Thursday, April 7, 2016

AltHistory Scenario #18: What if Hitler Never Came to Power?

Lately I finished reading The Politics of the Prussian Army 1640-1945 by Gordon A. Craig, which helped show just exactly how much the Army of Prussia and Germany before Hitler was the so-called "state within a state," to the point that even Bismarck had to tread carefully around them, and the army virtually held the Weimar Republic hostage. It's an interesting book, with a lot of footnotes and a very literary style of writing, so I would recommend reading it, if you can find it.

But I digress. Today I'm going to talk about a topic I really haven't talked much about, namely an Alternate History about Hitler. The man with the weird little moustache has dominated the history of the past 70 plus years that it's understandable why Alternate Historians spend so much time thinking about what if the Nazi's won the Second World War.

We just can't let it go.

But here's my question: What if, at the moment when Hitler was on the cusp of getting the power the craved, it all came crashing down?

Point of Divergence

The politics of the Weimar Republic are horrendously complicated, especially when the Great Depression tossed everything into confusion. But one figure who managed to survive the storm was the elderly Paul von Hindenburg, the Field Marshall turned President of Germany. Hindenburg was always distrustful of Hitler, going so far as to claim "that Austrian Corporal" will never be named Chancellor so long as he held power. In OTL, he was finally convinced in January 1933 to do so, under pressure from his son Oskar and his closest military advisor, Kurt von Schleicher. In this alternate history, he stuck to his promise to not appoint Hitler.

The November 1932 elections saw the National Socialist Party as the largest party in the Reichstag, but not a majority. By this point, the current Chancellor Franz von Papen was trying to find a coalition, either with or without the Nazi's, to stay in power. However, Hitler would settle for nothing less than being named Chancellor, so the talks broke down, as they did with the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). Papen, who had the personal support of Hindenburg, kept trying to form a coalition, as Schleicher tried to find a solution to his long standing goal of dismantling the democratic state and set up a government of "strong men," which eventually turned into getting named Chancellor himself. Eventually Hindenburg agreed to name Schleicher Chancellor, but after his negotiations with the Nazis also proved fruitless, Schleicher decided that maybe it was time for the Nazi's to come to power.
Kurt von Schleicher... honestly, did not a single German in the 1930s have a decent moustache?

Hindenburg would have none of it. Despite the pressure by Schleicher, Oskar von Hindenburg (who was convinced by Schleicher despite his antipathy to the Nazis) and Papen, who was offered a post in the eventual Hitler cabinet, Hindenburg refused to yield.

Immediate Effects

The political crisis in Germany continued to grow, with Schleicher unable to do anything in the Reichstag, but the only alternative that could be reasonably considered was Hitler, who was unacceptable to Hindenburg. Hitler himself was growing tired and furious by these delays, and eventually, as January 1933 turned in February, his patience wore out. Impetuously, he met with Hermann Goering and Ernest Rohm, and resolved to us the SA and the SS to overthrow the government, get rid of "the old reactionary," and have Hitler named Fuhrer.

On the night of February 13, the SA and SS began to erect barricades, and tried to take over major government buildings. Schleicher was caught by surprise by the Putsch, but was willing to lay down his office after a sufficient period of resistance was displayed. In his previous role as Minister of Defence and leader of the army, he was sure the Reichswehr, the army, would not get involved in the fight, especially if it's a right-wing force that was rising up, and not get involved in the fighting. As his predecessor as chief of the Reichswehr, Hans von Seekt said, "Reichswehr doesn't fire on Reichswehr."

After all, this was the only machine gun Germany got to keep after World War I.

But Hindenburg would have none of it. While he was personally a monarchists and would have wanted to see the Hohenzollern dynasty restored as King's of Prussia, he was loyal to the constitution he swore to uphold. Hindenburg's son Oskar, though he once pushed for Hitler to be named Chancellor, was now scared of the Nazis trying to take power, so it was decided to fire Schleicher, and use the Presidential emergency power, which Schleicher had been using to govern without the Reichstag for months, to order the suppression of the Nazi's.

The Reichswehr, in turn, as divided. The higher command, under Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord, was a known anti-Nazi, and proceeded to organize the army to suppress the revolt. Schleicher tried to stop Hammerstien-Equord, but the now civilian Schleicher was kicked out of the High Commanders office. However, many of the junior officers were highly influenced by the Nazis, and in some cases purposefully disobeyed orders that the High Command sent down. But a large percentage of the officers followed their duties, as they saw the army as the protector of the "German Reich," and they saw the illegal take over of the government as against that sacred tradition, even if it would have destroyed the republican government that many of the officer's hated. Many other's feared the growing power of the SA, which Ernst Rohm was determined to replace the professional army with.

