Nazi Germany under the leadership of Hitler soon became a dictatorship.A dictatorship requires one person and one party to be in control of a nation and a climate of fear – this was provided by Himmler’s SS. Personal freedom disappeared in Nazi Germany.
When Hitler was appointed chancellor on January 30th 1933, it was at the head of a coalition government. It was very clear in his mind that it would not remain this way for long. By the end of March 1933, he had acquired much greater powers than the former leading politicians of the Weimar Republic could ever have foreseen when they supported his appointment as chancellor. The death of President Hindenburg in August 1934, allowed him to combine both chancellor’s and president’s positions into one when Hitler became the Fuehrer and Reich Chancellor.
How did Germany descend so quickly into becoming a dictatorship?
When Hitler was appointed in January 1933, Germany was a democracy. Germany had fair elections; nobody had their right to vote abused; there were numerous political parties you could vote for etc. To pass a law, the Reichstag had to agree to it after a bill went through the normal processes of discussion, arguments etc. Within the Reichstag of January 1933, over 50% of those who held seats were against the Nazi Party. Therefore it would have been very unlikely for Hitler to have got passed into law what he wanted. Many saw Hitler as a fall-guy politician who would have to shoulder to blame if things got worse under his leadership.
Hitler had promised a general election for March 1933. This would have been, in his mind, the perfect opportunity for him to show all politicians who opposed him where the true loyalties lay in the German people. In fact, 1932 had shown Hitler that there was a possibility that support for the Nazis had peaked as their showing in the November 1932 election had shown. Anything other than a huge endorsement of Hitler and the Nazi Party would have been a disaster and a gamble which it is possible that Hitler did not want to take.
One week before the election was due to take place, the Reichstag building burned down. Hitler immediately declared that it was the signal for a communist takeover of the nation. Hitler knew that if he was to convince President Hindenburg to give him emergency powers – as stated in the Weimar Constitution – he had to play on the old president’s fear of communism. What better than to convince him that the communists were about to take over the nation by force?
A known communist – Marianus van der Lubbe – was caught near the Reichstag building immediately after the fire had started. Those that arrested him – Nazi officials – claimed that Lubbe confessed to them that the fire was a signal to other communists to start the revolution to overthrow democracy in the country. Matches were allegedly found on van der Lubbe and those who arrested him claimed that he smelt of petrol.
Hitler asked Hindenburg to grant him emergency powers in view of the ‘communist takeover’. Using the constitution, Hindenburg agreed to pass the Law for the Protection of the People and the State.
This law gave Hitler what he wanted – a ban on the Communists and Socialists taking part in an election campaign. The leaders from both parties were arrested and their newspapers were shut down. To ‘keep the peace’ and maintain law and order, the SA (the Brown Shirts) roamed the streets beating up those who openly opposed Hitler.
The election took place in March – though Hitler was convinced it would be the last. Hitler did not get the number of votes he wanted but he did get enough to get over a 50% majority in the Reichstag:
|4.8 million votes
|7.2 million votes
|5.5 million votes
|3.1 million votes
|1.4 million votes
|17.3 million votes
That 12 million people voted for what were effectively two outlawed parties is remarkable when the intimidation of voters is taken into account.
After the burning down of the Reichstag, politicians had nowhere to meet. The Kroll Opera House in Berlin was chosen. This was a relatively small round building – perfect for meetings. On March 23rd, elected officials were due to meet to discuss and vote on Hitler’s Enabling Law.
As politicians neared the building, they found it surrounded by SS and SA thugs who tried to ensure that only Nazi or Nationalist politicians got into the building. The vote for this law was crucial as it gave Hitler a vast amount of power. The law basically stated that any bill only needed Hitler’s signature and within 24 hours that bill would become law in Germany. With only Nazis and other right wing politicians inside the Kroll Opera House, the bill was quickly passed into law. The act gave Hitler what he wanted – dictatorial power. What he wanted would become law in Germany within 24 hours of his signature being put on paper.
On 7th April 1933, Nazi officials were put in charge of all local government in the provinces.
On May 2nd 1933, trades unions were abolished, their funds taken and their leaders put in prison. The workers were given a May Day holiday in return.
On July 14th 1933, a law was passed making it illegal to form a new political party. It also made the Nazi Party the only legal political party in Germany.
Germany became a nation of snoops. People were employed in each street, in each building complex etc. with the sole purpose of keeping an eye on others in their ‘area’ and reporting them to the authorities if they believed that something was amiss. The reputation of the Nazi police and the secret police lead by Himmler was such that no-one wished to cause offence. People kept their thoughts to themselves unless they wished to invite trouble. In this sense, Nazi Germany was a nation run on fear of the government. Hitler had created a one party state within months of being appointed chancellor.
His only remaining problem from his point of view was loyalty within his own party ranks. In June 1934, he overcame this with the Night of the Long Knives.
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