March 23rd

Bundesarchiv_Bild_102-14439,_Rede_Adolf_Hitlers_zum_Ermächtigungsgesetz.jpg

Hitler, center, opening the Reichstag following his massive electoral victory of 1932, in front of the swastika.

On this day in 1933, Adolf Hitler was granted the dictatorial powers associated with the Enabling Act, ending the Weimar Republic and beginning his 12-year tenure as führer.

The Enabling Act was a constitutional amendment made by Adolf Hitler and his NSDAP party in 1933 where, on this day March 23rd, it passed by houses of the bicameral Weimar legislature and was signed in to law by President Paul von Hindenburg. The act gave Hitler total legislative control – allowing him to bypass the Reichstag for lawmaking purposes. This enabled Hitler to ban opposition parties. The question therefore arises, of why people or other parties would vote in favour of such a bill? Especially given that the Nazis did not have even 50% control in the Reichstag, let alone the 66% required for constitutional amendments. The answer to this question lies in the Reichstag Fire.

On February 27th, firefighters were called to the Reichstag building in Berlin to put out a now towering inferno. The building had allegedly been subject to an arson attack by a young Dutch communist named Van der Lubbe. Hitler used this as an opportunity to pass the Reichstag Fire decree and claim, 6 days before the 1933 election, that there was a communist revolution imminent. This allowed for the repression of the German Communist Party (KPD) and through more political manoeuvrings, including working with other extreme right parties (DNVP), organising the Reichskonkordat with the Holy See to guarantee Catholic representation at a national level and violent intimidation tactics, Hitler managed to gather a quorum which could successfully pass the Act.

Though the Act was scheduled to expire by April 1, 1937, it was renewed on two more occasions when it was passed in a legislative house entirely obsolete and composed only of Nazis; the only legal party.

The Act empowered Hitler to become the German dictator for the next 12 years and led to the Second World War. Much debate continues in regard to whether such events would have transpired had Hitler not existed, but, as James Joll notes, such debate is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is, 84 years ago, German democracy died and one of history’s most ruthless dictators took the reigns of power.

 

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