- Atatürk in the Nazi Imagination by Stefan Ihrig
Less than two weeks before Adolf Hitler’s failed putsch in Munich on 8–9 November 1923, the weekly Heimatland, officially the press organ of the “Deutsche Kampfbund” but also a paper closely related to the embryonic Nazi Party, called on its front page for the establishment of an “Ankara government” in Germany (“Her die Angora-Regierung!”). The paper argued that the revival of Germany could start only far away from the capital, in Bavaria, just as the Turkish nationalists of Mustafa Kemal (after 1934 Atatürk) had started their resistance movement against the imposed peace treaty of Sèvres from faraway Ankara, and not the former imperial capital of Constantinople (p. 88). During his trial, Hitler—who had already praised Mustafa Kemal in 1922—affirmed this view: “Not from the rotten center, from [End Page 560] Constantinople, could salvation come. This city was, just as in our case, contaminated by democratic-pacifistic, internationalized people, who were no longer able to do what is necessary. It could only come from the farmer’s country.”
In this extremely interesting and well-researched book, Stefan Ihrig shows that neither Heimatland nor Adolf Hitler was exceptional: the entire nationalist right followed events in postwar Turkey and expressed admiration for the nationalists and their leader, for the Turks had shown that it was possible to resist the peace treaties imposed by the Entente if the “national spirit” were mobilized and the population were ready for sacrifice. Mustafa Kemal’s resistance was contrasted with the weakness of the “fulfilment politicians” of the Weimar Republic, whom the Nazi press compared to eunuchs.
Ihrig shows that the German reading public did not need to be educated from scratch: nationalist and conservative papers could count on their readers’ background knowledge following their country’s intimate relations with the Ottoman Empire during World War I. German propaganda had built up the ruling Committee of Union and Progress (the Young Turks), and particularly its military leader Enver Pasha, as heroic patriots, harbingers of a revived Ottoman Empire. Booklets and brochures featuring the “Turkish awakening” circulated widely. The postwar press built on this, first reporting on Kemal’s resistance movement as a heroic but doomed initiative, and after 1920 as increasingly likely to succeed.
While the main narrative in the right-wing press was thus the contrast between Turkish courage and success and German cowardice and failure, the papers on the whole were rather well informed on the situation in Turkey and their judgement was often accurate—sometimes more accurate than Ihrig gives them credit for. That they called Atatürk “first commissar” did not exaggerate Soviet influence: “commissar” (vekil) was the term used in Ankara at the time. Learning from the Turks remained a recurrent theme in the Nazi press and the nationalist right generally (pp. 29, 85).
Among the things considered admirable about Turkey was its “national purification”: the Armenian Genocide and the expulsion of the Greeks. Heimatland saw these as “absolutely justified” (p. 85), and depicted Armenians and Greeks—both present in Asia Minor a thousand years before the Turks—as having abused the Ottomans’ “hospitality.” It is clear that for the German Right the World War I Committee of Union and Progress and the Kemalists afterwards were part of the same movement, and that the population exchange agreed in Lausanne in 1923 reflected the same Entente aggression that had pushed Turkey to the earlier Armenian killings. This legacy enhanced the Kemalists’ credentials in Nazi eyes.
Ihrig’s most important, well supported, and surprising conclusion is that the Kemalist movement in Turkey, rather than the Fascist movement in Italy, formed the most important inspiration for the early National Socialists in Germany. The Nazi press shows this, and so do Hitler’s own speeches of the twenties and early [End Page 561] thirties. In a July 1933 interview Hitler told the Turkish daily Milliyet that “the movement of Turkey had been a shining light for him” (p. 115).