Hitler's consolidation of power, 1933-1934
Although Hitler became chancellor of Germany on January 30th 1933, he didn't have full control of Germany until mid 1934. Various obstacles prevented his establishment of a dictatorship, and this hub will explain these obstacles and how they were overcome.
Hitler's first cabinet
The layout of Hitler's first cabinet was decided by President Hindenburg and former chancellor Franz von Papen. Despite the fact the Nazis were now in power, Hitler was only allowed 2 other Nazis besides himself in the cabinet, so as to allow Hindenburg and Von Papen to have a degree of control over Hitler and the Nazi Party. Fortunately for Hitler, he was allowed to choose the 2 other Nazi politicians and which ministerial positions they were given, and they were:
- Hermann Goring - Minister without portfolio
- Wilhelm Frick - Minister of the Interior
The rest of the cabinet posts were given largely to Nationalist Party politicians, and the role of vice-chancellor was given to Von Papen, so he could keep a close eye on Hitler and keep him under control.
Hitler chose these 2 cabinet posts for a reason, as they allowed him a considerable degree of control of Germany with very few Nazis in cabinet. Frick, being in control of the police, allowed him to impose authority on the country, and Goring, who had no specific role as Minister without portfolio, was able to influence other politicians in the cabinet. Goring was also soon given the role of First Minister of Prussia, giving him control of Prussia, especially the police in Prussia. This created tension between Frick and Goring over the control of the police, and this tension was to only increase when Goring created the Gestapa (Geheime Staatspolizeiamt), the prussian secret police, later to become the Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei). The creation of conflicting positions with conflicting ministerial powers was a common occurrence in Nazi Germany, and historians are divided regarding this. Some historians believe that this was specifically engineered by Hitler to ensure that no one gained too much power and to weed out the worthless politicians, whilst others argue that Hitler was simply a poor head of government who couldn't organise his own party effectively.
Soon after, Hitler created another cabinet position, the Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, which was given to Dr Joseph Goebbels, who at the time was the Gauleiter of Berlin. In this position, Goebbels took control of the radio and most of the press, and undertook massive propaganda campaigns, especially before the March 5th election.
Removal of political opposition, 1933
Hitler wanted to establish the Nazi Party as the only political force in Germany, and to achieve this goal, he would have to remove all forms of political resistance. In the beginning of the Nazi reign, they had to play the democratic game, and as such the other political parties were still in the Reichstag, although with little say, and henceforth different views among the public were represented in government.
The process of eliminating opposition began early on in 1933. On February 27th 1933, the Reichstag was set on fire. The Reichstag Fire was 'found' the be caused by a communist by the name of Marinus van de Lubbe, who was tried and subsequently executed for the crime. There is some debate among historians regarding who actually set the Reichstag aflame, as some argue that the Nazis themselves set it on fire as a way to blame the communists and have reason to remove them from German society, but there is little evidence either way. In response, the Nazis issued the Reichstag Fire Decree the following day, which suppressed some civil liberties and allowed the Nazis to make mass arrests of communists and socialists. Owing to a lack of room in prisons, and the fact that the first concentration camps were under construction, many of the thousands arrested were put in temporary 'wild camps', where they were often brutally tortured and many killed.
Hitler next announced that there would be another election on March 5th. Although he hated elections and the whole democratic process, he decided to have another election as he arrogantly believed that the Nazis would achieve over 90% of the vote, thereby proving that the other political parties were not needed and could be scrapped with little problem. Goebbels undertook a massive propaganda campaign before the election to promote the Nazis. However, in the election, the Nazi Party received only 43% of the vote, which was still the overwhelming majority. Interestingly, the Communist Party (KPD) received 81 seats, despite the fact most of its politicians were under arrest. The reason that the Nazis received only 43% rather than Hitler's expected 90% is that people tend to vote for whichever political party they voted before, and the Nazis had only been in power for less than 2 months, so not everyone was swayed to the side of the Nazis.
