Germany 1933: History and Facts from Democracy to Dictatorship
As history tells in 1933, Hitler came to power in Germany, and dictatorship was established in Germany. How did the Nazi party come to power and how did Hitler eliminate his opponents? Let us know through this article….
Weakness of the Weimar Republic after World War I
Germany became a republic in 1919. After the defeat in World War I, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated. Many Germans were dissatisfied with the new situation. He longed to return to the empire. Many also believed that the ruling Social Democrats were responsible for losing the war. Nevertheless, from the mid-1920s things began to look up.
And then in 1930 came the global economic crisis. Germany could no longer pay the war debt stipulated in the Versailles Peace Treaty. Millions of Germans lost their jobs. The country was also in a political crisis. Cabinets were falling, and new elections were being held all the time. It seemed impossible to form a majority government.
Rise of the NSDAP in Germany
This was the background for the rise of the German National Socialist Workers’ Party (NSDAP). When it was founded in 1920, it was only a small party. But Hitler used his oratory to attract more and more members. The party was characterized by extreme nationalism and antisemitism.
In November 1923, Hitler even attempted a coup d’état. It completely failed. Hitler ended up behind bars and the court banned the NSDAP. In late 1924, Hitler was released after serving a relatively short sentence. However, his political career was not over. In prison, he wrote the famous treatise, Mein Kampf, setting out his plans for Germany.
From then on, the Nazis had to stick to the law and try to gain power through elections. They benefited from the economic crisis that began in the late 1920s. The Nazis used the crisis to denounce the government and the Versailles Peace Treaty. His strategy worked. In the 1928 elections, the NSDAP received 0.8 million votes; In 1930 this number had increased to 64 lakhs.
The fact that many Germans were attracted by the NSDAP was not only because of their party program. The party communicated strength and vitality. Furthermore, the Nazi leaders were young, in stark contrast to the gray politicians of the established parties. Furthermore, Hitler’s image as a strong leader attracted people. He was fully prepared to unite the population and eliminate political discord.
The Nazis focused on voters from all walks of life, rather than just one group such as workers or Catholics. He also attracted many people who had never voted before. Nevertheless, in November 1932 it seemed that the party had reached its zenith. The economy was recovering, and the NSDAP received 11% fewer votes than in the July elections of the same year.
Hitler appointed chancellor
Conservative parties did not get enough votes. He pressured President Paul von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as chancellor. He was expected to form a majority cabinet with the NSDAP. The fact that they hoped to use Hitler for their own agenda would be a fatal understatement.
January 30, 1933, was the day: von Hindenburg conceded defeat and appointed Hitler as chancellor. ‘It’s like a dream. The future propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary, Wilhelmstraße is ours.
National Socialist government: the Nazis shared power
The National Socialists celebrated their victory in Berlin with a torchlight procession. Hitler looked on approvingly from the Chancellor’s balcony. Despite his glory, he was still far from being all-powerful at that time. The new cabinet counted only two NSDAP members, but Hitler succeeded in appointing them to key positions.
The role of Hermann Göring was particularly important. He was a minister without a portfolio who was to control the police force of Prussia, a large part of Germany. For the Nazis this was a reason to celebrate their ‘National Revolution’, but many Germans were indifferent to the news. He had seen many governments come and go and he did not expect that the new government would ever run.
The Fire in the Reichstag: The First Step Towards Dictatorship
Soon, Hitler claimed more power. The fire at the Reichstag, the parliament building, was an important moment in this development. On 27 February 1933, watchmen saw flames blazing through the roof. They overpowered the suspected arsonist, a Dutch communist named Marinus van der Lubbe. He was killed in 1934 after a show trial. Evidence of any accomplices was never found.
The Nazi leadership was quick to arrive on the scene. An eyewitness said that upon seeing the fire, Göring cried out: ‘This is the beginning of the communist insurrection, they will now begin their attack! Not even a moment should be lost!’ Before he moved on, Hitler shouted: ‘There will be no mercy now. Whoever stands in our way will be cut down.’
The next morning, President von Hindenburg invoked the Reichstag Fire Decree. This formed the basis of dictatorship. The civil rights of the German people were curtailed. Freedom of expression was no longer natural and the police could arbitrarily search houses and arrest people. Political opponents of the Nazis were essentially outlawed.
The brutal suppression of all opposition
In this atmosphere of intimidation, fresh elections were held on 5 March 1933. The streets were filled with Nazi posters and flags. Nevertheless, the great victory expected by the Nazis did not materialize. With 43.9% of the vote, the NSDAP did not have a majority. The left-wing parties KPD and SPD still received 30% of the vote.
Meanwhile, the spate of arrests and intimidation had escalated. The government banned the Communist Party. By 15 March, 10,000 communists had been arrested. To house all these political prisoners, concentration camps were first opened. Conditions in the camps were atrocious. People were ill-treated, tortured, and sometimes even killed.
Jews, and especially well-known Germans, had a hard time of it. For example, SS guards at Dachau camp, near Munich, led four Jewish prisoners outside the gates, where they shot them. The guard then claimed that the victims had tried to escape.
Hitler gains more power
Hitler’s power increased unprecedentedly when a meeting of the Reichstag was held in Berlin on 23 March 1933. Mainstream on the agenda was a new law, the ‘Enabling Act’. This allowed Hitler to enact new laws without interference from the President or the Reichstag for a period of four years. The building where the meeting took place was surrounded by members of the SA and SS, the paramilitary organizations of the NSDAP, who had now been promoted to auxiliary police forces.
In his speech, Hitler gave the attendees a choice between ‘war and peace’. It was a veiled threat to intimidate any dissidents. The process was by no means democratic. With 444 votes in favor and 94 against, the Reichstag adopted the enabling act. Ultimately, the act was to form the basis of the Nazi dictatorship in Germany until 1945, and it did.
Gleichschaltung of society
Now that Hitler had become autocratic and powerful in Germany, it was time for the Nazis to conform society to the Nazi ideal. This process was known as Gleichschaltung. Many politically suspect and Jewish civil servants were dismissed. The trade unions were forcibly replaced by the Deutsche Arbeitsfront. This allowed the Nazis to prevent the workers from organizing any protests.
All existing political parties were banned. From mid-July 1933, Germany was a one-party state. Cultural and scientific ‘purifications’ were also carried out.
According to the Nazis, everything ‘un-German’ was to disappear. Books written by Jewish, leftist, or pacifist authors were burned.
Persecution of the Jews
When the Nazis took power, their destructive power was primarily directed against their political opponents. German Jews made an exception. As a group, they did not oppose the ambitions of the Nazis. Nevertheless, they were constantly subjected to violence, harassment, and persecution. As early as 1 April 1933, the government took official action against the Jews. It announced a massive boycott of Jewish products. This was the first step in a series of anti-Jewish measures that would culminate in the Holocaust.
After taking power, Hitler and the Nazis turned Germany into a dictatorship. Time and again, he used legal methods to give his actions an appearance of legitimacy. Step by step, Hitler managed to erode democracy until it was just a hollow facade. However, the matter did not end there. During the twelve years of the Third Reich’s existence, Hitler continued to consolidate his hold on the country.