On 30 January 1933, Reich President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Reich Chancellor. One and a half years later, Germany was a dictatorship. Within a few months, Hitler had brought the entire country into line and smashed any form of resistance against him. How could this happen so quickly?
04 Hitler Fights for Sole Power
After his appointment, the new Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler initially had only one goal: he wanted to eliminate his political opponents – above all the Social Democrats and Communists. At that time, they represented the second and third strongest force in the Reichstag. Thus, they had decisive political influence, for example on the passing of laws. In theory, they had the power to block Hitler’s political plans together.
Hitler was aware of this fact. Only two days after taking office he, therefore, demanded the dissolution of the Reichstag. His goal: new elections. Through these, he hoped for an absolute majority of his party, the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP).
President Hindenburg complied with Hitler’s demand. On February 1, 1933, he officially dissolved the Reichstag. For Hitler and his party comrades, this was the
starting signal for a ruthless election campaign against the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) and the Communist Party of Germany (KPD).
03 The Reichstag Fire and the Abolition of Fundamental Rights
In this election campaign Hitler had a decisive advantage: With Wilhelm Frick as Reich Interior Minister and Hermann Goring as Prussian Interior Minister, his party had power over the police. The National Socialists made clever use of this circumstance. On February 17, 1933, they obtained the so-called Shooting Order. This decree empowered the police to use firearms against Nazi opponents.
Goring sent about 50,000 auxiliary policemen to support them. They were organized in the newly founded Sturmabteilung (SA), Schutzstaffel (SS) and Stahlhelm. Together they arrested more than 25,000 members of the SPD and KPD until the end of the election campaign.
On February 27, 1933, the National Socialists had the opportunity to make another move against the opposition. The Reichstag building had been hit by an arson attack. The people were insecure. Hitler and his followers used this to fuel people’s fear of a Communist uprising. They blamed the Communists for the fire.
Under this pretext, they issued the so-called Reichstag Fire Ordinance. The decree came into force one day after the attack. It abolished the fundamental rights of the Weimar Constitution: People were no longer free to express their opinions or to gather. Resistance against the Nazi regime was now prohibited by law. Until the Reichstag elections on 5 March 1933, numerous members of the SPD and KPD had been arrested or fled.
Hitler had achieved his goal: the people had no choice. Nevertheless, the NSDAP achieved only 43.9 percent of the votes. To achieve an absolute majority, it had to form a coalition with the Black-White-Red battlefront.
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02 Laws Consolidated Hitler’s Position
About two weeks after the election, Hitler opened the newly elected Reichstag with the “Day of Potsdam”. It was a perfectly staged propaganda event. During the festivities, Hitler bowed before the Reich President in office, Hindenburg.
It was a symbolic act. With this act, Hitler wanted to demonstrate that the old conservative empire and the new National Socialist Germany belonged together. The action was a complete success. The people celebrated their new Chancellor Hitler.
At the height of his popularity, Hitler enacted – with the approval of the Reichstag – the so-called Enabling Act. This empowered him to pass laws without the consent of the Reichstag. He now had sole decision-making power. The Reichstag had, so to speak, abolished itself.
Hitler used his newly won power to restructure the country according to his ideas. Everything different he found disturbing. His goal was a unified society – without diversity, without lateral thinkers.
Above all political opponents and Jews were a thorn in Hitler’s side. On April 7, 1933, he, therefore, passed a law prohibiting the employment of opposition and Jewish officials. The Civil Servants Act was the first of a series of such laws.
After a few months, almost every area of life was oriented towards National Socialism. Any kind of resistance against the regime was crushed: there were no more trade unions. The multiparty system was abolished. Opponents of the regime and Jews had left the country or had been deported to concentration camps.
On August 2, 1934, the Reich President Paul von Hindenburg, who was still in office, died. This removed the last obstacle on the way to dictatorship. Hitler dissolved the Reich President’s Office and appointed himself “Führer und Reichskanzler”.
01 Hitler’s Actual Goal: War
In his new position as sole head of state, Hitler was able to pursue his real political goal: He wanted to gain new living space in the East. He wanted a Second World War. Outwardly, Hitler demonstrated the opposite: he concluded peace treaties and made ceasefire agreements with the Soviet Union, the Vatican, and Poland.
Internally, the signs had long been of war: Hitler had already prompted Germany to withdraw from the League of Nations in October 1933. In doing so, he wanted to circumvent international arms restrictions.
On 16 March 1935, he reintroduced compulsory military service. This was a violation of the Treaty of Versailles. In order to justify his actions to the other states, Hitler invoked Germany’s right to self-determination. These accepted – for the time being.
On 12 March 1938 Hitler brought about the merger of Germany and Austria. Shortly thereafter, he also sought reunification with the Sudetenland. The Sudetenland ran along the border between Germany-Austria and Czechoslovakia. More than 3.5 million people lived there. The Nazis urged them to fight for their affiliation with Germany. They propagated this as a return to the German Reich.
Thus, the National Socialists provoked a conflict between Czechoslovakia and the Sudetenland. This could only be defused by the so-called Munich Agreement.
Since the great powers of France, Italy and Great Britain saw a war imminent between Germany-Austria and Czechoslovakia, they forced the cession of Sudetenland to Germany on 30 September 1938.
Contrary to expectations, however, the agreement did not mark the end but the beginning of Hitler’s territorial conquest. His troops occupied more and more territories. These included Bohemia and the Memel region. Hitler was also targeting Poland.
The other states – above all Great Britain and France – no longer wanted to let Hitler go. They assured Poland of independence. Nevertheless, Hitler did not deviate from his plans. On September 1, 1939, the German army invaded Poland. This was the beginning of the Second World War.