I’ve always been fascinated by the interwar period. With the old Eurasian powers Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire vanquished a host of new countries and territories emerged from the aftermath. Many across Europe rejected the old monarchial order blaming it for starting the Great War. Other went further, loudly proclaiming the challenges of widespread unemployment, political instability and ethnic tension called for new styles of authoritarianism like Communism and Fascism. In Germany, conservatives and reactionaries seethed, blaming the nation’s Jews, socialists and liberals for stabbing their once mighty nation in the back by surrendering too easily and signing the Treaty of Versailles. One of these bitter malcontents, an impoverished army veteran by the name of Adolf Hitler found comfort in a small, radical group called the Nazis, rising quickly within the organization before becoming its leader.
Thinking the German people deserved a better form of government, Hitler and his fellow Nazi’s believed it was time to take over. After failing in their attempt to overthrow the Bavarian government, march to Berlin and seize control of the fledgling German state he was tried, found guilty and sentenced to five years in Landsberg Prison. Languishing in prison and his treasonous movement crushed, Hitler should have faded into oblivion just like any other failed political figure. But as we all know, he didn’t.
I’d been thinking about borrowing an Overdrive copy of Peter Ross Range’s 1924: The Year That Made Hitler for the last few years and only recently got around to doing so. Like so many books, I kicked myself for not reading it sooner.
According to Ross Range, failing to overthrowing the German state was the best thing that could have happened to Hitler. At his trial he unleashed his oratory skills on those in attendance, winning admiration from friend and foe alike, resulting in a relatively light sentence which included the possibility of parole after one year. During his time in prison Hitler flourished. He read extensively, wrote the first volume of Mein Kampf, and engaged in endless rounds of political discussion with his imprisoned fellow Nazis. Landsberg Prison became in essence a Nazi Party training facility as Hitler and his men dined together (with Hitler at the head of the table) and conducted themselves with military like discipline. By the time he was released after just nine months, Hitler had formulated a new plan. Instead of violently taking power the Nazis would work within the political system, using legal means to become masters of Germany. Sadly for Germany, Europe and the rest of the world it worked.
1924 is one of those great history books that’s a pleasure to read. Don’t be surprised if it makes my year-end list of favorite nonfiction.