June 13, 1936, a Saturday, is a red letter day at the Blohm+Voss shipyard in Hamburg. No less a personage than Adolf Hitler is gracing the yard with his presence. He’s there for the launch of a naval vessel, the Horst Wessel. A crowd of workers greet Hitler with apparent adulation and a forest of Nazi salutes. But a certain August Landmesser stands out like a sore thumb from the throng.
The Nazi Party was founded in Germany in 1920, the progeny of another far right group, the German Workers’ Party. By July 1921 Hitler was its leader. And by 1933, through a combination of electoral success and political machinations, he had maneuvered himself into the effective dictatorship of a Germany ruled by the Nazis.
Hitler’s rise to power was based on a poisonous mixture of populist economics, ruthless violence and skillfully orchestrated political theater. A centerpiece of the Nazi’s mythology, for example, were the sinister mass rallies held in Nuremberg each year. These events used symbolic pomp and pageantry to affirm the ascendancy of the Nazis and their ideology in Germany.