Documentary series examining how Germany allowed Hitler to come to power. This programme reveals the degree of voluntary support ordinary Germans gave the Gestapo.
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The Nazis were obsessed with images of order.
In their museums, exhibits like this "glass man"
showed how the perfect human body was ordered into one interlocking whole.
And through their parades and pageants, they sought to show how one individual human being
was but a part of the ordered national community.
But in Germany, the Nazis only created an illusion of order.
On January 30th, 1933,
Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.
Chief among those who rejoiced at the news
were the Nazi storm troopers, the party's paramilitary wing, led by Ernst Rohm.
ALL SING ROUSING ANTHEM
In '33, you thought it was the beginning of a new German
It was a true, enthusiastic movement of the people,
except the people who were, by their hearts, socialists
who were, from the beginning,
persecuted and had to emigrate or were in concentration camps.
One knew of these camps. One said, "The communists would have done the same and this is a revolution."
The first to be imprisoned in this revolution were the Nazis' political opponents,
communists and socialists. They were rounded up and thrown into hastily-built concentration camps.
Hermann Goering boasted that scores were being settled.
All in an atmosphere of chaotic terror,
-as one Nazi storm trooper admitted.
-"Everyone is arresting everyone else, avoiding official channels,
"threatening everyone else with protective custody, with Dachau. Every little streetcleaner
"feels he is responsible for matters which he has never understood."
Amongst the first to suffer was Josef Felder.
a Social Democrat MP.
He was sent to the newly-opened Nazi concentration camp outside Munich - Dachau.
Josef Felder was released after 18 months.
The majority of those imprisoned here in 1933 were released after less than a year.
The regime here was brutal.
Beatings and psychological torture were common. But extermination camps were not yet born.
Concentration camps were a tool of oppression, not yet of systematic murder.
In 1933, to many Germans,
they were an acceptable part of the Nazi revolution.
To be a French nobleman in the Bastille was not so agreeable either.
So people said, "Well, this is revolution."
A peaceful revolution, but, partly, it IS a revolution.
And concentration camps... Everybody said, "The English invented them in South Africa with the Boers."
So, you know, eh...
People couldn't look ahead.
It was impossible for somebody in '33 to look ahead to '45.
It was only 12 years, but it seems to be too much to look ahead... for 12 years.
But Germans only had to look fewer than 12 weeks into Hitler's chancellorship
to see what the status of the Jews would be in the new Nazi state.
On April 1st, 1933,
the Party organised a boycott of all Jewish shops which lasted one day.
The Nazis made the Jews scapegoats for the loss of World War One and much else besides.
In those early months of the Nazi reign,
German Jews also fell victim to the storm troopers' arbitrary and violent attacks.
In 1933, the storm troopers came
and took my father away,
together with many other Jews in Nuremberg. They were taken to a sports stadium
where there was a lot of grass
and they were made to cut the grass with their teeth, by sort of eating the grass.
I found out afterwards. My father never talked about it.
It was to humiliate them,
to show them that they were the lowest of the low.
It was simply to make a gesture.
Nazi storm troopers made other violent gestures. In 1933,
together with sympathetic students, they organised the burning of unsuitable books,
particularly those by Jewish authors.
Rohm wanted his storm troopers integrated into the regular German army. The army was horrified.
Hitler sympathised with the revolutionary zeal of Rohm and his storm troopers.
But by the summer of 1934, he knew that their power had to be curbed,
and not just to please the army.
Rohm had made a more dangerous enemy than the army leadership.
Heinrich Himmler, ambitious for power himself, and still technically working to Rohm,
plotted his downfall. He concocted a story
that Rohm was plotting a coup and Hitler believed him.
On June 30th, 1934,
while on holiday in Bavaria, he was arrested.
Two days later, he was shot.
The army was glad to see the power of the storm troopers moderated.
To show their gratitude, they volunteered to swear an oath of allegiance to Hitler,
who now, on President Hindenburg's death, was not just Chancellor, but head of state.
Somebody was reading and we had to lift our arm, and, at the very end, say, "That's my oath."
How seriously did you and your colleagues take this oath?
This accompanied me my whole life till the very end.
I mean, oath is oath.
