More than twenty years after the Second World War, Otto Strasser was the only living witness who could explain the rise of National Socialism in Germany, since he and his brother were the main promoters of the movement together with the “Führer”, with whom they had a more than familiar treatment.
When this interview was published in the Buenos Aires magazine “Planeta”, more than twenty years had passed since Hitler’s death and the end of the Second World War. The crimes of Nazi Germany, the collapse of the Third Reich, the 80 million dead, and the post-war misery were far away. The country had experienced its particular “miracle” and had already established itself as the leading economic power in Europe, so the standard of living on both sides of the Berlin Wall was acceptable.
The interviewee, for his part, was still alive to count it at 70 years old. And the truth is that there were few witnesses like him to explain first-hand how the rise of Nazism had occurred in Germany since he was one of its main promoters along with Hitler. We are talking about Otto Strasser, the leader of that famous “fascist left” who, with the help of his brother Gregor, was about to steal the leadership of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) from the future dictator and, according to many historians, even to become in the country’s chancellor instead of this one. Would war and genocide have been unleashed if he had won his particular battle against comrade Adolf within the Nazi party?
The influence of the Strasser brothers was so great in shaping German National Socialism that Otto used to boast that it was his brother Gregor who, in 1924, suggested that Hitler write his memoirs. He said disparagingly that the only goal was to keep Adolf entertained and free his fellow prisoners in Landsberg from having to listen to his “endless monologues.” The latter, however, loved the idea and got to work immediately. And to the chagrin of the Strasser, according to the famous biography of the dictator written by Ian Kershaw, “they must have suffered a bitter disappointment when he began to read daily what he had written to a literally captive audience.”
The gestation of “Mein Kampf” (My Struggle), therefore, began under the influence of the interviewee, who was part of the first organizations to adopt the swastika in Germany and joined the Freikorps, a paramilitary and fascist organization that sowed the terror throughout the country, before joining the Nazi party shortly after its creation. He and his brother soon became the leaders of the formation together with Hitler, with whom they divided the country to extend their influence: these in the north and west, especially in Berlin, and the future dictator in the south and east.
The fight between Otto Strasser and Hitler
Then came the differences and the attacks and Hitler began to see his leadership threatened, which is why he was separating the Strasser from the most relevant positions of the party. The brothers, however, never stopped trying to turn Nazism towards more socialist positions. An example of this is the discussion that Otto had with him, in Berlin, as a result of a critical article that he had published, in which he established the difference between the ideal, which is eternal, and the leader, who is only his servant.
According to Alan Bullock in “Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives” (Kailas, 2016), these were Hitler’s words: “All of this is nothing but nonsense. Deep down you are not saying anything other than giving all party members the right to decide what the ideal should be, even to decide whether or not the leader is faithful to the ideal calling. That is democracy of the worst kind and there is no place among us for such conceptions. For us, the leader and the ideal are one and the same thing, and every member of the party must do what the leader commands. You yourself were a soldier … And I ask you: are you willing to submit to this discipline or not? ».
Otto Strasser replied: “You intend to strangle the social revolution for the sake of legality and your new collaboration with the right-wing bourgeois parties.” And the future dictator was furious at his insinuation: ‘I am a socialist, and a socialist of a very different nature from your rich friend the Earl of Reventlow. In other times I was an ordinary working man. I would never allow my driver to eat worse than me. What you understand by socialism is nothing other than Marxism. And now look at what I tell you: the only thing the mass of workers wants is bread and circuses. He does not understand anything about ideals. We can never win over the workers by appealing to them. ‘
The conversation resumed the following day in the presence of Gregor Strasser and Rudolf Hess, in which Otto spoke out for the nationalization of industry and Hitler replied with contempt: “Democracy has left the world in ruins and yet now you intend to extend that to the economic sphere. It would be the end of the German economy. The capitalists have made their way to the top thanks to their ability, and on the basis of that selection, which is further proof that they are a superior race, they have the right to command and direct.
Two months after that dispute, at the end of June 1930, Hitler instructed Goebbels that his main opponent be expelled from the party along with his followers. He accused him of conspiracy and alliance with Judaism and had to flee the country, stumbling through Austria, Portugal, the United States, Canada, or Czechoslovakia, where he was the victim of several assassination attempts by the Gestapo. His brother suffered worse luck since he was arrested and assassinated by the SS in the famous Night of the Long Knives of 1934. But Otto was able to return to Germany as soon as the Second World War ended. And in July 1967, the Russian journalist and writer Victor Alexandrov had the opportunity to interview him at his home in Munich. And this was the unusual and revealing talk:
“You are generally considered the” brain of National Socialism. ” Do you agree?
