popularity varied considerably over time. At the time Hitler
was appointed chancellor in January 1933, the Nazi party had obtained
just over 33% of the total vote in the most recent election of November
1932. This made it the largest party in the German Parliament
with 196 of 584 seats—but not the majority party.
The next largest party, the Social Democrats, had 121 seats
and the Communists 100 seats. Together, therefore, the two
leftist parties were more popular than the Nazis, while the splintered
centrist parties together had 134 seats, or more than the two leftist
parties separately, but less than the Nazis. I'm going into so much
detail because far too many people seem to believe that Nazis won
overwhelming victories in free elections. This is not true as
the above figures show. Furthermore, the elections in
November 1932 recorded a significant drop in Nazi support compared with
the elections that had been held in July 1932.
After Hitler came to power, there were no further elections and
therefore no reliable means for measuring his personal popularity with
the populace. Remember from the summer of 1933 onwards there
was no free press, no opposition parties, and no independent trade
unions. In short, there was no public means of voicing
dissent or discontent.
there is a strong consensus among historians and eye-witnesses that
Hitler's popularity soared in the early years of his regime as he
delivered on his economic promises of eliminating unemployment,
stabilizing the currency domestically while at the same time ripping up
the humiliating and hated Versailles Treaty with impunity.
Hitler's popularity then fell during the tensions leading up to the
Sudeten Crisis, because the population feared war, but when Hitler
again got away with aggression without paying a price, his popularity
reached new heights. The same thing repeated itself a year
later. The Germans were terrified that the Western Allies would fall on
their Western frontier while the Wehrmacht was fighting in Poland, but
when they didn't and Poland was defeated in just weeks with few
casualties, Hitler's popularity bounced higher still.
Nevertheless, it is fair to say that at no time was he more popular
than after the stunning victory over France in just six weeks in
May-June 1940. The defeat in WWI and the vindictive policies
of France which followed had traumatized the Germans. They
were terrified of a repeat of the bloody stalemate that had
characterized most of the First World War. When Hitler delivered a
victory over France in a matter of weeks, it was like divine providence
to the vast majority of Germans—and Hitler seemed invincible
and infallible. After that they trusted him no matter what he did.
It was truly not until the German Army got bogged down deep inside
Russia, casualties started to mount and the Allied Air Offensive
started to bring the war home to Germany that the mood in the general
population shifted. Stalingrad was the most critical turning
point, but it should not be forgotten that the Wehrmacht appeared to
recover from Stalingrad and in the summer of 1943 new victories
followed, so Hitler's popularity was partially restored. It
never really recovered from the defeat at Stalingrad, however, and
meanwhile the Allied bomber offensive ramped up, causing increasing
casualties and hardship.
Nevertheless, it is a point of very heated —often
bitter— debate among historians just how much the mood had
swung against the Nazis by July 1944. There are those who
argue that had the Coup been successful, the majority of people would
have been relieved. Most historians disagree and feel Hitler
still had the majority of the people behind him in July 1944.
The point is moot. Even if "a majority" were on the
side of the Resistance in July 1944, there would have been a very
substantial minority —tens of millions of people—
who were fanatically loyal to Hitler even then.