Episode 2 The Dark Charisma of Adolf Hitler


Episode 2

Documentary series. The second episode reveals how Hitler managed to lead Germany to war in 1939 and orchestrate the dramatic victory over the French in 1940.


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Transcript


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VOICES ECHO DISTANTLY

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MAN SPEAKING IN GERMAN

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CHEERING

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In the 1930s, here in Nuremberg,

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hundreds of thousands of Germans gathered

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to pay homage to Adolf Hitler.

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Everybody wanted to be close to him.

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Just to live in his favour, to be in his presence,

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to be near him just once,

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that was the big event for the individual.

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Hitler hadn't hypnotised these Germans into supporting him.

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They believed in him because of what he'd done and what he'd said.

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Not least that he'd told them

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they were a superior race who would accomplish great things.

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But Hitler now faced the greatest test yet

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to his charismatic leadership.

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He wanted to take these people into a war of racial conquest,

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to gain a vast new empire.

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But there was no evidence most of them wanted war.

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With insights from those who lived through these times,

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most of whom were interviewed by the BBC over the last 20 years,

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this film reveals how Hitler tried to persuade his followers

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to embrace conflict.

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Berlin.

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Capital of Germany today,

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just as it was capital of Germany in the 1930s,

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when Adolf Hitler was Chancellor.

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In 1937, Hitler lived and worked at a building on this site.

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This was the Old Reich Chancellery.

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And here, Hitler spent much of his time alone in his bedroom

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where he would listen to what he called his "inner conviction".

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Often, Hitler would not emerge from his bedroom until lunchtime.

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For central to his charismatic leadership, was the idea

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that he made all the big decisions entirely on his own.

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Hitler was always certain that he was right.

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He didn't even like to read other people's advice.

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In 1935, a leading Nazi sent Hitler a paper on youth issues

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and received this reply from Hitler's adjutant.

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"The Fuehrer received it,

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"but immediately gave it back to me unread.

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"He intends to give a major speech on this issue at the next Party rally

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"and therefore, does not want his thinking

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"to be influenced by anybody in any way."

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Hitler was thought infallible.

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"When a decision has to be taken,

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"none of us count more than the stones on which we are standing.

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"It is the Fuehrer alone who decides."

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And in late 1937, in the isolation of his bedroom,

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the Fuehrer was thinking about this.

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Austria.

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This place would be the first test of Hitler's desire

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to occupy land that was not part of Germany.

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The first test of how others would react to his willingness

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to use brute force to subjugate another country.

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Hitler had been born in Austria

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and passionately wanted this German-speaking country

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to be under his control.

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On 5th November 1937,

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Hitler told his military leaders that he'd decided to occupy Austria,

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and then wanted later to eliminate Czechoslovakia.

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But his generals were worried that Hitler would start another war.

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It wasn't the reaction Hitler had expected.

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He wanted his generals to be like this.

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"My generals should be like bull terriers on chains,

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"and they should want war, war, war.

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"But what happens now?

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"I want to go ahead with strong policies

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"and the generals try to stop me!"

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Within just a few months, three of those who'd been unenthusiastic

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about Hitler's plans at the meeting were no longer in office.

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But still, Hitler didn't feel able to be as ruthless

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with his military leaders as his fellow dictator Stalin did.

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Hitler needed the support of the German officer corps.

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The Chief Of Staff of the German army, Ludwig Beck,

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had welcomed Hitler as Chancellor.

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Like many generals,

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he wasn't against the idea of German expansion,

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he was just anxious that the German army wasn't strong enough yet

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to accomplish the task.

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But in the end, Hitler's sheer determination won him over.

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On the morning of 12th March 1938,

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German soldiers crossed the border into neighbouring Austria.

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They were greeted not with bullets and guns,

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but with roses and carnations.

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So much so that the action became known as the Blumenkrieg -

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the war of flowers.

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"During my ten years at party conferences

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"or at rallies with Adolf Hitler,

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"I had certainly witnessed my share of enthusiasm,

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"but the degree of enthusiasm

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"that was prevalent in Austria at that time

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"was not only surprising to us, but also quite unbelievable."

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The Austrian government, destabilised by the Nazis for years,

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had finally succumbed to Hitler's bullying

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and offered no resistance.

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Most of the Austrian people,

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envying what they saw as the economic success

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and prestige that Hitler had brought to Germany,

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now welcomed their German neighbours.

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Hitler's first great gamble of expansion had paid off.

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At just before four o'clock in the afternoon of 12th March 1938,

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Adolf Hitler drove down this road

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and crossed over the River Inn, into Austria.

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He was coming home.

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This town, Braunau am Inn was his birthplace.