Yes and no. I agree if we understand by this that I tried to shape the obscure concept of National Socialism and use it according to economic and political data. I always did, guided by my education and my way of thinking. First, with what was called the “Bamberg Program” and, later, in my “Fourteen Theses on the German Revolution”, which appeared in 1930. This work was precisely the main reason for my rivalry with Hitler, beyond a reciprocal animosity, since he insisted on not having any program and, even less, anti-capitalist. In this way, he wanted to obtain the support of the powerful that he needed to take power. That is why he did everything he could, especially after the coup of November 9, 1923 [the Munich Putsch], not to provoke capitalism, the army, and the bureaucracy. In that sense, I was not the “brain of National Socialism” as Hitler developed it.
“When and where did you meet Hitler?”
“In the autumn of 1920, when I was a student at the Berlin University of Economics and Jurisprudence.” My brother Gregor, then a pharmacist in Landshut, invited me to his home one day to meet two important people. At that time, my brother was already head of the Lower Bavarian Free Corps, one of the many paramilitary organizations opposed to the Versailles treaty that was to be signed. His assistant was Heinrich Himmler, who was in charge of gathering the dispersed members of the organization and the weapons, to keep them in good condition. I went to Landshut and there my brother informed me that he was waiting for General Ludendorff and one Adolf Hitler. Ludendorff wanted to start the regrouping of all the paramilitary associations and to that end, he was going to talk to my brother, so that he would place his group under his orders. Hitler, who was his “political adviser,” would accompany him, because they believed that, without political training, no coup would be successful. Hitler had to take on this task since his public meetings already had a large audience.
“What impression did Hitler make on you?”
‘When they arrived by car, General Ludendorff impressed me deeply and corresponded exactly with what I had imagined. Hitler, on the other hand, was disagreeable to me because of the servility he showed in the general’s presence. He showered him with attentions like a hotel maitre d ‘to an upscale guest. When she spoke to him, all her sentences began and ended with “of course, your excellence,” accompanied by a more or less hinted bow. That attitude would have been shocking to me by now had I been wearing a uniform, but in civilian clothes, it was doubly unpleasant. Ludendorff, on the other hand, despite wearing a military uniform, spoke simply and naturally and listened with interest to all suggestions.
“What was your political position at that time?”
“I was still a member of the Social Democratic Party.” Hitler, who had learned about me before our interview, attacked me immediately. “Is it true that you took up arms in March against the national coup and therefore against His Excellency Ludendorff?” He asked me sharply. And I replied: «Yes, and I also did it the previous year against the power of the Bavarian Council, because I oppose any dictatorship, be it red or brown. Furthermore, I am convinced that the national resurgence can only be achieved with the banner of socialism and not with that of capitalism and reaction. And although the coup plotters were nationalists, they were also reactionary and capitalist. Ludendorff agreed with me: ‘They were all old reactionaries. When I noticed it, I immediately abandoned them and disassociated myself from their attempt. So I asked Hitler to tell me what was the program of his new party, which was called the National Socialist Workers’ Party, but to no avail. When he said goodbye, Hitler addressed my brother: “With you I would have understood easily, but your brother is a Marxist and an intellectual. It is difficult to agree with these people.
What was your overall impression and what were the consequences of that interview?
“My impression was totally negative.” Hitler could not pinpoint his thinking and either lacked a clear plan, or did not want to reveal it. In my opinion, at that time and after, Hitler did not have a political program, he just wanted power, just that. Any program that brought him to power would have suited him. His intuition made him understand that the union of nationalism and socialism, the two forces of the 20th century, were the path that would lead him to power.
Do you consider then that Hitler did not believe in any political concept?
“Yes, he believed in anti-Semitism, if we can call that a political concept.”
“When and where did you see Hitler again?”
