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TO WHAT EXTENT WAS HITLER THE DECISION MAKER FOR THE NAZI REGIME?

Jaylon Saville
2172 words
IDENTIFICATION AND EVALUATION OF SOURCES

The question of this investigation is "To what extent was Hitler the decision maker for the Nazi
Regime?"

Source One1:

This source is an extract from Ian Kershaws "Hitler Myth," a study that focuses on common
misconceptions of Hitler and the Nazi government, as well as discussing the issue of where power
lay in the Third Reich. It is valuable as it is a secondary source written long after any lasting
influence from the Third Reich, and thus with the benefit of hindsight can offer an objective view
on the Nazi regime that would have been impossible during the time period.

A key limitation of this source is that it is written in 1987, nearly fifty years after Hitlers rule. This
introduces an element of unreliability in his work as original primary sources are often unclear and
subject to interpretation. When later generations comment on the source, without clear
knowledge of the precise circumstances surrounding the source, misinterpretation can occur.
Because of this, Kershaws interpretations and his reasoning cannot be entirely trusted.

"The Hitler Myth" was written with the purpose to provide Kershaws insight and opinion on a
controversial subject, namely the structure and efficiency of the Nazi government and Hitlers
involvement in it. This is valuable because Kershaws views can be seen as the culmination of a
large body of work comprised of the debate and opinion of historians before him, and can thus
offer a balanced account that takes multiple perspectives into consideration as well as analysing
them objectively. Of course, Kershaw has his own opinion on the subject, but as it is a historical
paper his arguments must be logical and based upon reliable evidence. Therefore, his point of
view is significant and can provide a solid basis for this investigation.

A limitation of this is that Kershaw could be subjective in his use of primary sources, giving more
weight to those that support his point of view. The novel is written with the purpose to present to
the community his personal insight and opinion, and therefore is not does not hold all
perspectives in equal consideration.

Source Two2:

This source is an account by Hitlers adjutant of his daily activities. It is valuable as it is a primary
source, and can therefore offer valuable insight on Hitlers lifestyle that is difficult to deduce
through more general accounts of Hitler as a leader.

An important limitation of this source is that it is a heavily opinionated account, using language
such as "he disliked," or "I sometimes." Taken with the fact that it was written in 1964, about
thirty years after he was in Hitlers service, such opinions and casual recollection is unlikely to be
an accurate reflection of the situation at the time. Therefore, the source can be used as a general
impression of Hitlers day to day activities and his attitude towards politics, but can not be seen as
conclusively summing his faults. Moreover, the source was written by a Nazi official at a time

1
Ian Kershaw, The 'Hitler Myth' (Oxford University Press 2001).
2
Fritz Wiedemann, Der Mann, Der Feldherr Werden Wollte (Blick und Bild Verl fr Politische Bildung 1964).
when Nazism was viewed in a very negative light, and therefore could have been written with the
purpose of distancing himself from the regime by holding Hitler in a negative light.

INVESTIGATION:
Totalitarianism is defined as a "form of government that theoretically permits no individual
freedom and that seeks to subordinate all aspects of individual life to the authority of the state."
The term was coined by Mussolini, who described it to mean "all within the state, none outside
the state, none against the state." His words accurately describe the Nazi regime and their
unification and promotion of the German race, as well as their fervent oppression of opposition
through the SS and Gestapo.

There is debate on whether the regimes power truly lay with the government, or that it lay with
the people. In other words, there are doubts on whether the regime was as all powerful as they
portrayed themselves to be. However, I believe it is clear due to the lack of significant opposition
against Nazism that the Third Reich were in control, and whether or not this control relied on the
support of the people is inconsequential to this investigation as I am focusing on Hitlers influence
within the government, not his undeniable influence on the German people. To expand on my
research question: was Hitler merely a figurehead used for gaining the support of the German
public, or was he the dominant political figure in the Third Reich and involved in all key decision
making?

