This article is an edited transcript of The Rise of the Far Right in Europe in the 1930s with Frank McDonough, available on History Hit TV.
The so-called “Jewish question” wasn’t something that Adolf Hitler had really sold in his election campaigns of 1932. And even when he came to power in 1933 and gave an address to the German nation – the first major speech that he had given on radio – he hardly mentioned the Jewish question. His election campaign was called “Germany, Awake!” and was mainly focused on the communist threat.
Of course, underneath, Hitler was a rampant anti-semite. The prominent Nazi official Martin Bormann wrote:
“If you want to understand National Socialism (the Nazi Party’s ideology), you’ve got to understand how important anti-semitism was.”
But Hitler wanted to move slowly on the issue because he realised that he couldn’t take the stand of moving faster.
Hitler gets pushback
A good example of how Hitler was forced to move slower against the Jews than he would have liked is a law he introduced early on that restricted the number of Jews who could work within the civil service.
Hitler had wanted to get all Jews out of the civil service, but the German president, Paul von Hindenburg, complained, saying, “Look, many of these Jews actually fought for Germany in World War One. They got Iron Crosses. They can’t just be thrown out of their jobs”.
So Hitler did compromise. The law ended up saying, “Everyone will be removed, except those who served in the First World War, and those descended from them”. So he would compromise with the existing power-brokers early on, but, of course, all the while wanting to move against the Jewish question.
Another example of Hitler being forced to move slower than he would have liked is the Nazi boycott of Jewish goods that went into effect on 1 April 1933.
Hitler favoured the boycott but it sparked a huge reaction throughout the world. In America in particular there were massive demonstrations.
It’s estimated that on 1 April there were nearly 200,000 people out on the streets of New York, demonstrating against the boycott.
And the demonstrators wanted US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to implement a boycott of German goods in response.
Konstantin von Neurath, the German foreign minister, then said to Hitler, “Look, this is a mistake. We’re not really powerful enough to take on the big forces in the world at the moment and, by inflaming the Jewish question, you’re inflaming Britain, you’re inflaming the US in particular, and you’re inflaming France. So pull back”.
So Hitler agreed to abandon the Jewish boycott, and he moved slowly on that issue.