Angered by the burdensome terms of the Treaty of Versailles, Anton Drexler took matters into his own hands and founded what would eventually become the Nazi Party.
The decade following the First World War is generally associated with sparkling flappers and Gatsby-esque decadence. But in Germany there was a darker side beneath the glitz and glamour, where many such as Anton Drexler resented the postwar conditions that had been foisted upon them by the victors.
The now infamous Treaty of Versailles placed heavy burdens on postwar Germany’s economy, which was already struggling. Germany had virtually no say in the negotiations and was forced to accept the terms, which included ceding colonies and territories, as well as paying monetary reparations. As an added degradation, Germany was obliged to accept all blame for the war.
For the working men who had fought in the trenches and were now forced to pay their former enemies, this humiliation added to the struggle of providing for themselves in a weak economy was too much to bear.
Anton Drexler was one of these dissatisfied Germans and he would set off a chain of events that would consume the entire globe.
A locksmith, fervent nationalist, and a rabid anti-Semite, Drexler had not actually enlisted in the military during the war since he had been deemed unfit. Unable to serve his beloved Germany on the front lines, Drexler channeled his nationalist fervor by creating the new pro-war “Fatherland” political party in 1917. He later made another attempt at creating a party to support the war among the working class in 1918 called the Workers’ Committee for a Good Peace.
When there was no longer a war to support, Drexler turned his attention to the salvation of his struggling nation and formed the “German Workers’ Party” in 1919. The group did not have a set platform or political plan, and its members were only united by their “racist, anti-Semitic, nationalistic, anti-capitalist, and anti-Communist” ideas.
Although the Workers’ party had no economic answer to restore Germany to greatness, they believed that if they rooted out the Jewish, Bolshevik, and capitalistic conspiracies that they believed had undermined their country and caused them to lose the war, Germany would easily regain her former glory.
Anton Drexler believed winning over the working class was the key success for his cause, but despite his hopes of rallying the masses, attendance of early meetings was low. Although Drexler had been voted party chairman, he was a poor public speaker with a tendency to ramble. Only 10 people showed up to the party’s first public appearance in May of 1919.
By September 12 the same year, the party’s audience had grown to a mere 41 members. But it was one of the new members who came that night who would alter the future of the Workers’ party and the course of the entire world forever.
Adolf Hitler was lukewarm towards the Workers’ party after listening to what its members had to say that September, but he attracted their attention when he engaged in a debate with the speakers. Drexler was impressed by Hitler’s oratorical skill and invited him to join, taking the young former soldier under his wing. Hitler would eventually supplant his former mentor as chairman, but not before Drexler changed the name of the party to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.
The same oratorical skill that had so impressed Drexler would eventually draw crowds in the hundred of thousands, as Hitler seduced the working class according to plan and led his countrymen down a path that would eventually doom the nation. Under his leadership, this formerly ludicrous political party would set off the greatest conflict the world has ever known.
The man who started it all would be lost from history, having been overshadowed by the actions of his former pupil. Anton Drexler died in 1942, just as the party he had created was in the middle of leading Germany to another defeat in World War II.
Next, read about the lone brave sole who refused to salute Hitler. Then see these 44 photos revealing what life was like inside the Hitler Youth.