“My brother joined the Nazi party and I left the Social Democratic party.” So I stayed out of politics, passed my doctorate, and joined the Berlin Ministry of Supply and Agriculture as an informant. On November 9, 1923, Hitler’s coup occurred. My brother was arrested and sentenced with Ludendorff and Hitler, but in 1924 he was released when he was elected deputy in the Diet of Bavaria. Hitler remained in Landsberg prison and Ludendorff was acquitted. Moreover, after Hitler’s withdrawal from German political life, Ludendorff and my brother took over the political leadership of the party, much to their displeasure. At that time my brother asked for my collaboration, in his capacity as political advisor, to make the NSDAP a true National Socialist party, with a clear and effective program. I joined the party then, but without Hitler, and we founded the “National Socialist Letters” and appointed Joseph Goebbels, former member of the German People’s Freedom Party, editor-in-chief. He received a small monthly salary as Gregor’s private secretary, the first money young Goebbels earned regularly.
“How did Hitler get back on the scene?”
Through a series of influences not yet clarified. According to the investigations of historians, Hitler would have been released in a totally unexpected way and even allowed him to resume his political activity, even if he was always a foreigner and despite having been sentenced to several years precisely for his political activities. Prussia issued an arrest warrant and prohibited her from residing on its territory and speaking in public, so that two-thirds of Germany was inaccessible to her. My brother took advantage of this situation to call a meeting in Hannover to establish a community with all the workers of northern Germany. The “National Socialist Letters” would be for them an organ of political formation and would serve to expand and disseminate the action. In Berlin we founded the “Ediciones Combate” and, as I was supposed to take over the leadership, I agreed to continue my collaboration, but made the adoption of a defined program a condition, which I developed together with my brother and became known as the “Bamberg Program”. This was approved by the Hannover assembly. Thus, while Hitler reigned in the south of Germany, in the north my brother had the party firmly in his hands. Goebbels and I secure intellectual support. Hitler took the initiative during a party meeting in Bamberg in the spring of 1926 to try to obtain by force a final choice between “Hitlerism” and “Strasserism.” This had no other consequence than the entry of Goebbels into the Hitler sector, which had the advantage of being the richest.
“How were your relations with Hitler?”
After the meeting in Bamberg, Hitler’s antipathy for me increased when Goebbels told him that in Hannover I had taken a stand against anti-Semitism in Munich. But Hitler knew very well that as long as his exile from northern Germany lasted, he could do nothing without my brother, and he tried to strengthen his ties with him. In fact, he was the godfather of my brother’s twins, he assiduously frequented his house, and on the occasion of my father’s death, he gave a funeral address at my family’s house, so that between 1925 and 1930 I had numerous interviews with he. This is important, because there is a difference between having met a man in private early on and seeing him in power. Along with Rudolf Hess, I am the only man alive who knew Hitler in his early days and in a very restricted circle.
“And what is your final judgment about Hitler’s personality?”
“It exactly matches my first impression of 1920. Hitler’s Austrian charm and equally controlled outbursts of rage were as irresistible as his superhuman will.” Thanks to his power of intuition, based precisely on his ignorance, Hitler disoriented the weak and the strong alike, and then unscrupulously exploited those vulnerable points, to win his interlocutor to his cause or to intimidate him, depending on the importance that attributed to him. His willpower, which exceeded human dimensions, was also increased by his lack of culture and knowledge, thus becoming the decisive weapon of his inordinate ambition. That indomitable ambition, an unusual will, a total lack of moral principles, and his power of intuition were the ingredients of that explosive mixture that, when launched in the middle of the post-war revolutionary situation in both Germany and Europe, had the fatal effect that we all know.
“At what time did you have frequent opportunities to converse alone with Hitler?”
“In the first years after your release.” Hitler was frequently a guest of my brother in Landshut and of my parents in Dinge. During these private and non-protocol meetings, he could somehow get out of himself. Hitler expressed himself very differently when he was in front of a large audience than when he attended a small gathering, for he feared criticism. In this case, when he spoke of politics, he always limited himself to generalities, avoided referring to any problem with precision, and diverted the conversation to the field of art.
“Can you describe a day that you spent in the company of Hitler?”
With pleasure. In Dingensbüttel in 1926, while visiting my grandparents’ house, we went to look for him after breakfast to visit the city. He immediately began to expose his projects to modify his appearance. His hatred was especially directed against the flat roofs, which he claimed were Jewish-inspired. Recalling the visits the emperors made to the city, he lashed out at the Jewish bankers and moneylenders, among whom Fugger was, according to him, the typical Jewish representative, and with a slight wave of his hand he rejected my objection that it was not Jewish. Hitler disliked any rectification or correction, especially if evidence was presented. He liked to talk alone and called discussions “intellectual games”. In the afternoon, at coffee time, Hitler limited himself to talking about art or political works that coincided with his own conceptions. I remember a long conversation about Machiavelli. From his work, he deduced that all men are bad and that a chief should take César Borgia as a model.
