Study Guide

National Socialists and Nazis in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

National Socialists and Nazis

Max Amann

Amann was, in Shirer's words, "the hard-headed manager of the Nazi publishing business" (1.4.1). He's one of the more peripheral members of the Nazi entourage, but in addition to raking in tons of cash for the Nazis by managing their monopoly over Germany's publishing industry, he also had a hand in preparing Mein Kampf (1.4.1).

Houston Stewart Chamberlain

Chamberlain was a prolific author in the Germany of Hitler's youth, and his book Foundations of the Nineteenth Century was a key source for Hitler's racial theories. He met Hitler briefly in 1923, and was so impressed by the young would-be Fuehrer that he became, as Shirer says, "one of the first intellectuals in Germany to see a great future for Hitler—and new opportunities for the Germans if they followed him" (1.4.134).

Chamberlain soon joined the Nazi Party, and despite being old and in poor health, began to contribute to its propaganda. He died in January 1927, and, in Shirer's view, he passed away "with high hope that all he had preached and prophesied would yet come true under the divine guidance" of Hitler, who seemed to him to be a "new German Messiah" (1.4.135).

Anton Drexler

Drexler was one of the original founders of the German Worker's Party (the "tiny political group" that Hitler turned into the Nazi Party), and Shirer argues that he "may be said to have been the actual founder of National Socialism" (1.2.27- 30).

Shirer describes Drexler as being a "sickly, bespectacled man, lacking a formal education, with an independent but narrow and confused mind, a poor writer and a worse speaker" (1.2.30).

In 1921, Drexler tried to prevent Hitler from seizing dictatorial control over the newly-renamed National Socialist German Workers' Party, and he helped to draft and distribute a pamphlet that accused Hitler of tearing the party apart. In response, Hitler flexed his litigious muscles and sued Drexler and the others for libel. Drexler recanted, Hitler seized control, and after hanging on for another couple of years, Drexler left the party.

Dietrich Eckart

As Shirer describes him, Dietrich Eckart was a "witty journalist" and "a mediocre poet and dramatist" (1.2.43). He was also known as "the spiritual founder of National Socialism," and was one of Hitler's strongest supporters after the young would-be Fuehrer joined the German Workers' Party (1.2.43-45).

Eckart "became a close adviser to the rising young man in the German Workers' Party, lending him books, helping to improve his German—both written and spoken—and introducing him to his wide circle of friends" (1.2.45).

In the final pages of Mein Kampf, Hitler memorializes his former mentor by writing that he was "one of the best, who devoted his life to the awakening of our people, in his writings and his thoughts and finally in his deeds" (1.2.45).

Gottfried Feder

In 1919, Hitler heard Gottfried Feder deliver a lecture on economics, and was very impressed. Hitler soon saw him speak again at the first meeting of the German Workers' Party that he attended, and the two men later organized together as fellow party members.

As Shirer characterizes him, Feder was "a construction engineer and a crank in the field of economics" (1.2.27-29). By the time Hitler began to seize real power in Germany, Feder's star had begun to fade. In 1933, Hitler gave him "a post as undersecretary in the Ministry of Economics, but his superior [...] gave him nothing to do" (2.8.126). By 1940, he had been given the title of State Secretary in the Ministry of Economics, but no one listened to his crazy ideas.

From that point on—in Shirer's narrative, at least—Feder fades into the fog of history.

Hans Frank

In the late 1920s, Hans Frank was a brilliant young lawyer and a rising star in the Nazi world. In 1939, he became the Governor General of Nazi-occupied Poland, and in that position he organized and oversaw the enslavement and mass murder of hundreds of thousands of people.

Shirer's characterization of Frank is one of the most revealing in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

A dark, dapper, bouncy fellow, father of five children, his intelligence and cultivation partly offset his primitive fanaticism and up to this time made him one of the least repulsive of the men around Hitler. But behind the civilized veneer of the man lay the cold killer. The forty-two-volume journal he kept of his life and works, which showed up at Nuremberg, was one of the most terrifying documents to come out of the dark Nazi world, portraying the author as an icy, efficient, ruthless, bloodthirsty man. (4.19.175)

At the Nuremburg Trials, Frank was sentenced to death for his crimes, and was executed by hanging in October 1946 (Epilogue.9).

Wilhelm Frick

Frick was a Nazi plant that Hitler had positioned at police headquarters in Munich in the days leading up to the infamous Beer Hall Putsch (1.3.77) .

