German Fascism: The NAZIs--Foundation and Seizure of Power

Figure 1.--The SA played an important role in Hitler's seizure of power. Through street violence and attacks on oppents, the SA helped to destabilize democracy in Germany. It was not uncommon to seeing German children wearing military uniforms for fun portaits. It was rare to see them wearing SA uniforms, in part because the SA had a reputation for rabel rousing violence and included many louts and bullies. It is probable that this boy's father belonged to the SA and was a devoted NAZI. This portrait was sold in the Ukraine. That could be because a Germn soldier had it on him when taken prisoner or killed in the Ukraine. Or more likely it was brought back to the Ukraine as war booty at the nd of the War.

The National Socialist German Worker's Party (NAZIs) became the most powerful of all Fascist parties. It was not founded by Hitler, but became dominated by him at an early point. He fashioned it an instrument for a personal totalitarian dictatorship. Mussolini and his Fascists seized power in Italy a decade before the NAZIs seized power and stronly influenced Hitler. After the NAZIs seized power they soon elclipsed Mussolini's Fascists. One of the central questions of the 20th century is how an esentially criminal gang took over the government of a great nation. There are of course many factors involved. Perhaps the central one is the power of natioanalism, a still powerful force today, although waning in much of Europe. Here was Hitler's great skill as a politican. The vast majority of the German people did not endorse the plan he spelling out in Mein Kampf with almost startling frankness. Most Germans did, however, believe and some with great fervor that Germany was an agreved nation that was being trampeled by its enemies. And most wanted the territorial and populatioin losses of the Versailles Treaty reversed as well as other restrictions of the Treaty. Hitler by concentrating on these popular issues was able to attract adherents and voters that never would have endorsed his real program. His success was made possible because the Weimar Republic allienated the right and military because of Versailles and the middle-class because of the disastrous inflation. The Depression was a claminity because it alienated many working-class people from democracy and the Weimar Republic. The central factor, however, has to be Hitler's skillful political manipulation of and handling of the issues, especially nationalist fervor.

World War I (1914-18)

Germany's defeat in World War I staggered the Germany people. They had sych faith in the Army. At the beginning of 1918 victory looked assured. The Russians were knoicked out of the War and forced to sign the humiliating Breast-Litovsk Treaty which made Germany dominant in the East and allowed for the creation of a German protectorate in the vast Ukraine (March 1918). It also enabled the Germans Army to focus on the Western Front. Ludendorff's massive offensive nearly achieved victory (July). Yet only months later the German Army was decisely defeated and forced to sign an Armistace (November). After 4 years of terrible sacrifice, the German people were hirrified and bewildered at the outcome.

Weimar Republic (1918)

A new German Weimar Republic relaced the Imperial German Government at the end of World War I. The Allies refused to negotiate with the German military. Thus the Armistace (1918) and resulting Versailles Treaty (1919) were signed by republican officials. This allowed right-wing politicans after the War to claim that the German Army was not defeated, but stabbed in the back. The Republic from the beginning had major problem. It inherited a civil service from Imperial Germany that was strongly monacharist in loyalty and suspicious of parlimentary democracy. The officer corps of the Army took a oath of loyalty to the Reoublic, but in fact was deeply suspicious of the Weimar regime and from the onset set out to evade the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty--in oart explaining how the NAZIs were able to so quickly rearm after seizing power. Popular support for the Weimar Republic was impaired by first the public shock at the Versailles Treaty and then the ruinous inflation. In fact the Republic was headquarters in Weimar rather than Berlin because the Army remamed the Reichwehr could not guarantee security in Berlin. Gradually the Republic began to gain some credibility. Competent fiscal management, the Dawes Plan, and the Locarno Agreements had by 1925 considerably improved the economic situation in Germany.

German Political Ferment

Germany was devestated by its defeat in World War I. Agricultural production was impaired and there was wide-spread food shortages, even starvation. The monarchy which had been at the center of German political life was abolished. The War had also humiliated the Germany Army, perhaps the most respected national institution. Democratic politicans formed a governent, but had forced to accept the Versailles Peace Treaty that was very unpopular with the German people (1919). The most important party was the Social Democrats (SDP), but they were far short of a majority in the Reichstag. Radicals on the right and left fought in the street. Middle class Germans were terrified that the Communists might succeed in seizing power as in Russia. The Catholic Party was also Important as was the Nationsalist Party. There were also a number of small xhnephobic right-wing parties with varying platforms except for a mutual opposition to the Versailles Treaty and democratic government.

