The Rise of the Nazi Party, 1920-1933



Anton Drexler founded the party in January 1919 as the German Workers' Party. It assumes the new name of National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) and set out its Twenty-Five Point Programme at the Hofbräuhaus meeting in Munich in February 1920. Their manifesto is written up by Drexler and up and coming member Adolf Hitler. Many key points remain constant throughout the 1920s - they seek revision of the Treaty of Versailles, the ending of reparations, the destruction of the establishment, the creation of Lebensraum (living space), the creation of Volksgemeinschaft (a national community) and anti-Semitism.

Because of the work of Hitler and other new members, the party became one of the more noticeable amongst right splinter groups. In December 1920, membership increases such that a local newspaper can be purchased - it is named the 'Völkischer Beobachter' (People's Observer). Hitler becomes chairman of the party in July 1921. The SA (Sturmabteilung or 'storm troopers') are created shortly afterwards by Ernst Röhm, becoming the paramilitary wing of the party. The SA is involved in widespread political violence, primarily against communists. 4th November 1921 it engaged in a running battle with socialists at a political meeting in Munich and street violence in Coburg in October 1922.

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Munich Putsch, 1923

By mid-1923 the party has 55,000 members. Throughout the Ruhr crisis of 1923, the Nazi press maintain their barrage against the WR. Tension arose between the Reich gov and the Bavaria Land over refusal of the latter to arrest nationalists. Nazis believe the time is right for a seizure of power. They aim to create a dictatorship with General Ludendorff as President. The attempted coup of the 8th-9th November results in 17 deaths and Hitler's arrest. 

However, his trial for high treason becomes a propaganda opportunity, giving him national platform to discuss his beliefs. The sympathy of the judiciary results in his being given the minimum sentence of just five years imprisonment.

Imprisoned in Landsberg Castle, Hitler writes Mein Kampf, explaining his Weltanschauung (world view). He wishes to eliminate the Jewry, provide Lebensraum in the east and destroy Communism.

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Party Reorganisation (pt 1)

The ability of the party to expand and provide a political home for all those discontented is a crucial reason for the Nazi party's success. This largely due to the flexibility of the party's structure. In elections of May 1924, the Nazis and other small right parties win 1.9 mil votes (6.5%). Two months after Hitler's release, the NSDAP is refounded on 27th February 1925 following a poor show in the December elections.

Throughout the year the party is reorganised into a centralised bureaucratic entity and an index of all members is created. In a party conference at Bamberg in February 1926, a new autocratic structure is discussed - Führerprinzip, complete loyalty to Hitler and adherence to the 'Programme of 1920'. These policies were suggested as regional leaders had begun proposing policies independently, such as following the radical anti-capitalism of Gregor Strasser. Hitler's programme is formally accepted in May 1926.

Strasser fails to challenge Hitler's policy of legality. Hitler continues to quell the SA. A march past SA members is staged at Weimar in July 1926 to show the public the party's control over them. Captain Franz von Pfeffer is appointed leader. The SA is to take on more mundane roles such as training and stewarding of rallies. This did not prevent the street fighting.

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Party Reorganisation (pt 2)

In 1926 the Hitler Youth and the Nazi Students' Association are founded to attract young people. At the Nuremberg Party Congress in 1927 more reorganisation took place. Unsuitable Gauleiter (regional leaders) are replaced and the central bureaucracy further organised.

Despite all this, the party's performance in the May 1928 election was still poor. It held only 12 seats in the new Reichstag. However, when campaigning on specific regional issues, the Nazis were able to obtain a significantly higher proportion of the vote.

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Further Reorganisation

Disappointment in May acted as a stimulus for further reorganisation. In October 1928 the first Nazi professional body is founded - the Association of National Socialist Jurists. This is followed in 1929 by groups for doctors, teachers and students. Groups like this provide a mass movement and allow a wide base for the party to spread propaganda. Another organisaion was the Agrarpolitischer Apparat (AA, 1930) which attracted the peasantry very successfully, even managing to infiltrate other such organisations like the Reichslandbund, gaining their support.

'Saturation' propaganda techniques are employed by leading Nazi Joseph Goebbels. The use of rallies, speeches, lectures and 'aeroplane campaigns' raised the party's profile. They commonly identified and then targeted groups of people on a local level - for example, in Saxony, farmers were targeted and 14.4% votes are received. The Nazis were especially successful in targeting the young, with over two thirds on their members under 30 years old.

