(HITLER and GERMANY: 1927-35 – continued)

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HITLER and GERMANY: 1927-35 (2 of 4)

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Chancellor Hitler Acquires Emergency Powers

Chancellor Hitler complained that his government did not have majority support in parliament, and he won from President Hindenburg approval for another round of parliamentary elections. Hitler's lieutenant, Herman Goering, was put in charge of the police, and in late February came the fire at the parliament building set by Hitler's men but attributed to a Communist plot to make revolution. A good portion of the German people bought the story. Communists were arrested and taken away to prison. The new elections were held in the crisis atmosphere created by the parliament building fire, and the National Socialists won 43.9 percent of the vote.

To win emergency powers, Chancellor Hitler needed a two-thirds vote of approval from parliament. With his new numbers in Parliament and the support of conservative and middle-road politicians, he spoke to parliament on 23 March 1933. The only party to oppose the Enabling Act was the Social Democrats. The Communists, whose votes would have prevented a two-thirds majority, were not present. They had been arrested.

Marinus van der Lubbe

Marinus van der Lubbe, the Dutch communist said to have started the Reichstag fire. Click for details.

Photo of Joseph Goebbels

Dr. Joseph Goebbels, a mediocrity who believed in his genius. Click for biography

In his Enabling Act Speech to Parliament, Hitler accused the Social Democrats of having betrayed Germany during the Weimar Republic by letting Germany be dictated to by foreign powers. Responding to a Social Democrat deputy's concern about liberty and human rights, Hitler claimed that his party had stood up for Germany and was victimized and deprived of liberty and justice along with the German people. He said he was creating the Enabling Act "for the sake of justice, not because we overestimate power but because we may thus one day perhaps more easily join with those who, today, may be separated from us but who nevertheless believe in Germany, too. For I would not want to make the mistake of provoking opponents instead of either destroying or becoming reconciled with them." Center Party deputies cheered. Hitler told deputies of the Social Democratic Party that Germany will be liberated "but not by you." He said "It will always be the first and foremost task of the Government to bring about inner consensus with [President Hindenburg's] aims," and he added that " The rights of the Churches will not be curtailed and their position vis-à-vis the State will not be altered." note35

Parliament that day – 23 March 1933 – passed the Enabling Act by the needed two-thirds vote, and it was signed that same day by President Paul von Hindenburg.

Armed with emergency powers, Hitler must have felt emboldened. In April in an interview with a US diplomat, James G. McDonald, he said, according to McDonald:

We are not primarily attacking the Jews, rather the Socialists and the Communists. The United States has shut out such people [the Jews]. We did not do so. Therefore we cannot be blamed if we now take measures against them... I will do the thing that the rest of the world would like to do. It doesn't know how to get rid of the Jews. I will show them. note36

Hitler moved against the Social Democrats and their trade unions. In May and June the Social Democratic Party's headquarters were occupied. The Social Democrats were declared illegal and enemies of the people and the state. More Communists were arrested and imprisoned, along with socialists, liberals and trade unionists – all those deemed by the Hitler regime as dangerous. The first concentration camps appeared, to number about fifty by the end of the year, some of them established by Himmler's SS and some by the Brown Shirts (the Sturmabteilungor). Despite the continued German proclivity toward order and legality, a few of the political prisoners were murdered, and some graft appeared as a few were ransomed to relatives or friends.

Archbishop Orsenigo

Hitler puts on a friendly face for the Vatican's ambassador to Germany.

There was a revival of what the National Socialists called German culture. On 10 May 1933, students caught up in the National Socialist spirit tossed 20,000 or so books onto a bonfire outside of the University of Berlin – as Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, watched with elation. Among the authors whose books have been described as burned: H.G. Wells, Havelock Ellis, Sigmund Freud, Prouse, Emile Zola, André Gide, Upton Sinclair, Helen Keller (How I Became a Socialist), Margaret Sanger, Jack London, Erich Maria Remarque (the German author of All Quiet On The Western Front), Marx, Engels and Lenin. As the fire subsided Goebbels spoke to the crowd, saying that "These flames not only illuminate the final end of an old era; they also light up the new."

On July 20, the Papal Nuncio Monsignor Pacelli (later Pius XII) and Vice-Chancellor Papen signed a Concordat – von Papen a respected and civilized man and a devout Roman Catholic. Hitler wanted respectability and leverage with Germany's Catholic Center Party.  He was still appealing to Christians, having recently proclaimed that "we demand freedom for all religious beliefs," and he had recently proclaimed that Christianity was "the basis of our collective morals," the basis of the family and "the kernel of our people." Pope Pius XI (reign 1922-39) saw Communism as the greatest danger in the world, and he saw the Hitler-Papen government as a bulwark against Communism, atheism and attendant evils, including the destruction of civilization.  The Pope lacked the hindsight that would come years later, and for the Church the Concordant was practical business.  In signing the Concordant, the Church acquired a guarantee of the right to regulate its own affairs in Germany, including continuing its confessional schools.

Also in July in Germany, a law was passed against the formation of new political parties – described as for the sake of unity of the German people. Later that year, Jews were excluded from holding public office, from holding jobs in the civil service, in journalism, radio, farming, teaching, the theater, or in Germany's motion picture industry. And those Jews who were uncomfortable with any of this and who chose to leave the country had to pay a departure tax.

On November 11, 1933, the anniversary of the Armistice of 1918, Hitler spoke of the "honor" that Germany had lost with that armistice. President Hindenburg that day addressed the nation by radio, and he capped his misunderstood career by telling the nation to "support with me and the Reich Chancellor [Hitler] the principle of equal rights and peace with honor." "With the help of God," he concluded," Germany will maintain its unity."

The next day a plebiscite was held across Germany, designed to underscore the legitimacy of Hitler's government. Ninety-six percent of the voting public cast their ballots. Ninety-two percent voted their approval of the single list of National Socialists and a handful of Nationalists to fill parliament. Some intimidation may have been involved in the voting, but it is estimated that overall the vote was a genuine expression of support for Hitler's government.


Copyright © 1998-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.