"Heil Hitler" [Hitler's actual popularity in Germany]

So, I was contemplating cults of personality this week for… reasons, and of course considered the ultimate cult of them all, Adolph Hitler and the rise of the Nazis. Was there really that much spontaneous adulation of the man going around? At a rally, sure, all their buttons are being pressed by Goebbels but – as our old movies show – did the highest-ranking members of the OKW literally could not enter or leave a room without the stiff-arm salute and a guttural, “Heil Hitler!” to, I dunno, remind them who their boss is? Did either Lutheran or Catholic families sit down to dinner and end the blessing with a hearty HH instead of an Amen?

Are there any contemporary reports from the period which detail they everyday life of your ordinary German that mentions this? Just how popular was this Hitler guy, anyway?

As far as captivating people and inspiring adulation, that is what Leni Riefenstahl later claimed: “He radiated something very powerful”, etc. What with the rallies and propaganda, it seems he was indeed a popular guy, not that people were not trying to assassinate him by the 1930s.

Hailing victory and/or Hitler were indeed totally compulsory by 1933.

Indoctrination is part of it. But citizens also had to go along with idol-worship if they knew what was good for them. Enforced adulation of the Supreme Leader has been a standard feature of totalitarian societies.

One bizarre example I ran across in recent reading was that in 1930s-40s Japan, whenever movie newsreels mentioned the Emperor Hirohito, everyone in the audience was supposed to stand and remove their hats, on pain of arrest. The kicker was that the newsreels never actually showed the Emperor (that would have been disrespectful, or some such). :smack:

Note that the order to replace the standard military salute with the Hitler salute came 4 days after the July 20th, 1944 plot happened. So up to that time it would have been optional among the military and probably mainly used when saluting Hitler and other high Nazi officials.

Hitler wasn’t very popular overall at first when he was running for office. Maybe a third of the people sort of liked him. Once things turned around economically his popularity rose. With the easy victories over Poland, France, etc. he became insanely popular.

The German people had been through a lot with the post-WWI economic and social chaos. Hitler was a “strong man” that they had been awaiting. (The whole Führer thing.)

Propaganda built on their natural inclinations: “One People, One Nation, One Leader”. So he embodied them and their country. Which got into some really scary stuff, psychologically speaking. Cults of personality are really bad things, as history has proven over and over.

Tilman Allert’s (short) book The Hitler Salute: On the Meaning of a Gesture is pretty much exactly a go at addressing this question.

There was a documentary on the prewar German TV service, mainly about experiments with programme styles and formats, but inevitably including announcers cheerily opening the evening’s schedule with a “Heil Hitler”:

You’d wonder why Hitler didn’t adopt the Prussian salute, given the Army under him reverted to Prussian traditions. I’m just guessing that traditional Prussian might recall sympathy for the old empire. Wilhelm II and von Mackensen were still around at the time of Hitler’s ascension.

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General Questions Moderator

He was presenting himself as a social revolutionary as well as a nationalist. The Hitler salute was called the “German greeting”, as distinct from anything implying the dominance of any particular part of German: all German Volksgenossen in one single community. Don’t forget his initial power base was Bavaria, the long-term rivals of Prussia; and likewise, a substantial opposition element was among the Prussian aristocracy and gentry, including the military.

I’ve always maintained there wasn’t anything particularly deficient about the German character post-WWI; we could have fallen into the same trap ourselves, given the right circumstances. Bue given that, I’ve tried imagining a large chunk of US society going around with some sort of odd gesture and “Hail Kennedy!” or “Hail Reagan!” to name a couple of our more popular presidents, and failing. Lately, though, I can see this happening, and I am a bit afraid.

Moderator Note

Let’s refrain from political commentary in GQ.

General Questions Moderator

Stalin and Mao would like to disagree with you: the ultimate cult of the 20th century was Marx (as variously interpreted).

Some joker in the communist world referred to those posters of the heads of -in order - Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin - as “the history of shaving”.

Submitted for your consideration

Yeah from everything I read Stalin did have a much more intense cult of personality around him, either because people were so afraid of what he could do or people who legitimately thought he was the greatest man of all time. There is the famous story of how after the Nazi invasion Stalin fully expected his top generals to have removed him from power for not doing anything about it but instead he was shocked to find everyone was still incredibly loyal to him.

If you watch the old news reels carefully, you’ll find that Hitler was a genuinely talented orator.

Not knowing German is in some ways almost a benefit, because you can concentrate on his technique.

Because he loathed the Prussian elites, and the Prussian elites loathed him right back.

To Hitler & his clique of former non-commissioned officers, the Prussian nobility embodied the failed, limp-wristed right wing that (due to various factors mostly sprung out of his diseased mind) failed to bring about Germany’s manifest greatness and superiority in WW1 and even got him and his friends gassed and then lost and sure, it was *also *all because of Them Jews somehow (nobody ever accused Nazism of making any goddamn sense) but still, fucking Prussians, man.
As for Prussians & the German aristocracy in general, they very much disliked this crass little arrivist with no name, no fortune, no breeding, no religion and no manners.

It was a mutually hateful alliance of convenience against the Left (and not just the Communists, but parlamentarians and democrats in general), so it’s not surprising that among the military the most open and explosive (literally) opposition to Hitler’s cronies came from names like “(Graf) Von Stauffenberg” or “Von Tresskow”.

Hindenburg famously called Hitler the “Bohemian private”.

One Japanese teacher famously died going back into a burning schoolhouse to retrieve the portrait of the Emperor.

Theres a picture of the parade they had when he took over Austria where there was an little old lady waving flags and shouting the heil as tears were rolling down her eyes

Apparently if it didn’t look like you were celebrating you were drug off and possibly not being seen again ………….

I assume it was the same in germany …