" or "guide" in the German language
, derived from the verb führen
'to lead'. In standard German it is , but in English it is usually . Though the word remains common in German, it does come with some social stigma
attached (though not when used as meaning guide
), and under Hitler was part of the title of many positions in the various (para)military and governmental organizations of Germany.
It is mainly used in English and third languages (spelled Fuehrer when the ü-umlaut is not used) as the term for Nazi Germany's ruler Adolf Hitler.
Historic Nazi titles
State & Party Leader Hitler
Führer was the title granted by Chancellor
Hitler to himself, by the Enabling Law
which gave him supreme power in the German Reichstag
(Parliament), as part of the process of Gleichschaltung
, following the death of the last Reichspräsident
of the Weimar Republic
(Germany after the Hohenzollern empire), Paul von Hindenburg
, on August 2
. The new position, fully styled Führer und Reichskanzler
(Leader and Chancellor of the (Third) Reich
), unified the offices of State/Party leader (Germany becoming a one-party state
at this point) and Chancellor, formally making Hitler Germany's Head of State
as well as Head of Government
respectively; and, in practice, the Dictator
of the Nazi Third Reich
Nazi Germany cultivated the Führerprinzip (leader principle), and Hitler was generally known as just der Führer ("the Leader"). One of the Nazis' most-repeated political slogans was ''Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer' - 'One People, One Empire, One Leader'.
For military matters, Hitler used the style Führer und Oberster Befehlshaber der Wehrmacht ('Leader and Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht'), until that addition was dropped in May 1942 by decree of the Führer. The style of the Head of State for use in foreign affairs was Führer und Reichskanzler (Leader and National Chancellor) until July 28, 1942, when it was changed to Führer des Großdeutschen Reichs ('Leader of the Greater German Nation').
Military usage of the word Führer
Führer has been used as a military title (compare Latin Dux
) in Germany since at least the 18th century.
Ironically, given the usage of the word to refer to Adolf Hitler
as supreme ruler of Germany, in the context of a company-sized military subunit in the German Army, the term "Führer" referred to a commander lacking the qualifications for permanent command. For example, the commanding officer of a company was titled "Kompaniechef
" (literally, Company Chief), but if he did not have the requisite rank or experience, or was only temporarily assigned to command, he was officially titled "Kompanieführer."
Thus operational commands of various military echelons were typically referred to by their formation title followed by the title Führer
, in connection with mission-type tactics
used by the German military forces.
The term Führer was also used at lower levels, regardless of experience or rank; for example, a Gruppenführer
was the leader of a squad of infantry (9 or 10 men). Aside from this generic meaning, "Gruppenführer
" was also an official rank title for a specific grade of general in the Waffen SS
The word Truppenführer
was also a generic word referring to any commander or leader of troops, and could be applied to NCOs or officers at many different levels of command.
Under the Nazis, the title Führer was also used in paramilitary titles (see Freikorps). Almost every Nazi paramilitary organization, in particular the SS and SA, had Nazi party paramilitary ranks incorporating the title of Führer.
Equivalent historic titles
Hitler's choice for this political title was unprecedented in German. Like much of the early symbolism of Nazi Germany, it was modelled after Benito Mussolini
's Italian Fascism
, which impressed Hitler until it proved militarily inferior. Mussolini's chosen nickname il Duce
("the Leader") was widely used, though unlike Hitler he never made it his official title. Note that the Italian word duce
(unlike the German word Führer
) is no longer used as a generic term for a leader, but almost always refers to Mussolini himself.
Remarkably different authoritarian political leaders in various official positions assumed, formally or not, similar titles in their own languages, as nationalism dictates, thereby suggesting the power to speak for the nation itself, and justifying the exercising of more than ordinary power.
Such titles used by nationalist heads of state and/or government during the Second World War include:
- Vodca ("Leader") monsignor Jozef Tiso, from 1942 self-styled, in Slovakia, President 1939 - 1945 (acting to 26 October 1939).
- Naczelnik Państwa (Chief of State) Józef Piłsudski, dictator of Poland from 1926-1935.
- Vozhd (Russian for "Chief" in reference to Stalin being the Chief or a guide to the working class) - referred to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
- There was a Serbian Nationalist precedent, the style Vozhd in the uprising against the Ottomans, meaning Chief (from 26 December 1808, Supreme Chief 14 February 1804 - 3 October 1813 George Karađorđe Petrović, b. 1762 - d. 1817).
- Poglavnik Nezavisne Drzave Hrvatske ("Chief of the Independent State of Croatia") Ante Pavelic, in power in Croatia 10 April 1941 - 6 May 1945
- Vidkun Quisling, Fører ("leader", "guide"), Minister-president of the Nazi puppet government in Norway, and after Reichskommissar Josef Terboven the highest official in occupied Norway, reporting directly to Hitler.
- Conducător ("leader"), a title used by Ion Antonescu in Romania.
- Milli Sef (National Chief) used for the Turkish president Ismet Inonu from the beginning of his term in 1938 until its end in 1950.
- Leider ("leader"), a title used by Anton Mussert, the leader of Nationaal-Socialistische Beweging (National Socialist Movement) in the Netherlands.
