How do the Germans feel about Turks today? Not so much I think!
THE 20TH-CENTURY DICTATOR MOST IDOLIZED BY HITLER
The Daily Beast
Nov 26 2014
Historians may credit Mussolini with inspiring Hitler's rise to power,
but the despot called a different contemporary his 'shining star.'
Adolf Hitler's obsessions, for he was a man prone to unhealthy
fixations, were dangerous for the world--whether with himself, with
art school, with his dreams of grandeur, with Eva Braun, with his
hatred of Jews--or, more obscurely, with Turkey.
To say that the roots of the Third Reich's rise have been thoroughly
examined would be an understatement. Yet one element of Hitler's
power grab has largely been neglected--the importance of Turkey and
Mustafa Kemal Ataturk (or as Hitler called him, his "shining star")
on the Fuhrer's thinking.
In his exhaustively researched new book, Ataturk in the Nazi
Imagination, Stefan Ihrig charts the outsized role that Ataturk and the
New Turkey played in the minds of Germany's Weimar-era far right--an
influence that extended through the Nazi years. The Turkish Revolution
was the most hotly-debated foreign issue in the early 1920's, and
not only did the Nazis model themselves after the Turkish National
Movement, but Nazi leaders from Hitler and Goebbels were personally
entranced by everything Ataturk did.
In the aftermath of World War I, Germans--conservatives in
particular--became consumed with the idea that they had been unfairly
treated at the Paris Peace Conference ('raped' is a word they often
used), and stabbed in the back by supine bureaucrats and minorities
in Berlin. Yet even as the Germans wallowed in bitter self-pity,
another defeated superpower underwent a dramatic turnaround.
When the last vestiges of the Ottoman Empire were dismantled by the
Allies in the Treaty of Sèvres, modern-day Turkey was also chopped
up, with large portions going to Greece and Armenia, as well as major
powers like Britain, Italy, and France. However, beginning in 1919,
Turkish nationalists--led by Ataturk in Ankara--transformed from
beleaguered underdogs into a determined force that beat back the
Greeks, French, and Armenians on multiple fronts. Over a tough few
years, they defeated the seemingly invincible forces arrayed against
them--and, more importantly, they were able to negotiate a new treaty,
the Treaty of Lausanne, in 1923, which established modern Turkey.
"In the eyes of a desperate and desolate Germany," writes Ihrig,
"this was a nationalist dream come true, or rather something like
On June 29, 1919, German newspapers announced the previous day's
signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I and
forced Germany to pay reparations and concede territory. Just two days
later, the papers began what can only be described as a love affair
with Mustafa Kemal Pasha (later Ataturk). Coverage of Turkey and its
swashbuckling leader would fill Germany's daily and weekly newspapers.
Over the next four and a half years, the conservative paper
Kreuzzeitung would run a total of 2,200 articles, items, and reports
on Turkey. The Nazi-affiliated Heimatland gave one-eighth of its
space each week, from September 1 to October 15, 1923, to features
on Ataturk. Papers throughout the country would refer to Turkey as
Germany's "role model." Nationalist opinion-makers would laud what
they saw as Turkey's strong negotiating tactics--essentially 'give us
all that we want or we will continue to fight'--and decried German
acquiescence to Allied terms. Some, like the influential pastor and
politician Max Maurenbrecher, even began to argue that if Germans
had fought for their freedom and borders like the Turks, they would
not be suffering the onerous conditions of Versailles. Turkey's
revolution was a "revisionist-nationalist dream come true, even a
fetishized version of it, because it had been achieved by the sword,
in the field, with major battles, and many epic twists," writes Ihrig.
In fact, Ihrig says, Turkey was to become a sort of Furstenspiegel for
conservative Germans. A Furstenspiegel, or "mirror for princes," is a
genre of literature that uses a distant story (either geographically
or historically) to advocate for certain actions in the present.
German conservatives writing about Turkey would praise its active
militant role in forging its national destiny, and laud the ways in
which Ataturk had come from Ankara, not Constantinople, to lead a
unified volkisch movement. That Ataturk was from Ankara was important,
because Hitler and his allies saw their movement as having strength
due its roots in Munich, not Berlin. Later, Ataturk's life story
would be used to promote the importance of a Fuhrer.
The popular understanding of Hitler's rise to power often points to
the influence of Mussolini and his march on Rome. In fact, argues
Ihrig, "the assumed role-model function of Mussolini, mainly deduced
from the later significance of Fascist Italy, has led many authors to
overestimate Italy" and as a result "few historians mention Ataturk as
part of the general pre-putsch atmosphere." In fact, as Ihrig points
out, Mussolini called himself "the Mustafa Kemal of a Milanese Ankara"
as he began his own power-grab.
