Guest author discusses German history with Ramapo students

Photo by Tori D’Amico

On Friday, October 16, Dr. Peter Fritzsche spoke to Ramapo students about his book “Hitler’s First 100 Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich.” The event was moderated by Dr. Sam Mustafa and Dr. Michael Riff.

Fritzsche spoke on several different topics related to his book, beginning with an explanation of the rise in popularity of the Nazi Party in Germany. He described a time when working-class Germans felt victimized by the ideals of the Socialist Party of the Weimar Republic and Versailles. These Germans were exactly the ones the party sought to unite to take power.

He went on to describe how, despite this unification of workers through the identification of internal enemies – the socialists – and the call for violence, the party struggled to win votes in the 1928 elections. he noted that Germans identified with their message of resolving the political crisis in the country, as the middle class had a strong sense of nationalism after World War I.

“Not only do you hear the speeches, but you hear the shouting, the cheering, the uproar,” Friztsche said of the Nazi Party’s use of radio to garner support. “They thought it was the sound of national revolution.”

The energetic nature of the party was what eventually became one of their most appealing features. Although they never got more than 40% of the vote, the political elites were ready to work with Hitler after he became chancellor.

“They cannot tame or contain Hitler,” Fritzsche said. “They are willing to take that risk, better Hitler than anyone else.”

During his first hundred days, which Fritzsche focuses on, Hitler was able to gain constitutional control of the country. The then President was able to transfer emergency executive power to the Chancellor, but he was convinced to cede it permanently, which consolidated the Nazi Party’s rule over Germany.

In his book, Friztsche wrote: “It is possible to hate the Nazis while loving the Third Reich. Such was the case with Hitler’s rise to power, as many did not necessarily like Hitler, but liked what the party stood for. There were no other options for Germans seeking a political uprising that would crush the hated Socialist Party.

Friztsche focuses on those first hundred days as an impressive feat of democratically gaining power and turning it into a dictatorship. He said that on the 65th day of Hitler’s chancellery, he effectively removed all Jews from positions of power, creating a hierarchy with second-class citizens.

“Once you’re attracted to Hitler,” he said, “you start to consider anti-Semitism.”

Students were encouraged to ask questions of Dr. Friztsche, and many asked how the emergence of a party that symbolized a new Germany compared to political situations in Poland and America.

His main point of distinction was to note how Hitler was the founder of his political party, while Donald Trump is far from it, he can try to present that he is reinventing the party. Another factor was the strong support the Nazis had for the university system – students and faculty – unlike the current Republican Party.

“You have a Republican electorate that is influenced by ethnic nationalism and racial differences,” he said of America, with the same similarity appearing in Poland and Hungary. Dr. Friztsche was convinced that the uprising in Germany was much stronger than any extremist militia in the United States today.

More than 60 students attended the event via Webex, many sending in similar questions about possible similarities between the 1930s and today.

The students received a farewell message, a message that must be honored when learning from the past: “Let’s hope for a better future”.

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