Foundation (1919)

Anton Drexler, Gottfried Feder, and Dietrich Eckart formed the German Worker's Party (GPW) in Munich (1919). The Party was one of many ultra-nationalist parties formed by disaffected veterans and other disaffected elements obsessed with Germany's defeat in World War I and the loss of territory and national prestige.

Hitler Joins the Party (1919)

Hitler joined the Party soon after it was founded. The German Army was concerned with te radical political parties founded after the War, both left wing and right-wing parties. The Army to monitor these radical political groups. After the War. Adolf Hitler who was a corporal serving on the Western Front remained in the Army and was made an education officer. Hitler was ordered to attend one of the meetings to spy on the (GPW). The object was to quitely listen and determine what the Party was doing and who the leaders were. Hitler found that the Party's political ideas were much like his own. He was especially impressed with Drexler's vitriolic mixture of German nationalism and anti-Semitism. He was not at all impressed, however, with the Party's loose organization. Rather than quietly listen and taje notes, Hitler was soon participating in a pasionate debate. Drexler was impressed with the newcomer, especially his speaking abilities and incouraged him to join the Party. Hitler still saw his future in the Army and was reluctant to join. His commanding officer, Captain Karl Mayr, however, encouraged him to join the Party. He became party member number 54. He was given a seat on the Party's executive committe and was soon appointed propaganda director.

Army Influence

The Germany Army after the War was still largely royalist. The Allies had refused to deal with the Army and demanded the abolition of the monarchy. The Army's defeat left it no choice to acceot these demands, but the Army was essentially hostile to the Weimar Republic government. Hitler easily convinced some of his Army colleagues to join the Party. The most imprtant was Captain Ernst Roehm. These new recruits, especially Roehm were of considerable importance to the fledgling party. Roehm had access to funds that the Army used for political purposes. These were the first substantial contrubutions to the GWP.

Hitler's Emergence

Hitler quickly energed as a key Party leader. The Army money helped the NAZIs advertize their meetings and Hitler who was often the principal speaker proved to be very effective. He was not a trained orator. He was, however, a quick study and steadily improved his techniques, becoming a powerful, persuasive orator. Listening to him today it is difficult for an American to understand his appeal. We suspect that modern Germans would also be unmoved. He did, however, move many but cerainly not all Germans in the 1920s and 30s. He was the Party's most effective orator and was the main attraction for new members. This gave him increasing authority among the Party leadership.

NAZI 25-point Program (February 1920)

The National Socialist Program, commonmly reffered to as the 25-point Program or Plan, was the party program of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP). Adolf Hitler announced the party's program (February 24, 1920) at a gathering of some 2,000 people in the Munich Festival of the Hofbräuhaus (State brewery). The NAZI program originated at a German Workers' Party (DAP), the original name of the NAZI Party) congress in Vienna. It was brought to Munich by Rudolf Jung, who after openly supporing Hitler was expelled by Czech authorities. The 25-point program was adopted by Hitler and remained the Party's official statement of its priogram. As time passed, some of the plans were ignored or modified. The various points are notable for both the very strong racial component and the heavy soicialist component. We note that the term Socialist in the NAZI name is often thought of as a sop to workrrs, but unrelated to the actual Party program. In fact, much of the Party Prigram is very much socialist in nature: 7. state guaranteed jobs, 11. abolition of interest and dividend income, 13. nationalization of industry, 14. profit shgaring, 15. expanded old age welfare, 16. communalization of small business, 17. land reform and market restrictions, 20. state control of educationm and free university for gifted children, 21. stste health care, 22. state (party) control of the press, 23. state supervision of religion, 26. centralization of state power.

National Socialism (April 1920)

Hitler convinced the Party to change its name. He suggested the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP). Hitkler was not a Socialist. The name for him was a tactical way of appealing to the working-class. Socialism was popular in Germany. Heavily industrisalized Germany had the largest Socialist movement in Europe. Thus adding Socialist and Workers to the Party name was to give it more appeal. For Hitler, however, it was National that was the key word. As fir Socialist, he simply redefined what Socialism meant. Socialist doctrine was of course centered on economics and social equality, but many Socialists also promoted an ideal society with racial and gender equality. This was anathema to Hitler. He stressed that the Party involved National Socialism, meaning equality for those of German Blood (ancestry), but not aliens--especially the Jews. He advocated canceling the citizenship of Jews and other aliens and preventing any future immigration, except for thise of Gernan ancestry.

