief impression that emerges from reading this book, apart from loathing for the manners and methods of the gangsterdom in power in Germany, is the compulsion exercised by Hitler's astonish- ing flair for power. His political instinct is extraordinary; he seems to have been always right from his own point of view, amid the con- flicting counsels of his lieutenants, the shoals to be navigated.
It is not merely that he has read Machiavelli—Strasser tells us that, though not a reading man, he had studied him long ago.
Hitler knows that politics is a struggle for power, and you play to win; with him never a point is given away, nor is there ever any mercy for a defeated opponent. It is as well that we should know what we are up against. There is no doubt about his brilliance—it is not too much to say, his genius. Strasser's chapter summing up his discussions with Hitler has the unintended result of showing how right the latter was against the vague German idealism of the Strasser programme. With Hitler no illusions about human beings, the masses br anybody else : he knows too well what fools they are; that there is nothing they cannot be made to believe, that all they want is bread and circuses, that they can never understand the meaning of an ideal: all that, like all creative originality in art, in science, in thought, is the work of the elect. All very offensive to Strasser's vague socialism, of course; but no wonder Hitler won and the Strassers were completely outmanoeuvred and defeated.
At every turn in the elaborate and treacherous manoeuvres, Hitler's nose for power won. He was quite right, as against the Strassers, to throw in his lot with the Junkers and industrialists, with Thyssen, Krupp, Hugenberg and Schacht, for that was the way to power. All these contacts with heavy industry and high (very high) finance Hitler owed to Goring. The millions of
subsidies he got from them enabled him to destroy the Weimar Republic. Strasser gives us a great deal of new information about Hitler's Munich putsch of 1923 with Ludendorff, which shows that it was by no means the foolhardy, gallant adventure it has been thought. Like everything else he has undertaken, it had a chance of success : the Bavarian administration was honeycombed with secret supporters of the Nazis in high places : the technique that has got such world recktme with Norway and Holland. But why did people have to wait till 194o before they understood it? The Wei- mar Republic was eaten out by internal sabotage and treachery. Gartner, the Bavarian Minister of Justice, who protected Hitler and let him out of prison before his sentence was half served, is now Reichminister of Justice. And so on. The chapter on the murders of June 3oth, 1934, makes the whole thing much clearer and gives us a new perspective of those decisive events. We now see that it was Goring who was the prime mover, and that there were some hun- dreds of victims to his credit. And yet a British ambassador can hardly conceal his admiration for this brute and regarded it as an honour to be asked to tea with him.
With many of Strasser's conclusions we can agree: that Hitler, for example, is above all the instrument, the spokesman, the medium of Prussian militarism; that his defeat must mean the defeat of Prussianism. We can agree that Prussia must be reduced, that the roots of Prussian militarism, the Junkers and great industrials, must be rooted out once and for all, their estates and industries socialised, their military system of education transformed, and Germany itself reconstructed as a federation of autonomous pro- vinces. Only so is it possible for Germany to live alongside the rest of us as an equal, co-operative member of the European body