How did Hitler become Chancellor in 1933?

Hitler eventually gained support from all corners of Germany by 1933. Although his Nazi Party were gaining seats, Hitler was not in any position of power. How did he overcome this to become Chancellor of Germany in 1933?

By the end of this lesson, you should be able to:
1) Explain the events that led to Hitler becoming Chancellor.
2) Explain the significance of the events.
3) Explain why Hitler’s power was still limited.

The worksheet is available to download here. If you do not have access to Word, please complete the tasks as outlined in the yellow boxes on this page.

STARTER: Hitler’s rise to power – quiz!
Complete the quiz below on Hitler’s rise to power. How many questions can you answer correctly?

Who were the key figures in Hitler’s rise to power?

A series of events in German politics allowed Hitler to become Chancellor in 1933. The four men below were instrumental in these events.

President Hindenburg

Hindenburg was President of Germany. He was a war hero in the First World War, but he was becoming increasingly frail in his old age.

His term in office ended in 1932, but he became President again to try and maintain stability in Germany after the Great Depression. He was 84 years old when at the start of his new presidency.

He hated Hitler, and saw him as a despicable man that was dangerous for Germany. He wanted to do everything possible to keep Hitler out of power.

Von Papen

A wealthy gentleman politician and a friend of Hindenburg. Von Papen was a conservative politician, aligned to the Centre Party in Germany.

He was seen as a much more respectable politician than Hitler by Hindenburg, and was therefore preferred to act as Chancellor of Germany.

Von Schleicher

A high-ranking and ambitious army general, Kurt Von Schliecher was a close ally of Hindenburg.

He was responsible for advising Hindenburg in his political decisions. He was responsible for helping Von Papen become Chancellor of Germany.

TASK ONE: Hitler becomes German Chancellor – storyboard.

Complete a storyboard outlining the key events of Hitler’s rise to become German Chancellor in 12 boxes. Your first box should outline the results of the July 1932 elections, and the last box should outline Hitler as German Chancellor.

To help you complete the storyboard, read the information below and watch the information in the video.

How did Hitler become Chancellor in 1933?

The end of Chancellor Bruning

Bruning’s attempts to steer Germany out of its economic and political troubles following the Great Depression ended in catastrophic failure. To tackle the economic and political difficulties, he decided to:

  1. Ban the SS and the SA. He was worried that civil war would break out on the streets of Germany if he didn’t stop these paramilitary groups.
  2. Announce plans to buy up land from large landowners and use it to house the unemployed.

This united right-wing politicians, both moderate and extreme, against Bruning:

  • The ban on the SS and the SA angered Hitler. His paramilitary forces were a core factor in his success, and losing them would damage his chances of achieving power.
  • The ban on the SS and the SA worried other far-right parties that had their own paramilitary groups – would they be banned too?
  • Politicans like Von Schleicher and Von Papen were conservatives, meaning that they stood up for big business and landowners. They were against taking land away from landowners.
  • President Hindenburg lost faith in Bruning’s ability to lead Germany.

Bruning resigned as Chancellor on 30th May 1932.

Bruning’s time as Chancellor ended in catastrophic failure. He failed to steer Germany through its troubles after the Wall Street Crash.

Von Papen becomes Chancellor

Von Schleicher had been working on forming a coalition of moderate right-wing politicians to lead the country in the Reichstag. This new coalition consisted of landowners, industrialists and army officials. He persuaded President Hindenburg to let Von Papen lead this coalition as Chancellor following Bruning.

They found it hard to govern effectively in the Reichstag as they did not have a majority in the parliament. They persuaded Hindenburg to let them govern by presidential decree rather than by votes in the Reichstag. This was totally against the democratic process of the Weimar Republic, but Hindenburg agreed with them: he could not afford the Republic to fall apart. They were nicknamed ‘the Cabinet of Barons’ by newspapers because of their lack of commitment to democracy.

Von Schleicher gave the Nazi Party some representation in this new government. This was significant because it was the first time Nazi politicians were part of the government. Von Schleicher did not take them seriously however – he felt as though they could be controlled easily.

‘They are merely children who had to be led by the hand…’

Von Schleicher’s views on giving the Nazi Party some representation in the new coalition government.

The Nazi Party become the biggest party in the Reichstag

Von Papen’s government did not have control of the Reichstag. Political tensions were becoming extreme in Germany, and the July 1932 election saw swathes of violence across the country. 100 people were killed across Germany as a result of violence linked to the election.

The Nazi Party won 230 seats. This was a substantial increase in their share of the vote (from 18% in 1930 to 37.7% in 1932).

Hitler demanded that Von Papen was sacked and that he was appointed as German Chancellor instead as he was in charge of the largest party.

Von Papen gambles with another election

In any usual situation, the leader of the biggest political party in Germany would become Chancellor. President Hindenburg, however, due to his hatred of Adlof Hitler, refused to give Hitler the Chancellorship. He instead allowed Von Papen to call another election in November 1933 to increase his support.

The Nazi Party did lose some seats, but they remained the biggest political party in the Reichstag. Von Papen’s gamble was lost.

Von Papen is replaced with Von Schleicher

In desperation, Hindenburg removes Von Papen from power and replaces him with Von Schleicher. Hindenburg is desperate for moderate politicians to remain in power of Germany.

Von Schleicher had absolutely no support from the Reichstag or the people of Germany. To try and govern Germany, he asked Hindenburg to suspend the Weimar constitution and place him as head of a military dictatorship. He would use the German armed forces to control Germany. Hindenburg thought that this was a step too far and refused.

The return of Von Papen

In January 1933, Von Papen gave Hindenburg an alternative: make Hitler Chancellor of Germany and make Von Papen Vice Chancellor. This way, Von Papen said, Hitler could be put in charge but in reality Hindenburg and himself could make all the real decisions. They would stop Hitler making the changes he wanted to.

It was an ingenious idea. It allowed Germany to follow the democratic process, but secretly it allowed the moderate politicians to rule Germany in the way they wished.

Hitler agreed to the plan on the condition that the SA and the SS were legalised once more. Hitler became Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1930.

‘Within two months, we will have pushed Hitler so far into a corner that he’ll squeak [like a mouse]’.

Von Papen in his explanation to President Hindenburg on the reason for appointing Hitler as Chancellor.

There is a lot going on here, and this can be tricky to follow. Try watching the video below to help you understand a little better.

The brilliant Ben Newmark explaining Hitler’s rise to power in a way that is clear and concise.

TASK TWO: Which event was the most significant in allowing Hitler to become Chancellor?

Look at your storyboard that you have created to help you explain how Hitler came to power. Which event do you consider to be the most significant in allowing Hitler to become Chancellor? Think about where the turning point was.

Turning point = The point in a series of historical events where decisive change occurs. Change would not have been possible without this event.

Explain in a short paragraph why you believe this event was the most significant.

TASK THREE: Source analysis

Look at the source below. It is from a newspaper in the USA from 4th February 1933.

What does it suggest about Hitler’s power? Why does it suggest this?

Hint: Think about how much power Hitler actually had when he became Chancellor in January 1933? What problems does Hitler still have in his quest for total power?

SOURCE A: Just in case he goosesteps too much. A political cartoon from a US newspaper on 4th February 1933.

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