Hitler Becomes Leader (September 1921)

Hitler was quite aware that it was his oratory and connectioins with the Army that had improved the fortunes of the Party. He challenged Drexler and demanded to be made party leader. Drexler at first objected, but realized that Hitler had greater suport within the expanding Party.

Sturm Abteilung (SA) Founded

Hitler ws a highly emotive speaker. Non-German speakers can preceive that from the news reels of his speeches without understanding what he was saying. As he perfected his speaking skills, he became highly effective in arousing great pasion among his audience, especially anger and hate. As a result, vandalism and violence often followed his orations. Hitler even personally participated in this violence. After leading a mob which attacked a rival politican, the police arrested him and he received a 3-month prison sentence (September 1921). The experienced convinced him that the Party needed its own army. He named the new group the Sturm Abteilung (Storm Section) (SA). The SA became knwn as the Stormtroopers or Brownshirts. The Stormtroopers in World War I were the elite troops used to lead attacks or blunt enemy offenses. The Brownshirts was derived frim the brown-colored military styled uniforms. Hitler employed the SA to attack rivals and break up their meetings and to prevent rival paeties from doing the same. Captain Ernst Roehm who Hitler had convinced to join the Party played a key role in recruitung the SA. A dashing World War I flying ace, Hermann Goering, was initially placed in command. Goering during the War had been second in command for Manfred von Richthofen's Flying Circus and replace him when he was killed. Many early SA recruits were unemployed members of the Freikorps (right-wing soldiiers) that had organized after the War. The NAZIs purchased a surplus supply of khaki military shirts from the Army. (The Army had planned to use them in Africa.) The SA also had grey jackets (grey is the color most associated with the German Arny), swastika armbands, ski-caps, jodphurs, and combat boots. The SA soon took to parading in the streets with loud bands, ans swastika flags and other party banners. After the march Hitler would guive one of his emotional speeches and not uncommonly their would be violence durected at Coomunists or other left-wing politicanns and Jews.


Hitler at this time was oprimarily working in Bavaria. Germany still had a federal government in wgich the different Landen (states) still had considerable authority. At this time, Bavaria was governed by right-wing politicans. They took no real action torestrain Hitler in part because he was mostly attacking their political enemies (Socialists and Communists). The national government in Berlin, however, was concerned. The Givernment passed a law to deal with political violence--"Law for the Protection of the Republic". Hitler was furious at this attempt to restrict the SA and organized a rally at which 40,000 people paricipated. Hitler at the rally promoted the overthrow of the national government in Berlin and the execution of its leaders.

Beer Hall Putsch (November 1923)

Gustav von Kahr, the Bavarian state leader, called a meeting of local officials (November 8, 1923). While von Kahr was speaking, Hitler with armed stormtroopers burst into the building. Hitler jumped on top of a table and fired a pistol. He told the astonished officials that he had just launched the National Revolution. Hitler ordered Goering and the SA to guard the officials. Among those officials in addition to von Kahr were Otto von Lossow (Army commander in Bavaria), and Hans von Lossow (commandant of the Bavarian State Police). He tried to convince these officials to join him. As the new leader of Germany, he offered them posts in the new German government. All three declined. An enraged Hitler threatened to shoot them and then commit suicide. He reportedly told them, "I have three bullets for you, gentlemen, and one for me!" All three then agreed. Then former Field Marshall Eric Ludendorff arrived. Ludendorff was regarded by many Germans as a great war hero. It was he and Hidenberg that had defeated the Russian Army at Tannenberg early in the War (1914). It was, however, also Ludendorff that had planned the final great offensive that had failed (1918). Unwilling to accept the idea that he had failed, he found Hitler's constant claim that the Army had not failed, but was stabbed in the back by Jews and Socialists appealing. He thus supported the NAZIs. I do not know how deply he was involved in the Putsch, but it is curious that he turned up just at this time. Hitler offered him command of the Army and Ludendorff accepted. While Hitler was seizing the Bavarian government. Roehm, leading another group of armed Stormtroopers took control of the War Ministry. Rudolf Hess with other Stormtroopers was arresting Jews and left-wing politicans. Hitler's plan was to march on Berlin and seize control of the national government. Hitler's planning for the Putsch did not include seizing radio stations and the telegraph offices. As a result, national government officials in Berlin learned about the Putsch and prepared to act against it. The following day, Hitler, Ludendorff, Goering, Hess, and about 3,000 armed Stormtroopers and other supporters marched through Munich in an effort to join Roehm at the War Ministey. When they reached Odensplatz they encountered a detachment of the Munich police who ordered them to stop. When the NAZIs refused, the police fired a warning volley. The Stormtroopers returned fire. In the ensuing fire fight 21 people were killed and about 100 wounded, among them Goering. Hitler dropped to the ground, dislocating his shoulder. He then ran away using a car to make his get away. The NAZIs had a larger force than the police, but after Hitler ran away so did most of the Stormtroopers. Ludendorff and his adjutant, however, walked straight at the police despite the fire. Later Hitler's flight was explained with the feletious explanation that he was rushing a wounded boy to the hospital. Hitler had anticipated that Ludendorff's participation meant that the Reichwehr was with him. This proved not to be the case.