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And it was in this house that Hitler had first entered the world

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49 years before.

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The crowds were so ecstatic

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that Hitler's motorcade took several hours to reach the city of Linz,

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the place Hitler had gone to school and lived for much of his youth.

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The welcome here was the most tumultuous yet.

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"I think we cried, most of us, at that time.

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"Tears were running down our cheeks,

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"and when we looked at the neighbours, it was the same.

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" 'You all,' and he said that to us,

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" 'You all shall help me build up my empire to be a good empire

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" 'with happy people who are thinking and promising to be good people.' "

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Something extraordinary happened to Hitler that night in Linz.

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Something that demonstrates how charismatic leadership

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is about a connection between the leader and the led.

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For Hitler only decided NOW,

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once he'd witnessed the joyous reaction of the people of Linz,

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that Austria should formally become a part of Germany,

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rather than remain a separate country within the Nazi empire,

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as he'd originally planned.

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It was as if the people had changed his mind for him.

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Hitler moved on to Vienna.

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And his emotional state would have been heightened even more

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by what happened next.

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It was here, as an unknown young man,

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struggling to survive before the First World War,

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that he had dreamt dreams of greatness.

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At the Vienna opera, he'd seen Wagner's heroic opera Lohengrin

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over and over again.

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And now, 25 years later, here on the Heldenplatz,

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the Heroes' Square in front of the Hofburg Palace,

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more than 200,000 people gathered to see Hitler.

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In this city, Hitler had once longed to be a hero.

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And now, to the cheering crowd in front of him, he was one.

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CHEERING

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All the most important elements of Hitler's charismatic attraction

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were on show here in Austria.

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His mission to unite all Germans under his rule.

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His ability to establish a connection

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and express what his audience were wanting and feeling.

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His vision of a racist state,

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filled only with those he thought "true" Germans.

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The hope he offered these people

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in their economic crisis.

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His certainty that all would come well...

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..now that Germany and Austria were united.

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A final part of Hitler's charisma was also on show -

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one that appealed to people's prejudice.

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His capacity to hate.

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GLASS SHATTERING

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Tens of thousands of Hitler's political opponents in Austria were arrested,

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with many sent to concentration camps.

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In particular, Austrian Jews suffered,

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many violently attacked, robbed and humiliated.

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Some forced to scrub the streets clean.

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"There was no protection from anywhere.

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"I remember I once had to scrub the streets as well.

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"I saw in the crowd a well-dressed woman

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"and she was holding up a little girl

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"so that this girl could see better."

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Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany's and Austria's defeat

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in the First World War, for Communism,

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and for much else besides.

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And many believed these anti-Semitic fantasies.

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Around ten per cent of the population of Vienna was Jewish,

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with many Jews concentrated in this area in the north of the city.

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Few of their fellow Austrians helped the Jews,

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some were glad to see them go.

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The Nazis now organised a plebiscite, a vote of approval,

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not just in the unification of Austria and Germany,

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but, crucially, in Hitler himself.

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The Nazi propaganda campaign was focused on Hitler,

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and Austrians were taught the three united values of their new state -

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one people, one reich, one leader.

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In a demonstration of how central he was personally to this whole system,

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Hitler travelled across Austria on a campaign tour.

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ALL: Heil! Heil! Heil!

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ALL: Heil! Heil! Heil!

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ALL: Heil! Heil! Heil!

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ALL: Heil! Heil! Heil!

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The vote was held on 10th April 1938

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and both Austrians and Germans were asked

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if they agreed with the unification of the two countries

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and with Adolf Hitler.

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Several hundred thousand Austrians,

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mostly Jews and the Nazis' political opponents,

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were denied the right to vote.

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And for those who did vote, there was a hint on the ballot paper

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of what their choice should be,

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with the space for "Yes" much bigger than the space for "No".

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More than 99% of Austrians voted for Hitler.

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Hitler emerged from his Austrian adventure

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stronger than he had ever been.

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And now he wanted to take over Czechoslovakia.

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General Ludwig Beck wrote a warning memo

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and read it in May 1938 to the head of the army.

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Those who worked closely with Hitler were now split into two camps -

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those who believed in Hitler's charisma,

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like Hermann Goering who had absolutely faith in his judgment,

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and the more pragmatic supporters, like Ludwig Beck.

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He liked a great deal of what Hitler was doing,

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particularly the strengthening of the armed forces

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with more planes and more armaments,

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but feared he was leading the Germans into a war they would lose.

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What wasn't clear was just how many in the military might be prepared

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to try and restrain Hitler,

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and how many simply trusted him and would follow where he led.

