Gottfried Feder’s critical letter of 10th August, 1923, calling Hitler to task for his poor leadership and bohemian lifestyle
The following letter was sourced from an academic article by historian Oron James Hale which was published in The Journal of Modern History in December 1958. Mr. Hale thoughtfully reproduced the letter in its entirety, but only in German; this despite the rest of his article discussing the letter’s contents being entirely in English. Perhaps Mr. Hale was under the impression at the time that fluency in German is commonplace. In any event, since I could find no actual English translation, I translated the letter myself, the result of which is reproduced below. Written by National Socialist ideologist Gottfried Feder to Adolf Hitler only a few months before the Bürgerbräukeller Putsch, the letter is distinctive in how openly critical it is. Hitler by this time was undisputed leader of the Party, yet the principles of Führerprinzip had not yet permeated the movement and it was not yet totally unthinkable to contradict or criticize the Führer. Feder’s complaints represent those of a circle of Party founders and senior figures (including Anton Drexler), a group who were deeply concerned about Hitler’s work habits, about the lack of effective Party organization, and about the Führer’s growing connections with High Society, and who consequently wanted to save Hitler’s “workingman’s soul”. On top of these group complaints Feder sprinkled a number of personal grievances: Hitler’s refusal to meet with Feder, and his lack of interest in reading Feder’s new work The German State on a National and Social Foundation. Hitler apparently reacted with fury to the contents of the letter, though he did eventually supply Feder with the much-desired introduction to Feder’s new book.
DEAR MR. HITLER!
Some poet once spoke some very earnest words about a great and important man who, however, “could not control himself, and thus his work as well as his life slipped away.”
Serious concern for our work – the German freedom movement of National Socialism – and for you as its leader who we all ungrudgingly accept, causes me to tell you in a frank way what I have already partly told you in person.
You know for yourself that our movement has grown so hugely and rapidly that the expansion of the internal Organization has not kept pace with it. You yourself complained to me about the pernicious lack of space for the housing of the individual departments [of the Party], which we absolutely must have if one is even only remotely thinking of renewing a terminally ill state and economy.
Certainly the question of space is difficult, but it is easier to overcome than the second question – the question of people. A truly capable circle of staff for the upcoming tasks of state is not at all available. Probably in Rosenberg we have a first-class strength for our newspaper – Kapitänleutnant Hoffmann also makes a very good impression. [Hoffmann was a former Ehrhardt Brigade member and was chief-of-staff to Goering, then head of the SA – Bogumil]
Otherwise, if I do not name anyone else, this should by no means be taken as a disparaging judgement of our other staff of whom most are very suitable for their positions, as far as I can judge. Another question however is whether the important tasks of our movement do not seem to suggest a change of person here or there. However, this is not due to the people but due to the tasks themselves, which simply exceed the suitability of some of the individuals. I think especially of the good Christian Weber. [Weber was a burly horse-dealer and at this time part of Hitler’s close circle of associates; he was widely regarded as corrupt and was very unpopular with the older leaders like Drexler, Feder, etc. – Bogumil]
In general, there is quite a difference in ability between you, who have grown so well along with your greater responsibilities, and the men of your former closest circle. You understand that yourself, which is why you would like to be introduced to “society” by Mr. Hanfstaengl. I would now like to reassure you that I do not – as so many others do – see in Hanfstaengl a “danger” or a camarilla; I appreciate Hanftstaengl’s dedicated enthusiasm, his honesty and decency, too much for that. Yet I cannot shake an unpleasant feeling, as if you yourself were wrong about things. “Society” is a thing, a monster, something that has nothing to do with your current mission. That mission has no social obligations, just a terrible responsibility to the State and People [Volk]. Certainly you can find a valuable person here or there “in society” – but in general these are probably few and far between. In your stressful work perhaps one does need to relax in the company of groups of artists or of beautiful women. But what is really needed now is the urgent closing of the gap between you as leader [Führer] and all those who only want to follow you into German freedom. This gap can be filled by expanding the organization, placing at its head a so-called ‘intellectual general staff.’ What this body should actually be called is irrelevant; in any case, the term ‘intellectual general staff’ serves perfectly well in making clear what I mean by it. Of course the personnel question is not one that can easily be resolved here, but there are so many excellent men who will gladly make themselves available to you, whether it be within the framework of the Party itself or outside of it, that a great many appointments at least can be filled. [Ernst ‘Putzi’ Hanfstaengl was a close friend of Hitler’s and did much to provide him with connections to business and high society – Bogumil]
You know the gentlemen who along with myself wrote up the so-called draft constitution after many long, in-depth deliberations. You know the gentlemen who along with myself formulated the proclamation of the patriotic combat-associations [vaterländischen Kampfverbände], also after many long and detailed deliberations. In the Beobachter there was a recent report on a “Committee for the Peoples’ Nutrition” [Auschuss für Volksernährung], and our “Leadership Meetings” of the Party’s speakers on foreign policy also brings together a circle of authoritative Party members. So there is no lack of will nor of achievements – but these are all groups who run along side by side knowing nothing about each other. [i.e. they aren’t effectively led or coordinated -Bogumil]
Much of the blame for this (and now it comes to your turn) is that you are never seen at these meetings and discussions. It really is not easy for your staff to take on these various tasks while never seeing their work be sufficiently appreciated. This is absolutely a huge loss – not for personal reasons, but for the sake of the cause. Firstly, business would be conducted much faster, and secondly, it would be precisely through your participation (at least in closing meetings) that it could be really finished and put into the context of the overall work.
