After the Reichstag Fire in the night from February 27th to 28th, 1933 Hitler was able to convince President Hindenburg to issue state of emergency, the Reichstag Fire decrees, which suspended civil liberties. Hindenburg’s issue of the decrees shows that Hitler’s influence on him had become greater and weakened Papen’s position as Vice Chancellor and his position as a consultant. On February 4th, state of emergency had already been issued because of the call for a general strike by the communists. The NSDAP could make use of the decrees for the campaign for the upcoming elections.
Police was under Gi?? ring’s control and tolerated violent measures against political enemies. 69 dead people were the consequence of the government’s power which was due to the emergency decrees. The oath Hitler swore on the constitution on January 30th when he was appointed Chancellor was broken with the Enabling Act which was introduced on March, 23rd, 1933 and legalised dictatorship in Germany. In his former oath Hitler swore to “[… ] protect the Constitution and laws of the German people [… ]”.
The Enabling act was just an incident for further lies and intrigues committed by Hitler’s government and almost ironically called “Law for Terminating the Suffering of People and Nation”. With the Enabling Act Hitler abolished the system of checks and balances and put the legislative branch under control of the executive branch. Hitler was in need of such a law because the NSDAP only gained 43. 9% of the votes on March 5th, 1933 and thus did not have an absolute majority in the Reichstag. The Enabling Act enabled the government to introduces laws without a Reichstag majority.
Having been successful in manipulating the constitution Hitler continued his fight for absolute power on a lower level. The constitution was the most important aim Hitler attacked successfully. Apart from the Reichstag Hitler also set the judiciary out of power. On March 24th, 1934 the Hitler-controlled People’s Court replaced the former judiciary. With legal techniques he was able to destabilise the constitution and finally to set it out of power. Political parties being opposed to his ideas were his next victim – the legal preconditions for the oppression of minorities were achieved.
The evaluation of Hitler’s tactics to overcome the democratic Weimar constitution is very controversial and has to be done at least on two different levels: Hitler de jure never violated the constitution. But Hitler’s appointment was de facto against the “spirit of the constitution” which Hugo Preui?? had in mind when he wrote it in 1918/19 because power was, in accordance with the constitution, handed to a person whose main goal was to destroy it. 3. 2 Political opposition under attack The NSDAP was able to eliminate political opposition with the help of laws they could arbitrarily introduce because of the Enabling Act.
On June 22nd, 1933 the SPD was forbidden. As a consequence the DNVP dissolved itself on June 27th, 1933 and the Zentrum followed a few days later on July 5th, 1933. The foundation of new political parties was forbidden by a decree on July 14th, 1933. In fact, parties were no longer necessary, because with the acceptance of the Enabling Act the Reichstag had legitimated Hitler to arbitrary legislature. Trade unions were dissolved on Mai 2nd, 1933. 3. 3 Hindenburg Another obstacle in Hitler’s way to absolute power was President Hindenburg.
He died on August 2nd, 1934 – one day before his natural death the NSDAP introduced a law17 which enabled one person to be Chancellor and President at the same time. By becoming President and Chancellor in personal union Hitler’s politically position became absolute. He won full control over the executive, legislative and judicial branch18. So there was no more constitutional hindrance and Franz von Papen had lost his reliable partner. The law which legalised the personal union could only be introduced because of the Enabling Act which abolished the political opposition’s possibility to avoid its introduction.
This shows again that Hitler’s rise to absolute power was made possible by the combination of many factors which are closely related to each other. From August 2nd, 1934 on it was just a matter of time for Hitler to transform the destructed Weimar Republic into “Hitler Republic”. 3. 5 Satisfaction of army leaders / Hitler gains military support As Hitler gained supreme command over the army after Hindenburg’s death he had to convince the highest army functionaries that they could rely on him. The Reichswehr had to swear an oath on Adolf Hitler. As a first consequence military expenditure was increased by 200% from 1.
9 billion marks in 1933 up to 5. 8 billion marks in 1936. By doing so Adolf Hitler could strengthen his position. Because the army had been very closely related to President Hindenburg who was General Field Marshall and a representative of the “old order”, Hitler’s success in gaining military support seemed very unlikely from Papen’s point of view. By increasing military expenditure Hitler solved another problem by whose solution his success was measured among industry and population: unemployment was massively lowered, because the military industry became able to hire masses of workers, again.