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THEY SPEAK GERMAN

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A clue to the prevailing mood came in June 1938

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when a number of officers gathered to discuss Beck's views,

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their words later recalled by one of those who heard them speak.

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THEY SPEAK GERMAN

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THEY CHUCKLE

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Hitler had now been in power for more than five years.

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Years in which the Nazis had sought to influence

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every aspect of German life.

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This traditional festival, held in Muehleberg in central Germany,

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shows just how successful the Nazis had been.

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In particular, Hitler targeted the young.

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He wanted them to be indoctrinated with Nazi beliefs

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almost as soon as they could walk.

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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

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CHEERING

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"There was God himself, we young people believed all of that."

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Young people weren't just being taught

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to all but worship Adolf Hitler.

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They learnt his racist, hate-filled values as well -

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that they were better than everyone else,

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and that they should despise the weak.

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What mattered in life was to be strong.

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MUSIC: Es Zittern Die Morschen Knochen by Hans Baumann

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Hitler made big decisions in isolation.

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And when he had the biggest decisions of all to make,

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he liked to come here - to the mountains of Southern Bavaria

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near the border with Austria.

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In the summer of 1938,

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he was asking himself if he was prepared to risk war

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with Britain, France, maybe even the Soviet Union as well.

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All over the question of Czechoslovakia.

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Almost every day,

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Hitler would take an afternoon walk down the slopes of the Obersalzberg

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and then, be driven back to his house - the Berghof.

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And almost every day, the tension grew greater and greater.

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Hitler said openly in the 1930s

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that he wanted to gain back for Germany the land lost

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as a result of defeat in the First World War

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and gather all ethnic Germans under his rule.

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And the border region of Czechoslovakia, the Sudetenland,

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contained several million ethnic Germans.

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But, in reality, as he'd written in his book Mein Kampf back in 1924,

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his ambitions were much greater.

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He wanted to gain a huge new empire for Germany

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in the west of the Soviet Union.

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But he knew that, whilst millions of Germans

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wanted to get back the land they'd lost,

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they didn't want to fight a massive war of conquest.

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And, as a charismatic leader,

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he wanted the majority to support him.

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So he hid his grand ambitions behind the smoke screen of simply saying

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he wanted to right the wrongs of the territorial settlement

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at the end of the First World War.

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Most in the adoring crowds

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who attended the national Nazi Party rally in Nuremberg

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were unaware that, soon, Hitler wanted to try and create

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a vast new German empire.

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Even though in a few of his speeches in the 1930s,

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Hitler dropped hints that Germany's problem was

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that it just wasn't big enough.

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ALL: Heil, Hitler! Heil, Hitler!

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CHEERING

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MUSIC: God Save The King

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In the autumn of 1938,

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Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister,

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flew to Germany to meet Hitler.

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When I come back,

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I hope I may be able to say

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as Hotspur says in Henry IV,

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"Out of this little danger,

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"we plucked this flower, safety."

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CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

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Chamberlain made three separate trips to Germany

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in order to discuss Hitler's claims on Czechoslovakia.

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And the dominant thought in Chamberlain's mind

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was the memory of this -

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the First World War.

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The bloodiest war in British history.

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And the worst killing fields were here,

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in the valley of the River Somme.

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On 1st July 1916,

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the first day of the Battle of the Somme,

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nearly 20,000 British soldiers lost their lives,

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more than on any other single day in the history of the British Army.

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"Surely," thought Chamberlain, "no leader of a major European state

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"wanted something like this to happen again."

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But British leaders already had an idea of Hitler's true character,

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because Lord Halifax had met Hitler the year before,

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in November 1937, at Berchtesgaden.

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During the meeting, Hitler had said

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the British could solve any problems they had in India

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by shooting the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi.

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And, if that didn't work,

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they should shoot a dozen members of his Congress party,

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and if there were still problems, shoot 200 more and so on

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until order was established.

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Lord Halifax was not impressed.

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He certainly didn't succumb to Hitler's charisma.

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Nor did Chamberlain.

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In September 1938, he travelled to Munich

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and Hitler's office on the Koenigsplatz.

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for one final meeting.

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Chamberlain didn't think Hitler was a gentleman.

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In fact, he remarked that Hitler was the commonest little dog he'd ever seen,

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so undistinguished that you would never notice him in a crowd.

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But Chamberlain did have sympathy with the view

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that the peace treaty at the end of the First World War

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had been too hard on Germany.

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And he signed an agreement on 29th September

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that gave Hitler the Sudetenland,

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the German-speaking area of Czechoslovakia.

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Just as they had been in Austria,

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soldiers of the German army were greeted with flowers

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when they entered the Sudetenland in October 1938.