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Growing National Exposure

The Nazis become involved in the campaign against the Young Plan, as invited by the DNVP. He agrees on the conditions that Nazis can retain independence and after prolonged finance discussion. His participation raises Hitler's stature amongst those on the right. Despite the measure being voted down, the NSDAP had been given considerable national exposure through rallies such as that in Nuremberg in August 1929.

This has immediate effect on voting figures. Local council elections in November 1929 sees a significant rise in the Nazi vote. With the extra resources provided by the Reich Committee for a German Referendum and the national exposure in Hugenberg's (DNVP) newspapers, the Nazis are now a significant party. They can take greater advantage of the political polarisation.

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The Wall Street Crash

The roots of Hitler's success lie in the disaster of the economic crash of 1929 and the subsequent Depression. The rise in unemployment had the effect of further polarising German politics. The closure of businesses hits German industry hard, partly because the economic growth in the 1920s had largely been funded on American capital which was now being withdrawn. The economic crisis ensures that Nazi promises do not fall on deaf ears. They act as triggers for the undermining of democracy.

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By 1933 over 6 million (1 in 3) German workers are unemployed. It is not necessarily these people that form the basis of Nazi support but rather those who feared a similar collapse in their own living standard - for example, the Mittelstand or the peasantry. The Depression polarises public opinion and increases popularity of radical solutions. This is why the authoritarian Hindenburg is accepted, why the vote for the KPD rose, and why there is little resistance to the coup in Prussia in 1932. The SPD and trade unions are weakened by unemployment. The policies of the Nazis are reassuringly consistent.

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The Use of Article 48

A turning point in the demise of the WR was the establishment of the Heinrich Brüning gov in March 1930 after the collapse of Müller's 'grand coalition'. It was the first to be based on presidential rather than parliamentary power. Brüning is the leader of the CP but he did not hold a majority. Hindenburg made it clear that if this gov was deafeated or lost the confidence of the Reichstag, he would dissolve the Reichstag and rule by decree under Article 48. Keeping support was difficult for Brüning and his gov is defeated in disagreements over a Financial Bill in July 1930. The gov attempts to pass the legislation by decree using Article 48. A motion is immediately passed in the Reichstag condemning this tactic and demanding the withdrawal of the decree as it undermined the constitution. Hindenburg ignores this, dissolving the Reichstag and calling for more elections in September 1930.

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Electoral Success, 1930

In June 1930, the Nazis win 14.4% in elections for the Saxony Landtag (regional assembly), over 9% higher than the previous year. This - and other success - is largely due to the work of Goebbels, who had been appointed as head of propaganda.

The result in the September 1930 election is a massive success. Their representation increases from 12 seats to 107 at 6.4 mil votes. The reformed Brüning gov has even less support and must continue to rely on the use of Article 48. The victory stimulates new membership - over 100,000 new members at the end of the year. There is large growth in tthe AA too. The momentum of election success is maintained through 1931, averaging around 40% in local elections.

The debate over legality continues within the party. In March 1931, leader of the Berlin SA, Stennes, and some members rebel against Hitler's order to obey the decree that required police permission for rallies. Revolt did not win the support of the majority of the SA, but did highlight inherent tensions. However, Hitler's ability to effectively deal with the SA gained public confidence in his leadership.

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Economic Collapse, 1931

After the constitutional crisis of mid-1930, Brüning sees himself as responsible to the President rather than the Reichstag. As he governs by virtue of the President's authority, Brüning's priority is to remove the burden of reparations. In June 1932 he moves to stimulate economic growth by methods like labour schemes. However, it was too late - the economy was collapsing.The freeze on payments and the possibility of an Austro-German customs union prompts a flight of foreign capital out of Germany. The result: in July 1931 was the collapse of the Austrian Creditanstalt bank, causing financial panic and the closure of German banks for three weeks. The gov is forced to make 1000 million Reichsmarks available.

The banking crisis crystallised the concerned of those who feared disorder. The political confusion and high unemployment causes Hugenberg to attempt to re-form a 'National Opposition' of the right known as the 'Harzburg Front' (Stahlhelm, DNVP and Nazis). This group met in October 1931 but collapsed after internal wrangling.

