Adolf Hitler Seizes Control of Germany
The final act of a carefully orchestrated campaign to grant Adolf Hitler supreme power in Germany occurred on March 23, 1933, when the Reichstag (German parliament) passed The Enabling Act. This legislation gave Hitler’s cabinet (which, in reality, meant Hitler himself) the power to create its own laws for the next four years without needing the consent of the Reichstag. Adolf Hitler was now the dictator of Germany.
Hitler’s rise to complete power was swift. He became German chancellor on Jan. 30, 1933. Four weeks later, under mysterious circumstances, the Reichstag was burned on February 27. Hitler and the Nazis claimed Communists were responsible, and whipped Germany into hysteria over concerns about internal security and a Communist-sponsored terrorist campaign. The result was a major piece in Hitler’s plan of complete control: the Reichstag Fire Decree of February 28, which tightened security activities, suspended many civil liberties, and drove the Communists out of the Reichstag.
The latter was important, for Hitler needed a two-thirds vote in the Reichstag to get The Enabling Act passed, which the Communist opposition might have prevented. With them out of the way, however, the Reichstag passed the act with a vote of 441 in favor and only 94 opposed (all Socialists).
Hitler had the veneer of legality he desired, and he never looked back. World War II, and the horrors of the Holocaust, followed. His “four-year” dictatorial term lasted twelve years, ending only with his suicide in a Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945.
This copyrighted article was published by the Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington) on March 23, 1933. Note the chilling quote in which Hitler promises “barbaric severity” against those he deemed enemies of Germany. To the world’s everlasting sorrow, the Holocaust showed that when Hitler used a phrase like “barbaric severity” he meant exactly what he said.
Hitler Granted 4-Year Term as Supreme Ruler
By Associated Press.
Berlin, Thursday, March 23.—The Reichstag, with only the Socialists opposing, today passed an empowering act granting Chancellor Hitler’s demand for four years of dictatorial power.
Shouting above the cheers of his Nazi deputies, Hitler demanded the four years of dictatorial power from the Reichstag.
He relegated the issue of the monarchy to the background, lifted the destruction of Communism to the fore of his program, reiterated the familiar Nazi thesis of arms equality for all and promised a campaign of “barbaric severity” against all traitors.
Waves of Applause
Wave after wave of applause and cheers drowned his voice from time to time. The Nazis, who control the House, especially approved his dictum that, once adjourned, the Reichstag would be recalled only from time to time “to be informed by the government of its acts when the assent of the Reichstag is desirable.”
The first big cheer came when he expressed his approval of “public decapitation” of the men who set fire to the Reichstag building just before the last election. There was tumultuous applause also at his announcement of a campaign of “barbaric severity against all guilty of treason.”
Calls Republic a Crime
“No gigantic revolution of similar dimensions has ever been carried out with such unvarying discipline and so little bloodshed as our revolution,” he cried, and the Nazis cheered again.
He condemned as “an unexampled crime” the 1918 revolution which gave birth to the German republic, now virtually destroyed to make way for the new regime.
The visitors’ galleries were packed. Outside in the streets for blocks around the Kroll opera house, temporary meeting place of the parliament, soldiers and police were on guard. Everyone who entered the meetinghouse hall was searched for weapons.
With the Socialists voting against the proposal, the Reichstag this afternoon passed a Nazi motion, changing house rules, which conferred wide powers on Captain Hermann Goering, president of the body.
The new powers, similar to those asked for Hans Kerrl, president of the Prussian diet, in that body yesterday, are intended to curb “obstructionists” in debate.
Franz Stoehr, a Nazi, who was the only speaker to discuss the motion, frankly admitted that the purpose in changing the rules was to nip in the bud all obstructions.
Hitler dealt only in a general way with economic issues.
Capital Must Serve Business
“Capital must serve business,” he told the parliament, “and business must serve the interests of the people. My government does not contemplate any experiments with the currency.”
As for disarmament, he reiterated the familiar German thesis.
“Germany has been waiting for years for the fulfillment by other nations of their promise to reduce armaments,” he cried as the House applauded wildly. “We would gladly refrain from increasing our armaments if the others would agree to radical reduction of theirs.”
The chancellor spoke for three quarters of an hour. He was frequently interrupted by cheers, and when he finished there was a tremendous ovation.
Would Live in Peace
“We desire to live in peace with all nations, but only on a basis of equality,” the Nazi chancellor said.
“Ten years of peace is better than thirty years of dividing the world into victors and vanquished. Our hand is stretched out to every people willing fundamentally to forget the past.”
He expressed appreciation for Great Britain’s efforts to obtain concrete action in disarmament at Geneva, and he paid especial tribute to Premier Mussolini’s four-power plan for stabilizing European peace.
“That proposal is of the greatest significance,” he said, “and we are glad to cooperate in it.”
On the day The Enabling Act was passed, the Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas) published this copyrighted article, on March 23, 1933:
Decidedly the tone of the speeches of Hindenburg and Hitler at Potsdam is imperial. The aged President of the German Republic shuffles words cleverly in explaining that the restoration of the imperial flag is to associate the young movement with the era of German greatness, but the trend of events bodes ill for continuation of democracy in the Reich. Nor can much dependence be placed on the fair words of the new Chancellor, who promised much to all willing to help, while his storm troops are repressing with violence every semblance of opposition. The dead Ebert can not harm a living dictator, but even his statue is to be torn down.
At Potsdam the new government program resolved itself into two phases, internal and external rehabilitation. Dictatorial power for four years is asked in order to restore the nation within. This may mean the restoration of the monarchy, stamping out the last remnants of the Weimar constitution, and a return to the pre-war form of government. The part the Reichstag would play in such a scheme would depend of course on how much the dapper Hitler can enact the role of an iron Chancellor. So far he seems to have Bismarck’s singlemindedness of purpose and lack of conscience in statecraft, without his gift of manipulation.
In foreign relations, Herr Hitler has yet to match wits with the Chancellories of Europe. Germany expects first to obtain cancellation of the war guilt clause in the Versailles Treaty, afterward a material scaling down or remission of reparations, equal strength in armament, and possibly restoration of some of the colonies. But the Germany of Hitler is regarded with less trust abroad than the Germany of Stresemann.
The Hitler government is unquestionably making history, but how it will read is yet uncertain.
Click here for more articles about World War II.