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"The joy of our redemption was very great and it was welcomed by all.

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"People said, 'Thank God, times are changing for us now.'

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CHEERING

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"Everyone was delighted about it."

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But events that would take place here in Munich,

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just a few weeks later in November 1938,

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would demonstrate Hitler's true world view.

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They would also give an insight

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into how his charismatic leadership worked.

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Leading Nazis had gathered here to celebrate the 15th anniversary

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of the Munich Beer Hall Putsch -

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a sacred date for the Nazi party.

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On the evening of 9th November,

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they learnt that a German diplomat in Paris had been shot

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by a German-Polish Jew.

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Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister,

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a vicious anti-Semite himself,

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suggested to Hitler that Nazi Stormtroopers be let loose

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against the Jews of Germany.

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This was how Hitler's charismatic leadership could work -

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he had a vision, he hated the Jews and wanted to get rid of them,

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but others suggested the ways in which this could be implemented.

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GLASS SHATTERING

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Hitler agreed with Goebbels' idea

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and so, Nazi Stormtroopers ran wild on the night of 9th November,

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attacking Jews and their property.

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Around 25,000 Jews were imprisoned in concentration camps

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and more than 100 were murdered.

0:30:260:30:29

Shortly afterwards, the SS newspaper warned of terrible consequences

0:30:290:30:34

if a Jew assassinated another leading German.

0:30:340:30:36

"There will be no more Jews in Germany.

0:30:380:30:41

"We hope we make ourselves clear!"

0:30:410:30:43

They also threatened...

0:30:480:30:50

"Because no power on Earth can stop us,

0:30:500:30:52

"we will bring the Jewish question to its total solution.

0:30:520:30:56

"The programme is clear - total expulsion, complete separation."

0:30:560:31:02

Many Germans were certainly anti-Semitic at the time,

0:31:160:31:20

but there was no evidence that the majority of ordinary people,

0:31:200:31:24

like these holidaymakers, approved of murderous attacks on German Jews.

0:31:240:31:28

Nor that they had any desire to fight another European war.

0:31:280:31:32

But large numbers of them did certainly have faith in Hitler.

0:31:350:31:39

They called him General Bloodless -

0:31:390:31:42

someone who had achieved great things for them and their country

0:31:420:31:45

without the need to spill any blood.

0:31:450:31:47

"We had adopted an attitude

0:31:500:31:52

"whereby one said that the Fuehrer would manage.

0:31:520:31:54

"The Fuehrer would do the right thing."

0:31:540:31:57

Hitler knew that this attitude of trust,

0:31:590:32:01

that he would "do the right thing",

0:32:010:32:03

was based on these people's faith in his charismatic leadership.

0:32:030:32:07

So he faced the difficult task of trying to get ordinary Germans

0:32:080:32:13

to accept military conflict, without them losing their faith in him.

0:32:130:32:17

We can get an idea of just how Hitler had been working

0:32:230:32:27

at turning around public opinion

0:32:270:32:29

from a secret speech he gave here in Munich

0:32:290:32:32

to leading German journalists.

0:32:320:32:34

On 10th November 1938, Hitler said...

0:32:350:32:39

"For decades, circumstances forced me to talk almost exclusively of peace."

0:32:390:32:46

But now, he told the journalists, the news had to be presented

0:32:460:32:49

so as to create the impression that...

0:32:490:32:52

"There are matters which, if they cannot be achieved by peaceful means,

0:32:520:32:55

"must be enforced by means of violence."

0:32:550:32:58

What was crucial was to say to the people...

0:33:040:33:08

This was now important, said Hitler,

0:33:120:33:14

in order to free the German people from the bondage of doubt.

0:33:140:33:18

CHEERING

0:33:180:33:20

These were the scenes in Munich, in July 1939,

0:33:340:33:39

for a celebration of German art.

0:33:390:33:41

By the time these pictures were taken,

0:33:440:33:46

Hitler had orchestrated the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia,

0:33:460:33:49

and the British and French governments had warned Hitler

0:33:490:33:52

that if the Germans moved on Poland, then there would be war.

0:33:520:33:56

The German press saw things very differently

0:33:580:34:01

and with one voice had been telling the people

0:34:010:34:03

that Germany was being treated unjustly.

0:34:030:34:07

That their Fuehrer's legitimate demands were simply not being met.

0:34:070:34:12

Secretly, Hitler had already told his military leaders

0:34:190:34:23

to be ready for war.

0:34:230:34:25

And just a month after his trip to the Munich Art Festival,

0:34:250:34:28

Hitler announced to his generals that they should harden their hearts against the enemy.

