Game of Thrones
Rudiger Barth and Hauke Friederichs have turned history into a real political thriller. Their version of the fall of Weimar and the rise of Hitler should be made into a television series on the order of Babylon Berlin. The book opens with the resignation of Chancellor Franz von Papen on November 17, 1932, after the November 6th elections left no clear majority in the Reichstag with the anti-democratic parties of the Left and the Right squeezing out the Center. It ends on January 30, 1933, with Hitler being named Chancellor. Although Papen has been called the gravedigger of the Republic, he had many accomplices and Hitler’s rise to power was by no means certain.
The cast of characters include:
· Adolf Hitler – Fuhrer of the National Socialist German Workers Party. (NDSAP)
· Kurt von Schleicher – Defense Minister and Chancellor who was caught between a crossfire of the Right and Left. Earlier he was in up to his eyeballs in the secret Russo-German arms agreement.
· Paul von Hindenburg – German president, World War I general and monarchist.
· Alfred Hugenberg – Media baron and leader of the rightist German National Peoples Party. (DNVP)
· Gregor Strasser – A leader in the NDSAP who breaks with Hitler.
· Kurt Schumaker- Leader of the Socialist Party of Germany. (SPD)
· Ernst Thalmann – Leader of the Communist Party of Germany. (KPD)
After Papen resigned Hindenburg faced great pressure to appoint Hitler as Chancellor because he represented the largest party in Reichstag although the NSDAP lost seats in the November election. However, Hindenburg wanted Hitler to form a coalition government, which he refused. With that Strasser broke with Hitler in that he supported a coalition government. There is much maneuvering to get Strasser into a coalition government, but that fails.
Into the vacuum comes Kurt von Schleicher who forms a minority government which is constantly under attack by both the NSDAP and the KPD. While Schleicher is in office the army runs a simulation that concludes that it could not maintain order should a civil war breakout. This increases the pressure on Hindenburg to seek a stable governing coalition. However, Schleicher is ultimately not up to the task.
The knives come out with Papen scheming to bring Hitler into power with him as Vice Chancellor. To make it work Papen makes a deal with Hugenberg which brings the NSDAP close to a majority; good enough for Hindenburg and Hitler is named chancellor. Hitler, with his will to power, played a bad hand very well because his party was hemorrhaging members and cash. However, there wasn’t much on the other side to stop him.
Why? The socialists and the communists were at each other’s throats. Instead of allying against Hitler they fight among themselves. Of course, Thalmann’s KPD is following the strict orders of Moscow. Had the two parties of left united, history would have been different. Further once Hitler was appointed, the KPD went underground and the SPD quietly acquiesced. Thirteen years earlier the SPD responded to the Kapp Putsch with a general strike that broke the back of a fascist coup. Simply put they were exhausted.
One of the real beauties of the book is that the authors rely on the diaries of Bella Fromm and Abraham Plotkin. Fromm was a society columnist who was very close to Schleicher, and we get a sense of what high society was thinking that winter. Plotkin was an American labor organizer temporarily in Berlin where he is close to the SPD. From him we get a sense of what was like to be a member of a politicized member of the German working class.
If you are into history, intrigue and political thrillers, this book is right up your alley. I do hope the authors make a television series of it. There is much to learn. After reading this book I have become even more convinced that had Gustav Stresemann, Germany leading 1920’s politician, lived he just could have stopped Hitler.
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