Helena Schrader's Historical Fiction

Dr. Helena P. Schrader is the winner of more than 20 literary accolades. For a complete list of her awards see: http://helenapschrader.com

For readers tired of clichés and cartoons, award-winning novelist Helena P. Schrader offers nuanced insight to historical events and figures based on sound research and an understanding of human nature. Her complex and engaging characters bring history back to life as a means to better understand ourselves.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Hitler's Popularity - The Glue of the Nazi State

 Fascism exploits the popularity of a "leader" to establish its hold over a state. So far, all fascist leaders have been power-hungry, corrupt, hate-filled, racist and indifferent to human suffering. Intelligence is not a prerequisite for a fascist leader -- only the ability to appeal to and mobilize the human sewage that lurks in every society. Fascist leaders are the voice of the embittered and selfish, the hate-filled and social losers. Fascism gives them the opportunity to scream, shout, insult and oppress others. Racism is essential to fascism because it makes even the most pathetic failure "better" than someone else based not on any personal quality but on the basis of some collective identity. 

At the time Hitler was appointed chancellor in January 1933, the Nazi party had obtained just over 33% of the total vote in the most recent national election, that of November 1932.  This made it the largest party in the German Parliament with 196 of 584 seats—but not the majority party.  The next largest party, the Social Democrats, had 121 seats and the Communists 100 seats.  Together, the two leftist parties were more popular than the Nazis, while the splintered centrist parties together had 134 seats, or more than either of the two leftist parties separately, but less than the Nazis. The importance of these figures is to counter the widespread belief that Nazis won overwhelming victories in free elections.  This was not true as the above figures show.  Furthermore, the elections in November 1932 recorded a significant drop in Nazi support compared with the elections that had been held in July 1932. Yet despite having support only from a minority of the population Hitler still came to power.

After Hitler came to power, there were no further elections and therefore no reliable means for measuring his personal popularity with the populace.  Furthermore, from the summer of 1933 onwards, there was no free press, no opposition parties, and no independent trade unions.  In short, there was no public means of voicing dissent or discontent.

Nevertheless, there is a strong consensus among historians and eye-witnesses that Hitler's popularity soared in the early years of his regime as he delivered on his economic promises of eliminating unemployment, stabilizing the currency domestically while at the same time ripping up the humiliating and hated Versailles Treaty with impunity.  

Hitler's popularity then fell during the tensions leading up to the Sudeten Crisis, because the population feared war. When Hitler again got away with aggression without paying a price, his popularity reached new heights.  The same thing repeated itself a year later during the invasion of the remaining portions of Czechoslovakia.

In September 1939, however, the Germans were terrified that the Western Allies would fall on their Western frontier while the Wehrmacht was fighting in Poland, and Hitler’s support fell. When the West failed to respond militarily and Poland was defeated in just weeks with few casualties, Hitler's popularity bounced higher still.  

Nevertheless, the Germans feared war with France.
Germany's defeat in WWI and the vindictive policies of France which followed had traumatized the Germans. They feared a repeat of the bloody stalemate that had characterized most of the First World War. After Germany's the stunning victory over France in the six weeks from May 10 to June 22, 1940,  however, Hitler seemed invincible and infallible. His popularity soared to new heights, and after this "miraculous victory" the vast majority of Germans appear to have trusted him no matter what he did.

It was not until the German Army became bogged down deep inside Russia, when casualties started to mount ,and the Allied Air Offensive started to bring the war home to Germany that the mood in the general population shifted.  Stalingrad was the most critical turning point, but it should not be forgotten that the Wehrmacht appeared to recover from Stalingrad and in the summer of 1943 new victories followed. Hitler's popularity was partially restored, although it never fully recovered from the defeat at Stalingrad. Meanwhile the Allied bomber offensive was ramped up, causing increasing casualties, destruction, and hardship.

Yet to this day it is a point of heated — often bitter — debate among historians just how much the mood had swung against the Nazis by July 1944.  There are those who argue that had the Coup been successful, the majority of the Germans would have been relieved.  Most historians disagree, however, and believe that Hitler still had the bulk of the German people behind him in July 1944.  

The point is moot.  Even if "a majority" were on the side of the Resistance in July 1944, there would have been a very substantial minority — tens of millions of people — who were fanatically loyal to Hitler even then. Furthermore, many of these millions were armed and organized in fanatical militias — namely the SA and SS, the later having been transformed into a full-blown military force.

The moral of the story is that the popularity of an unethical dictator doesn’t matter very much because a fanatical minority willing to use force will always be in a position to intimidate and terrorize the majority — unless military force is on the other side.

The German Resistance to Hitler was the subject of my PhD thesis. At the time I was the first Western academic granted access to some military archives and documents in what was then still "East Germany." In addition, I conducted interviews with over one hundred survivors of Nazi Germany, both supporters and opponents of the regime. The research culminated in a published dissertation and, later, an English-language biography of General Friederich Olbricht based on the dissertation. It also inspired me to write a novel about the German Resistance, which was recently re-released in ebook format under the title: "Traitors for the Sake of Humanity." Find out more and read reviews of "Traitors" at the publisher's website: Cross Seas Press.




  1. Excellent analysis! I am sure both of your published works on the subject are great reads. I think the story of how you gained access to the archives in East Germany would make for a fascinating post, as well!

    1. Well, yes, but a much more personal one. I'm not comfortable talking so much about myself on public media like this.