0:34:280:34:32

One general who wasn't part of Hitler's plans was Ludwig Beck.

0:34:360:34:40

He'd resigned as Chief Of Staff of the German army,

0:34:400:34:43

believing now, as he said to a friend,

0:34:430:34:45

that Hitler was "a psychopath through and through".

0:34:450:34:49

He was more certain than ever

0:34:490:34:50

that Hitler was leading Germany to catastrophe.

0:34:500:34:53

"I warned and warned," he said, "and at last I stood alone."

0:34:530:34:56

GUNSHOTS

0:34:590:35:02

On 1st September 1939, the German army invaded Poland.

0:35:090:35:14

Two days later, Britain and France declared war on Germany.

0:35:140:35:17

The Polish army stood little chance.

0:35:200:35:23

Not only was this ideal country for the German tanks,

0:35:230:35:27

but under a secret part of a non-aggression agreement with Stalin,

0:35:270:35:30

signed just days before,

0:35:300:35:32

Germany and the Soviet Union split up Poland between them.

0:35:320:35:36

The Germans invaded Poland from the west.

0:35:390:35:42

Two weeks later, the Red Army invaded Poland from the east.

0:35:420:35:46

Less than six weeks after it began, the war was over.

0:35:490:35:51

Poland was crushed.

0:35:510:35:53

For the German officers and their men, it was a time for celebration.

0:36:050:36:09

For the Poles, it was the beginning

0:36:180:36:20

of one of the most brutal occupations in history.

0:36:200:36:24

Poland would suffer proportionately

0:36:260:36:28

more than any other country in this war -

0:36:280:36:30

nearly six million Poles would die.

0:36:300:36:34

More than 16% of the population.

0:36:340:36:36

For Hitler and the Nazis,

0:36:370:36:39

this was an ideological war from the very beginning.

0:36:390:36:43

Hitler told Joseph Goebbels that autumn

0:36:430:36:45

that he thought the Poles were "more animals than human beings"

0:36:450:36:50

and that "the filth of the Poles was unimaginable".

0:36:500:36:53

Hitler's "judgment" on the Poles, said Goebbels, was "annihilatory".

0:36:560:37:00

Two million Polish Jews came under Nazi control in the autumn of 1939.

0:37:030:37:08

Thousands were shot and the Nazis began to mark the rest,

0:37:080:37:11

with Polish Jews made to wear special symbols on their clothes.

0:37:110:37:17

They would shortly be imprisoned in ghettos.

0:37:170:37:20

Later in the war, they would be sent to death camps.

0:37:200:37:24

The likelihood is that not one of these Polish Jews

0:37:240:37:27

would have survived the war.

0:37:270:37:29

Back in Berlin, Hitler prepared to speak to the German Reichstag.

0:37:390:37:43

And, on 6th October, he gave a speech

0:37:430:37:47

which exuded confidence about the way ahead.

0:37:470:37:49

CHEERING

0:37:580:38:01

CHEERING AND APPLAUSE

0:38:140:38:17

Senior German army offices knew that Hitler was not planning on peace.

0:38:530:38:57

Just days before he spoke to the Reichstag,

0:38:570:39:00

Hitler had told them to prepare immediate plans

0:39:000:39:03

for an attack in Western Europe,

0:39:030:39:05

which would mean invading France.

0:39:050:39:09

It's almost impossible to overestimate how reckless, almost crazy,

0:39:090:39:13

the idea of attacking France seemed to many of Hitler's generals.

0:39:130:39:17

Not only did the British and French possess more tanks than the Germans,

0:39:170:39:21

their tanks were better.

0:39:210:39:23

The consensus was that the Germans could not possibly succeed.

0:39:230:39:28

There was even talk in the autumn of 1939 of a mutiny.

0:39:280:39:32

General Halder, Chief Of Staff of the German army

0:39:350:39:38

and General Brauchitsch, the head of the army,

0:39:380:39:41

discussed trying to enforce a change in leadership.

0:39:410:39:44

THEY SPEAK GERMAN

0:39:440:39:47

What they almost certainly had in mind was something

0:39:490:39:52

that had happened little more than 20 years ago.

0:39:520:39:55

In the First World War, the head of state, the Kaiser,

0:39:560:39:59

had been pushed into the background,

0:39:590:40:01

whilst leading generals like Hindenburg took control.

0:40:010:40:04

This is what they wanted to see happen to Hitler.

0:40:050:40:08

General Wilhelm Ritter von Leeb

0:40:140:40:16

also tried to rally support for a coup against Hitler.

0:40:160:40:20

He called the planned attack in the west simply mad.

0:40:200:40:23

And he also thought the atrocities that were being committed

0:40:230:40:26

by the Nazis in Poland were unworthy of a civilised nation.