Hitler had taken over Berlin, and Nazi uprisings took place all over Germany. But Hindenburg, von Papen (the renamed Chancellor, even if he had no personal authority at the moment) and Hammerstein-Equord, along with social democrats and centrists in the Reichstag had withdrawn from Berlin to Potsdam, and were planning on marching back into Berlin as soon as the Reichswehr was ready. Hitler declared himself Chancellor and President, and Schleicher was doing what he could to support the Nazis, but the SA quickly undermined the call for order that Hitler was giving. The bullies and brutes of the SA went around beating political opponents and Jews, killing hundreds in the areas they controlled, and soon began to fight each other and the other paramilitary groups, such as the social democrats and the communists. Papen decided to get the social democrats and the communists on board to reclaim Berlin and Germany, and Hindenburg, becoming very ill from the stress of the situation, reluctantly agreed. After negotiations with the Social Democrats (the communists refused to work with Papen, instead trying to overthrow the entire state), where Papen was forced to agree to a new constitution and to suppress both the Nazis and the Communists, a general strike was called on February 19, which ground Berlin and most of Germany to a halt, much like the Kapp Putsch in 1920.

Okay, von Papen had an alright one. And, as the Doctor would say, bowties are cool.

On February 21, with the approval of Hindenburg and Papen, General Gerd von Rundstedt lead his forces into Berlin to restore order, arrest Hitler, Goering and Himmler, and disarm the SA. Although he was outnumbered, the general strike, the disorder, and the sight of fresh, disciplined troops caused the SA to retreat. Hitler, Schleicher and Goering were arrested and imprisoned. Himmler shot himself and died at the end of the month, and the rest of the high ranking Nazi's melted back into the crowd.The SA was ordered to disband, and except for a few loyalists to Rohm, the order was meekly accepted. The rest of the revolts in other parts of Germany were quickly put down or fell apart. The Hitler Putsch, also known as the Second Hitler Putsch, was over. The Nazi party was totally discredited, Hitler, Goering and Schleicher were tried for treason and all were sent to prison for the rest of their lives. Rohm's band was eventually hunted down by the Reichswehr in Selesia, and in a fire fight was killed in April 1934.

Hindenburg returned to Berlin to the cheers of the crowd, but by now Papen realized he couldn't hold onto his position, so after having Hindenburg sign the presidential decrees to disband all paramilitary organizations and revealing what he had to agree to in order to get the Social Democrats to support the resistance to the coup, he resigned his position. With few other's to turn to, Hindenburg turned to his son, Oskar, and named him Chancellor of Germany, with the express goal of organizing elections to rewrite the constitution.
Hands down, Hindenburg had the best moustache. Look at it! It's just AWESOME!

The stress of the past three months took a toll on the President, and at the start of April 1933, he suffered a stroke. On May 5, 1933, Hindenburg died in Berlin.

Oskar von Hindenburg had his father's will published, which advocated increased democracy, renunciation of Hitler and other "rabble rousers," and the rule of law.

Combined Presidential and Reichstag elections were held on June 4, 1933, and the Social Democrat
Otto Braun won the election, becoming the third President of Germany. The SPD party managed to get 289 seats of the 661 seat Reichstag, which wasn't enough for a majority, but by far the largest party. A committee was established to write a new constitution by the end of the year, with the main goal being to promote some semblance of stability in the government. Therefore, a system closer to the British Westminster system was proposed, with a majority of the seats being elected in electoral districts, and the rest being named from lists of candidates political parties would draw up and chosen on the basis of percentage of total votes given, and seats being reduced to 445. The Chancellor would be responsible to the Reichstag, while the President, elected every seven years by the nation, was made more-or-less a figurehead, but was given the power to dissolve the Reichstag and replace the Chancellor if he didn't have enough political support.

The new Constitution was approved in a referendum in December 1933, and the first elections under it, held in March 1934, gave the SDP another plurality, but they were able to form a coalition government. Otto Braun held his post as President.

Aftermath

The Second Hitler Putsch destroyed the Nazi Party. Hitler died in prison in 1945, having been classified insane after years of ranting and raving against the Jews and Communists. However, the far right fascist ideas would continue to have a role to play in European politics right up to the present day.

Got to hand it to Marvel... that is pretty much most of Hitler's speeches.

The Reichswehr, under General Hammerstein-Equord, eventually had their "state within a state" status revoked, especially as questions about the army's reliability, their efforts to avoid the Treaty of Versailles, and their political moves in the 1920s and 30s were revealed. Those officers that opposed the reduction of the Reichswehr's position were sacked, and eventually a politically neutral army was established, and it was completed in 1937 when the General Gerd von Rundsedt, the new chief of the High Command, formally swore off the ability of the army to mount a coup d'etat or interfere in domestic or foreign politics without orders from the President. In 1939, Germany was finally able to get the military clauses of the Treaty of Versailles rescinded, but more due to the growing threat of the Soviet Union, which eventually lead to the Second Great War in 1943 over the Soviet backed coup in Hungary that brought the western capitalist nations to war with the massive communist juggernaut. 

The German government that was established in the aftermath of the 1933 Putsch was slightly more stable than before, and without the army interfering, and far left and far right paramilitaries trying to overthrow the government, and economic recovery eventually brought most German's around to a democratic government, though not insubstantial groups still push for an authoritarian dictatorship.

But what do you think? How would Hitler have reacted if never named Chancellor? Or if you have a topic or idea you would like me to talk about, please leave comments below, email me at tbguy1992@gmail.com, or tell me on Twitter @tbguy1992.

No comments:

Post a Comment