The power structure of the Third Reich can be split under two main factions: traditional
institutions carried on from the Weimar Republic, and the Nazi Party organisations, composed of
Nazi-specific groups such as the SS, SA and Hitler Youth, as well as Auxiliary Agencies that
supplemented the traditional institutions that focused on enacting the Fuhrers will throughout
the government. Presiding over both of these was Hitler, who had assumed dictatorship on
August 1, 1934 following the death of President Hindenburg, promoting his position from leader
of the Nazi Party to leader of the German people.

Hubers view3 shows the extent of Hitlers power shortly after he took on his new position. He is
described to be "independent of all groups," meaning that his will is law and is representative of
the entire government. The reason for this phenomenal power centralised upon one man was his
status to the German people. Due to his brilliance as an orator, the people looked at him with
religious fervour, seeing him as their guardian angel who will lead them on a path of greatness.
Huber presented this viewpoint in 1935, a year after the regimes violent consolidation of power
culminating in the Night of Long Knives, during a time period where the Nazi state was still new
and unstable, and therefore needed Hitler to be at the forefront of the regime, using him as a
diversion of public opinion while the government tightened its hold on the country. While there
was criticism of Hitler, they were largely futile against the genius of Goebbels propaganda efforts
that further idolised Hitler in the eyes of the Germans.

Throughout the rest of its leadership, the Nazi state continued to place Hitler at its forefront,
while presenting the government as an efficient body that sought to enact the Fuhrers will. All
major decisions and military victories were credited to Hitler. However, much of this credit was
undeserved.

The view of Hitler as a weak leader largely stems from the disorganisation within the Nazi
government as well as his personal lifestyle habits.

3
John Hite and Chris Hinton, Weimar & Nazi Germany (CPI Group 2000).
Edward Petersons "The Limits of Hitlers Power,"4 comments on the confusion within the regime
and Hitlers lack of clear direction. He describes hitler as "the man who does not decide" and that
his supposed will, which was followed zealously by his subordinates, was a nothing but a
"mirage." While Petersons choice of wording might have been exaggerated with the purpose of
strengthening his argument, multiple sources agree with the view that the Nazi government was
not the unified and efficient body they portrayed themselves to be. This is partly because the Nazi
government was built upon the original Weimar government, and as a result there was confusion
and competition between the new and original government organisations.

Hubers view and the content of Justice Minister Hans Franks speech in 19385, although originally
written/said with the perspective that Hitler was the irrefutable master of the regime, can also be
seen as supporting evidence for his lack of leadership. Both sources describe Hitlers action in very
general terms, saying that he is the "bearer of the peoples will" and that he "serves the future of
the people." They express his idealism and vision, but make no explicit mention of any decision or
law making that furthers these ideals. Hans Frank goes as far as stating that Hitler "does not put
forward a constitution in accordance with legal guidelines." This agrees with Petersons point,
"The result wasHitlers will." Therefore, Hitler can either be seen as weak and indecisive, or a
singularly powerful individual who didnt concern himself with trivial politics, and whose every
thought and word lead the direction of the entire country.

Another source of speculation on Hitlers true influence on the regime are reports of his lifestyle
during his rule. Sources F and I hold the view that Hitler was an irresponsible leader who cared
little for the day to day activities of the regime, or even delegating important decisions to
subordinates. As Fritz Wiedemann noted in his account6, "[Wiedemann] often secured decisions
for him [Hitler], even important ones." As mentioned previously, this is a believable source, and
really emphasises Hitlers disregard for the inner workings of his regime. Allowing his adjutant to
make critical decisions due to his own laziness is a casual shift of power to someone unqualified to
receive it. Hitler is also described to believe that "things sorted themselves out on their own,"
referencing his lack of specific instruction to his subordinates, leading to a power leak from Hitler
to a large number of miscellaneous officials and groups who held a very vague idea of what Hitler
wanted them to do, and perhaps issuing commands under guise of it being the Fuhrers will.

In conclusion, I believe that power in the Third Reich did in fact rest largely on Hitlers shoulders,
and that his perceived weakness is simply his choice of not acting upon this power. It is not
conclusive that this was out of a weakness of character or a lazy daily routine - such views are
merely opinions of his subordinates, and are perhaps poor interpretations of Hitlers activities.
However it is clear through the disorganisation of the Nazi regime that Hitlers attentions were
not focused on his own government but rather the long term success of Germany as seen by
Hitler Youth, and by content of his speeches7, which focused on unifying the German people
against a common enemy as well as dictating a new way of life.

