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The Nazi takeover in 1933
On 30 January 1933 Adolf Hitler, leader of NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party), was appointed Reich Chancellor by the Reich President, Paul von Hindenburg. At the subsequent elections to the Reichstag, NSDAP, together with its coalition partner DNVP, gained an absolute majority. This was mainly due to the fact that political opponents had been terrorised during the election campaign.
The Nazis come into power
At the beginning of 1933, the other political parties were unhappy about letting Hitler become head of the government, since they considered him a boisterous amateur. On the other hand, keeping the Nazis from power had become increasingly difficult. It was an important fact that several of the conservatives in power (who ruled the country via emergency decrees signed by the President) were of the opinion that Hitler could be controlled and dominated, if he was made a responsible head of government.
The Reichstag Fire
On the 27 February 1933 the German Reichstag (parliament building) burned down. There has long been doubt whether it was the Nazis themselves that set the place on fire, or if it really was a young communist, Martin van der Lubbe, who was responsible. Modern research has shown that most likely van der Lubbe was solely responsible for the arson. In all circumstances, van der Lubbe was arrested and later executed for the deed, and the Nazis convinced President von Hindenburg to sign the so-called
>'Reichstag Fire Decree' -
‘Decree by the Reich President for the Defence of People and State’ on 28 February 1933. In reality, this decree gave the Reich Chancellor (Hitler) almost unrestricted powers to imprison any political opponent. Hitler used these powers to have communists arrested and thus forced out of the elections.
The Enabling Act
PIn spite of the Nazi party’s many capers, they did not succeed in gaining an absolute majority in the Reichstag at the elections on 5 March 1933. NSDAP did become by far the largest party, with 43,9% of the votes and 288 seats, but they only gained an absolute majority in cooperation with their coalition partner, the DNVP (Deutsch Nationale Volks Partei – the German Nationalist Peoples Party).
The Jews were not the most important of the opponents after the Nazi takeover. It was far more important for the new people in power to deal with political opponents, particularly the communists. In this respect, the Reichstag Fire Decree constituted the perfect weapon, because it could be used as the formal basis for state-controlled attacks against left-wing politicians.
At the Nazi takeover of power, the Jews generally remained calm. At first, many did not realise the fundamental change that had happened, when Hitler came to power. Particularly the aging Reich President von Hindenburg was seen as a guarantee against the most serious of Nazi assaults.
Want to know more?
Ian Kershaw, Hitler. 1889-1936: Hubris (London, 1998).
© 2002 by Peter Vogelsang & Brian B. M. Larsen. All rights reserved