Thomas Weber (historian)

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Thomas Weber (born 29 April 1974) is a German-born history professor and university lecturer. Since 2013 he has been Professor of History and International Affairs at the University of Aberdeen.


  • More important than what I think about Hitler’s performance as a soldier during the war is what the other members of Hitler’s unit thought of him. A letter I found through serendipity in the US National Archives testifies that frontline soldiers in the trenches considered Hitler an Etappenschwein (‘rear area pig’), as they thought that, unlike them, he had landed a cushy job with regimental HQ a few miles behind the front. The reason this is so important is because it puts a lie to the orthodox view that Hitler was a typical product of his wartime unit.
    • Paul Lay, “Interview: Thomas Weber on Hitler's First War", History Today, 22nd September 2011, [1]

Hitler’s First War: Adolf Hitler, the Men of the List Regiment, and the First World War (2011)[edit]

Oxford, England, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011

  • [O]n surviving film footage of Eisner’s funeral we see Hitler with a few men from his unit walking behind Eisner’s coffin in the funeral procession of the Bavarian leader. We clearly see Hitler wearing two armbands: one black band to mourn the death of Eisner and the other a red armband in the colour of the Socialists revolution. Similarly, Hitler appears on one of Heinrich Hoffman’s photographs of the funeral process for Eisner.
    • p. 251
  • Perhaps surprisingly, once back in Munich, Hitler did not act in any way consistent with his later beliefs. In fact, his actions during the five months after his return to Bavaria did not show any consistency at all. They were full of contradictions and reveal a deeply disoriented man without a clear mental compass to steer him through the post-war world.
    • p. 250
  • Even two days after the Soviet Republic had been proclaimed, Hitler stood for election again, when the new regime conducted an election among Munich's soldier councils to ensure support for the Soviet Republic by Munich's military units. Hitler was now elected Deputy Battalion Representative and remained in the post for the entire lifespan of the Soviet Republic.
    • p. 251
  • Hitler’s undetermined political future becomes even less surprising if we bear in mind that the intellectual origins of Fascism share central tenets with the non-Marxist Left. According to one argument, despite its eventual collision with the conservative Right once Fascism tried to come to power, early Fascism had been in its promise, rather than in its eventual application, more socialist than capitalist, more plebeian than bourgeois.
    • p. 253

Becoming Hitler: The Making of a Nazi (2017)[edit]

