Invited author discusses German history with Ramapo students

Photo by Tori D'Amico

On Friday, Oct. 16, Dr. Peter Fritzsche spoke to Ramapo students about his book “Hitler’s First 100 Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich.” The event was hosted by Dr. Sam Mustafa and Dr. Michael Riff.

Fritzsche spoke about several different topics relating to his book, beginning with an explanation of the rise in popularity for the Nazi party in Germany. He described a time when working class Germans felt victimized by the ideals of the socialist party of the Weimar Republic and Versailles. These Germans were exactly those that the party sought to unite in order to gain power.

He went on to describe how despite this uniting of workers through identifying internal enemies — socialists — and the appeal of violence, the party struggled to gain votes in the 1928 election. However, he noted that Germans identified with their message of resolving the political crisis in the country, because the middle class had a strong sense of nationalism after the first world war.

“Not only do you hear the speeches, you hear the screaming, the cheers, the tumult," Friztsche said, about the Nazi party’s use of radio to garner support. "They thought it was the sound of national revolution.”

The energetic nature of the party was what eventually became one of their most attractive features. Though they never gained over 40 percent of the vote, elites within politics were willing to work with Hitler after he became chancellor. 

“They cannot tame or contain Hitler,” Fritzsche said. “They’re willing to run that risk, better Hitler than anyone else.” 

In his first hundred days, which Fritzsche focuses on, Hitler was able to gain control of the country constitutionally. The president at the time was able to transfer emergency executive power to the chancellor, but he was convinced to hand it over permanently, which solidified the Nazi party’s reign over Germany.

In his book, Friztsche wrote, “It’s possible to hate the Nazis but still love the third reich.” This was the case of Hitler’s rise to power, as many did not necessarily like Hitler, but liked what the party stood for. There were no other options for Germans seeking out a political uprising that would stomp out the hated socialist party.

Friztsche focuses on these first hundred days as an impressive feat of democratically gaining power and turning it into dictatorship. He said that on the 65th day of Hitler’s chancellorship, he effectively fired all Jewish people from positions of power, creating a hierarchy with second class citizens.

“Once you’re attracted to Hitler,” he said, “you begin to consider anti-Semitism.” 

Students were encouraged to ask Dr. Friztsche questions, and several asked about how the emergence of a party that symbolized a new Germany may compare to the political situations in Poland and America.

His main point of distinction was to note how Hitler was the founder of his political party, while Donald Trump is far from it, he may try to present that he is reimagining the party. Another factor was the strong support Nazis had from the university system — students and professors — unlike the current Republican party.

“You do have a Republican electorate which is swayed by ethnic nationalism and racial differences,” he said about America, the same similarity appearing in Poland and Hungary. Dr. Friztsche was confident that the uprising in Germany was much stronger than any extremist militias in the U.S. today.

Over 60 students attended the event via Webex, many sending in similar questions about the possible similarities of the 1930s and present day. 

Students were left with a parting message, one that must be honored when learning about the past: “Let’s hope for a better tomorrow.”