The conditions of Hitler’s rise to power and establishment of a single-party state is a subject of much debate among historians. It is also the subject of a test I have tomorrow in my history class. Writing this counts as studying, right?
In my class there was confusion about how, exactly, Hitler came into power of Germany. Some students believed he attained power through an election. This is untrue; he ran for president of Germany in 1932, but lost to Hindenburg, who gained support from the Center and Social Democratic Parties. Other students believed he seized power through force. This is also false (although Hitler did try to seize power in the Munich Putsch of 1923). No, on January 30, 1933, President Hindenburg appointed Hitler as chancellor of Germany because he recognized the growing popularity of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP), or Nazi Party, and because he believed that Hitler could be “tamed” if he were surrounded by conservative ministers. Obviously, Hindenburg grossly underestimated Hitler. Many historians believe that this marks the beginning of Nazi Germany, or the Third Reich.
So how does chancellor of the Weimar Republic become the Führer of Nazi Germany? First, the weakness of the Weimar’s constitution helped Hitler consolidate his power. Namely, Article 48 of the constitution allowed the President to take emergency measures without consulting the Reichstag, the parliamentary body. However, it did not define what constituted an emergency. As you can imagine, Hitler exploited this vague article.
On February 27, 1933, a Dutch communist supposedly set fire to the Reichstag building (some contest that the Nazis actually set the fire as pretense for an emergency decree). Then, the Nazis convinced President Hindenburg that the Reichstag fire was a sign that the Communists were plotting against the government and that he should exercise Article 48 and declare an emergency. The next day, Hindenburg signed the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspended many civil liberties. Hitler used the decree to suppress Communist opposition.
In March 1933, Hitler called another election for seats in the Reichstag. He had arrested 4,000 Communist Party leaders and members and used violence and intimidation to suppress opposition to the Nazi Party. However, the Nazis won only 43.9% of the vote, which greatly disappointed Hitler.
Unfortunately, this did not stop Hitler from increasing his power. He passed an amendment to the Weimar constitution called the Enabling Act which allowed the German Cabinet (read: Hitler) to enact laws without the approval of the Reichstag or the president. To gain the “support” needed to pass the act, Hitler’s paramilitary group the Sturmabteilung (SA) surrounded the parliament and intimidated opponents. The law passed with 82.5% of the votes. The Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act essentially allowed Hitler to run a legal dictatorship.
Upon learning that Hindenburg was on his deathbed, on August 1, 1934, Hitler passed the Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich, which stated that when President Hindenburg died, the powers of president and chancellor would be merged. The next day Hindenburg died and Hitler was declared Führer.
So that is a basic recap of Hitler’s consolidation of power- a series of frustrating events. Now, I have to study Hitler’s rise to power and domestic policy.