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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.

More about:
The Nazis come into power
The Reichstag Fire
The Enabling Act
The Jews
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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.

Hitler’s first cabinet was far from a pure Nazi government. Except Hitler, who became Chancellor, the Nazi Party only held two seats:
Wilhelm Frick became Minister of the Interior, while Hermann Göring became Minister without Portfolio, later Minister for Air. However, Göring was also appointed Prime Minister of the most important of the German Länder, Prussia.

In order to finalise the takeover of power, Hitler called a general election for 5 March 1933. The Nazi Party’s storm troopers, the SA (German: Sturm Abteilungen), did all they could to terrorise political opponents during the election campaign. And to a large extent they were allowed to do so without interference, since the Nazis controlled the police force via Frick and Göring.

The Reichstag Fire

The Reichstag Fire, 27 February, 1933.

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 Reichstag Fire Decree was originally planned to be in effect for only a brief period of time. In reality, however, it was kept in effect throughout World War II. It was used, among other things, as the legitimisation for Gestapo’s arrests and the confining of people to concentration camps, thus circumventing the regular judicial system.

The Enabling Act

Hitler listens to the election results, 5 March, 1933, USHMM # 78577

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).

On 23 March 1933 the Nazis succeeded in passing a law that in reality made the Reichstag lose its powers. The so-called
>'Enabling Act' invested Hitler, as Reich Chancellor, with powers to issue legislation on equal terms with the Reichstag. In other words, he was now personally in control of both the executive and the legislative power. Incredibly, the necessary two thirds of Reichstag members voted in favour of the law, among them several members of the Social Democratic 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.

On 14 July 1933 a law made all other political parties than NSDAP illegal.

The Jews

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.

Atrocities did happen, however. The SA, who after the takeover of power had gained much freer reins, stepped up their attacks on the Jews during the spring of 1933. After the elections on 5 March, the number of violent attacks on Jews increased.

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>The Nazi takeover - sources
> Hitler's takeover - external link


Ian Kershaw, Hitler. 1889-1936: Hubris (London, 1998).

Hans-Ulrich Thamer, Verführung und Gewalt: Deutschland 1933-1945 (2nd edn, Berlin, 1994).

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