There's no doubt that I can't break the oath,
otherwise I'm meant to commit suicide if I plan something else.
This is very serious, the oath, for a soldier.
With Rohm dead, Hitler appeared to have restored order.
The revolution on the streets had subsided, and, with his hold on power secure,
Hitler would come here to relax... in the mountains above Berchetesgaden in southern Bavaria.
In 1938, a tea house was built on top of the high Obersalzburg,
so that Hitler and his guests could enjoy the view.
Hitler's own house was lower down the slope, and a whole complex grew up around it.
This was the official guest house.
But all that remains of Hitler's own house is rubble,
the building demolished to prevent it becoming a memorial
and quick-growing trees planted to obscure the famous view.
When Hitler stayed here, as well as when he was in Berlin,
the whole Nazi regime revolved around him.
His personality determined the way in which Germany was governed.
His was not the daily regime of a workaholic.
Hitler was indolent - as those who worked for him discovered.
He normally appeared shortly before lunch,
quickly read the newspaper cuttings, then had lunch.
When Hitler stayed at the Obersalzburg, it was worse.
There, he never left his room before 2pm, then went to lunch.
He spent most afternoons taking a walk. After dinner, there were films.
In the 12 years of his rule in Germany, Hitler produced
the biggest confusion in government that has ever existed in a civilised state.
I've secured important decisions from him without his ever asking to see the relevant files.
He took the view that many things sorted themselves out on their own, if one did not interfere.
A very different picture of Hitler was projected here, at the vast complex of stadiums
built in Nuremberg for the party's annual rally.
What the public saw of Hitler in Nuremberg in the 1930s,
was a confident and strong leader whose oratory promised a new, dynamic and powerful Germany.
He was meant to be seen as the all-powerful,
all-knowing leader, who prevailed over a system of total order.
But the contrast between image and reality was quite a stark one
because, far from it being a very orderly structure of command,
in fact it was very disorganised.
It is a quite remarkable system, if you can call it a system,
where there is no collective government,
yet where the head of state doesn't spend all his time dictating.
SUNG IN GERMAN: "Happy Days Are Here Again"
Hitler and the Nazis created a unique and peculiar form of government.
Hitler was surrounded by acolytes who knew that their future depended on finding a way to please him.
They strove always to be near him, accompanying him on whatever trips took his fancy.
Though Hitler may have had little interest in regular hours of work or policy details,
he did have visions of what he wanted for Germany.
As Hitler talked in an endless monologue, ambitious Nazis would listen to him closely.
Then, on their own initiative, they tried to think of ways in which his vision could become a reality.
They made up the detail policy themselves and said they were acting on the will of the Fuhrer.
From the first, Hitler openly said he didn't have detailed policies.
But Hitler WAS open in saying what he wanted FROM the German economy.
Chiefly, the weapons to build a new German army. Rearmament became his economic priority.
The Nazis increased the army's budget so much in their first year of power,
that the army wasn't able to spend all of it.
The Nazis also promised to rid Germany of unemployment.
And they did - mainly through huge work creation schemes like the Autobahn Building Programme.
But building armaments and Autobahns
could only be a short-term solution to Germany's economic problems.
It would take time for these inflationary pressures to be felt.
For the moment, everything looked rosy, especially when, in 1936,
Hitler ordered German troops to re-enter the demilitarised portion of Germany, the Rhineland.
Germans saw all this as one more sign that their country was regaining its self-respect.
The Nazis organised pageants like Die Nacht der Amazonen - The Night Of The Amazons -
held in Munich in the 1930s -
Celebrations in which only those the Nazis considered racially pure could participate.
But if you didn't fit the Nazi image of the perfect German, then life was very different.
Here, in Munich, the same city where The Night Of The Amazons was held,
the Nazis demolished one of the biggest synagogues in Germany. They wanted the space for a car park.
The Jews were systematically excluded from German life. The 1935 Nuremberg Laws outlawed marriage
between Jews and other Germans and declared that Jews were not German citizens.
Other discrimination followed.
Wasn't it a problem for you that you were working in a system
that allowed Jews to be pushed out of their position,
to lose their wealth, their property?
Surely this was a great injustice.
How did you feel about that?