Ihrig argues that the two main Nazi papers, the Heimatland and
Volkischer Beobachter, were promoters of the "Turkish methods" as early
as 1921. The Nazis argued that brute force had been necessary for
Turkey's independence, and, insidiously, they highlighted Ataturk's
crackdown on ethnic minorities and all of those who dissented. One
Nazi ideologue, Hans Trobst, wrote explicitly about Turkey's "national
purification" of "bloodsuckers" and "parasites" like Armenians and
Greeks; Trobst was later invited to meet with Hitler after the leader
read his writings on Turkey. Ihrig notes that Hitler's secretary wrote
to Trobst in Hitler's name, declaring, "What you have witnessed in
Turkey is what we will have to do in the future as well in order to
This praising of Turkish aggression was laying the groundwork for
Hitler's Beerhall Putsch, in which he attempted, and failed, to seize
power in Munich in 1923. It was only after it failed, Ihrig contends,
that Hitler saw it as necessary to go a more "legitimate" political
route like Mussolini. In his final speech at his trial, Hitler would
also point to Ataturk (and then Mussolini) as examples of why his
attempt at seizing power was not treasonous--it was, he said, for
"the gaining of liberty for his nation."
A decade on, in 1933, Hitler would tell the Turkish daily Milliyet
that Ataturk was, in his words, "the greatest man of the century,"
and confess to the paper that in the "dark 1920s" "the successful
struggle for liberation that [Ataturk] led in order to create Turkey
had given him the confidence that the National Socialist movement
would be successful as well." Hitler called the Turkish movement his
"shining star." In 1938, on his birthday, Hitler would tell journalists
and politicians that "Ataturk was the first to show that it is possible
to mobilize and regenerate the resources that a country has lost. In
this respect Ataturk was a teacher. Mussolini was his first and I
his second student."
The German infatuation with Ataturk and Turkey waned after the Beerhall
Putsch. Years later, after the Nazis had gained power and launched
their wars, Turkey resurfaced again--Nazi propagandists pointed to
Ataturk when they argued for the necessity of a Fuhrer who was loyally
followed by his people without question, when they pushed the need for
just one political party and the obligation of national sacrifice,
and when they argued for the necessity of cracking down on internal
dissent in order to present a unified front against outside enemies.
The German obsession was with Turkey was so rampant under the Nazis,
in fact, that the German Ministry for Propaganda actually complained
in 1937 that positive coverage of Turkey was becoming "unbearable."
Even as Hitler's obsession with Turkey was strategic, it was
also deeply personal. While Ihrig does a thorough job of detailing
Germany's historic ties to the Ottoman Empire--and even potentially its
involvement in the Armenian Genocide--it's the Nazi leaders' personal
attachment to Turkey and Ataturk that is especially fascinating.
Hitler, for instance, considered a bust of Ataturk by Josef Thorak
to be "one of his cherished possessions" according to the Fuhrer's
official photographer Heinrich Hoffmann.
He also gave unique prominence to Turkey in issues of state. In
1934, just a day before Hitler's birthday, flags were lowered at
the headquarters of the SA (brownshirts) for the death of Turkish
ambassador Kemalettin Sami Pasha--and according to Ihrig, Hitler
himself ordered what was essentially a state funeral procession for
the fallen diplomat.
When Ataturk died on November 10, his death dominated newspaper
coverage in Germany, despite the fact that it happened just a day
after the infamous Kristallnacht.
Joseph Goebbels was also a big fan of the Turkish leader. In 1937,
Goebbels wrote in his diary: "A nice flight. While traveling I
finished reading the book on Ataturk. A proud hero's life. Totally
admirable. I am happy!" Then on October 21, 1938, the same day Hitler
ordered the breakup of Czechoslovakia, Goebbels wrote that Ataturk's
death "would be an irreplaceable loss." The Turkish leader's health
had been declining, but days later, Goebbels would write in almost
intimate language, "Ataturk's sickness is very serious. But his bear's
nature helps him to fight off an early end at this point."
The most obvious connection to make between the Nazis and Ataturk's
rule is, of course, the tragedies of the Holocaust and the Armenian
genocide, which took place before Ataturk came to power. While Ihrig
deftly dodges a debate over what exactly happened with Armenians
in Turkey, he argues that as far as the Nazis were concerned, what
actually happened did not matter. They believed that Armenians were the
"Jews of the Orient" and that their deaths and suppression played a
key part in the emergence of modern Turkey. In speeches, Hitler would
consistently refer to Armenians as being on the same level as Jews,
and in one article he declared the "wretched Armenian" to be "swine,
corrupt, sordid, without conscience, like beggars, submissive, even
doglike." Nazi texts proclaimed that the annihilation or expulsion of
the Armenians was a "compelling necessity." The Nazis saw in Turkey
what they wanted to see, regardless of how Ataturk and his fellow
Turks saw themselves.
Ihrig's book provides enough of a new angle on the Nazis to do the
seemingly impossible these days--break through the abundance of books
on the topic. It is full of fascinating issues not covered in this
review, most notably the ideological twists and turns that the Nazis
went through in order to label the Turks as Aryan. Readers who pick
up the book should not be deterred by the somewhat pedantic and dry
opening chapter--the rest of the book is well worth the read.
Today, Turkey in the German imagination has mostly to do with
immigration, assimilation, and EU membership. Ihrig has managed to
show how the relationship between these two centers of civilization
is far deeper, and far more fraught, than at first glance.