I once told you that I consider the anarchy in the allocation of your time really very unfortunate for the entire Movement. You simply must have time for all the important things; the true art of a great man is that he has time for everyone, and that with his outstanding knowledge of human nature he immediately knows how to divorce the important from the unimportant, thereby saving tremendous time. (In the margins: Did you not read the essay on Henry Ford in the “Hammer”?) You must always be accessible, and if you are not capable of being present, then you must have excellent representation. I am thinking of a personality like Herr Kapitänleutnant Hoffmann, a General Staff officer like Hauptmann Gobsch, or the famous Oberstleutnant Hasse, someone who has the strictest discipline and timing, who also stipulates your daily timetable and reminds you of everything and ensures that you arrive everywhere on time, who is presentable in every respect, who knows “society” in all its pitfalls and dangers, who keeps away from you what is unimportant, and who is in constant contact with the various Party sections. [‘Oberstleutnant Hasse’ possibly refers to Erich Hasse, a Deutscher Volkischer Schutz- und Trutzbund member; I am not sure who ‘Hauptmann Gobsch’ was – Bogumil]
Dear Hitler! I urge you to make sure that these organizational shortcomings disappear as quickly as possible; then and only then will all the hurt feelings and unpleasant complaints fade away, which even your most loyal followers are concerned about. You must not overlook the fact there is a really severe turmoil, that even minor acts of Fama [the Roman personification of rumor, fame, and gossip – Bogumil] are magnified and exaggerated by the always dissatisfied and impatient masses, sometimes causing despair, sometimes renunciation.
You know how fickle the masses are and how badly they treat a man whose actions while in the critical eye of the public give rise to rumors. You also know perfectly well that a man’s army cannot march if there is no general staff waiting when all the threads finally come together.
The time of the Condottieri is over. [‘Condottieri’ were Italian mercenary leaders – Bogumil] We are faced with such a gigantic task that even a mere glimpse of the enemy’s power and resources would be enough to take your breath away – if you did not know that the power of the enemy is built on lies and deception, and that all that is wholesome and reasonable, all that is creatively constructive, all that is powerful and determined, is in fact held by us.
You see, after months of work I have now completed my new book – without you – I have invited you often enough to come and discuss it – you did not find any time – and you could very well have gone to Murnau instead of to Berchtesgaden. A book that describes the entire government structure of the coming National Socialist state needs to be read by you. I left the manuscript with Mr. Lauböck, who wants to read it. Amann also suggested that you write a foreword to the book, which after its publication will ensure that it is regarded as an authoritative, official Party document. The publication is already being greatly anticipated by our speakers. So please read the manuscript and then call a meeting. If you do not have time to come here to Murnau, then we can get together one evening in my apartment at 20 Sternwatstraße in Munich. In any case, I request you leave a message on Tel. 25688. If I hear nothing, I will definitely commence printing of the manuscript over the course of the next week. [Theodor Lauböck was a Reichsbahn railway official who had set up the NSDAP Rosenheim chapter and was a close friend of Hitler’s; Max Amann was manager of the Eher Verlag, the official Party publishing house – Bogumil]
One more thing: I urgently require an essential joint meeting. The question is our participation or non-participation in the upcoming election. This has nothing to do with our fundamental opinion on parliamentarism, it is more a tactical question of whether or not we should dispense with this outstanding sounding-board. Can you imagine having an opportunity every day in Parliament, or just whenever, to deride these people over and over with our contempt for their parliamentary incompetence, and that this will be read in the entire nation’s press, these embarrassing questions which we can repeatedly ask in Parliament of the peoples’ representatives and the government? After all, we do not have the right to demand abstention from our Party-comrades [Parteigenossen], and of course we would only have to deal with our opponents as part of our allied right-wing bloc. These are all questions we want to discuss with you. Although we gladly grant you the honor of being the first, you are only the first among equals and free men, as was the old and best Germanic custom. -We feel you overlook the necessity for closer contact with your staff and with those men working for the same goals. Especially those people who really have something to say and who know their own value, they offer themselves so often not to impose themselves upon you, and if one offers themselves to you in the name of many, he does so only for the sake of the cause, that work for which neither money nor honor is rewarded. We all want to be a servant of the state in the spirit of Frederick the Great, and we will yield first place to you, but for tyrannical tendencies we have no sympathy.
Believe me, we only want to help you in the service of our people, because we see how hard this fight is and how much you overstrain yourself. You have to keep all the little things away and find more time for the important tasks.
With a heartfelt salute [Heilgruss, lit. ‘Heil greeting’] and with firm faith,