Anton Drexler was a German political leader who co-founded the German Workers' Party (DAP), the forerunner of the Nazi Party (NSDAP), with journalist Karl Harrer. A man who was inclined towards far-right political ideologies, he was an anti-Semite and harboured deep prejudice and hostility against Jews. Described as an “unassuming, bespectacled” man in his younger years, he spent a considerable time working as a locksmith. However, he was not able to find much success in this profession and slowly moved towards politics. During World War I, Drexler joined the right-wing nationalist group, the Fatherland Party. He was much influenced by the party’s ideology and went on to form the Committee of Independent Workmen. Later on, he met journalist Karl Harrer, who also espoused far-right political ideologies. Together, the men formed the German Workers' Party (DAP). Eventually, a young Adolf Hitler joined the party and was mentored by Drexler. With time, Hitler grew more powerful within the party and Drexler was designated to a purely symbolic position. He left the party in 1923. After spending his later years in relative obscurity, he died in 1942.
Childhood & Early Life
Anton Drexler was born on 13 June 1884, in Munich, German Empire. Not much is known about his childhood and early life. The names of his parents are also unavailable.
It is generally believed that he was not much educated. He probably received some vocational training as a young man, following which he started working as a locksmith and toolmaker.
He moved to Berlin in 1902, in the hope of finding better employment opportunities. However, he faced a lot of challenges in Berlin and was unable to find gainful employment for a while. He had to play a zither in a restaurant to make ends meet.
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Entry Into Politics
Anton Drexler was described as a "bespectacled and unassuming" man. He was deemed unfit to serve in the armed forces in World War I. During the war, he joined the German Fatherland Party, a party that espoused far-right politics.
The German Fatherland Party found support from major industrialists and senior military figures. Though it was short-lived, it left a deep impact on Drexler who harboured similar views.
He launched a branch of Free Workers' Committee for a Good Peace/ Committee of Independent Workmen (German: Der Freie Arbeiterausschuss für einen guten Frieden) league in early 1918. Around this time, he became acquainted with Karl Harrer, a journalist who was a member of the Thule Society that Drexler too joined.
Drexler, in collaboration with Harrer and a few others, formed the Political Workers' Circle (Politischer Arbeiter-Zirkel) in 1918. The members met often to discuss issues related to nationalism and anti-Semitism.
Drexler wrote poetry in his leisure time and became a part of a völkisch political club. He participated in völkisch agitations along with the other members.
Founding of the German Workers' Party
Anton Drexler collaborated with Harrer, Dietrich Eckart, and Gottfried Feder to co-found the German Workers' Party (DAP) in Munich on 5 January 1919. Harrer was made the chairman of the party.
In May 1919, Captain Karl Mayr was made the head of the Education and Propaganda Department. He sent Adolf Hitler, a young soldier at the time, to attend a meeting held by German Workers' Party (DAP).
The main speaker at the meeting was Gottfried Feder, a self-taught economist. When his speech ended, a professor named Baumann questioned the soundness of Feder's arguments. Immediately, Hitler began arguing with the professor and eventually forced him to leave the hall in defeat.
All the senior members of DAP, including Drexler, were highly impressed by Hitler’s oratory skills. Drexler gave the young man a copy of the pamphlet ‘My Political Awakening’ that explained the DAP’s adherence to anti-Semitic, anti-capitalist, nationalist, and anti-Marxist ideas.
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Hitler realized that his views matched those of DAP’s and was convinced by Drexler to join the party. Upon joining, Hitler began to popularize the party and organized a meeting of over 2,000 people in February 1920—their biggest meeting until then.
In this meeting, Hitler shared “the twenty-five points of the German Workers’ Party's manifesto” that he had drafted along with Drexler and Feder. The party was renamed as the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei; NSDAP) on the same day.
While Drexler was highly impressed with Hitler, the latter did not feel the same way about the former. Hitler felt that while Drexler did have some good ideas, he was a “weak and uncertain” man, not fit to be a leader. It was not long before intra party disputes began to emerge.
Unhappy with the way things were proceeding, Hitler submitted his resignation angrily on 11 July 1921. By this time, Hitler had become one of the major speakers in the party, having developed his oratory skills by giving numerous talks over the previous months. Not wanting to lose their most powerful orator, the party members requested him to stay.
Hitler announced that he would re-join on the condition that he be made the party chairman in place of Drexler who was holding the position at the time. The party members agreed and made Hitler the chairman. Drexler was made the honorary president, a purely symbolic position. Drexler left the party in 1923.
Drexler was elected to the Bavarian Landtag representing the People’s Bloc in 1924. He served as the vice president until 1928. Meanwhile, he also founded a splinter group called the Nationalsozialer Volksbund; however, the short-lived group was dissolved in 1928.
In 1933, Anton Drexler re-joined what had now become Hitler’s Nazi Party. He was awarded the ‘Blood Order’ badge in 1934, but was not given any position of actual significance within the party.
Family & Personal Life
Anton Drexler was married to Anna Bergsteiner. They had two children.
He suffered from ill health for several years before dying on 24 February 1942, in Munich, at the age of 57.