Hitler proved to be the “strong man” which especially the middles classes wanted to see as a head of state. 3. 6 The Reichsrat The Reichsrat was set out of power much later than the Reichstag. According to the constitution of the Weimar Republic it did not have initiative rights und was only able to delay laws, it could be overpowered by the President. On February 2nd, 1934 the NSDAP introduced a law which officially abolished the Reichsrat. There was actually no need for it anymore because Hitler had full control over the legislature.
The abolition of the Reichsrat was the last step in the dissolution of the constitution which Hitler had sworn his oath on. But ambiguously the constitution of the Weimar Republic was never officially abolished. It had become obvious that Adolf Hitler was quickly able to undermine Papen’s framing theory and eliminated all the important limiting factors. Summarized, in just two years he successfully overcame the constitution, Reichstag, President Hindenburg, political opposition and the Reichsrat, gained military support. Franz von Papen was replaced as Prussian premier minister April 11th, 1933 by Hermann Gi??
ring (NSDAP) and resigned from his position as Vice Chancellor on June 6th, 1933. 4. ) Conclusion By considering the aspects which made Franz von Papen believe that Hitler could be controlled and observing how Hitler overcame them it becomes obvious that his appraisement of the situation of 1933 was absolutely wrong – a “colossal miscalculation” 19. But the miscalculation was not Papen’s only mistake. Hitler told a friend almost 10 years before he became chancellor what he had almost identically written in Mein Kampf: “[… ] I will begin a new policy.
Instead of seizing power by force of weapons [… ] we will stick our noses into the Reichstag. It takes longer to over vote than to shoot them (the communists) but their own constitution ensures our success”20. Hitler clearly expressed how he intended to seize power in Germany and this was by his “legal revolution”. Papen could have known that he enabled Hitler to reach a further step of his plan. There might be the argument that Hindenburg appointed Hitler and thus shares the responsibility with Papen. But this is only partly true.
In 1931 Hindenburg had the opinion that Hitler could not be more than a post minister 21. This shows clearly that Papen had worked hard to change his opinion and carries more guilt than President Hindenburg. He was “acting under the influence of Papen” according to notes from 1935 by the army’s commander-in-chief General von Hammerstein 22. In addition Franz von Papen’s responsibility is underlined by the evidence which Kurt von Schroeder, an influential banker, gave at the Nuremberg trial. Schroeder was taken to court because he offered his house for a meeting on January 4th, 1933.
In this meeting Papen agreed to Hitler’s plan, the “removal of all Social Democrats, Communists and Jews from leading positions in Germany and the restoration of order in public life” 23. That this could only be achieved in a dictatorship must have been realized by an educated person like Papen. And that the constitution had to be set out of power was just one further step of interpretation. Karl-Dietrich Bracher thus seems to be right in arguing that the meeting in Schroeder’s home was the “birth of the Third Reich” 24. But the Third Reich cannot only be explained by Papen’s miscalculation and his influence on President von Hindenburg.
The Weimar Republic itself was “a result of [… ] an unfinished revolution” 25 and was not a stable democracy. It had presidial elements being a threat for the democracy which were effectively used by Adolf Hitler. The evaluation of Papen’s behaviour is like Hitler’s rise to power very difficult because of its complexity. It cannot be clearly found out what would have happened if Papen had not lobbied for Hitler although there exists the opinion that the negative trend of the NSDAP since 1932 might have continued because of economic relaxation.
But the final irony is that Franz von Papen published a book called “Weimar – the failure of a democracy” in which he, as someone carrying a massive amount of guilt, tries to blame the parties for the collapse of the Weimar Republic 26. Did he not say “It is the best ensure that the upcoming Reichstag election will be the last and that a return to the parliamentary system is to be avoided forever” 27? The NSDAP celebrated the 30th of January 1933 as the “seizure of power” which is a term shaped by propaganda and may lead to an important misunderstanding.
Adolf Hitler did not seize power – he was given power – he seized it afterwards. In order to avoid this misunderstanding, “transfer of power” is a better expression to name this date on which the Weimar Republic finally died after a long period of sickness. And this transfer of power was carried out by President Hindenburg under the influence of Franz von Papen believing it would be a temporary transfer. But the temporary transfer lasted for 12 years and thus showed itself as a tremendous miscalculation.