Hitler hid in a friend's house for several days. The police found him there and arrested him. He was tried for high treason. The penalty was potentially death. Hitler was crushed by the collapse of his Putsch. He considered suicide. He had sympathizers in both the the Bavarian government and the Army. As a result, he and the other Putsch plotters were treated liniently. Hitler managed to turn his trial into a political circus, speaking impassionately in an effort to put the government on trial. He was found guilty, but was only sentenced to the minimum sentence of 5 years. Other NAZIs were also treated liniently. Ludendorff because of his status as a war hero and support in the Army was acquitted.

Mein Kampf

Adolf Hitler after his conviction for treason as a result of the Munich Beer Hall putch wrote Mein Kampf while confined in Landsburg Prison. He dictated orally which Rudoolf Hess, his secretary, wrote down. This probably contributed to the rambling text. Mein Kampf is a long and rambling book which as a result, the content aside, makes for difficult reading. Hitler as an avid consumer of crack pot ideas, many of which are exhibited in the book. The essential thesis, however, is very simple. To Hitler the core of the German people is the farmer. The first step in the revival of Germany was the destruction of the Jews who he saw as weakening the Aryan German people. Once the Jews were eliminated, Germany could develop the strength to seize the land needed by the German farmer in the East from the Slavs (Czechs, Poles, and Soviets). The German soldier would then seize the land from the Slavs who would be expelled or enslaved. The land would then be colonized by German farmers. Germany's policies in the Occupied East followed just this perscription. The anti-Semetic aspect of Mein Kampf is often mentioned in connectin with the Holocaust. Less commonly discussed is the Hollocaust for the Slavs which the NAZIs would have persued if they had won the War.


Authorities released Hitler from prison (December 20, 1924). He had served only a little more than a year of his sentence. Hitler after the Beer Hall Putch (1924) changed tactics. He had been stopped by the Munich police. He realized that he could not use force to seize power. This became even more evident when Field Marshal Hindenberg ran for and was elected president (1925). Hindenberg would have the support of the Reichwehr and thus no small coup could suceeded even with some support within the Reichwehr. Hitler decided to pursue constitutional methods, or at least quasi-constitutional methods. The economic policies of the German government were succeeding. The Government brought down inflation to reasonable levels. As a result, the economy rebounded. Jobs were available. This helped to build support for the Weimar Republic. Voters did not respond to the appeals of extremist politicans like Hitler. The result was that Hitler honed his message, playing down his extremist image. He now claimed that he would compete with the other parties in elections.

Elections of 1924

The NAZIs won 32 seats in the elections of May 1924. They had even less success in elections held in December 1924. The NAZIs won only 14 seats in the Reichstag compared with the the 131 won by the obtained by Social Democrats (SD) or Socialists. The Communists (KPD) won 45 seats.


Pagentry was an important art of the spectacular sccess of the movement in Germany. Hitler's speeches and NAZI pagentry were commonly the subject of parody in Britain and Ameruca. In Germany they proved frightingly effective. Hitler grafted a new NAZI mythology on Germany's existing celebrations and holidays. Many German national and Christain holidays simply had NAZI pagentry and Hitler worship added. Most Germans accepted the inovations as the natural course of events. Hitler's birthday (April 20) began a major celebration. I assume that the Kaiser's birthday had been an important celebration during the Imperial era, but need to confirm this. Important NAZI festivities like Hitler's birthday became pagan entravaganzas with spectacular totch-light parades. During the day his picture appeared in shop windows throughout Germany xfraped in laurels. May Day celebrations had the traditional may poles, but along with the dancing the NAZIn added columns of banner waving, unifirmedcworkers and Hitler Youth. The summer solice (June 22) became the occassions for huge bonfires. Celebrants would then toss in wreathes to NAZI heros. Couples then leaped over the fire. The Nuremburg Party Fstival coincided with the Fall equinox. This was the occassion for a week of celebrations. Incorporated in this week were Worker's Day, Hitler Youth Day, Party Leader's Day, and Brown Shirt Day. Closing Day was theclimax with fireworks, tirch light parades, massed bands, banners, andc huge numbers of uniformed men marching.

