Anton Drexler was the co-founder of what was to become the Nazi Party. Drexler provided an intellectual input into the German Workers Party that developed into the National Socialists German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) that Adolf Hitler took control of. Anton Drexler died in relative obscurity.
Drexler was born in Munich on June 13th, 1884. He was a locksmith and toolmaker by trade. Drexler believed that his financial future lay in Berlin. He believed that the city’s population would bring in a healthy trade for his skills. Drexler was wrong. He did not find the anticipated good living in Berlin and got by playing a zither in city restaurants. Drexler found the whole process humiliating.
Drexler did not serve in the German military during World War One as he was classed as ‘unfit to serve’. Towards the end of the war Drexler joined the Fatherland Party. This was a right wing nationalist party that in 1918 strove to get a decent peace settlement for Germany. It had support from industrialists and senior military figures. It was at this time that Drexler believed that Germany would be better served by a new political party that was patriotic, nationalistic but served the working class. Drexler was virulently anti-communist and did not believe that the working class automatically drifted towards the left. He wanted a political party that the working class could join and relate to that promoted the virtues of Germany but was against the ‘plague from the east’ – communism.
On March 7th 1918 Drexler set up a Committee of Independent Workmen, a branch of the North German Association for the Promotion of Peace along Working Class Lines. The title of the organisation eloquently stated where it stood. Drexler added to it with his stand against Marxism and all it stood for.
However, the chaos that existed in post-war Weimar Germany meant that the country was littered with many small groups that classed themselves as political parties. Drexler’s Committee of Independent Workmen was one of many in Berlin. In January 1919, he decided to merge the Committee of Independent Workmen with the larger Political Workers’ Circle, led by Karl Harrer, a journalist. Once joined together, they adopted a new title: the German Workers’ Party. It had little cash to finance itself – legend has it that at this time the only assets the party had were a briefcase and a cigar case.
It was this group that Hitler was sent to spy on as an army ‘V’ man in September 1919. ‘V’ men were sent to keep an eye on potentially disruptive forces. Hitler was less than charitable to both Drexler and Harrer when he wrote about the first meeting in ‘Mein Kampf’. He described Drexler as “weak and uncertain” and was clearly unimpressed that he had not fought in World War One. Hitler believed that Drexler was “not fanatical enough” to push the party forward; that he was not tough enough to be a good leader. Hitler also stated that he did not believe that Drexler was “brutal” enough to lead.
However, he did like what he heard from Drexler who stated that he believed that Germany had lost the war shamefully because of a Jewish-Masonic conspiracy. Drexler referred to Jews as “the plastic demon of the fall of Mankind”. Despite Hitler’s belief that Drexler was not a good party leader, the ideas he heard, including a speech by Gottfried Feder, were enough to make Hitler join the party as the seventh member. At the end of the first meeting Hitler claimed that Drexler pushed into his hands a forty page pamphlet entitled “My Political Awakening”.
If Hitler has a less than favourable view of Drexler, the party leader had a less than favourable view of the future Fuhrer. In a letter to a friend, Drexler referred to “No 7 of our party” as “an absurd little man”.
Drexler was unable to rein in Hitler who quickly took over control of the German Workers’ Party and became its leader in late 1921. He changed the party name to National Social German Workers Party (NSDAP) with him as its sole leader. Drexler was appointed honorary chairman of the NSDAP but had no authority within the new party.
Drexler left the party after the failed Beer Hall Putsch – though the NSDAP was temporarily outlawed - and in April 1924 he was elected to the Bavarian Landtag representing the People’s Bloc. From 1924 to 1930, Drexler steered clear of the Nazi Party and he played no part in the party’s political comeback in 1925. There was an attempt in 1930 to reabsorb him into the much larger Nazi Party but it came to nothing. However, Drexler did rejoin the party in 1933 and was awarded the ‘Blood Order’ badge’ in 1934. The badge was considered the highest honour a Nazi Party member could be given but it is accepted now that the whole process was done merely for propaganda purposes as opposed to Hitler wanting to rekindle any true relationship with Drexler. After this, Drexler became an obscure figure within Nazi Germany.
Anton Drexler died in Munich on February 24th 1942.