4
Edward Norman Peterson, Limits Of Hitler's Power (Princeton University Press 2016).
5
John Hite and Chris Hinton, Weimar & Nazi Germany (CPI Group 2000).
6
Fritz Wiedemann, Der Mann, Der Feldherr Werden Wollte (Blick und Bild Verl fr Politische Bildung 1964).
7
Wally O'Loep, 'Hitler Speech: January 30, 1939' (Comicism.tripod.com, 2017)
<http://comicism.tripod.com/390130.html> accessed 11 August 2017.
To answer my question on Hitlers role in the regime, I believe in a structuralist interpretation as
described by Stanley Payne8, in that his position of power was due to the "pressure of cumulative
events or economic factors." Hitlers importance was his ability to connect with a struggling
populace weighed down by economic pressure, and this ability at this particular moment in
history was what thrust him into absolute power - purely through circumstance, not by his actions
or strength of character.

Thus, power in Nazi Germany was centralised upon Hitler who, being an orator and not a
politician, largely ignored the expectations and responsibilities associated with such a position,
placing the government in a confused situation where power was split haphazardly amongst his
subordinates.

REFLECTION

This investigation highlighted to me the many challenges facing historians when writing a critical
response to a well known topic. Since you are building on a large body of working it is difficult to

8
Stanley G Payne, History of Fascism 1914-1945 (Taylor & Francis 2016).
formulate an original perspective. After reading works such as Ian Kershaws "The Hitler Myth," I
found myself heavily influenced by his opinion, and struggled to prevent my work from being a
reflection of his ideas.

I have also learned to appreciate the difficulties in finding reliable sources to use as evidence. Ive
discovered that there is rarely anything concrete in history, and that an element of doubt can be
instilled into almost any source. For example, I previously considered works of historians to be
trustworthy, however I have now come to realise that historians are typically arguing to prove
their own perspective, and whenever there is an individual purpose behind a source it can no
longer be entirely trusted.

Through this investigation I have improved my skills in research and critical analysis. When
researching online I had to process lengthy information and extract snippets that were relevant to
my investigation. As historical analysis is quite often abstract in nature I found it challenging to
find specific viewpoints that supported my argument. As a result I found it more suiting to use
broader perspectives such as those of Kershaw and Peterson that are not directly related to my
research question but can be analysed in a specific way in order to fit in with my line of argument.
Extracts from Ernst Hubers views and Hans Franks speech are examples of sources that can be
viewed on from opposite perspectives, where I used them in an unconventional method to
support my analysis. My use of sources to support my own ends, perhaps disregarding the original
purpose of the sources in doing so, raises further doubt on the nature and intent of my other
sources.

I also found that writing the conclusion to my investigation was a very rewarding experience in
terms of my personal growth as a historian. I learned that due to the questionable nature of
historical sources it was difficult, and indeed foolhardy, to establish a concrete conclusion to the
investigation. Writing a conclusion is a difficult balance between overusing potentially unreliable
sources, "sitting on the fence," or saying nothing at all.
BIBLIOGRAPHY

Hite J and Hinton C, Weimar & Nazi Germany (5th edn, CPI Group 2000)

Kershaw I, The 'Hitler Myth' (Oxford University Press 2001)

Peterson E, Limits Of Hitler's Power (Princeton University Pres 2016)

Wiedemann F, Der Mann, Der Feldherr Werden Wollte (Blick und Bild Verl fr Politische Bildung 1964)

Payne S, History of Fascism 1914-1945 (Taylor & Francis 2016)

'Adolf Hitler - Source 2 - The National Archives' (The National Archives, 2017)
<http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/adolf-hitler/source-2/> accessed 10 August 2017

O'Loep W, 'Hitler Speech: January 30, 1939' (Comicism.tripod.com, 2017)


<http://comicism.tripod.com/390130.html> accessed 11 August 2017