Elections of 1928

Economic conditions had improved considerably. In the prosperous economic climate even the monarchist People's Party joined in a coalition with the three main republican parties. The NAZIs were still unable to muster muct political success in 1928. They won only 12 Reichstag seats. The Party was, however, growing and were very well organized. Membership stood at 108,000 in 1928.

Fund Raising

The Depression (1929)

The Depression played an important role in the NAZI sizure of power and in the image that Hitler built in Germany once he seized power. Tragically for Germany, the most serious period of the depression followed the New York Stock Market crash (1929) through Hitler's seizure of power (1933). The impact that the Depression had on Germany folded neatly into Hitler's political drive for power. Apparent economic improvements in Germany were an important element in Hitler's real popularity after seizing power. The view of the Hitler and the NAZIs in Europe was substantially different in Europe during the 1930s before Hitler launched World War II than it is today. It should be remembered that until Kristallnacht (November 1938) that NAZI actions against the Jews were not greatly different fom how Blacks were treated in the American South. In fact many NAZI racial laws were based on laws enacted against Blacks by Southern state legislatures. There were prominent Americans (Lindberg, Ford, and others) before World War II who were impressed with the NAZIs. Hitler was seen by many as the most dynamic leader in Europe. One reason for this was that NAZI policies essentially ended the depression by 1935. Many Germans had turned to the NAZIs in the earlt 1930s because of the Depression. The NAZIs expanded German labor programs, creating a National Labor Service must like the American CCC. The NAZIs seized control of the economy. German industrialists benefitted and soon learned that it was very dangerous to defy the Government. It might be argued that Germany under the NAZIs had the most controlled economy in Europe. Their major project was the construction of the Autobauns. The massive new armaments program was a major factor in putting Germans back to work. The German GNP was back to pre-Depression levels by 1935. NAZI policies made sure there was no longer wide-spread unemployment and destitution in Germany. The German people, however, wre not better off. The benefits of the expanding economy was not brought to them in terms of more consumer goods, but rather a rearmed military. Many Germans, however, were convinced that they were better off. This was in part due to declinging product standards. It was also a result if the effectiveness of NAZI propaganda which emphasized the increased international respect with which Germany had achieved. [Hanby]

Political Violence in the Weimar Republic

Political violence was almost unheard of in Germany before World War I. It became a fact of life at the end of the War, forcing the Kaiser into exile (1918). The Prussian province of Saxony was a focal point where the Communist uprising (March 1921). Two Combat Leagues (Wehrverbände) were founded: the right-wing Stahlhelm and the Social Democratic Reichsbanner. The Freikorps were an important force in supressing the Communist uprisings, including the one Bavaria. And of course it was in Munish, Bavaria that Hitler staged is Beer Hall Putch (1923). Many authirs blame the rise in political violence on the Communists. Other authors disagree. Some authors also claim that the horrors of World War I doomed the Weimar Republic from the beginning. There is no doubt that Weimar was constantly in crisis, but there were alternatives to the NAZI seizure of power. [Schumann] Of course the Wall Stree Crash and the ensuing Depression sharply narrowed those alternatives. As the NAZIs grew in importance, especially after 1929. Conflict was repoted between youth groups. This was especially the case of fights between the NAZIs with Jewish, Socialist, and Communist groups. At the time like the group here, the HJ which was an arm of the SAj was primarily composed of teenagers. The NAZIs used political violence as an act of polify to undermine public confidence in the Weimar Republic. NAZI SA Stormtroopers openly attacked people, esoecially Communists and Socialists on the streets. There are also stories of NAZI and other Fascist youth groups beating up groups such as this SAJ group and harrassing them.

