Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933, giving him his first position of power. Yet he was hampered by the Weimar constitution and a series of opposing political figures around him. How did he begin to pull the Weimar Republic apart and become a dictator?
You can download the worksheet here. If you cannot download the worksheet, please complete the tasks in the yellow boxes.
STARTER: Research what the missing key words mean.
Dictatorship = A system of government ruled by a dictator.
Decree = An official order, usually made by the government.
TASK ONE: What were the Reichstag Fire and the Enabling Act?
Read the following information on the Reichstag Fire and the Enabling Act. When you are done, answer the following questions:
1) How did the Reichstag Fire help Hitler to consolidate his power?
2) Why have some people suggested that the Nazis burnt down the Reichstag themselves?
3) How did the Reichstag Fire lead to the Enabling Act?
4) How did the Enabling Act help Hitler to consolidate his power?
Hitler’s political position in February 1933.
Although Hitler enjoyed his first real position in power, Hitler was a long way from achieving his ambition of becoming an all-powerful dictator leading Germany. His power was limited for a number of reasons:
- Hitler was required to use the Reichstag to pass laws. Although the Nazi Party were the largest party in the parliament, they only held one-third of the seats. Any bills that were introduced could easily be defeated at the first hurdle by opposing parties.
- Although Hitler was Chancellor, there were only three Nazi Party members in the government’s cabinet out of 12. The Nazi Party was required to compromise on many of its demands with other parties.
- Hitler did not have support of the German army. The army did not like the SA and did not want anything to do with Hitler.
- The KPD (Communist Party) were still relatively influential. They hated the Nazis and worked hard to oppose them.
- President Hindenburg hated Hitler. Hindenburg also had the power to sack Hitler any time he pleased. Hitler needed to be careful.
- Hitler was worried that not every Nazi Party politician was loyal to Hitler. He feared that if he did not act decisively his party might remove him.
Hitler looked decisively weak when he became Chancellor. Newspapers around the world wrote Hitler off in an instant in early 1933.
‘The composition of the Cabinet leaves Herr Hitler no scope for his dictatorial ambition’.The New York Times, February 1933.
It’s surprising (shocking, even) that Hitler managed to become Germany’s Fuhrer in little over 18 months.
The Reichstag Fire
As soon as Hitler became Chancellor he insisted upon new Reichstag elections. Hitler was adamant in gaining a Nazi majority in the Reichstag so that the Weimar Repbulic’s constitution could be removed easily. The elections were called for the 5th March 1933.
Hitler persuaded Hindenburg to pass a decree that stated that all election meetings were required to be reported at least 48 hours in advance. Hindenburg thought this was to protect political parties from violence; instead Hitler used it so that he could send the SA to these meetings to intimidate politicians and break up their meetings. Goering, who was in charge of the SA and the police, encouraged the SA to use violence against political opponents where and when they could.
With less than a week to go until the new elections, the Reichstag burnt to the ground on the night of the 27th February 1933. During a search of the building, the police found a communist, Marinus van der Lubbe, who was quickly arrested on the charges of arson to the parliament.
Although van der Lubbe appeared to be acting alone, Hitler quickly argued that this was evidence of a communist plot against Germany. That night, Goering’s Prussian police arrested and imprisoned 4000 communist leaders in Germany.
The following day, Hitler persuaded President Hindenburg to pass an emergency decree, suspending all the articles in the Weimar constitution which guaranteed personal liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. This was extremely significant as it granted the police extensive abilities: homes could be searched, properties could be confiscated and people could be arrested and detained without trial. The death penalty was introduced for a wide range of crimes and political opponents could be placed in detention centres. Crucially, the police were told to turn a blind-eye to SA violence.
Although this was an ’emergency decree’ by name (inferring that it was a short-term solution), the decree remained in place for the next twelve years of Nazi controlled Germany.
The March 1933 election was a bloody one: 70 deaths were recorded following violent clashes. Terrified of the possibility of a communist uprising, wealthy industrialists pumped more money in to the Nazi Party: Gustav Krupp and others donated 3 million marks after just one meeting. This allowed the Nazis to see their numbers increase significantly in parliament (288 seats). Using his emergency powers, Hitler banned the KPD from taking their 81 seats that they had won.
Hitler now had a two-thirds majority in the Reichstag – enough to rip up the Weimar constitution.
The Enabling Act
The Nazi Party’s huge majority in the Reichstag following the March 1933 election allowed Hitler to do almost anything he wished in parliament. Following this success, he proposed the Enabling Act to the Reichstag. This outlined three crucial changes to the Weimar constitution for the following four years:
- The Reich cabinet (the Nazi government) could pass new laws without the need of parliament.
- The constitution could be removed by the government.
- New laws would be proposed by the Chancellor – Hitler.
The Bill was put forward to parliament that had chaired itself in the Kroll Opera House after the destruction of the Reichstag. SA troopers lined the halls outside of the building as the vote was taking place, intimidating opposition politicians.
‘Full powers – or else! We want the Bill – or fire and murder!’Chants sung by the SA outside the Kroll Opera House as votes were being cast. These were easily heard by the politicians in the building.
The votes were taken – 441 for and only 94 against. Even the National Party and Centre Party had backed the Bill. The Social Democrats were the only party to vote against the Bill. Nazi politicians leapt to their feet clapping, stamping and shouting, and broke in to the Nazi anthem.
Although the Enabling Act had a time-limit of four years, Hitler renewed the Act in 1937. German democracy had been destroyed. The Weimar constitution was dead.
TASK TWO: What was the most important factor for Hitler consolidating his power?
Look at the continuum line below. At one end is the Reichstag Fire and at the other is the Enabling Act.
Place a cross on the line to show how far you feel each contributed to Hitler’s consolidation of power. Explain why you have marked your cross there.
TASK THREE: Give two things you can infer.
Look at the source below. Give two things you can infer about this source about Hitler’s consolidation of power between 1933-34.
Remember to use the correct sentence starters:
Source A suggests that…
Details in the source that show me this are…
Source A: A photograph of Nazi storm troopers arresting suspected Communists, February 1933