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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Comments (11)
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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.”


    “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)

  • 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.

  • michael Tock says:

    You are a fool. You must be a left­ist and prob­a­bly here ille­gal­ly. The man has done more and will con­tin­ue to more good for all Amer­i­cans than any pres­i­dent i have ever seen. Build that wall.

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