This 1926 conversation seems very important to me in light of the events of June 30, 1934 [the Night of the Long Knives in which his brother was assassinated], because when I condemned the cowardly murder of his generals by Borgia, Hitler defended it, considering it his greatest political feat. He stated that a boss must be willing to separate from his first-time colleagues if they represent an obstacle to his goal. In “Mein Kampf” (My Struggle), Hitler confesses to having read only books that confirmed his own convictions. He was looking for arguments for his sick imagination. Hess and his driver Schaub were almost always with him. He wore a light raincoat over his riding clothes and boots and did not detach from his riding crop. During the night, some notables from the city visited him and Hitler explained his plans for the transformation of Munich. He was the most humorless man I have ever met. He detested comic tales, card games, and gallant conversations. He always went to bed at ten at night. It was an interesting phenomenon, of extraordinary magnetism. I have seen many people who were totally hostile to him become completely enthusiastic about him after ten minutes because Hitler saw his weaknesses and knew how to flatter him.
What is your opinion about Hitler’s attitude towards women, based precisely on his personal and intimate knowledge?
“Hitler had nothing to do with women!” That was one of the reasons for her instinctive mistrust of him. Anyone who does not like women, does not drink wine, and prides himself on not smoking or eating meat, is suspicious at first glance. My life experience has taught me that it is wise to beware of these kinds of men. Often times, they compensate for those feelings of frustration in unfortunate ways: sexual anomalies, cruelty, bloodthirsty desires, and a boundless disregard for life. And Hitler hated women. Whether it was a congenital deficiency or an unhappy experience I do not know, but it is entirely true that Hitler was powerless and that, as a result, he had generated hatred for very virile women and men. However, despite considering women objects capable of allowing him to achieve his ends, such as winning the will of certain men, he revered them as mothers.
“Was it also like that with your niece Geli Raubal?” Did you know her? What do you know about her death?
Everything said before is also valid for the relationship he had with his stepsister’s daughter, whom I knew very well. I frequented her long enough to arouse Hitler jealousy, for there is no doubt that Hitler was in love with his niece. He did not love her as an uncle, but that love took on a morbid character. He kept Geli prisoner, locked her in her room not only at night, but also during the day. She lived in his house, so he kept a constant watch on her. When she went out, she made a man she trusted follow her. He bullied her so much that she asked me to get her permission to settle in Berlin through my brother.
“And her death?”
“It is also a chapter that was never clarified, and whose secret could perhaps be found in the archives of the Bavarian Government. Geli was found shot to death in her room and Hitler spread the news that “she had committed suicide out of desperation for love.” In the party hierarchy, the rumor that it was Hitler himself who had murdered her in a jealousy crisis to which there were several witnesses could never be dispelled. According to this version, Hitler would have learned of a letter in which Geli confessed to being pregnant, which would have prompted Hitler to kill her.
“Was Hitler prone to sadism?”
Undoubtedly. For example, he liked to have films recorded on him projected during executions.
“What executions do you mean?”
“The Sosnowski spy case in Berlin, for example, culminated in the beheading of Baroness von Berg in Plotzensee.” Well, Hitler had the recording of that beheading shown several times. The executions that followed the dismemberment of the resistance movement on July 20 were also one of his favorite films.
“What are the lesser-known episodes in Hitler’s life?”
The darkest chapter is that of its origins. It is known that Hitler’s father was the illegitimate child of Miss Maria Schicklgruber, who worked as a maid for a single Jew, who would have made him pregnant. Therefore, Hitler’s father was half Jewish. It is easy to understand that Hitler himself did everything possible to hide it, but the attitude of his German and foreign adversaries is less understandable, who could not ignore this fact. It is surprising that they have never talked about it. If Hitler’s Jewish ancestry had been revealed, it would have definitely ended his myth.
“How did Hitler write” My Struggle “?
“To say he wrote it is inaccurate.” He related his youthful adventures and ideas to his cellmate Rudolf Hess, who wrote them down. As Hitler paced the length of the cell, incoherently and vaguely evoking his memories, Hess busied himself taking note of them. After leaving Landsberg, Hess shared the manuscript with Gottfried Feder, one of the editors of the famous “25 points.” The latter completed it and then sent it, for a final correction, to Father Stenzler, editor-in-chief of a prestigious nationalist newspaper, the ‘Miesbacher Anzeiger’, who described his style as very bad and deleted numerous passages to Hitler’s chagrin. Father Stenzler was assassinated by the SS on June 30, 1930, and a rumor spread that his criticism of “My Struggle” had influenced its tragic end.