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Further Nazi Electoral Success

The presidential election of March/April 1932 sees Hindenburg return to office but a vote is registered for Hitler. He is defeated but the result is presented as a success as it had more than doubled since the Reichstag election. The Emergency Decree of April 1932 bans the SA and ** in response to the growing street violence and evidence of Nazi plans to stage a coup had Hitler won.

Minister of the Interior, General Groener, who had introduced the ban, is undermined by a whispering campaign of General von Schleicher. He planned to 'tame' the Nazis and use the mass movement to create a military dictatorship. He meets with Hitler on 8th May. Hitler agrees to accept a role in the cabinet in return for the removal of Brüning and a lift on the ban on SA/**.

Nazi deputies shout down Groener in the Reichstag on 10th May, prompting his resignation on 30th May on Hindenburg's demand. A new gov is formed with Franz von Papen as Chancellor and Schliecher as Minister of Defence. New elections are set for the end of July and the ban on SA is lifted on 16th June. The street violence in the run-up to the election left 100 dead and 7000 casualties.

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Prussian Coup D'État

The process of destruction of the democratic system began before Hitler was elected Chancellor.

The political violence in the run-up to the election was a good excuse for the removal of Prussia's SPD-dominated government, which von Papen dismisses on 20th July 1932, claiming it had failed to keep the peace. The action was officially done in the name of the constitution but legality was questionable. SPD leader Otto Braun questions the action and Hindenburg orders the army to seize control in response. The SPD does not resist. Prussia now falls under and authoritarian rule with a political police who solely obeyed von Papen and the Reich Commissioner.

The emergency powers of the constitution were now being used to destroy it.

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Electoral Success, 1932

Elections to the Reichstag in July see the Nazi vote increase to 37.3% or 230 seats, becoming the largest party in the Reichstag - but does not have a majority. This gave them a mandate from the German people to be involved in a coalition. Their legitimacy was boosted by support from von Schleicher and von Papen. The party is unique in that it has a broad base of support rather than representing section interests.

The Nazis had less support from the industrial working class and urban areas but were able to obtain some of the worker votes that had previously supported the DNVP. However, the NSDAP was the only party that could present itself as a national one that cut class and interest lines due to its ideal of Volksgemeinschaft - national community based on the Aryan racial identity. They offered traditional values and national salvation.

The urban worker, the unemployed or the Catholic were less likely to vote for the Nazis than the rural Protestant as they often voted for the Centre Party or SDP. A vote for the Nazis began to be seen as a protest at the failures of the parties of the WR. NSDAP policy was deliberately vague - style over substance.

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Hindenburg and von Papen incorrectly believe that they could control and use the Nazi movement. The election results of July 1932 did not give the Nazis automatic power and von Papen refused Hitler the Chancellorship. Negotiations took place amongst the backdrop of SA violence. In August 1932, Hitler and von Papen discuss conditions - Hitler will not accept any position less than Chancellor. A savage murder of communist labourer Konrad Pietzuch takes place in Upper Silesia at this time. Hitler openly supports the SA men found guilty, pledging his 'unbounded loyalty' in a telegram. He persuades von Papen to commute their sentences to life imprisonment and actually orders their release after becoming Chancellor.

Violence is an integral part of Nazism.

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Election, November 1932

The Reichstag is dissolved on its first day (12 September) due to the failure of negotiations between von Papen and Hitler after a vote of no confidence. The next election sees a fall in the vote, but the Nazis were still the largest party. Political stalemate continues.

Hindenburg wishes to continue presidential gov but refuses to appoint Hitler as Chancellor without him achieving a majority. But the Nazi party - in collaboration with any other voters - could vote down a gov at will.

The alternative was decided to rule without the Reichstag and suppress opposition.

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von Scheicher

Hindenburg fires von Papen and appoints von Schleicher as Chancellor on 3rd December. He attempts to draw the Nazis into a coalition by offering the Vice-Chancellorship to Gregor Strasser. He wishes to accept the offer to gain Nazi power but is forced to back down after fighting with Hitler. Without nazi support, the von Schleicher gov lacks credibility. There is soon strong opposition to his economic policy on 15th December. It is seen as too conciliatory to the left, and action is taken to create a gov of the right, including the NSDAP. A leading figure is von Papen who resented the way von Schleicher had treated him.

