How Did Hitler Rise to Power? : New TED-ED Animation Provides a Case Study in How Fascists Get Democratically Elected

How does one rise to public office? In part, by flattering the sensibilities of those one seeks to serve.

Do you appeal to their higher nature, their sense of civic responsibility and interconnectness?

Or do you capitalize on pre-existing biases, stoking already simmering fears and resentments to the boiling point?

The world paid a ghastly price when Germany’s Chancellor and eventual Führer Adolf Hitler proved himself a master of the latter approach.

It seems like we’ve been hearing about Hitler’s rise to power a lot lately... and not in anticipation of the fast-approaching 80th anniversary of the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.

We must always resist the temptation to oversimplify history, especially when doing so serves our own ends. There are way too many contributing factors to Hitler's ascendancy to squeeze into a five minute animation.

On the other hand, you can’t dump a ton of information on people’s heads and expect them to absorb it all in one sitting. You have to start somewhere.

TED-Ed lesson planners Alex Gendler and Anthony Hazard, in collaboration with the Uncle Ginger animation studio, offer a very cogent explanation of how “a tyrant who orchestrated one of the largest genocides in history” achieved such a calamitously powerful position. All in a democratic fashion.

When viewers have more than five minutes to devote to the subject, they can delve into additional resources and participate in discussions on the subject.

The video doesn’t touch on Hitler’s mental illness or the particulars of Weimar era political structures, but even viewers with limited historical context will walk away from it with an understanding that Hitler was a master at exploiting the German majority’s mood in the wake of WWI. (A 1933 census shows that Jews made up less than one percent of the total population.)

Hitler’s reputation as a charismatic speaker is difficult to accept, given hindsight, modern sensibilities, and the herky-jerky quality of archival footage. He seems unhinged. How could the crowds not see it?

Perhaps they could, Gendler and Hazard suggest. They just didn't want to. Businessmen and intellectuals, wanting to back a winner, rationalized that his more monstrous rhetoric was “only for show.”

Quite an attention-getting show, as it turns out.

Could it happen again?  Gendler and Hazard, like all good educators, present students with the facts, then open the floor for discussion.

Related Content:

Rare 1940 Audio: Thomas Mann Explains the Nazis’ Ulterior Motive for Spreading Anti-Semitism

How Jazz-Loving Teenagers–the Swingjugend–Fought the Hitler Youth and Resisted Conformity in Nazi Germany

Noam Chomsky on Whether the Rise of Trump Resembles the Rise of Fascism in 1930s Germany

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday


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  • Charlene says:

    The lesson leaves the viewer with the feeling that anti-semitism was a recent product of Germany’s defeat in WWI; whereas anti-semitism is endemic in Europe and reaches back hundreds of years before Hitler.
    The lesson came across to me as a cautionary tale for Trump supporters, and I think that is the intention. Now how about a cautionary story of how Lenin rose to power!? Nazism is long gone, but Communism marches on. Feel the Bern?

  • AB says:

    “We must always resist the temptation to oversimplify history, especially when doing so serves our own ends.”

    Indeed!

    “A public man has no right to let his actions be determined by particular interests. He does the same thing as a judge who accepts a bribe. Like a judge he must consider what is right, not what is advantageous to a party or class.” -Lord Acton

  • James K. Lambert says:

    Not bad. You might like to check out my documentary, You don’t know Hitler (2006) https://youtu.be/7P73DZyS4Dg

  • Richard says:

    “Nazism is long gone?” Really? I assure you it is still alive from skin heads in Europe to uniform wearing, swastika flag hanging folks right here in America.

  • E. Besemer says:

    A cautionary tale for those who need to be cautioned. The anger, fear and hatred that Trump is fomenting in this country are terrifying. I have been worried that something like this could happen in the U.S. for a while. Seeing someone like Trump gaining power, and access to such tools as are available to those in power, I am quite worried about the potential for a racist ideology to take over the mainstream population.

    As with Hitler and the Nazis, it would be less about actually supporting or embracing the so-called fringe ideas as it would be about downplaying them to support a populist and seemingly “conservative” rise.

    The man is dangerous not because of his lack of experience as much as his lack of control. He says whatever comes to his mind, whenever it happens and cares no one whit for the consequences.

    In fact, Trump cares for no one or no thing but himself. He is the ultimate representation of the “Me” generation and the damage that this kind of thinking can do. He is a sad little man, but one who, with his gaining popularity, frightens me.

  • Diana Nadanyi says:

    It is amazing how just a few people in advantageous positions can cause enormous harm without people realizing how they are being manipulated. Gingrich as a political operative in the 70’s turning Republican fiscal conservative into tax cutting and spending fools with his two Santa Clause strategy. Then in the 80’s and 90’s with his list of combative words to use. Then all we needed was FOX and here again Giuliani used unethical means as mayor of NYC to get this obomination on the air. And the scandal they cut their teeth was Whitewater. Just takes a few unpatriotic narcissistic greedy people to create the backstory for Trump. God help the USA.

  • PS says:

    He wasn´t democratically elected. he took power after the death of Germany´s president by blocking the parliament.

  • David Martin says:

    I think it cannot be conveyed enough that a deal of Hitler’s appeal came from the conservative German’s fear of Communism. When you couple that with Hitler’s successful strategy of making the Nazis appear to be savior against the Red movement in Germany, rise to power is not difficult to understand. Likewise, as Hitler and the Nazis managed to link Bolshevism with Judaism, this opened the floodgates for the anti-Semitic policies that followed. Regrettably, ignorance seems to breed even within a democratic nation, so Americans need to read more and play less. They need to pay attention and learn from history.

  • minna says:

    Suppose you might wanted to said Stalin instead of Lenin?
    There’s a huge difference.

  • Fearful in the US says:

    Dear E. Besemer,
    As I lay here awake and afraid, unable to shut my brain off an get sleep, I decide to look into the rise of Hitler and the possibility that it could happen again. I found myself reading your comment and it was as if you and I had just finished a conversation, one that I’ve been having all too often for far too long. Your comment expressed my sleep killing, worries as if you had been reading my thoughts and feeling my fears.

    It wasn’t until after I read the entire thing and wanted to reply that I realized you wrote your concerns, the same concerns that haunt my dreams and shadow my future daily, only 11 days short of TWO YEARS ago. Since then, there’ve been riots, and protests and murders but scariest of all, there has been no official movement to restrict his hate fueled power. The numbed acceptance that this rhetoric is a show, is somehow still the response from passive (outwardly) supporters, and continues to be the response with each law broken, each ethical, moral and hate filled action he boasts about via social media. I am afraid! How can we do anything to stop someone that the general masses ignore as a physical threat to our society? Should I be taking it as a good sign that 11days shy of 2 years after you summarized my worries, that we are “stable” enough in society to still be in the realm of only fearing the possibilities and that they haven’t already started? Is that what I should cling to at night? At least we haven’t become my worst fear already? When do I pack only what I can carry, and run? When did those early families who escaped Nazi Germany, just before it got deadly, know it was time to run? How will I know? Will I know? Is it possible for our country to fall to the same atrocious violent, hate lead rule that we’ve already witnessed of Hitler? Did they,the everyday citizens in Europe believe that it was possible? What are the realistic risks? Until I know, I fear that the possiblity and questions will continue to keep me awake.

    I know fear without knowledge and facts, does nothing but eat at someone, so I’m looking for facts. Any thoughts, stats, governmental constraints, etc are greatly appreciated.

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