The establishment of the Nazi dictatorship, January-March 1933

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The Hitler cabinet

  • On 30th January 1933, Hitler was appointed Chancellor and later that day, he held his first cabinet meeting. 
  • Papen believed that there would be no fundamental political change by including the Nazis in the government - the Nazis only held three posts out of a total of 12 ministers. Also, the real decisions in cabinet would be made by the non-Nazi majority, many of whom belonged to the old aristocratic elite, including Papen. Papen thought that Hitler wouldn't be able to dominate his own cabinet, and he certainly wouldn't be able to become the dictator he aspired to be. On the other hand, Hitler was determined to establish a Nazi dictatorship. By the end of March 1933, he was well on his way to achieving this. 
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Nazi use of terror

Nazi violence against political opponents
The violence of the SA had been important in Hitler's rise to power, so he wanted to use the SA to eliminate opposition, meaning that once he gained power, Hitler used state resources to consolidate his position and rapidly expanded the SA - it grew from 500,000 in January 1933 to around 3 million a year later. Also, the SA's activities gained legal authority - in February 1933, the SA and Stalhelm merged and were recognised as the 'auxillary police' and the regular police forces were forbidden from interfering with the SA. The SA participated in a sustained attack on trade union and KPD offices (they broke up SPD and KPD meetings). In February, a Nazi shot the SPD mayor of a town of Prussia and a communist was killed in clashes with the SA. These crimes were ignored by the police and when a SPD newspaper condemned the killings, the paper was banned. The Centre Party also became a target after its newspaper criticized the regime (its newspapers were banned). Thousands of communists, socialists and trade unionists were rounded up and imprisoned in temporary concentration camps. The first permanent concentration camp was established in March 1933 at Dachau. By July 1933, over 25,000 political prisoners had been arrested by the SA and put in some 70 camps.  

The Reichstag fire
Hitler persuaded Hindenburg to dissolve the Reichstag and call a new election in March as he thought the Nazis would be able to win an outright majority this time which would strengthen his position. This election campaign caused an intensification of Nazi terror against their opponents. The SPD and KPD had virtually been driven underground by the Nazis' terror and intimidation by the time of the election. On 27th February, the Reichstag building was burned down and a young communist, Marinus van der Lubbe, was arrested and charged with arson. The regime claimed this was part of a communist plot to start a revolution in Germany. It was used to justify the immediate suspension of civil liberties.

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The use of legal power

The Decree for the Protection of the People and the State
The Weimar constitution had remained in force throughout the Third Reich but after the Reichstag fire, Hitler was able to persuade Hindenburg to sign a decree giving him 'emergency' powers: the Decree for the Protection of the People and the State. This would suspend important civil and political rights guaranteed under the constitution. The police were given increased powers to arrest and detain without charge those they saw as a threat; to enter and search private premises. The government could censor publications and had the power to take over state governments if they acted against the Nazis. In practice, the decree legalised a full-scale assault on communists - they arrested communists and socialists, banned their newspapers and disrupted their organisations. The police arrested 10,000 communists in two weeks. The KPD had not been officially banned and they could put up candidates for the March election, but membership was treated in the courts as an act of treason (judges and the police were overwhelmingly conservative and nationalist so they were very willing to give legal sanction to the Nazis' campaign of terror).

March 1933 election
At this time, the SA controlled the streets, many of the Nazis' opponents were imprisoned and it was virtually impossible for the left to organise election meeting and they had problems putting up posters. Meanwhile, Germany was flodded with Nazi propaganda. But, the Nazis didn't achieve the resounding success they had desired - the Nazi vote had increased from the previous election (they gained 92 seats) but SPD and KPD support held up remarkably well (the KPD had 81 seats, the SPD had 120 seats). Nearly 64% had voted for non-Nazi parties, but the Nazi Party, along with the support of the DNVP, now had a Reichstag majority.

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The end of democracy

Enabling Act: The Law for Removing the Distress of the People and the Reich

  • On 23rd March 1933, the first meeting of the new Reichstag was held at the Kroll Opera House. Hitler wanted to gain the two thirds majority for the Enabling Act which would allow him to make laws without the approval of the Reichstag and reference to the President for four years. 
  • The Enabling Act was passed on 24th March - Hitler was also given the power to make treaties with foreign states without the Reichstag's approval. 
  • The communist deputies couldn't take their seats, the SPD opposed the bill and the DNVP supported the Nazis in passing the bill, so the Centre Party was necessary to secure the two thirds majority. Hitler won the Centre's support by reassuring them that he would not use his powers without consulting Hindenburg. 
  • Hitler now had full executive and legislative powers and could rule without a Reichstag majority. 
  • The Enabling Act was the final piece in the legal framework that legitimised the Nazi dictatorship - Hitler could issue decrees without Hindenburg's approval.
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