0:40:260:40:30

But von Leeb's was a rare voice of protest.

0:40:350:40:38

It was one of von Leeb's own officers,

0:40:400:40:43

Corps Commander General Geyr von Schweppenburg,

0:40:430:40:46

who identified the problem the conspirators faced.

0:40:460:40:49

THEY SPEAK GERMAN

0:40:490:40:52

He came to the view, after consulting his colleagues,

0:40:520:40:55

that their soldiers would refuse to turn against Hitler

0:40:550:40:58

because respect and faith in Hitler was entrenched too deeply in them.

0:40:580:41:04

Hitler's charismatic leadership,

0:41:080:41:11

one built on the education of the young in Nazi ideology

0:41:110:41:14

and on successes like Austria, the Sudetenland and now Poland,

0:41:140:41:17

was simply too powerful for them to overcome.

0:41:170:41:21

Then, there was another aspect of Hitler's leadership

0:41:270:41:30

which was to prove crucial - his absolute certainty

0:41:300:41:33

that Germany would win this war against the French.

0:41:330:41:36

Despite all the objections of his generals,

0:41:360:41:38

HE remained sure of victory.

0:41:380:41:41

And this certainty, this complete confidence, began to have an effect.

0:41:410:41:46

'Der Fuehrer mit seinen Generaelen in Hauptquartier...'

0:41:540:41:59

Once again, Hitler set a vision, this time, invade Western Europe,

0:41:590:42:04

and others came up with ways of implementing it.

0:42:040:42:07

And they all knew that Hitler admired radical plans,

0:42:070:42:11

was prepared to take fantastic risks

0:42:110:42:13

to gamble on the chance of success.

0:42:130:42:16

And in early 1940, a new version of the invasion plan,

0:42:190:42:23

this one proposed by General von Manstein,

0:42:230:42:26

was certainly both radical and risky.

0:42:260:42:28

The idea was simple.

0:42:540:42:55

The main armoured thrust of the German invasion of France

0:42:550:42:59

should go through this.

0:42:590:43:01

The forest of the Ardennes -

0:43:050:43:07

one of the last natural wildernesses in Western Europe.

0:43:070:43:11

If the Germans could get through here undetected by the Allies

0:43:150:43:18

and then dash for the Channel coast,

0:43:180:43:20

then they stood a chance of a swift and dramatic victory.

0:43:200:43:23

If they were detected as they drove down the forest roads and attacked,

0:43:250:43:30

then, almost certainly, Germany would lose the whole war.

0:43:300:43:33

It was to be one of the greatest gambles in military history.

0:43:350:43:39

All or nothing.

0:43:390:43:41

And Hitler loved the idea.

0:43:480:43:50

The plan was that Army Group B would invade Belgium and Holland

0:43:550:43:58

and engage the Allies in battle,

0:43:580:44:01

whilst Army Group A made its dash through the Ardennes

0:44:010:44:04

and tried to reach the coast.

0:44:040:44:06

As a result, Allied armies would be trapped.

0:44:060:44:09

What was vital was that the Germans were able to cross the River Meuse

0:44:110:44:15

in north east France

0:44:150:44:17

before Allied reinforcements arrived.

0:44:170:44:20

If they could do it, and the risks were huge,

0:44:200:44:22

then there was no other major natural obstacle in their way

0:44:220:44:26

until the English Channel.

0:44:260:44:28

On the 10th May 1940,

0:44:370:44:38

one section of the German army did what the Allies expected

0:44:380:44:42

and invaded Belgium.

0:44:420:44:44

British and French forces moved forward to engage them.

0:44:500:44:53

It looked like this would all develop

0:44:550:44:57

into a series of conventional battles.

0:44:570:44:59

Most probably, it would lead to stalemate.

0:44:590:45:03

Not unlike the First World War.

0:45:030:45:05

Waiting in the forest far south of them,

0:45:250:45:27

undetected by the Allies, were 1,200 Panzers of Army Group A.

0:45:270:45:31

The Germans had concentrated their mechanised forces here.

0:45:360:45:40

Though they had fewer tanks than the Allies,

0:45:400:45:43

they were gambling on the Allied tanks being north of them,

0:45:430:45:46

in the wrong place to stop their advance.

0:45:460:45:48

But the roads were so narrow that one German general was worried

0:45:550:45:59

that the advance could turn into an enormous traffic jam.

0:45:590:46:02

The whole essence of the attack was speed.

0:46:090:46:11

So much so that the drivers of the Panzers were issued with amphetamine tablets

0:46:110:46:17

so that they wouldn't need to sleep for several days,

0:46:170:46:20

tablets known as Panzer Chocolates.