Frick later entered the Reichstag as a Nazi Party representative, and by the early 1930s he was among the five Nazis who were closest to Hitler. Soon after Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, Frick was appointed Minister of the Interior.

In Shirer's view, Frick was "doggedly loyal, efficient and, because of the façade of his retiring nature and suave manners, useful in contacts with wavering officials in the republican government" (2.5.154). He could also be ruthless. During the drawn-out battle between the Nazi Party and the Protestant churches in Germany throughout the mid-1930s, Frick ordered the arrests of hundreds of dissenting pastors.

Although Frick is a relatively peripheral figure in TRFTR, his role in the Nazi regime was considered important enough to warrant a death sentence from the Nuremberg court, and he was executed by hanging in October 1946 (Epilogue.9).

Walther Funk

Funk was a German businessman who, as he declared in his own post-war testimony, became convinced by 1931 "that the Nazi Party would come to power in the not too distant future" (2.5.132). Deciding to get in while the getting was good, he threw his lot in with the National Socialists in the early 1930s, and became a contact between the Nazis and some prominent business leaders.

Shirer's physical characterization of Funk is one of the most scathing in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. As he puts it: he was "a greasy, shifty-eyed, paunchy little man whose face always reminded this writer of a frog" (2.5.133).

In 1937 Funk became Hitler's Minister of Economics, and in 1939 Hitler made him President of the Reichsbank. In those positions, he oversaw the management of Nazi Germany's war economy, and also helped to organize the slave labor of the prison and concentration camp inmates. Equally sinister was his management of the wealth that was stolen from the millions of Jews who were being murdered in the extermination camps—management that included the banking of the gold that came from fillings in the murder victims' teeth.

Funk not only knew where that sinister wealth was coming from, but also used the topic as a conversation piece at at least one dinner party. At the Nuremberg Trials, he was sentenced to life imprisonment (Epilogue.8).

Joachim von Ribbentrop

In 1936, Hitler appointed Ribbentrop as Germany's ambassador to Britain. Shirer writes that Ribbentrop was "the worst possible choice for such a post," because he was "[i]ncompetent and lazy, vain as a peacock, arrogant and without humor" (3.9.101). Hardly the right personality for an ambassador.

Just in case that characterization wasn't clear enough, Shirer adds an amusing anecdote from the Nazi records to paint the picture even more vividly. Apparently Hermann Goering once complained to Hitler that Ribbentrop was a poor choice of ambassador. Hitler pointed out that "Ribbentrop knew 'Lord So and So' and 'Minister So and So." Goering replied: "Yes, but the difficulty is that they know Ribbentrop" (3.9.101, emphasis added).

Burn.

In February 1938, Hitler replaced his Foreign Minister, Baron Konstantin von Neurath, and appointed "the shallow and compliant" Ribbentrop in his place (3.10.40). In that position, Ribbentrop became a key player in the Nazis' subsequent aggressions against their neighboring nations, and he followed the party line throughout the world war that ensued. He was sentenced to death at the Nuremberg Trials, and was hanged in October 1946.

Ernst Roehm

Captain Ernst Roehm was one of the original members of the German Workers' Party that Hitler eventually turned into the Nazi Party. Shirer describes Roehm as "a stocky, bull-necked, piggish-eyed, scar-faced professional soldier" who had "a flair for politics and a natural ability as an organizer" (1.2.42).

Roehm played an instrumental role in Hitler's rise to political power. He helped to organize the SA—the Nazi Storm Trooper forces—and commanded that violent, terrifying army until 1934, when he was summarily executed on Hitler's command (2.7.159-60). As Shirer explains, the two men hadn't been able to reconcile their very different visions of what Nazi control in Germany should look like, and Hitler was willing to do whatever needed to be done in order to have his way.

Aside from his close friendship with, and eventual murder by, Adolf Hitler, there's another reason why Roehm stands out among the other historical figures who appear in the book. Roehm was gay, and he's one of the many men whose sexuality draws insults from Shirer throughout TRFTR. In one passage, Shirer writes: "A tough, ruthless, driving man—albeit, like so many of the early Nazis, a homosexual—he helped to organize the first Nazi strong-arm squads which grew into the S.A." (1.2.42).

