Could the Nazis rule again?

Death blow for the Weimar Republic

"The elections on March 5th brought a majority to the governing parties, giving them the opportunity to govern strictly according to the wording and meaning of the constitution. Where this is possible, there is an obligation. Criticism is beneficial and necessary."

After Otto Wels, Hitler went to the microphone again.

"Your hour has also struck, and only because we see Germany and its need and the necessities of national life, we appeal at this hour to the German Reichstag to approve what we could have taken without it. Do because of the law we do it, not because we overestimate power. "

On March 23, 1933, when the German Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, German democracy was finally buried. Parliament actually abolished itself in an act of self-evacuation, along with basic constitutional rights. Although the Reichstag and the Weimar Constitution continued to exist formally as institutions, they remained insignificant for the next 12 years. The Enabling Act followed seven weeks after the transfer of power to Hitler and three weeks after the Reichstag Fire Ordinance. History rolled over, the remnants of the Weimar Republic disappeared at a breathtaking pace. In addition, the legal historian Gerhard Lingelbach.

"With the Reichstag Fire Ordinance, it was initially possible to exclude parts of the political forces, especially the Communists. And with the Enabling Act it has become possible to operate on a much broader basis with the entire range of instruments of a state and also of the law: this unrestricted possibility to be able to govern with ordinances and to be able to permanently break the constitution - that was only possible with the Enabling Act! "

In the years before 1933 the Reichstag had met less and less often, and when it did, it was to nod off emergency presidential decrees. Short-lived presidential governments and the ministerial bureaucracy took over the tasks of the legislature, the Reichstag. The most important task of a parliament, namely to pass laws, was partly given up by the German Reichstag before 1933. In the twisting grip between left and right extremes, there was no room for majorities and coalitions capable of acting.

When Adolf Hitler was appointed Reich Chancellor by President Hindenburg on January 30, 1933, the German nationalists and conservatives still hoped to tame the Nazis with it. With brutality and sophistication, however, Hitler was soon to show them how much they had underestimated him.

"The gentlemen are quite right! - we are intolerant! I have set myself a goal, namely to sweep the 30 parties out of Germany!
We have chosen a goal and are advocating it fanatically, ruthlessly down to the grave! "

In literally the last minute before his oath of office, Hindenburg was already impatient, Hitler duped his coalition ministers from the German National People's Party: he forced them to conclude that the Reichstag would soon be dissolved and new elections scheduled. He hoped for an absolute majority and for the legal, the royal road to power.

"Otherwise it would probably have been more difficult than via this path that the Nazis took. The acceptance both in parts of the population in general and within the NSDAP has probably been stronger or even possible as a result."

The Reichstag election was to take place on March 5th. There were only 5 weeks left.

While the KPD and SPD were prevented from campaigning by emergency ordinances from the new government, there were no longer any limits to Nazi propaganda with government support, reinforced by the street terror of the SA. By using the SA and SS in the federal states as "auxiliary police officers" for months - 50,000 men in Prussia alone! - the direction of impact was clear. The brown street mob raged, half legalized and without risk.

The Reichstag burned on February 27, 1933. Whoever set it on fire - the Dutch communist Marinus von der Lubbe or the Nazis themselves - it was fortunate for the Nazis:

"We not only want to ward off the communist danger, but I want to say it: It will be my most important task to overcome the communist danger and to exterminate communism from our people!"

So Göring as Reich Commissioner for the Prussian Ministry of the Interior on the day after the Reichstag fire. On the night of the fire he had arrested communists and had their party offices closed. The Reichstag Fire Ordinance loosened the legal fetters in the confrontation with the declared left enemy: SA torture cellars, the first "wild" concentration camps, raids, torture, murders: up to 100,000 people were temporarily arrested within a year, at least 600 were murdered. The SA initially had free rein: Hitler publicly praised the "discipline" of his SA and SS men: every means was right in the destruction of Marxism.
In this climate, the last halfway free Reichstag election took place on March 5, 1933.

