"Alte Kämpfer" : association, myth, and ritual in the rise of National Socialism in Volksstaat Hessen, 1920-1928 / by Theodore Allen Nitz.
Much of the scholarly investigation into the membership of the Nazi Party (NSDAP) in the last two decades has concentrated on social status and class. Such research has provided a clearer picture of who the Nazis were as a group, but has revealed little about the motivations of those members, what their everyday life in the party was like, or how they became involved in the National Socialist movement. This dissertation attempts to answer such questions by studying the reminiscences written in 1936–1937 by 225 Nazi “old fighters”—men and women holding membership numbers below 100 000—who lived in the Weimar-era state of Volksstaat Hessen. These accounts of the NSDAP's years of struggle (the Kampfzeit ) open a window on the party's rank-and-file membership, and describe a movement composed of people who differed little from their fellow Hessians. The Nazis derived the form of their meetings and ceremonies from the traditional rituals common to the many associations which spanned the breadth of Weimar-era German society. The Nazi organization, like similar organizations in Germany and elsewhere, attracted its membership through existing associational networks, especially those of its members—their friends, family, and acquaintances. In contrast to the mythic image of the NSDAP as an organization of uniformed members marching in lock-step with the party's national leadership, the Volksstaat Hessian Nazis describe a party which was focused on its local organization and leaders. The Hessian National Socialist organization in 1928 consisted of small local associations, usually begun at local initiative and with leaders drawn from the community. The Hessian NSDAP of the Kampfzeit (at least through the end of 1928) was by and large created, led, and maintained by these Nazi “old fighters” and others like them. Thus, while paying allegiance to Hitler and his central organization, the branches of the party in Hessen maintained a strong local identity in these formative years.
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