As we discuss in our Themes section, Shirer's comments on sex and sexuality throughout TRFTR always represent homosexuality as an abnormality or aberration. As this description of Roehm demonstrates so clearly, Shirer seemed to believe that there's a fundamental contradiction between homosexuality and "tough," "ruthless," or "driving" masculinity. In fact, his authorial attitude throughout the book suggests that he associated male homosexuality with the "perversion," or "feminization," of masculinity.

Alfred Rosenberg

Although Shirer notes that Alfred Rosenberg was considered the intellectual leader of the Nazi Party, he himself characterizes Rosenberg as "a man of mediocre intelligence" (1.2.80). Given the many appalling and horrific ideas that were held by Nazi Party members, that's not necessarily a contradiction.

Rosenberg met Hitler through Dietrich Eckart, and late in 1923 Hitler appointed him to be the editor of the Voelkischer Beobachter, the daily newspaper of the Nazi Party. We're sure that every single word in this newspaper was the absolute truth. Shirer describes Hitler as "propping up" Rosenberg for years, and promoting "this utterly muddled man, this confused and shallow "philosopher," as the intellectual mentor of the Nazi movement and as one of its chief authorities on foreign policy" (1.2.81).

At the Nuremberg Trials, Rosenberg was among the Nazis who were sentenced to death for their crimes and hanged in October 1946.

Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht

Schacht (his parents spent some time in the U.S. and were fans of the journalist Horace Greeley makes his first appearance in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich as the "financial wizard" who stabilized Germany's currency and economy after they plummeted in the years following World War I and the Treaty of Versailles.

By the early 1930s, Schacht had come on board with Hitler and his Nazis, and was, as Shirer says, devoting "all of his considerable abilities to bringing the Fuehrer closer to his banker and industrialist friends and ever closer to the great goal of the Chancellor's seat" (2.5.144).

Once Hitler's derrière was firmly in that chair, Schacht joined Hitler's cabinet as the Nazi Minister of Economics. In that role, he began to oversee the transformation of Germany's economy into a Wehrwirtschaft —a war economy.

As Shirer tells us: "Though at his trial at Nuremberg he protested in all innocence against the accusations that he had participated in the Nazi conspiracy to make aggressive war—he had done just the contrary, he proclaimed—the fact remains that no single person was as responsible as Schacht for Germany's economic preparation for the war which Hitler provoked in 1939" (2.8.122).

By 1936, Schacht's stardom in the Nazi Party was on the decline. Hermann Goering—who liked to have his fingers in every Nazi pie—had taken on new roles in the party's management of Germany's economy, and Schacht found him impossible to work with. He resigned from his position as Minister of Economics, but stayed in the cabinet and kept the presidency of the Reichsbank for a little while longer.

By 1938, Schacht had begun to associate himself with the group of anti-Nazi conspirators who were plotting to overthrow Hitler, but in Shirer's opinion, Schacht's testimony at the Nuremberg Trials and his publications after the war "clearly exaggerated the importance of his role in the various conspiracies against Hitler" (3.12.323).

By the early 1940s, Schacht found himself a prisoner in one of the Nazi concentration camps, but he managed to survive and be freed by American troops as they swept through Germany in 1945.

Gregor Strasser

Strasser was Hitler's chief rival for power in the Nazi Party throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s. While Hitler was serving his prison sentence in the wake of the Beer Hall Putsch, Strasser worked hard to keep the Nazi movement alive and well (2.5.22-23).

Not surprisingly, Shirer records that Hitler wasn't enthused by Strasser's success. The young would-be Fuehrer was never too keen on anyone who might gather a following that would rival his own.

In 1925, Hitler got over his anger at Strasser and asked him to lead the way in organizing the Nazi Party in Berlin. Over the years, Strasser's stature and popularity as a politician grew, and his political tensions with Hitler remained the same. By the autumn of 1932, when German statesmen were playing musical chairs with the chancellor's seat, "Strasser was the Number Two man in the party, and among the left-wing element, which really believed in a national socialism, he was more popular than Hitler" (2.6.105).

In those years, Strasser and Hitler disagreed as to how the Nazi Party should insinuate itself into the German government, and their political rivalry ended with a very public showdown. As you might guess, it was Hitler who came out on top. After doing what he could to destroy Strasser's political career, Hitler bided his time until the Blood Purge of June 1934, where he saw to it that Strasser was murdered along with the dozens—possibly even hundreds—of men who had given him scores to settle.