Hitler’s millionaire backers: how Germany’s elite facilitated the rise of the Nazis

Stephan Malinowski tells Rob Attar how a cocktail of naked opportunism and misplaced arrogance among Germany’s most powerful men facilitated the rise of the Third Reich | Accompanies the three-part BBC Two series The Rise of the Nazis

Chancellor Adolf Hitler with President Paul von Hindenburg, Berlin, 1 May 1933

It was late in the evening of 30 June 1934 when Kurt von Schleicher was disturbed from a telephone call by the arrival of a group of men at his house. According to one account, the men asked for von Schleicher to confirm his identity, and once he had done so – “Jawohl, ich bin General von Schleicher”– gunshots rang out. The man who had been one of Germany’s most influential army generals, and the last chancellor before Hitler, was dead – killed during the ruthless purge known as the Night of the Long Knives. Killed because it was feared he was conspiring against the Nazi regime that he himself had helped bring to power.

When the story of the Third Reich is told, several explanations are put forward for how a party that gained only 2.6 per cent of votes in the German elections of 1928 was able to establish a radical dictatorship just five years later: the Wall Street Crash, the legacy of the First World War and Hitler’s charisma, to name a few. But one aspect that often receives less attention is the influence of Germany’s elite on the events of the late 1920s and early 1930s. According to University of Edinburgh historian Stephan Malinowski, contributor to a new BBC Two series, The Rise of the Nazis, a small group of powerful actors played a critical role in the creation of the Third Reich.

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