43 percent - The NSDAP still did not have an independent absolute majority in the Reichstag; a coalition with the German Nationals was necessary. Still, Hitler had achieved one goal: his government was legitimized. His tone in the cabinet became sharper, he spoke of the election as a "National Socialist revolution". The real revolution was happening in parallel, legal, semi-legal and illegal.

The Nazis ruled over the vast Prussia, as well as over the countries that had previously had National Socialist governments, such as Thuringia. The brutal pressure of the street came along with the juridically disguised seizure of power from Berlin: the SA and SS were given auxiliary police functions everywhere, the "subordination" to the regular police remained mostly pure fiction. They arrested political opponents, occupied town halls, editorial offices, trade union offices, tax offices and courts and installed National Socialists in public offices. From now on, an open power struggle by the opposition was no longer possible.

Communists, but also more and more Social Democrats, were placed in so-called "protective custody" in the newly created concentration camps. The first concentration camp in Germany was established on March 3, 1933 in Nohra near Weimar in Thuringia. Udo Wohlfeld from Weimar researched the decades-long forgotten history of the Nohra concentration camp. 200 arrested communists were locked in an old barracks building.

"The arrests started on February 28th. An order came from Berlin in the afternoon. That happened relatively suddenly throughout Thuringia. They were first taken to local court prisons, or to district prisons like Weimar or Meiningen. When you noticed that The number was probably more than they had assumed, so they decided to set up the assembly camp, which is what the first two or three weeks were called: assembly camp, until Nohra gradually established itself as a concentration camp has been called. "

A special case: It was not the SA or SS, but the Thuringian Ministry of the Interior, which operated the first concentration camp in Germany, because Thuringia had been under National Socialist rule since 1932. In April 1933 the other German states were also to be brought into line. But before that, on March 21st, the last chapter of the abolition of Weimar democracy began - ironically with the constitution of the Reichstag in the Potsdam garrison church.

The great hour of self-reflection of the German nation at the holy place of Prussia is over. The spirit of this place will show its immortal strength in the construction which the national government will accomplish. Here Adolf Hitler began this work symbolically, here he showed the world that God, Friedrich's great ally, is with Germany because Germany wants to be with God again.

The "Day of Potsdam" had been conceived with great care by Hitler and Goebbels. The emphatically reserved and bourgeois Hitler bowed to the Reich President Hindenburg. The old, glorious Prussia and the new, revolutionary National Socialist Germany. The spirit of Potsdam versus that of Weimar.

Two days later, in the Kroll Opera House in Berlin, directly opposite the burned-out Reichstag, parliament was finally deprived of its power. The only item on the agenda: The Enabling Act. The government, in which the National Socialists were still in the minority, had already approved the draft despite concerns. An admission that the taming strategy of the national-conservative forces had completely failed.

The Kroll Opera House was surrounded by SA, SS and the paramilitary "Stahlhelm". The NSDAP deputies appeared in uniform; swastika flags and aggressive chants everywhere. For the SPD MPs it was a gauntlet run. 11 of them had been taken into "protective custody" or fled, one was arrested on the way to parliament. The communist deputies were either in concentration camps or were on the run. The Catholic MPs from the Center and the Bavarian People's Party were under tremendous pressure. It was up to them in the vote, because without the bourgeoisie the NSDAP would not have the necessary 2/3 majority. Hitler had made promises to the parties in advance. In addition, the NSDAP had declared at a party conference the day before that a rejection of the law would have serious consequences.

It goes without saying that the Hitler government is determined not to surrender the people's mandate to party-political unreasonableness. This time the Reichstag does not decide on the fate of the government, but on the weal and woe of the parties themselves, whose future is in their own hands. The parties may not be deceived that failure to adopt the Enabling Act would be a declaration of war that the government would take up.

The "law to remedy the misery of the people and empire" was as simple as it was comprehensive. Five brief articles, ten sentences that turned the Weimar Constitution off its hinges. In essence, it was about empowering the government to pass laws independently, even if they violated the constitution. This eliminated the parliament and the Reich President from the legislative process. The basic rights were freely available. The constitution has become a worthless piece of paper, and parliament has become superfluous.