- Nemzetvezető ("leader of the nation"), a title used by Ferenc Szálasi, the chief of the Nyilaskeresztes Párt (Arrow Cross Party) who succeeded Miklós Horthy in Hungary.
- Arhigos ("chief" or "leader"), a title used by General Ioannis Metaxas of Greece's 4th of August Regime.
- Adipati ("chief of state" or "generalissimo"), the title used by Ba Maw of the Japanese satellite State of Burma
- el Caudillo de España ("the Chieftain of Spain") Generalísimo Francisco Franco Bahamonde, Jefe de Estado (Chief of State) and Prime Minister. He adopted this title for himself and came to power after winning the bloody Spanish civil war. During World War II he maintained the neutrality of Spain. In fact the titles of Franco and Salazar (in Portugal) were used officially and rather than personally (cf: "mein führer" or "mi duce" my duce and my fuhrer). It is alleged that it was often used as a protocolary title; preceded by By the Grace of God it would indicate that the Spanish People had been luckily spared from the Soviet invasion.
Other 'leaders' of contemporary nationalist political groups who never achieved power:
In areas occupied by the Axis powers, some states or ethnic-cultural communities aspiring to national self-determination found they were not handed real power by their victorious German allies as they had hoped. Their nationalist leaders, too weak to gain control independently, were simply used as pawns.
Such Nazi collaborators include De Leider "leader" Staf De Clercq of the VNV (Flemish National League) in Flanders (the Dutch-speaking northern majority of Belgium), who had dreamed of a 'Diets' nation uniting Flanders, the Netherlands and Frans-Vlaanderen (the French part of historic Flanders, united with Belgium into one military occupation zone and Reichskommissariat). Even when the Germans decided in December 1944, after the allied breakthrough, to carve up Belgium, leaving only bicultural capital Brussels under the Reichskommissar, the post of Landsleider van het Vlaamsche Volk ('Land leader of the Flemish people') of the new Reichsgau (integral 'Germanic' part of the Reich, in this case merely on paper) (Flandern, Vlaanderen in Dutch; capital Anwerp) went to another collaborating party, Devlag, in the person of Jef Van de Wiele (1902 - 1979), 15 December 1944 - 1945, in exile in Germany as the Allied controlled all Belgium since September 1944; meanwhile in the Francophone south of Belgium, partially reconquered by German troops (December 1944 - January 1945), the equivalent post of Chef du Peuple Wallon ('Leader of the Walloon People'), at the head of the Reichsgau Wallonien, went to Léon Degrelle (in exile in Germany) of the rather Belgicist Rex party.
The use of the expression "leader" to denote a position of absolute political power was not invented by the Nazis, and it did not end with their defeat in World War II. Some political leaders have used such titles as part of maintaining a personality cult
, such as Başbuğ
(commander) Alparslan Türkeş
of the Turkish
The same style was sometimes followed by leaders with nationalist inclinations elsewhere in the political spectrum, not in the least rulers of Communist 'dictatures of the proletariat'; thus Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il of North Korea, who are both historically and geographically far removed from any European influence, have used the titles Great Leader and Dear Leader, respectively.
In Romania, Communist Party leader and president Nicolae Ceauşescu even had the same title, Conducător (Romanian for leader), as earlier dictator Marshal Ion Antonescu.
El Comandante ("commander"), is used for Fidel Castro as 'revolutionary' President of Cuba.
Muammar al-Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator, uses the titles "Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya" and "Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution".
Saparmurat Niyazov, the late president for life of the Republic of Turkmenistan, and former leader of the Turkmen communist party and later of the Democratic Party of Turkmenistan (the country's only political party), assumed from 22 October 1993 the unique, paternalistic national title Turkmenbashi (Türkmenbaşy in Turkmen), which means "Head of (all) the Turkmens".
During the Apollo
era (1967-1975), Guenther F. Wendt
, the German-American
engineer in charge of the launch pad "close out" crew, was nicknamed by the Kennedy Space Center
personnel "Führer of the Pad."
Other uses in modern German
Due to its excessive use in Nazi Germany, the isolated term Führer
is usually avoided in modern German.
However, being an indispensable Proto-Indo-European root Führer is naturally used as a part of many compound words in a process that does not have a direct equivalent in English, e.g.
- Bergführer (mountain guide)
- Fremdenführer (tourist guide)
- Geschäftsführer (CEO, literally business leader)
- Führerschein (driver's license)
- Führerstand or Führerhaus (driver's cab)
- Lok[omotiv]führer (train engine driver)
- Mannschaftsführer (teamster)
- Reiseführer (travel guide book)
- Spielführer (team captain)
- Wanderführer (trekking guide book)
- Zugführer (railway guard, platoon leader [in military context])
To replace Führer, the following terms are currently used:
- Chef ("chief", e.g. Chef des Bundeskanzleramtes)
- Leiter ("leader", often in composites like Amtsleiter, Projektleiter, Referatsleiter, also replaced Führer in Scouting)
- Anführer (rarely used as a specific designation)
Sources and references