0:46:200:46:23

Units of 7th Panzer were some of the first to reach the River Meuse,

0:46:320:46:35

here, near the town of Dinant.

0:46:350:46:38

The commander of 7th Panzer was a 48-year-old,

0:46:400:46:44

then relatively unknown general, called Erwin Rommel.

0:46:440:46:47

On 13th May, Rommel crossed the River Meuse at this weir.

0:46:500:46:54

A day later, more Panzers crossed the river further south.

0:46:540:46:58

For the Germans, all this was a triumph.

0:47:060:47:10

"It was hard to believe - we had broken through

0:47:120:47:15

"and were advancing deep into enemy territory.

0:47:150:47:18

"It was not just a beautiful dream.

0:47:180:47:20

"It was reality."

0:47:200:47:21

But in the midst of all this success,

0:47:390:47:41

something strange was happening behind the scenes.

0:47:410:47:44

On 17th May, Hitler ordered Army Group A to stop its advance.

0:47:440:47:49

He was, thought General Halder,

0:47:550:47:58

"Terribly nervous and frightened by his own success."

0:47:580:48:01

The generals couldn't understand how Hitler could be

0:48:020:48:05

both the great gambler and yet be so fearful during the battle.

0:48:050:48:09

But Hitler was proving to be an unreliable battlefield commander

0:48:110:48:15

because of how his leadership worked.

0:48:150:48:17

For Hitler believed...

0:48:170:48:19

"Decision-making means not hesitating to do

0:48:190:48:22

"what inner conviction commands you to do."

0:48:220:48:25

Hitler had previously listened to this inner conviction

0:48:270:48:30

in places like his bedroom or walking amongst the mountains of Southern Bavaria.

0:48:300:48:35

Now, constrained in endless military meetings about detail,

0:48:400:48:44

rather than thinking of grand visions,

0:48:440:48:47

Hitler's inner conviction was proving to be an unreliable guide.

0:48:470:48:51

Here, in the battle for France, Hitler overcame his fears

0:48:540:48:58

and, within a day, the advance was continuing.

0:48:580:49:01

But it was a sign of things to come -

0:49:010:49:03

the clearest example yet of how Hitler as a military leader

0:49:030:49:06

could be as much a liability as an asset.

0:49:060:49:09

Army Group A reached the Channel coast,

0:49:160:49:18

here, where the River Somme meets the sea, on 20th May 1940.

0:49:180:49:23

Just ten days after the attack had been launched.

0:49:230:49:27

Refugees had tried to run from the Germans.

0:49:330:49:36

But the advance had been so swift

0:49:380:49:40

that there was nowhere for them to run to.

0:49:400:49:43

The shock of what had just happened,

0:49:540:49:56

almost impossible for us to conceive of today.

0:49:560:49:59

In this single campaign,

0:50:090:50:11

the Germans took more than one and a half million prisoners.

0:50:110:50:14

The Germans lost about 30,000 dead.

0:50:200:50:23

The Allied death toll was three times that.

0:50:240:50:28

The defeat of the Allies was made all the worse

0:50:310:50:34

because they'd been confident they could hold back the Germans.

0:50:340:50:38

Hitler had said before the campaign

0:50:380:50:40

that reacting quickly to events was...

0:50:400:50:43

"Not in the nature of either the systematic French

0:50:430:50:47

"or the ponderous Englishmen."

0:50:470:50:49

And events had proved that he was right.

0:50:490:50:52

Here, on the beaches of Dunkirk,

0:51:000:51:02

the British had managed to fashion a kind of victory from defeat.

0:51:020:51:06

Around 340,000 soldiers had been rescued from here,

0:51:120:51:17

and in the city itself, before the Germans took control.

0:51:170:51:20

But the heavy equipment had been left behind -

0:51:260:51:29

almost 2,500 pieces of artillery

0:51:290:51:32

and more than 60,000 vehicles were lost in this campaign.

0:51:320:51:35

As for Hitler, General Keitel now announced

0:51:460:51:49

that he was the greatest military leader of all time.

0:51:490:51:53

The Germans and the French signed an armistice on 22nd June 1940.

0:52:090:52:15

The Germans had won in little more than six weeks

0:52:150:52:18

and, in truth, the key battles of this campaign

0:52:180:52:21

had been won in just four days.

0:52:210:52:24

Now it was time for German soldiers to enjoy themselves.

0:52:270:52:32

For these Germans, who were all well-aware

0:52:500:52:52

of the stalemate of the trenches of the First World War,

0:52:520:52:55

with the German Army stuck for years

0:52:550:52:57

in trenches 100 miles north-east of Paris,

0:52:570:53:00

this victory seemed all but miraculous.

