1932: The Rise of Hitler and FDR_Two Tales of Politics, Betrayal, and Unlikely Destiny
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Two Depression-battered nations confronted destiny in 1932, going to the polls in their own way to anoint new leaders, to rescue their people from starvation and hopelessness. America would elect a Congress and a president—ebullient aristocrat Franklin Roosevelt or tarnished “Wonder Boy” Herbert Hoover. Decadent, divided Weimar Germany faced two rounds of bloody Reichstag elections and two presidential contests—doddering reactionary Paul von Hindenburg against rising radical hate-monger Adolf Hitler.
The outcome seemed foreordained—unstoppable forces advancing upon crumbled, disoriented societies. A merciless Great Depression brought greater—perhaps hopeful, perhaps deadly—transformation: FDR’s New Deal and Hitler’s Third Reich.
But neither outcome was inevitable.
Readers enter the fray through David Pietrusza’s page-turning account: Roosevelt’s fellow Democrats may yet halt him at a deadlocked convention. 1928’s Democratic nominee, Al Smith, harbors a grudge against his one-time protege. Press baron William Randolph Hearst lays his own plans to block Roosevelt’s ascent to the White House. FDR’s politically-inspired juggling of a New York City scandal threatens his juggernaut. In Germany, the Nazis surge at the polls but twice fall short of Reichstag majorities. Hitler, tasting power after a lifetime of failure and obscurity, falls to Hindenburg for the presidency—also twice within the year. Cabals and counter-cabals plot. Secrets of love and suicide haunt Hitler.
Yet guile and ambition may yet still prevail.
1932’s breathtaking narrative covers two epic stories that possess haunting parallels to today’s crisis-filled vortex. It is an all-too-human tale of scapegoats and panaceas, class warfare and racial politics, of a seemingly bottomless depression, of massive unemployment and hardship, of unprecedented public works/infrastructure programs, of business stimulus programs and damaging allegations of political cronyism, of waves of bank failures and of mortgages foreclosed, of Washington bonus marches and Berlin street fights, of once-solid financial empires collapsing seemingly overnight, of rapidly shifting social mores, and of mountains of irresponsible international debt threatening to crash not just mere nations but the entire global economy.
It is the tale of spell-binding leaders versus bland businessmen and out-of-touch upper-class elites and of two nations inching to safety but lurching toward disaster. It is 1932’s nightmare—with lessons for today.
and could be very heartless. He could fly into a rage over any triviality.”14 The family doctor, the Jewish Dr. Eduard Bloch, contended that he had “never witnessed a closer attachment”15 between mother and son. While Franklin’s relationship with his much-older father was, indeed, truly loving, the relationship between the demanding father Alois Sr. and rebellious son Adolf proved tension-filled and often violent. Adolf, recalled his younger sister Paula, “challenged my father to extreme
such a high-profile—and now perilous—position. But who else remained? Certainly not Hugenberg or a Social Democrat. Not the Bohemian Corporal. Perhaps former Reichsbank president Hjalmar Schacht, but that scenario too went nowhere, with even Schacht publicly demurring: “There is only one man who can now become Chancellor, and that is Adolf Hitler.”47 Still, Schleicher protested. “I am the last horse in your stable,” he argued to Hindenburg, “and ought to be kept in reserve.”48 Some thought a
“that I could only ask ‘Herr Hitler, do you really think me capable of such villainy?’”56 “Yes!” Hitler screamed, “I believe it! I am convinced of it! I have proof!”57 Strasser grabbed his briefcase, storming out of the Kaiserhof, barely grunting as he rushed past a clearly mystified Alfred Rosenberg, retreating to his headquarters at the Askanischer Platz’s massive Hotel Excelsior. Defeated, disgusted, and exhausted (some saw him pacing the Wilhelmplatz talking to himself58), he precipitously
Roos-evelt’s pooh-poohing of public works projects would hardly have endeared him to the still skeptical Hearst, who broke with Hoover in part due to Hoover’s reluctance to back Hearst’s budget-busting, debt-creating $5 billion proposal. (Swanberg [Hearst], pp. 429-30; Procter, pp. 164-66; Nasaw (Chief), pp. 434-35; Carlisle, pp. 46) 47 Sumner. Tugwell (Democratic), pp. 214-15; Miller (F.D.R.), p. 262 fn; Morgan, p. 346; Shlaes (Forgotten), pp. 12-13. Amity Shlaes, and many before her, makes
executive committee, San Franciscan Justus S. Wardell, “but if we do, the result will be so overwhelmingly in our favor it will indicate most impressively what the sentiment is among the Democrats of the state.”118 Yet, trouble percolated on any number of fronts. William Randolph Hearst retained a huge amount of influence in his native state (he controlled five big city papers boasting 42.6 percent of the state’s daily circulation and 56 percent of its Sunday circulation119) and was now about to