January 20, 2017

1937. "Change in Hitler's Position is Proceeding Rapidly"

Göring Rises to Prominence Overseeing the Four Year Plan
Adolf Hitler at the Berghof residence near Berchtesgaden, Germany in September, 1937. Photo taken by Eva Braun (source)
This article is part of a series of posts on how newspapers covered the rise of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in Italy and Germany prior to World War II. In 1937, New York Times foreign correspondent Anne O'Hare McCormick wrote about the shifting political landscape in Europe and Nazi Germany's portentous Four Year Plan for rearmament.

From The New York Times, February 22, 1937:
Change in Hitler's Position is Proceeding Rapidly

BERLIN, Feb. 21 — When Chancellor Adolf Hitler appeared at the automobile show Saturday, observers who had not seen him recently remarked that during the last year especially, his face had grown heavier and grimmer. His voice is vigorous, his color more florid and his straight hair untouched by gray. He looks younger than bald Premier Benito Mussolini, but lacks the physical spring and firmness the Rome dictator renews by riding, fencing and every new form of sport.

From all accounts Hitler is in robust health and as sure as ever of himself and his mission. The struggle to fulfill this mission, with its obstacles at home and abroad, weighs him down. He appears tired, dulled and careworn, his full cheeks deeply grooved.

Hitler has an apostolic temperament. Officialdom tires him. He is irked by the constant stream of undercover controversy, of which he is the center. A sign of his dislike of the capital, its intrigues and rivalry, is that nowadays he comes to Berlin only when he has to for special meetings and public speeches. Most of his time he spends at Berchtesgaden. He is building a complete Chancellery in the Bavarian mountains near his chalet, where he feels at home, evidently with the idea of retiring there more and more in the future.

What is happening is that while the government offices remain in the capital the Fuehrer's headquarters are being shifted to the neighborhood of Munich where the National Socialist party already has established its center and erected memorials to its martyrs. This shift serves to emphasize the most striking change noted by the visitor in Germany today.

Evolution Proceeds Rapidly

The outcome of the evolution occurring in the regime depends on the pace of events. But the evolution in Hitler's position proceeds rapidly. Increasingly he tends to become a symbol, a front, Germany's voice in the world and its supreme judge and arbiter at home. More and more he withdraws from active administration of government.

To some party chiefs this idea presents practical advantages. Hitler's personal prestige and popularity are unquestionably the strength of his regime. The critics of his policies were never more vocal than they are now, but the critical in all camps praise his statesmanship and believe in his sincerity. This asset, it is argued, must be preserved at all costs.

This argument lies behind the serious discussion of plans to make Col. Gen. Hermann Goering Chancellor. As Premier of Prussia, Air Minister and charged with executing the Four-Year Plan, the general now is firmly established as second in command. He is believed to be perfectly willing to assume the risks with the honors of the Chancellorship. Reports credit him with discussing the subject with Mussolini, who is said to have advised him against it on the ground it might cause trouble in the party. It is still in the cards, however, and if a crisis threatens in the economic or political sphere, many expect to see General Goering suddenly pushed in the executive office.

Left Wing Distrusts Goering

The opposition to the move comes from two antagonistic groups. Leaders of the Nazi Left wing, always suspicious that their revolutionary program is being scrapped, distrust General Goering for the same reason he is popular with non-Nazis—because he is a Prussian, a soldier, a survivor of the old German ruling class. At the other extreme the conservatives in the government approve neither of the self-sufficiency plan nor its administrator. General Goering as a go-between for the Schnacht group with the radicals is one thing; General Goering with full executive powers in a field in which he has no experienced is another.

It is significant that more Nazis than non-Nazis favor putting Hitler above party and government. Aloof at Berchtesgaden he is more difficult to reach, and the aim of a good many subordinates is to increase their own powers by preventing an appeal from their judgments. Interests outside the party, on the other hand, prefer Hitler's decisions to those of other Nazi chiefs.

A case in point is the sudden withdrawal of a decree Hanns Kerrl published to force a drastic new constitution on the Protestant Churches. At the last minute Hitler decided to allow the churches to elect a synod and draft their own constitution.

The churches continue to stand out against subordination to the State and the feeling on this issue runs so high that Hitler was warned by those interested in the realization of the Four-Year Plan that to fan discontent, at a time when the economic balance is precarious and people are called on for daily sacrifices, was to court disaster.

Self-sufficiency now takes precedence over all other aims. At the opening of the automobile show Hitler practically ordered the motor industry to produce a Volkswagen—a cheap motor car for all people—which is to become almost a symbol of his program. At the same time he reiterated the demand that industry make itself independent of foreign imports. The two demands are held incompatible by industrialists.

All this explains why Hitler looks as if he needed sleep and why he won't find it easy to withdraw to the mountains to make policies which cause such conflict in operation.