David Redles, Hitler's millennial Reich: Apocalyptic Belief and the Search for Salvation
Chapter 2 "The Turning Point: Racial Apocalypse or Racial Salvation"
The total chaos of the Weimar period, particularly in the early years, elicited a profound sense of collapse for many Germans, outwardly and inwardly. Perched on the edge of an abyss, the Nazis in particular came to believe that Germany, and indeed Aryan humanity in general, had reached a historic turning point. The old order had collapsed, requiring the appearance of a New Order (a new perception of reality, what the Nazis termed Weltanschauung, or would view). In true apocalyptic fashion, Hitler explained to a journalist,The day is not far off when we shall be living in great times once more. What we now need is that intelligent writers should make clear to the citizens of Germany the historic turning point at which Germany stands today. We are on the threshold of a unique new epoch in our history. We have reached the turning point when the bourgeoisie must decide whether it will choose Bolshevik chaos in Germany and therefore in Europe, or a National-Socialist Germany and a new order on our continent.
Alfred Rosenberg likened this turning point to those that ushered in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment: “today is again a turning point in the history of the world. At the beginning of the sixteenth century one began in Europe; at the end of the eighteenth century another set in, at the beginning of the twentieth century is again decline and rebirth.” According to Rosenberg, it was a rebirth into a “new synthesis of life,” not simply a new form of government but an inner spiritual transformation: “today we are inwardly experiencing a collapse, and we have a deep longing for a new form of life.”
The testimonials of the Old Guard clearly reflect a sense of living at a time that would bring either apocalypse or salvation. Jakob Hoffmann states that “I always believed a union of the best forces of Germany must bring about a turning point in order to save Germany from chaos.” Wilhelm Scherer remarked that he was happy to have been “able to contribute” to what he termed “a world-historical epoch.” Describing this epoch, he explained,A presentiment arose in me that only revolution must follow, like one that the glorious history of Germany had not yet experienced. Yes, like one world history had not yet, until now, produced. Germany put into effect a world turning point, brought about by our Führer, his movement, and many of our best who had sacrificed their sacred blood.
Heinrich Maxeiner exclaimed that “I, however, rejoiced that a benevolent fate had placed me in this great destiny and turning point of our Volk – to have allowed me to experience the striving and struggling for it.” Similarly, another minor Nazi states that “we are thankful to our Creator to be able to live in this age,” while yet another proclaimed that “the greatest fortune that could befall me was the circumstances that I was born into a time like no other.” Finally, Arno Belger, a local propaganda leader from Halle, described this “world turning point” in a language reflective of his role within the movement:An over-strained, spiritually hollow age drew to its close, as antiquated and decaying liberalistic social orders and forms collapsed into themselves. Europe breathed with difficulty under the stifling nightmare of that Uncertain yet Inescapable which was summoned by the shot at Sarajevo as a purifying bath of steel closed upon the civilized world, and so produced the pre-condition for the evolution of the new man of community.
This turning point marked the death of one age and a rebirth into a new age. Rosenberg’s notion that out of the collapse of civilization there is rebirth is a significant and recurrent element of Nazi millennialism. For many Nazis, the death of their world necessitated the birth of a new world. According to Hitler, it was the Nazis’ mission to help finish off the dying old world so that the new one could be born. As he explained to Otto Wagener,That is precisely the most profound secret of the entire revolution we are living through and whose leadership it is our mission to seize: that there has to be overthrow, demolition, destruction by force! The destruction must be meaningful not senseless, as under Bolshevism. And it can only become meaningful is we have understood the goal, the purpose, the necessity.
Hitler told Hermann Rauchning similarly, “They regard me as an uneducated barbarian. Yes, we are barbarians! It is an honourable title. We shall rejuvenate the world! This world is near its end. It is our mission to cause unrest.” While Rauschning and many later historians took such statements as proof of Hitler’s essential nihilism, he and they missed the central point that Hitler, like his beloved Richard Wagner, saw destruction as potentially regenerative, hastening the birth of the millennial Third Reich.
Rebirth symbolizes the psychological transformation that occurs when a new construction of reality replaces one that has collapsed, a function of the postconversion mentality that I discuss in the next chapter. Nazi rhetoric and propaganda reflected this psychological process in its presentation of contemporary times. A Völkischer Beobachter headline on February 26, 1930 stated plainly, “While the Volk Decays, A New Volk Arises Out of It.” Goebbels explained that “distress is the path to happiness. Disintegration and dissolution do not mean perishing but, rather, ascension and opening. Behind the noise of the day the strong powers of a new creation work in stillness.” Gregor Strasser noted that “in disaster the seed of the coming redemption is contained, and in death the seed of the coming life.” Rosenberg stated that “a new synthesis of state is arising from the collapse and chaos.” Ernst Röhm exclaimed that “the time in which we live, in which a world has collapsed in a roar and a young world struggles for life and light, will be designated by later generations as the birth of a New Age.” The Old Guard Nazi Karl Hepp described the Weimar period in a similar manner;A world was forever submerged, and there was something new in the Becoming. A spiritual unrest had seized the world and especially the German people, and permitted men to experience the labor pains of a New Age. I also was strongly possessed by the inner unrest of the New Age.