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Business Input

von Papen finds support with the business community, elements of which dislike von Schleicher's reforms of September 1932 and wish to see a more authoritarian rule under the Chancellorship of von Papen or Hitler.

Industrialists such as Kurt von Schröder pave the way for the Nazi takeover of power. It is at Schröder's house in Cologne that Hitler and von Papen meet and enter into negotiations that result in Hitler's Chancellorship in January 1933. Influential individuals had an important role to play.

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From 4th January 1933 von Papen and Hitler discuss a future gov based on a broad nationalist coalition like those in the Harzburg Front. Support came from a variety of sources including the Agrarian League and industrialist organisations. This support impacted on Hindenburg who asked von Papen to form a viable gov as von Schleicher had very little support in the Reichstag.

von Papen agrees to give Hitler the role of Chancellor in a coalition cabinet of the right. Once the WR has been undermined, he believes a more authoritarian regime can be installed but it needs Nazi support to succeed. Hindenburg accepts, knowing that Hitler will be 'locked into' a Conservative cabinet in which von Papen would act as Vice-Chancellor and General von Blomberg would be Minister of Defence.

von Schleicher's resignation is accepted on 27th January, and Hitler becomes Chancellor on 30th.

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Limitations to Power

The potential limits to Hitler's power were considerable - he is the leader of a cross-party cabinet that includes only three Nazis: himself, Wilhelm Frick (Minister of the Interior) and Hermann Göring (Minister without Portfolio). von Papen will be Vice-Chancellor and other parties of the right are represented such as the DNVP and the Stahlhelm.

The establishment did not expect to lose control. Hindenburg is the most powerful politician in Germany. He has prestige as President and the support of the army. Hitler's power as Chancellor is constrained by the power of institutions - potential barriers include the Reichstag, local govs, the civil service, churches and press. In urban areas, the Nazi vote is very low, providing potential opposition. Furthermore, now that they were in power, they had to be seen as delivering on their promises. Additionally, the problem of SA violence was a cause for concern for the middle class - they wished for the Nazis to be law-abiding and respectable.

But Hitler was under pressure from the SA and party radicals to implement their revolution.

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Enduring Obstacles

Despite obstacles, Nazis had more or less consolidated power in 1933. They collaborated well with institutions and individuals. They deployed propaganda effectively and used terror and violence efficiently all whilst maintaining the veneer of legality.

Hitler's 'Appeal to the German People' (1st February 1933) was conservative but the SA still began to wreak havoc on socialists. The widely feared communist takeover of power gave a good excuse for the Nazis to undermine the constitution. It was why so many non-Nazis were prepared to aid in the initial phase of Gleichschaltung (coordination). Hitler's national community does not include communists.

Their potential to challenge the Nazis was real. The KPD had had a vote increase of 2.6% in November. Their Red Front Fighters' League matched the SA. The socialists were stronger with their paramilitary wing the Reichsbanner dominating the streets.

Hitler makes a speech from the Sports Palace in Berlin on 10th February 1933, stating that he wishes to destroy the 'Marxist threat'.

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Failure of the Left

The communists believe that Hitler's gov would not last. Their ideological beliefs lead them to belief that his gov signifies a crisis in the capitalist system and would lead to political collapse and the victory of communism. They believed the best tactic was to wait.

The appointment of 50,000 SA, ** and Stahlhelm (national paramilitary) members as auxiliary policemen on 22nd February leads to a wave of violence against communists and socialists. On 24th February, the police raided the offices of the KPD. Göring claimed that evidence was discovered that suggested a communist conspiracy to seize power. The SPD were unsure how to respond - reacting violently would play into the hands of the Nazis, who already attempted to close down a number of socialist newspapers and crash meetings. The split between socialists and communists already made it hard to fight Nazism. Some argued for the creation of a 'unity front' but the forces of hatred were too large.

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The Reichstag Fire and its Aftermath

Hitler believed his own propaganda that communists aimed to stage a takeover of power. On the night of 27th February, Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch communist, set fire to the Reichstag. Despite evidence that he acted alone, Hitler concluded a communist backlash, giving him the opportunity to suspend a number of parts of the constitution. The emergency decree 'For the Protection of People and State' is issued on 28th February. Under it: the rights of freedom of speech, a free press and freedom of assembly are suspended; the police are given powers to detain suspects indefinitely; clause 2 allowed the cabinet to intervene in Länder, which was previously the prerogative of the President - a shift in power.