Gustav Stresemann ( -1929)

Gustav Stresemann died (October 1at about the same time of the Wall Street Stock Market crash which brought on the Great Deression. Stresemann had been a modrating influence in the monarchist oriented German People's Party. As a member of the governimng coalition, he had helped to negotiate a reduction in reparations payments, ended international controls on the German economy, and terminated an end to the occupation of the Rhineland (the Young Plan). The diplomatic ranging, however, had enflamed German public opinion. With the death of Stresemann, the German People's Party vered right, adopting a much more strident foreign policy. [Gilbert-Large, p. 255-56.]

Political Instability

With the German People's Party moving to the right and out of Government, the governing coalition was weakened at the same time the NAZIs and Communists were growingbin strength. When the Government moved to reduce unemployment payments, the socialists balked. They wanted to maintain the payments, but require employers to increase contributions. The big industriaists saw lawing off workers as a way of breaking the power of the unions. They certainly did not want to increase payments to the unemployed. The Government fell (March 1930). This left a weakened Government unable to adopt needed programs to address the Depression.

Chancellor Brüning (1885-1970)

With the fall of the governing coalition, Hindenberg appointed Heinrich Brüning as Germany's next Chancellor. Brüning was from the Center Party. He was an ardent Catholic and unlike the soicialists, admired the mikitary. This of course explained his appointment. Brüning was a financial expert and believed in thecestablished doctines of the day, esoecially balanced budgets. He was determined to reduce unemployment payments. When the socialists refused to go along, he sought support in the right with only moderate success. After the Reichstag rejected his proposals, he began to rule through emergency decrees, a precedent Hitler and the NAZIs were to use.

Election of 1930 (September 14)

The elections of 1930 were a disaster for Germany. In the middle of the building economic crisis, the German electorate reached out to the political extremes, both the left and right. It was the showing of the NAZIs that stunned Germany. Brüning had thought that right-wing parties he could work with (like the German People's Part or the German Natioanlist Part) would take delegates away from the socialists. It was the NAZIs, however, who gained power. While not achieving a majority, the NAZIs increased their number of searts in the Reichstag from 15 to 107. This made the NAZIs the largest party in Germany and meant that Germany was essentially ungovernable. From the day of this election, the central question in German politics was wehther or not the NAZIs would form a government.

Emergency Rule

Brüning At this timec could have formed a government with the socialists. This he adamently refused to do. Instead he ruled by emergency decree. There were provisions for this in the Constitution (paragraph 48). No one had expected, however, that a chancellor would use the provision to rule for any extended period of time. And a government could be dismissed by a majority vote of the Reichstag. The socialists, fearing that the fall of the Government might result in a NAZI Government refused to votecagainst the Government. By absatining, the moderates could narrowly prevent the NAZIs and Coomunists from voting out the Government. Brüning believed thatvhis emergency rule could demonstrate the need for a more authoritarian system. [Gilbert-Large, p. 257.] Brüning did not, however, gain in popularity. An aborted custom's union with Austria and the specter of Brüning and other German officials going hat in hand to Paris and London asking for finacial concessions undermined his standing among the political right which he had hoped to build. After the presidebntial elections of 1932, Hindenburg dismissed him.

Presidential Election (March/April 1932)

Hitler throughout Hindenburg's presidency used the Brown Shirts (SA) to commit continual acts of political violence to destabalize the German political sitution and tarnish the image of the Weimar Republic amomg Germans. The Communists, under orders from Moscow, pursued the same course, refusing to form an alliance against the NAZIs with the Socialists and other moderate political parties. With the onset of the Depression (1929), the NAZIs became the single most important political party in Germany, although still a minority party. Desperate people turned to the extremes, both the NAZIs and Communists. Hitler aimed at displacing Hidenberg as president (1932). He conducted one of the first modern political campaigns. He effecitively used the radio and criss crossed Germany by air--giving the image of a youthful, dynamic leader capable cof leading Germany out of its economiv and political crisis. Of course the political, but not the economic, crisis was largely created by the NAZI Brown shirts. Hidenburg honored the terms of the Constitution. Even so, he had never concealed the fact that he was a monarchist at heart. He surrounded himself with advisers who began to see the instability of Weimar as an opportunity of reserecting the monarchy. The Kaiser was across the border in the Netherlands and had quite a number of sons. The NAZIs toyed with the Hohenzollerns and other aristocratic famikies. Royal patronage helped to create the image of moderation and respectability. The Kaiser himself would have nothing to do with Hitler and the NAZIs. A candidate needed to receive an absolute majority of votes to win. Hindenburg with no party association came very close to a majority during the firt round (March 13). He polled 49.6 percent. Hitler came in second with over 30 percent of the vote. Ernst Thälmann, the Communist cndidate, was a distant third with 13 percent of the vote. Theodor Duesterberg, another right-wing candidte with the German National People's Party. polled nearly 7 percent ofvthe vote. Hindenburg won a majority duing the second round, although only a plurality was needed Aporil 10).