Hitler justified the necessity of the law in his government declaration. Liberalism leads into communist chaos, but the national community out of misery. The countries should not act against the Reich. He only approved of equality before the law to the National Socialists. He demanded of the judges "an elasticity in reaching judgments for the benefit of society". "Blood and Race" should again "become the source of artistic intuition". He flattered the churches and obliged them to conform. He spoke of peace and threatened armament. For all these purposes, according to Hitler, the classic legislative path through parliament is unsuitable. Anyone who wanted to hear could hear, in the Reichstag and across Germany via the radio.

"Some of the intended measures require a majority to amend the constitution. The implementation of these tasks or their solution is necessary. It would be contrary to the spirit of the national survey and not be sufficient for the intended purpose if the government were to seek approval for its measures on a case-by-case basis of the Reichstag negotiate and request.
Salvation! Salvation! Salvation!"

After three hours of deliberation, during which the center party in particular had heated discussions, Otto Wels answered the microphone in the last big hour of the German Reichstag. The chairman of the SPD spoke for his parliamentary group.

"After the persecution that the Social Democratic Party has recently experienced, no one can reasonably demand or expect it to vote for the enabling law introduced here.
Never since there was a German Reichstag has the control of public affairs by the elected representatives of the people been switched off to such an extent as it is happening now, and as the new Enabling Act is supposed to do even more. Freedom and life can be taken from us, but not honor! "

Snorting anger, Hitler rushed to the lectern again.

"You are talking about persecution! Who has persecuted you so far? I believe that you do not vote for this law because, according to your innermost mentality, the intention that inspires us is incomprehensible to you. And now I can tell you: I want to too." Not at all that they vote for it! Germany should become free, but not through them!
Applause, hail! "

This was followed by speakers from the Center Party and three smaller bourgeois parties. They made their concerns clear that the Christian foundations of the state would have to be preserved, only to then - with reference to their "national sense of responsibility" - announce their approval of the Enabling Act. In the end, the Social Democrats were the only ones who voted against the law. Fear may have played a role in many of the Center's MPs. The hope that with consent one could prevent complete arbitrariness. The will to assert oneself was gone. Gerhard Lingelbach:

"Yes, you have to put it that way! Well, if those who were interested in the Weimar Imperial Constitution - and those were substantial parts - if they had wanted it, then they could have resisted it too. Because these 2/3 Majority that the Nazis ultimately achieved with all parties except the SPD, which was not automatic and was not mandatory. "

The fact that the parliament's rules of procedure had been changed for voting, that missing members were counted as present, that the mandates of the KPD had been canceled, that the Reichsrat, which required approval, was unconstitutional - none of this mattered to Hitler. The appearance of legality was enough for him and also for the German lawyers. But was the Enabling Act even necessary to bring the Nazis to perfect power?

"The question is whether the Nazis would then have reacted and ruled by other means. But at least not in this way, where I think that a high level of acceptance could be achieved through it."

The appearance of legality also made it possible for everyone to take the appearance for reality in order not to have to face the facts. In purely formal terms, the Reichstag Fire Ordinance would have been sufficient to undermine the rule of law. With the Enabling Act, however, parts of the democrats voluntarily renounced democracy. Theodor Heuss, who later became Federal President and was then a member of the Reichstag.

Every one of us who, as a publicist or "politician", was forced to make decisions that we later regretted, has done stupid things. But this term is too weak for approval of this law, and the word "later" does not apply to the internal situation either; because I already knew then that I would never be able to erase this "yes" from my life story.

What followed was the demolition work on the ruins of democracy: dissolution and ban of the parties, abolition of the office of the Reich President and concentration of power with the "Fuehrer" and Reich Chancellor, special courts, abolition of the sovereign rights of the states, elimination of the trade unions, swearing in of the Reichswehr and the ministers and officials on the "Führer", the marginalization and ultimately murder of the Jews.

The Reichstag was supposed to pass seven laws by 1945, two of which concerned the extension of the Enabling Act. The third extension of the law, which still gave him all power in the state, was done by the "Führer" and Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler himself with a decree.