Why did the fascist communist party fail?
Germany 1933: From Democracy to Dictatorship
The weakness of the Weimar Republic after the First World War
The German Reich has been a republic since 1919. After the defeat in World War I, Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicated. Many Germans are dissatisfied with the new situation. They want the empire back. In addition, many people believe that the ruling Social Democrats are to blame for the defeat. Nevertheless, things started to improve in the country from the mid-twenties.
That ended in 1930. Due to a global economic crisis, Germany is unable to pay the war debts that were laid down in the Versailles Peace Treaty. Millions of Germans become unemployed. There is also a crisis in politics. Cabinets fall and there are constant new elections. It seems impossible to form a majority government.
Rise of the NSDAP
Against this background, the rise of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) takes place. When it was founded in 1920, it was a small party. With his oratorial talent, Hitler manages to recruit more and more members. The party is characterized by extreme nationalism and anti-Semitism.
In November 1923, Hitler tried to seize power by means of a coup. With that he fails thoroughly. Hitler ends up behind bars and the judge bans the NSDAP. At the end of 1924, Hitler was released after a relatively low sentence. His political career is not over yet. In prison he wrote Mein Kampf and in it he laid out his plans for Germany.
The Nazis will go the legal way in future and try to gain power through elections. You benefit from the economic crisis that set in at the end of the twenties. You are using the crisis to vigorously criticize the government and the Treaty of Versailles. Your strategy is working. In the elections of 1928 the NSDAP received 0.8 million votes, in 1930 the number increased to 6.4 million.
Attraction of the Nazis
The fact that many Germans feel attracted to the NSDAP is not only due to the party program. The party exudes strength and dynamism. In addition, the Nazi leaders are young, unlike the gray-haired politicians of the established parties. And Hitler's image of a strong leader speaks to the imagination. Many see him as someone who will unite the people and end the political conflicts.
The Nazis are aimed at voters from all walks of life, not just at individual groups such as workers or Catholics. You also reach a lot of people who did not vote before. Even so, in November 1932 it looks as if the party has passed its peak. The economy is picking up again and the NSDAP loses 15% of its seats, although it remains the strongest party.
Hitler is appointed Reich Chancellor
The conservative parties do not find enough popular support. They put Reich President Paul von Hindenburg under pressure to appoint Hitler as Reich Chancellor. They hope to be able to form a majority government together with the NSDAP. Their expectation that they can tie Hitler into their own agenda will prove to be a disastrous miscalculation.
The time has come on January 30, 1933. Hindenburg gives in and appoints Hitler as Reich Chancellor. “It's almost like a dream. Wilhelmstrasse is ours "the later Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels noted in his diary. So Hitler was not elected by the German people, but came to power legally.
National Socialist Government: The Nazis share power
The National Socialists celebrate their victory with a torchlight procession through Berlin. Hitler looks on approvingly from the balcony of the Reich Chancellery. But at this point in time he is still anything but omnipotent. The NSDAP has to work with other right-wing parties. Only two NSDAP members are represented in the new government: Wilhelm Frick and Hermann Göring. However, Hitler ensures that they hold important posts.
The role of Hermann Göring is particularly important. He is a minister without portfolio and takes control of the police in Prussia, most of Germany. This is reason enough for the Nazis to celebrate the “national revolution”, but many Germans take note of the news with a shrug. They have seen many governments come and go and expect the new government not to last long.
Reichstag fire: first step towards dictatorship
Soon Hitler usurped more powers. A key event is the Reichstag fire. On February 27, 1933, security guards discovered that the building was on fire. They overpower the alleged arsonist, a Dutch communist named Marinus van der Lubbe. He was executed in 1934 after a show trial. Whether he had accomplices could never be clarified.
The Nazi leaders are quickly on the spot. The later Gestapo chief Rudolf Diels was present and reports, Göring: “This is the beginning of the communist uprising, they are going to strike now! Not a minute can be missed! ”Before he could continue, Hitler roared:“ There is no mercy now; whoever stands in our way will be cut down. "
On the morning of the next day, Reich President Hindenburg announced the “Ordinance of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State”, also known as the “Reichstag Fire Ordinance”. It creates the basis for a dictatorship. The civil rights of the German population are restricted. Freedom of expression is no longer a given, and the police can arbitrarily search houses and arrest people. The political opponents of the Nazis are now outlawed.