Goebbels ensured that Nazi propaganda portrayed the decree as necessary in the battle against communism. In reality it signalled the collapse of the rule of law. On 28th February, Hitler declares that the struggle against communists 'must not be made dependent on judicial considerations'.

The decree was used to justify the arrest, imprisonment and torture of thousands of political opponents. 25,000 political prisoners were in custody in Prussia by the end of April.

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General Election, March 1933

The decree was broadly welcomed by most due to the fear of communism. It paved the way for Nazi electoral success in March. They manage to get 43.9% of the votes, 288 seats, but even when coupled with the 52 seats of their Nationalist allies, they still did not have a majority. However, they had still won.

All communist KPD deputies were banned from the Reichstag despite winning seats, and this gave Hitler a political advantage.

The Nazis began destroying political opposition. In Bavaria on 22nd March, Heinrich Himmler (** leader) sets up a concentration camp at Dachau to house political opponents.

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Potsdam Day

The regime was desperate to portray itself as respectable. The opening of the Reichstag in Potsdam on 21st March was turned into a propaganda triumph. Many were reassured by Hitler's appearance - he bows in front of Hindeburg. Hitler was keen to impress him and assure him that he could control the radical elements of the Nazi movement. Hindenburg, Kaiser Wilhelm II's son and many leading generals witness Hitler's committment to traditional German values.

However, his true intentions become clear that very same day in The Malicious Practices Law, which bans criticism of the regime and its policies.

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The Enabling Act, 1933

Hitler presents the Enabling Act on 23rd March 1933. SA mill around outside the chamber and pack the gallery - intimidation tactics. The Act would give the cabinet power to pass laws and alter the constitution as it saw fit. It granted Hitler four years of power as a dictator.

However, a 2/3 majority is need to pass it. The communist deputies are barred. The Nazis need the support of the Centre Party, who had 74 seats - a significant voting bloc. Many within the Nazi movement detest organised religion with many attacks on churches and religious figures in February that year. The Catholic Church only wished to protect their own interests, so Hitler reassured that the Enabling Act would not affect the Church's position. Other reasons the CP support the act is due to the influence of CP member von Papen, who supported Hitler, and the fact that they were intimidated by the SA,

The only party who opposes the bill are the socialist SPD. The Enabling Act is passed by 444 votes to 94. The Reichstag's power and influence had been removed and the Weimar Constitution is dead.

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Hitler now attempted to coordinate all aspects of German political and social life under Nazi control. Firstly, they destroyed the local state governments, with Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick dissolving them all on 31st March. They were ordered to reconvene with membership that reflected the recent elections - no communists. New state governors, Reichsstatthalter are appointed with full powers to introduce Nazi policies.

The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service (7th April 1933) throws Jews and political opponents out of the civil service. The Law to Ensure the Unity of Party and State (1st December 1933) brings running of party and state together.

On 2nd May, the socialist trade union ADGB has its offices stormed by SA. They are disbanded and all assets seized. Other trade unions voluntarily disband. Professional groups lose their independence and must join Nazi bodies.

Many SPD leaders flee abroad. The party is officially banned on 22nd June, assets seized. Around 3000 of those who had remained are arrested, many killed. Those who resist in Köpenich are murdered (100). Many political parties disband. On 14th July, the Nazis are the only legal political party in Germany. The Reichsrat is abolished. Local govs are now subordinate.

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The Church

The last party to voluntarily disband was the Centre Party on 4th July. Many had been intimidated by the SA politically but still had large and loyal followings in church. But action was being taken against prominent members. In June 1933 many members of the Bavarian CP were arrested on Himmler's orders. Hitler wished to eliminate the political role of the church but compromise on its social functions for the time being.

The Concordat is signed on 20th July between the Catholic church and the Nazi state. The deal was smoothed by Vice-Chancellor von Papen, who was a Catholic himself. The church agreed to give up all political activity so long as their right to worship was guaranteed.

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I think the Nazi's did a good job. They rised up very well if you ask me.

I have a poem for you if you would like to improve your work.











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