Nazi anti-Semitic propaganda hugely exaggerated the number of Jews who were in professions.
The Nazis never gave the reason why German Jews were concentrated in certain walks of life -
that the Jews had been banned from other careers for hundreds of years.
Thousands emigrated from Germany during the '30s. They realised they would not be safe during Nazi rule.
Those who remained always risked the attentions of the Secret State Police -
the infamous Gestapo.
In the town of Wurzburg lies a clue to just how the Gestapo operated under the Nazis.
Almost all Gestapo files were burnt by the Nazis as the Allies came into Germany,
but in Wurzburg, American soldiers prevented their destruction.
Only recently have the files been studied,
and a surprising picture emerges of how the Gestapo functioned.
There were only 28 SS officials
for the entire Wurzburg region
of nearly a million people.
I think the Gestapo could not have operated
without the co-operation
of the citizens of Germany.
By that I mean it would have been structurally impossible for them to do so.
There were not enough Gestapo officials to go around.
Between 80-90% of the crimes that were reported to the Gestapo came from ordinary citizens.
The main job for the Gestapo
was sorting out the denunciations.
This seems to have been their preoccupation.
The citizens of a town like Wurzburg didn't so much have to fear the Gestapo,
as what their neighbours might TELL the Gestapo. Every German was at risk from denunciation.
A woman who lived in this house on the outskirts of Wurzburg in 1938
came to the Gestapo's notice when she was denounced by a relative.
She was called Ilse Sonia Totzke, and her Gestapo file lies in the Wurzburg archive.
After years of Gestapo harassment, she was sent to Ravensbruk Concentration Camp, where she died.
Her crime was simple - she didn't fit in.
She avoided her neighbours and had Jewish friends.
She is put under very general surveillance, not by the Gestapo,
but by the Gestapo asking her neighbours to keep an eye on her.
What happens is that one neighbour after another, for one reason or another,
comes forward with information, all adding up to one thing.
She may be just too unconventional for her own good.
What this does is that - small town mentality - people keep after her...
they keep noticing her...
and it's fuelled again and again by yet another denunciation.
The denunciations in her file contain mostly gossip about her.
That she is acting suspiciously and has shady friends, but little amounts to evidence against her.
One denunciation hints that she may be a lesbian.
"Miss Totzke does not seem to have normal predispositions." Typed in red,
it is signed only "Heil Hitler."
One denunciation is signed by a 20-year-old neighbour, Resi Kraus.
"Since March, 1938,
"Ilse Sonia Totzke is a resident next door to us.
"She rarely has visitors.
"Now and then, a woman of about 36 years old comes, and she is of Jewish appearance...
"I would like to mention that Miss Totzke never responds to the German greeting, Heil Hitler.
"To my mind, Miss Totzke is behaving suspiciously."
We used to think that the population was manipulated and brainwashed from above.
Now what we're beginning to see,
by looking at the social history of the kind one sees in these Gestapo dossiers,
is that the system is manipulated from below by lots of people for all kinds of reasons,
some of them selfish, some of them - fewer - idealistic.
We now get a dramatically different picture of what the system was like.
Ordinary Germans could influence the Gestapo through denunciations.
But no major policy
could ever be successfully instituted unless Hitler blessed it.
So for members of the Nazi elite, the search was always on for a new way of pleasing their Fuhrer.
One way was to feed his anti-Semitism.
Joseph Goebbels, propaganda minister and hater of Jews,
sought to do just that. He boasted that the Nazis had managed to exclude Jews from cultural life.
In the autumn of 1938, Goebbels saw a chance to please Hitler more when he heard
that German diplomat Ernst von Rath, had been assassinated in Paris
by a young Jew, Hirschel Grynszpan, angry at his family's treatment.
The Nazi elite were in Munich for the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch.
Goebbels asked Hitler's permission to let loose the storm troopers
in an act of vengeance against Germany's innocent Jews. He agreed. And so began Kristallnacht -
the night of broken glass.
In the early hours of the morning,
they broke the front door down and started to smash the place up.
Hoards of storm troopers.
We had two lots.
One lot smashed things up and left, and then the second lot arrived.
Three elderly ladies were living on the first floor. One was dragged out and beaten...
for no reason except she probably got in the way of someone.