Oppression of opponents
In this atmosphere of intimidation, new elections were held on March 5, 1933. The streets are dominated by posters and flags of the NSDAP. Nevertheless, the great victory hoped for by the Nazis does not materialize. With 43.9 percent of the vote, the NSDAP did not achieve a majority. The left parties KPD and SPD together still get 30% of the vote.
Arrests and intimidations are increasing. The government bans the communist party. Ten thousand communists had already been arrested on March 15th. The first concentration camps are opened to accommodate the many political prisoners. The circumstances in it are terrible. People are mistreated, tortured and some of them murdered.
It is particularly difficult for Jews and well-known personalities among the prisoners. SS guards from the Dachau camp near Munich lead four Jewish prisoners to the camp gate and shoot them. The guards claim that the victims tried to escape.
Hitler gets more power
Parliament met in Berlin on March 23, 1933. A new law is on the agenda, the “Enabling Act”. It enables Hitler to enact laws for four years without interference from the Reich President, the Reichsrat or Parliament. The building in which the meeting takes place is surrounded by men of the SA and SS, paramilitary organizations of the NSDAP, which have since been appointed auxiliary police.
In his speech, Hitler confronted the MPs with the decision “war or peace”. This is a covert threat to intimidate people who want to vote against it. So there can be no talk of a democratic vote. Parliament adopted the Enabling Act with 444 votes in favor and 94 against. It is the basis of the Nazi dictatorship until 1945.
Co-ordination of society
After Hitler has amassed so much power, the Nazis set about transforming society according to their own ideas. This process is known as synchronization. Jewish and politically unpopular officials are dismissed from service. Trade unions are dissolved, instead the German Labor Front is founded. In this way the Nazis prevent workers from organizing as opponents of the regime.
The existing political parties are banned. From mid-July 1933 Germany is a one-party state. "Purges" also take place in the cultural and scientific fields. Everything “un-German” should disappear. The Nazis burned books mainly by Jewish, left-wing and pacifist writers.
Oppression of the Jews
In the phase of the seizure of power, the destructive energy of the Nazis is mainly directed towards political opponents. The Jewish citizens of Germany are an exception. As a group, they do not constitute an opposition to Nazi policies. Nevertheless, they are victims of violence, harassment and oppression. On April 1, 1933, the regime took an official action against the Jewish Germans. She announces a nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses. It is the first step in a series of anti-Jewish measures that will end in the Holocaust.
Hitler as sole ruler
After taking power, Hitler and the Nazis turn Germany into a dictatorship. They always resort to legal means in order to maintain the appearance of legality. Step by step, Hitler undermines democracy until it is just a facade. Even so, the process does not end there. In the twelve years that the Third Reich existed, Hitler will continue to consolidate his rule.
- Boterman, Frits, Modern divorced from Germany (Amsterdam: De Arbeiderspers, 2005, 2nd edition).
- Evans, Richard J., The Coming of the Third Reich (New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2004).
- Friedlander, Saul, Nazi Germany and the Jews. Vol. I: The Years of Persecution, 1933-1939 (New York, NY: HarperCollins 1997).
- Hagen, William W., German History in Modern Times (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2012).
- Kitchen, Martin, Modern History of Germany: 1800 to the Present, (Chichester [etc.]: Wiley-Blackwell 2012, 2nd edition).
- Kershaw, Ian, Hitler, 1889-1945 (London: Allen Lane, 1998-2000).
- Longerich Peter, Hitler: biography (Munich: Siedler, 2015).
- Ullrich, Volker, Adolf Hitler biography. Volume 1: Years of Ascent, 1889-1939 (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer 2013).
- Wachsmann, Nikolaus, KL: a history of the Nazi concentration camps (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015).
- Rudolf Diels, Lucifer ante portas. Between Severing and Heydrich (1949), 142-144.
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