USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Nazi Seizure of Power

This ideology, in the wake of economic collapse and already weak German democratic institutions—and coming after the “humiliation” at Versailles and the tumultuous 1920s, was powerful. In 1932, Hitler’s party won the largest percentage in the German parliament, the Reichstag. The political battle then became one within the right side of the German political spectrum. Conservative interests jockeyed for power—and the traditional players, of course, wanted to bring the youth and energy, not to mention the votes and the paramilitary power, of the Nazi party into their camp. The result of this was that Hitler was elevated to the position of head of the parliament, chancellor, with the aging Hindenburg as president, a move that Hindenburg and others thought would tame the Nazis and make them enter into the serious business of parliamentary governance rather than focused on being a street movement.

The stage was now set for Hitler and the Nazis as it had been for Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917. For months, they continued on parallel tracks, working on the one hand with the conservative establishment and President Hindenburg. On the other hand, Hitler, Göring, Goebbels and the Nazi leadership was building a mass organization that mirrored the government but was entirely controlled by the party.

On January 30, 1933, Joseph Goebbels led a massive torchlight parade of the Nazi paramilitary organizations, the SA, its newest competitor, the SS, and the conservative Stahlhelm through Berlin. On February 22, 1933, Göring officially merged the Nazi paramilitary organizations with the state police, thereby making any challenge to Nazi military supremacy very difficult. Five days later came the famous Reichstag Fire—a case of arson against the German parliamentary building. The act drew a draconian response from the Nazis. The Nazi Party became a campaign of legal and military persecution of both socialists and communists. The Nazis announced an emergency decree that suspended the Weimar Constitution and became the foundation of the Nazi seizure of the state itself.

In the months that followed the Reichstag Fire, the Nazis systematically and brutally attacked all political opposition, starting with the most direct challenge to their rule: the communists. Within months, tens of thousands of communists were arrested. Many more fled the country for safe heaven elsewhere in the world. After the communists, the next victims, logically enough, were the members of the SPD, the Social Democratic Party. Its leaders were arrested in June of 1933. July saw the termination of the Center Party, followed by a decree that banned all political parties on July 14, 1933. As you can see, in a matter of months after the Reichstag Fire, the political landscape of Germany was unrecognizable. The Nazi Party governed and ruled alone.

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