“Is it true that you and your Black Front used the real first underground station in Germany?”
Yes. As early as 1934, five years before the war, I had already conceived the project of broadcasting my propaganda against Hitler in the country through a short-wave transmitter. To the fury of Hitler and his acolytes, every night and for long hours, a river of truth poured over Germany, especially after the “Night of the Long Knives” of June 30, 1934. Finally, Hitler commissioned his super-assassin Heydrich to put an end to the Black Front transmitter and bring Formis and me to Germany, dead or alive. He didn’t find me, but he did discover the transmitter in our hiding place at the Zahorcy Hotel in Prague. And he also murdered my friend Formis.
In the November 23, 1939 edition of the ‘Völkische Beobachter’ [official newspaper of the German National Socialist Workers’ Party from 1920 to 1945], it was said that you had prepared a plot against Hitler with the collaboration of the English secret services. The indictment mentioned that you tried to assassinate him in 1936, during the Berlin Olympics, after a Party meeting in Nuremberg; also during the visit of Mussolini in 1937 and that, in May 1938, he had an explosive device transported to Dresden for the same purpose. It is true?
“As you can see, the Nazis always had confidence in me!” I will answer objectively: I consider that tyrannicide is a legitimate means of a subject people to regain their freedom. And Hitler began by reducing the German people to slavery and then throwing them into the abyss of total war, that is, of total destruction. It would have been a great luck to be able to eliminate Hitler before that cataclysm occurred. Imagine how this tyrannicide would have prevented Germany and all humanity … But the truth is that, apart from a personal attack on Hitler carried out by a group of the SA, who spoke to me in Prague to prepare him in revenge for the murder of Ernst Julius Günther Röhm [co-founder and commander-in-chief of the SA] in 1934, I only organized the bomb attack against the newspaper ‘Der Stürmer’. Unfortunately, I had to abort these attempts, because someone betrayed us and three companions [Hirsch, Kremin and Dopkin] were hanged by Hitler’s executioner. They all knew that the fight for freedom required sacrifices, but also that the goal was to avoid war.
“Do you think that now, in 1967, there could be a new Hitler in Germany?”
“I don’t think so, I’m sure!” Why? Because today there are the same problems of a new economic and political order as in the past, in the time of the Weimar Republic. This makes the appearance of a new Hitler objectively possible. These problems were not solved by Hitler, nor by the victorious powers nor by Bonn. And as long as these problems, to which the unification of Germany is now added, persist, internal tensions will lead to attempts at a solution, as has happened in the past, and the spirit of the German people will allow them to overcome the “fascist solution.”
“Is there a candidate for the role of Hitler II?”
“It should be noted that Hitler II will be as little like Hitler as Napoleon III does Napoleon I. Obviously, he must have been a member of the Nazi Party, but without having played an active role in the persecution of the Jews.” He must have been close enough to Hitler to benefit from the stamp of legitimacy, but at the same time far enough away not to be contaminated by the foul odor of cremation ovens. He must be a convinced capitalist, but also speak eloquently of social justice. He must be Catholic, but without a spectacular attachment to the Church, and have a certain charm on television that is essential for this form of “demagogic dictatorship.” He must be pro-American, while still being nice to de Gaulle and avoiding holding opinions directed against Moscow. In addition, it must be nice to the people and harmless to people who have some influence in Parliament.
“How can you explain that you have not received any compensation for having fought Hitler, while Mme. Goering and Heydrich receive a pension from the Government of Bonn?”
‘You have put your finger on one of the paradoxes of the’ spirit of Bonn ‘. Men like Professor Nikisch and I were never recognized as “victims of Nazism,” while recognized Nazis retain their positions or receive high pensions in reparation. But remember that it was a man like Schroeder, the current Bonn foreign minister, who in his time was Hitler’s agent in the legal section of the SA, who dealt with the decree that deprived Hitler of his rights as Minister of the Interior. citizens. The same one who declared me an “undesirable foreigner” and who ordered that I not benefit from German nationality. I had to fight a five-year battle against Bonn to finally regain my nationality and the right to return to my country, but after six trials, Bonn continues to deny me compensation. So no compensation or reparation, that’s the spirit of Bonn at its best.