0:53:000:53:04

"German soldiers were obviously unstoppable.

0:53:080:53:12

"And given the situation, we all, we all were, to be honest, enthusiastic.

0:53:120:53:17

"Even those who'd previously held a different attitude

0:53:170:53:19

"towards the entire regime.

0:53:190:53:22

"All of a sudden, considering everything worked so well

0:53:220:53:25

"and nobody had been able to stop us,

0:53:250:53:27

"we were suddenly all nationalists.

0:53:270:53:30

"Wherever German soldiers were, nobody else could get a foothold.

0:53:300:53:35

"It was really like that."

0:53:350:53:37

And it all appeared to be part of a pattern,

0:53:440:53:47

one created by Adolf Hitler.

0:53:470:53:50

Faith in charismatic leadership is fed by success.

0:53:550:53:59

And Hitler had gained success after success.

0:53:590:54:03

Austria, the Sudetenland, Poland, and now, the greatest of all,

0:54:030:54:08

the humiliation of the old enemy - the French.

0:54:080:54:12

Hitler's victory parade in Berlin, on 6th July 1940,

0:54:170:54:21

marked the high point in faith in his charismatic leadership.

0:54:210:54:26

Never again would he be so triumphant.

0:54:330:54:36

These people hadn't somehow been hypnotised

0:54:400:54:43

into believing in Hitler.

0:54:430:54:45

They'd chosen to support him

0:54:450:54:47

because they loved what he'd brought them - victory.

0:54:470:54:50

Shortly after this parade,

0:54:560:54:58

Hitler would announce to his military commanders

0:54:580:55:00

that since Britain's position was hopeless,

0:55:000:55:03

then Germany had won the war.

0:55:030:55:06

It was just a question of the British realising

0:55:060:55:09

that they had lost.

0:55:090:55:11

It was a moment that captured both the strength and weakness

0:55:150:55:18

of Hitler's charismatic rule.

0:55:180:55:20

Because, despite the faith these people had in him,

0:55:230:55:25

Hitler knew that he was not in control of events,

0:55:250:55:29

as he pretended to be.

0:55:290:55:30

Back in the New Reich Chancellery,

0:55:360:55:37

he could shut himself up to wait for guidance from his inner conviction,

0:55:370:55:42

but he didn't seem able to make his enemy, the British,

0:55:420:55:45

act as he thought they were supposed to, and just give up.

0:55:450:55:48

What he decided to do next would lead both

0:55:540:55:57

to the shattering of the Germans' faith in his charisma

0:55:570:56:00

and the death of millions of innocent people.

0:56:000:56:02

Hitler orders his army to advance into the Soviet Union.

0:56:210:56:25

"We were all inspired by the belief that we succeed in whatever we do.

0:56:270:56:32

"And that, for us, nothing is impossible."

0:56:320:56:35

Hitler said that he wanted this to be a racist war of annihilation.

0:56:410:56:45

And, within weeks, the Germans said they'd won.

0:56:450:56:48

But they hadn't.

0:56:580:57:00

And so this becomes the story of what happens to a charismatic leader

0:57:000:57:04

when the victories stop coming.

0:57:040:57:06

"I experienced examples of it -

0:57:100:57:12

"of men who came to tell him it could not go on any longer,

0:57:120:57:16

"and even said that to him.

0:57:160:57:18

"And then, he talked for an hour

0:57:180:57:20

"and then, they went and said,

0:57:200:57:23

" 'I want to give it another try.' "

0:57:230:57:25

The history of Hitler's charismatic leadership finally ends here,

0:57:360:57:40

in a bunker in Berlin,

0:57:400:57:42

with Hitler ever more deluded and living in fantasy.

0:57:420:57:46

Claiming he'd done the right thing all along.

0:57:460:57:50

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:180:58:21

Adolf Hitler seemed an unlikely leader - fuelled by anger, incapable of forming normal human relationships and unwilling to debate political issues. Such was the depth of his hatred that he would become a war criminal arguably without precedent in history.

Yet this strange character was once loved by millions. How was this possible, and what role did Hitler's alleged 'charisma' play in his success?

With the help of testimony from those who lived through these times, film archive - including colour home movies - and specially shot documentary footage, this film reveals how Hitler managed to lead the German people to war in 1939 and orchestrate the dramatic German victory over the French in 1940.

This is the second episode in a three-part series written and produced by Laurence Rees, who won a BAFTA for his previous series Nazis: A Warning from History and a Grierson award for his Auschwitz: the Nazis and the 'Final Solution'.


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