New York, NY, Basic Books, 2017

  • In the late 1918 and early 1919, the primary challenge to the establishment of liberal democracy in Germany did not emanate from the right. It came from the left.
    • p. 31
  • The new regime was headed by Ernst Niekisch, a left-wing Social Democrat and teacher from Augsburg in Swabia. His ascendancy to power in Bavaria signaled a clear move away from a process of democratization compatible with Western-style parliamentary democracy. He was a supporter of National Bolshevism, a political movement that rejected the internationalism of Bolshevism but, other than that, believed in Bolshevism.
    • p. 38
  • Hitler was picked as the representative of the men in his company. He now held a position that existed to serve, support, and sustain the left-wing revolutionary regime. Hitler’s task was to help facilitate the smooth running of the regiment. If we can believe an article published in March 1923 in the Münchener Post—a partisan Social Democratic newspaper but one that was generally well informed about the nascent National Socialist movement—his responsibilities eventually went further than that. According to the article, he also acted as a go-between with the propaganda department of this regiment and the revolutionary regime. The article claimed that Hitler took an active role in the work of the department, giving talks and made the case for the republic.
    • p. 40
  • Soldiers in Munich had been oscillating between supporting the moderate left, that is, the SPD, and the radical left in its different incarnations, not between left-wing and right-wing ideology. After all, more than 90 percent of soldiers in Hitler’s unit had voted for either the moderate or the radical left in the Bavarian elections in January [1919].
    • p. 42
  • On April 12, 1919, Ernst Schmidt decided it was time to leave the army. His friend Hitler, by contrast, chose to stay. This was an active decision on the part of the future right-wing dictator of Germany to serve a regime that at the time pledged allegiance to Moscow.
    • p. 45
  • Hitler stayed on even when, on April 13, Palm Sunday, the revolution devoured its children, as the most radical regime yet, a new and more hard-core Soviet Republic headed by Communists, was established in Munich. Its government, the Vollzugsrat, had a direct line of communication to the Soviet leadership in Moscow and in Budapest. Encoded telegrams went back and forth between Russia’s capital and Munich. In fact, in the person of Towia Axelrod, Lenin and his fellow Bolshevik leaders in Moscow even had one of their own men on the Vollzugsrat, through whom they could directly influence the decisions made by the Munich Soviet Republic.
    • pp. 46-47
  • Rudolf Hess, Hitler's future deputy, who recently had moved to Munich and now lived in Elisabethstraße, close to the barracks in which Hitler resided at the time, did not think that the Soviet Republic was something worth getting upset about... Hess wrote to his parents on April 23. 'I have not experienced any unrest at all. Yesterday we had an orderly march with red flags, nothing else out of the ordinary.'
    • p. 47
  • Rather than withdraw, as many others did, Hitler decided to continue his involvement with the Communist regime and run for election again. Having proven himself since his election as Vertrauensmann, he now ran to become Bataillons-Rat—the representative of his company, the Second Demobilization Company, on the council of his battalion. When the election results were published the following day, he learned that he had secured the second-highest number of votes, 19, compared to the 39 of the winner, meaning he had been elected to being the Erstaz-Bataillons-Rat (deputy battalion councilor) of his unit.
    • p. 49
  • Whatever his inner thoughts and intentions, Hitler now had to serve as a representative of his unit within the new Soviet regime. By his willingness to run for office as Bataillons-Rat, he had become even more significant cog in the machine of Socialism than previously had been the case. Hitler’s actions helped sustain the Soviet Republic.
    • pp. 49-50
  • We do know that Hitler spent his birthday wearing a red armband, which all soldiers in Munich were required to wear. We also know that on April 20, during the daily roll call of his unit, he had to announce, as he did every day, the latest decrees and announcements of the Soviet rulers of Munich, which had been conveyed to the regiment through its propaganda department.
    • pp. 50-51
  • In theory, all Munich-based military units and thus Hitler’s regiment, too, were part of the Red Army. In that sense, Hitler served in the Red Army. In reality, however, most regiments neither actively supported the Soviet regime nor opposed it.
    • p. 52
  • As the rope tightened around the neck of the Soviet Republic in late April, life for any real or perceived counterrevolutionaries left in Munich grew very dangerous indeed. For instance, on April 29 and the following day, revolutionaries showed up at the neoclassical palace on Brienner Straße that housed the papal nunciature, entering the building and threatening the nuncio, Eugenio Pacelli, with guns, daggers and even hand grenades. Pacelli was hit so hard in his chest with a revolver that it deformed the cross that he carried on a chain around his neck. The attack on the future Pope Pius XII was not the only reported case of aborted action taken against real or perceived adversaries of the Soviet Union.
    • p. 53
  • On April 27, the troops that Hoffmann and Noske had amassed—a formidable force of thirty thousand men—crossed into Bavaria… On the following day, mass desertion in the Red Army set in. Hitler, however, did not defect. Furthermore a sufficiently large number of men stayed behind for Rudolf Egelhofer to organize a last stand.
    • pp. 54-55
  • The Freikorps movement was surprisingly heterogeneous... The 158 Jews members of Bavarian Freikorps amounted to about 0.5 percent of the members of the Bavarian Freikorps movement. This was a figure not out of proportion with the overall ratio of Jews among the Bavarian population,…