To get rid of all the political parties bar the Nazis, Hitler decided to pass an Enabling Bill, which removes all political parties, with the exception of the incumbent ruling party, in times of hardship. However, to pass an enabling bill, 2 criteria must be met. Firstly, to actually discuss the bill in government, the majority party need 50% of the vote. Short 7%, the Nazis gained the needed seats by uniting with the Nationalist Party (DNVP), giving them 51% of the vote. Secondly, the actually pass the bill, the majority party needed 66% of the vote on board. To get this, Hitler held a debate on the bill in the Kroll Opera House, which alongside the politicians, he filled with imposing and intimidating SA and SS (Schutzstaffel) members. In the debate, the communists and socialists vehemently refused to side with the Nazis, but Hitler managed to get the Centre Party on board by agreeing to leave the Catholic Church alone. With the Centre Party on board, the Nazis had 67% of the vote, and the bill was passed. By the summer of 1933, all other political parties had been removed.
Hitler also later removed the working opposition on May 1st, by removing the trade unions, allowing employers to decide how much they wanted to pay their employees. With the political and working opposition removed, there was little way left of resisting the Nazis.
Creation of the dictatorship and the SA, 1934
Even though the political opposition had been removed, Hitler didn't yet have full control of Germany. This was because he was still subordinate to Hindenburg, who could removed him from office if he so wished. As a result, Hitler had to be careful not to annoy or alienate Hindenburg, who was already distrustful of Hitler. Hitler also required the support of the army and the industrial elite, both of whom he required for his desire for war. He had gotten some support from the industrial elite through the removal of the trade unions, but they weren't completely on his side yet. The main obstacle of Hitler getting the needed support was the SA (Sturmabteilung).
The SA was the Nazi paramilitary division, formed from the remains of the disgruntled Freikorps in the 1920s. 4 million strong in 1934, they played a role in helping the Nazis attain power, but were becoming a thorn in the side of Germany. The SA were widely disliked by the army and the elite due to their violent and thuggish nature.
The army came to detest the SA even more because of the leader of the SA, Ernst Rohm. Rohm was a good friend of Hitlers, and interestingly was openly homosexual, as were many of the higher ups in the SA. Rohm angered the army when he announced his desire to merge the smaller army, limited to 100,000 men because of the Versailles Treaty, into the much larger SA, and make the SA the main fighting force of Germany. The army were very much against the idea, and eventually Hindenburg stepped in and provided Hitler with an ultimatum; removed the SA, or the Nazis would be removed from office and Germany would be put in a state of marshall law.
As a result of Hindenburg's ultimatum, Hitler initiated Operation Hummingbird, also called the Night of the Long Knives or the Rohmputsch. Hitler was given fabricated information which indicated that Rohm and the SA were planning a coup, and so in a series of arrests and assassinations, had the SA leadership, as well as other political opponents, such as Gregor Strasser and Kurt von Schleicher, crushed. Rohm himself, being a good friend of Hitler's, was given the option to commit suicide, which he refused and was shot instead. The public were somewhat shocked by the event, but were more relieved that the SA had been quelled. Rohm's homosexuality, as well as the fabricated idea of a coup, was used in the press as a reason for his execution. Following the Night of the Long Knives, the SA were virtually removed, becoming a small, insignificant group with little to no power for the remainder of the Third Reich, and were effectively replaced by the SS as the Nazis main organisation. The event was successful however in getting the support of the army and the elite, and Hindenburg congratulated Hitler for removing the SA.
Hitler finally established his dictatorship on August 2nd 1934, when President Hindenburg died. Before he died, Hitler somehow convinced Hindenburg to sign a decree which would combine the offices and powers of president and chancellor into the position of Fuhrer upon his death. Hitler obtained the title of Der Furher upon his death, and with the powers of both roles, became the de facto dictator of Germany and giving him full totalitarian control.