How Hitler Rose to Power

The Weimar Republic
The German government
between WWI & WWII

1918-1933

Before the Reichstag Fire (1933), modern German politics consisted of many different parties.
The following 7 German parties had the greatest support:

• Political Left: Communist Party (K), Social Democrats (SPD) 

• Political Center: Democrats (DDP), Catholic Center (Z), People's Party (DVP)

• Political Right: Nationalist Party (DNVP), National Socialist German Workers Party (“Nazis”)

Because of the many parliamentary parties of Weimar Germany, each party could afford to represent an ever-narrowing vision for the country. On the outer fringes of the Left and Right, the Communists and the Nazis both claimed that the German Weimar government simply should not exist. And as far as German Jews, the Communists wanted Jews to forget they were Jewish — while the Nazis wanted to forget that there were Jews.

K.Schumacher

THE LEFT

On the Left, the Social Democrats were largely blue-collar union workers, with some white-collar workers and intellectuals. It was majority Protestant, and the most popular party from 1919-1932. The SPD fought for the Weimar Republic and was staunchly against antisemitism.


THE RIGHT

On the Right, the Nationalists were also majority Protestant but were led by conservative, wealthy business owners. The wealthy feared a Communist takeover and forged a populist movement (völkisch) that appealed to retailers and farmers. The DNVP blamed their financial woes on liberal politics and Eastern Jewish immigration.



Ludwig_Kaas_Konkordatsunterzeichnung_mini

THE CENTER

The German Center was made up of the Center-Left (DDP), the Catholic Center (Z), and and the Center-Right (DVP).  The Center-Left DDP stressed a moderate liberalism — the sociologist Max Weber was one of their leaders. The Catholic Center drew from a variety of positions, so long as Catholic interests (who were a German minority) were upheld. Lastly the DVP was less extreme and antisemitic than the Nationalists and sought to forge conservative values in a stong German Republic.


Adolf Hitler-1933

THE FAR-RIGHT NAZIS & THE MAINSTREAM GERMAN RIGHT

The Far-Right NSDAP (“Nazis”) was founded in 1919, attracting young men and veterans who had trouble finding work and integrating into modern German life after WWI. In 1923, Adolf Hitler led the Nazis in an attempt to violently overthrow the German Weimar government. After their coup failed, the Nazis started seeking votes. But their core ideology (found in Hitler's 1925 autobiography "Mein Kampf") remained the same: the claim that liberalism, immigration, and Jewish minorities were damaging German greatness.

At first, the Center-Right (DVP) and Right Wing (DNVP) opposed Hitler. After all, he tried to overthrow their government! But his increasing popularity caused more and more acceptance of Hitler and his politics among German conservatives. By 1932, the Catholic Center was the last moderate force to oppose Hitler — while the Democrats, Social Democrats, and Communists continued to fight him from the Left.


JAN 1933: HITLER APPOINTED AS CHANCELLOR

Chancellor (Bundeskanzler) is the German way of saying Prime Minister. The Chancellor was appointed (not elected) by the German President to be in charge of the upper house of Parliament (der Reichstag). In the U.S., this position is somewhat similar to the Vice President, chosen by the President and placed in charge of the Senate.

In 1932, the right-leaning war hero Paul von Hindenburg (pictured) ran against Hitler and was re-elected President of Germany. He was 84. The Conservative establishment (DNVP & DVP) didn't like Hitler personally. They found him vulgar, his book far-fetched, and his theatrics silly. But they recognized his populist hold over Germany, and that had value in their struggle against the Communists (now 17% of Germans). So, in an effort to consolidate the German Right Wing, Hindenburg appointed Hitler Chancellor.


1280px-Reichstagsbrand

FEB 1933: THE REICHSTAG FIRE

Just a month after Hitler was made Chancellor, the Reichstag building (the very institution Hitler was now in charge of) was set on fire. This had once been where the various political parties came to meet and discuss German politics. A Communist was arrested for the fire. Newly-appointed Chancellor Hitler convinced President Hindenburg that there was a larger conspiracy to overthrow the government led by the Communists. As such, a decree was passed that ended the freedoms of the press, assembly, and expression, suspended habeas corpus, and authorized the government to collect data from personal mail and telephone calls. These powers were used by the Nazi Party to effectively end the Communist Party.


MARCH 1933: THE ENABLING ACT

A month after the Reichstag Fire, there would be a vote to enable Chancellor Hitler to make laws without the Reichstag — without needing the support of the German Left Wing parties. The Nazi Party could then rule Germany unopposed. Such an Act, according to the Weimar Constitution, required a 2/3rds majority of the Reichstag — more numbers than the Right Wing had (Nazis, DNVP, & DVP).

From the Left, the German Communists were gone. And the Social Democrats were too numerous (SPD). The Democrat Party (DDP) was more or less defunct. So it was the Catholic Center Party that was the swing vote. Hitler negotiated with the Catholic Center leader, a priest named Ludwig Kaas, for the Catholic vote. The Catholics were promised their religious freedom under Hitler, and the Nazis were promised the Catholic vote. On 24 March 1933 the Enabling Act was voted on. Every major political party in Germany voted for it (83%), except for the Social Democrats. Soon after, all political parties in Germany were outlawed — except for the Nazi Party.


AUGUST 1934

For a year and a half, Hitler enjoyed undisputed legislative control as President Hindenburg's Chancellor. Then, when Hindenburg died in office, rather than hold another vote, Chancellor Hitler simply merged the positions of "Chancellor" and "President" into one title, "Führer." From that day until his suicide at the end the war in 1945, Adolf Hitler was Führer of Germany.