    • pp. 61-62
  • The question is not whether Hitler supported the left during the revolution, which he clearly did, but what kind of left-wing ideas and groups he supported or at least accepted. As Hitler served all left-wing regimes during all phases of the revolution until the end, he obviously accepted all of them or at least acquiesced to them for reasons of expediency.
    • p. 64
  • Being that soldiers, who overwhelmingly had voted for the SPD in the Bavarian elections in January 1919, had elected Hitler as their representative, that Hitler’s closest companion during the revolution had been a member of an SPD-affiliated union; and that the SPD under Erhard Auer had stood against international socialism and cooperated on many an occasion with conservative and centrist groups, one thing is quite clear: Hitler had stood close to the SPD but either had missed the opportunity or lacked the willpower to jump ship after the establishment of the second Soviet Republic.
    • pp. 64-65
  • Auer, himself, also claimed that Hitler had held sympathies for the SPD during the winter and spring of 1919. In a 1923 article Auer wrote for the Münchener Post , he stated that Hitler ‘due to his beliefs was regarded as a Majority Socialist [Mehrheitssozialist] in the circles of the Propaganda Department and claimed to be one, like so many others; but he was never politically active or a member of a trade union.
    • Thomas Weber, Becoming Hitler: The Making of a Nazi, Basic Books, 2017, p. 65
  • At his military HQ [Hitler] would be recorded as saying on February 1, 1942, ‘The only problem for the Social Democrats at the time was that they did not have a leader.’
    • p. 65
  • Konrad Heiden, a Social Democrat writer with a Jewish mother who came to Munich as a student in 1920 and after graduation started to work as a Munich correspondent of the liberal Frankurter Zeitung would report in 1930 that Hitler had supported the SPD and had even talked about joining the party.
    • p. 66
  • Hitler himself would imply that he had had Social Democratic leanings in the past when he told some of his fellow National Socialists in 1921, ‘Everybody was a Social Democrat once.’
    • p. 66
  • When [Friedrich] Krohn and Hitler first met around the time that Hitler first attended a meeting of what was to become the Nazi Party, Hitler told him that he favored a ‘socialism’ that took the form of a ‘national Social Democracy’ that was loyal to the state, not dissimilar to that of Scandinavia, England, and prewar Bavaria.
    • pp. 66-67
  • The dividing line in military units based in Munch during the time of the Soviet Republic ran not between the left and the right, but between the radical left and the moderate left, which puts Hitler on the moderate left.
    • p. 67
  • It is certainly true that Hitler returned from the war as a man without a compass and embarked on a path of self-discovery. Yet opportunism and expediency and vague political idea coexisted and at times competed with each other, within Hitler.
    • p. 67
  • Yet Hitler managed not to get caught up in the violence directed against real and imagined supporters of the Munich Soviet Republic. According to his friend Ernst Schmidt, he was released again from captivity through the intervention of an officer, who encountered him in the wake of his arrest and who knew him from the front.
    • p. 70
  • Exploiting the fears among Munich’s new rulers about a repeat of the Munich Soviet Republic, [Hitler] volunteered to become an informant for the new masters of the city. By becoming a turncoat, he managed against all odds, not only to escape decommissioning and thus to escape an uncertain future, but also to emerge strengthened from a situation that otherwise might have resulted in deportation to his native Austria, imprisonment, or even death.
    • p. 72
  • [Hitler] now informed on his own regimental peers. In testimony given to the board, Hitler implicated, for instance Josef Seihs, his predecessor as Vertrauensmann of his company, as well as Georg Duffer, the former chair of the Battalion Council of the Demobilization Battalion, for having recruited members of the regiment into joining the Red Army: ‘Duffer was the regiment’s worst and most radical rabble-rouser,’ Hitler would state when giving testimony on May 23 in a court case that had been triggered by the investigation of the board on which he, himself, had serviced.
    • p. 73
  • In becoming a turncoat, Hitler was far from unique. In fact, at the time Munich was full of turncoats. For example, some former members of the Red Army joined the Freikorps.
    • p. 73
  • ‘On May 3, 1919, 6 months after the revolution, Hitler said he was in favor of majoritarian democracy at a meeting of members of the 2nd Infantry Regiment in the regimental canteen on Oberwiesenfeld.’ The testimony states that the meeting had been called to discuss who should become the new commander of the regiment, adding that Hitler identified himself ‘as a supporter of Social Democracy [Mehrheitssozialdemokratie; i.e. the SPD], albeit with some reservations.’
    • p. 75
  • As Hitler sat down in the Leiberzimmer to listen to the proceedings, he was surrounded by memorabilia for veterans… Yet on the evening of September 12, [1919] the room was not filled with veterans of the regiment but with some forty to eighty DAP sympathizers who came to listen to the guest speaker of the evening. The speaker was Gottfried Feder, who—just as he had done during Hitler’s propaganda course—gave a talk on his signature topic, the ills of capitalism. This was Feder’s sixteenth talk of the year but the first time that he addressed the DAP. The title of his talk was ‘How and By What Means Can Capitalism Be Eliminated?’
    • p. 112

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Thomas Watson had written a fine if difficult to read book about Hitler's activities from the end of WWI to about 1923 in Munich during which time he became a Nazi and antisemite. The only qualification I have is that he is far too sympathetic to Catholicism in Bavaria as if it were better than Catholicism elsewhere. It wasn't. It quickly got Nazified.