Parlimentary Elections (July 1932)

The presidential election was closely followed by Reichstag (parlimentary) elections. The Deporession and rising unemoployment dominated the political lanscape in 1932. After the Reichstag was prematurely disolved, Federal parlimentary elections were held (July 31, 1932). The results were shocking gains for the NAZI Party. Hitler and the NAZI promised to deal decisevely with the unemployment problem. And the German elkectirate rewarded the NAZIs with major gains--adding 123 seats. The NAZIs became for the first time the largest party in parliament, but did not gain a majority. The SDP only lost 10 seats, but the many small parties lost seats to the NAZIs. The Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (Communust Party--KPD) remained strong, adding 12 searts. As a result, parties trying to destroy the Weimar Republic now had a majority in the Reichstag. This was what has been described as a 'negative majority'. While the anti-republican parties had a majority, they would not cooperate with each other by forming a coalition government. Even so by having a majority, they essentially made Gernany ungovernable. Josef Stalin who had gained ccontrol of the Soviet Union saw the SDP as the great threat to the KDP. And the KDP was vitally importabt vto thec Siviets. If the KDP could destroy the Weimar Republic and gain control of Germany, the Communists would suddenly become the dominant force in Europe. Stalin exercized effective control of Communist parties throiughout Europe. He saw the SDP as the great threat and ordered the KDP not to cooperate with the SDP. The resulting division of the left, proivided Hitler the opportuniy he needed. Ironically, Stalin would evenbtually sign an alliance with Hitler--the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact that launched World War II.

Seizure of Power (1933)

The NAZI's after the July 1932 election were the largest German political party, but did not have a majority in the Reichstag. Hidenburg dismissed Brüning and the result was political instability in the Reichstag. President Hindenburg refused to appoint Hitler Chancellor and instead turned to Papen. The political situatation remained unstable. The newly elected Reichstag in September voted no confidence in the Papen government. The November 1932 Reichstag election results were: NAZI Party 196 seats, Social Democrats 121 seats, The Communist Party 100 seats, and the Centre Party 70 seats. The NAZIs lost a few seats, but continued to be the largest party in the Reichstag. Hitler continued to demand to be appointed Chancellor, Hindenburg refused saying that he said he did not trust Hitler to rule democratically. Hindenburg preferred Papen, but the Army objected. Hindenberg turned to General Kurt von Schleicher who lasted 57 days. Finally Hidenberg, running out of options, turned to Hitler whom he appointed January 30, 1933. Hidenberg attempted to control Hitler by placing Papen as vice-chancellor and surrounding Hitler with moderate ministers who supported Papen. Hitler by carefully selecting his cabinent posts was within days gaining control. To be sure of success, however, he needed a mahority in the Reichstag. He insisted on a new election. In the middle of the elections the Reichstag went up in flames on Februarry 27, 1933. A Dutch Communist was blamed. Historins still debate who was responsible. Many blamed the NAZIs, but it appears that neither they or the Communist Party was responsible. Hitler took full advantage of the situation and claimed that the fire was a Communist plot, and persuaded Hindenberg to sign an emergency Law for the Protection of the People and State. The law suspended people's rights and allowed the Nazis to arrest many Communists and others. This was the key legal document allowing Hitler and the NAZIs to seize power. Historians use different terms to describe the NAZI victory. Some suggest that Hitler was elected. In fact the NAZIs never gained a majority in as German election, even the tainted 1933 election. The description of seizing power seems more correct.


Davidson, Eugene. The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (Univesity of Missouri: Columbia, 1996), 519p.

Gilbert, Felix with Duncan Clay Large. The End of the European Era, 1890 to the Present (Norton: New York, 1991), 598p.

Hanby, Alonzo. For the Survival of Democracy.

Schumann, Dirk. Political Violence in the Weimar Republic, 1918-1933: Battle for the Streets and Fears of Civil War (Studies in German History series).


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Created: October 3, 2003
Last updated: 12:19 AM 8/6/2018