I was knocked about...
and finally ended up in the cellar...
which was where the kitchens were.
I was being knocked about. When I came back, I went upstairs,
and found my father dying.
as far as I could... artificial respiration.
I don't think I was very good at it. In any case,
it was too late for me.
I was absolutely in shock. It was beyond my comprehension.
I didn't know the people, they didn't know me. They had no grudge against me. They were just...
people who would come to do whatever they thought they should do.
More than 800 Jews are known to have lost their lives as a result of Kristallnacht,
and as many as 1,000 synagogues were destroyed.
What was the reaction of the non-Jews you knew, when they heard of your circumstances?
-Did anyone come up to you to say what they felt about it?
..the people passing the next morning, ordinary Germans, threw stones at the windows.
-Nobody expressed any sympathy?
In the aftermath of Kristallnacht, Hitler's popularity did not seem to suffer.
As he never spoke about it in public, it was possible to believe,
for those Germans who wanted to, that the responsibility lay with the hot-headed storm troopers.
The love affair between Hitler and his followers continued.
In 1938, a new chancellory was built, symbolising the power and order of Nazi rule.
But inside its walls,
Hitler was still pursuing methods which could only result in administrative chaos.
The Grand Reich Chancellory was a hive of political in-fighting.
Rivals with ill-defined jobs fought each other for Hitler's favour.
Hitler's working life was organised by FIVE private offices.
The office of the Reich Chancellory, under Hans Heinrich Lammers.
The office of Hitler's Personal Adjutant, under Wilhelm Bruckner.
The office of the Presidential Chancellory under Otto Meissner.
On the second floor, the office of the Chancellory of the Fuhrer, under Philip Buhler.
And the office representing the Fuhrer's Deputy, under Martin Bormann.
All of these different offices claimed to represent Hitler.
A large portion of their time was spent fighting each other.
One of the more vicious power battles was over access to the mail,
to the thousands of letters that arrived each week addressed only to "Mein Fuhrer"
and which begged favours or blessings from Hitler.
There were trivial letters asking if church bells could be named after Hitler
and serious ones from individual Jews, pleading that they were special cases
and should be exempt from the discriminatory laws.
Access to this mail meant access to Hitler and a chance to form Nazi policy.
Philip Buhler, an ambitious Nazi,
managed to gain control of the mail and exploit it to his benefit.
In late 1938 or early 1939,
one chance letter which Buhler's office showed to Hitler, had a devastating effect.
It was from the father of a mentally disabled child
who asked the Fuhrer's permission to have the child killed. Hitler agreed.
He had already ordered the sterilisation of the disabled.
This one letter was to be the catalyst to their murder.
Buhler was to devise secret policy for killing disabled children
within days of their birth.
This form had to be filled in when a disabled baby was born.
Three doctors read the form.
If they thought the baby should be killed, they each marked it with a cross.
Within months, it was no longer just babies who could be killed, but disabled children, too.
Gerda Bernhardt's brother, Manfred, was one of more than 5,000 children who were to suffer.
Manfred had been mentally disabled since birth.
But Aplerbeck was one of the Nazi's special children's units.
By now, two years after the policy had begun,
doctors in these homes had stopped filling in Buhler's form. In a typical example
of how policies could spiral away,
staff here, on their own, selected the children they wanted to kill.
The official record of deaths at Aplerbeck
lists Manfred Bernhardt as dying of measles on June 3rd.
In the same week, eleven other children died.
Manfred Bernhardt was murdered because he was not wanted in the Nazis' perfect state.
The catalyst that caused his death was a chance letter to Hitler on a subject close to his heart,
brought to his attention by an ambitious Nazi.
Any idea in this system
could, with the combination of a leader who spoke in visions,
and enthusiastic supporters anxious to please,
grow radically to an extreme almost in an instant.
This was the way Germany was ruled in the 1930s.
Now the world was about to suffer the consequences
of the radical way decisions were taken in this Hitler state.
Ceefax Subtitles by Janice Hamilton BBC Scotland, 1997
A look at the extraordinary popularity of both Hitler and the Nazis, as well as the astonishing degree of voluntary support ordinary Germans gave the infamous Gestapo.