After the elections of March 5, 1933, the Nazis began a systematic
takeover of the state governments throughout Germany, ending a centuries
old tradition of local political independence. Armed SA and SS thugs
barged into local government offices using the state of emergency decree
as a pretext to throw out legitimate office holders and replace them
with Nazi Reich commissioners.
Political enemies were arrested by the thousands and put in hastily
constructed holding pens. Old army barracks and abandoned factories were
used as prisons. Once inside, prisoners were subjected to military style
drills and harsh discipline. They were often beaten and sometimes even
tortured to death. This was the very beginning of the Nazi concentration
At this time, these early concentration camps were loosely organized
under the control of the SA and the rival SS. Many were little more than
barbed wire stockades know as 'wild' concentration camps, set up by
local Gauleiters and SA leaders.
For Adolf Hitler, the goal of a legally established dictatorship was
now within reach. On March 15, 1933, a cabinet meeting was held during
which Hitler and Göring discussed how to obstruct what was left of the
democratic process to get an Enabling Act passed by the Reichstag. This
law would hand over the constitutional functions of the Reichstag to
Hitler, including the power to make laws, control the budget and approve
treaties with foreign governments.
The emergency decree signed by Hindenburg on February 28, after the
Reichstag fire, made it easy for them to interfere with non-Nazi elected
representatives of the people by simply arresting them.
As Hitler plotted to bring democracy to an end in Germany, Propaganda
Minister Joseph Goebbels put together a brilliant public relations
display at the official opening of the newly elected Reichstag.
March 21, in the Garrison Church at Potsdam, the burial place of
Frederick the Great, an elaborate ceremony took place designed to ease
public concern over Hitler and his gangster-like new regime.
It was attended by President Hindenburg, foreign diplomats, the
General Staff and all the old guard going back to the days of the
Kaiser. Dressed in their handsome uniforms sprinkled with medals, they
watched a most reverent Adolf Hitler give a speech paying respect to
Hindenburg and celebrating the union of old Prussian military traditions
and the new Nazi Reich. As a symbol of this, the old Imperial flags
would soon add swastikas.
Finishing his speech, Hitler walked over to Hindenburg and
respectfully bowed before him while taking hold of the old man's hand.
The scene was recorded on film and by press photographers from around
the world. This was precisely the impression Hitler and Goebbels wanted
to give to the world, all the while plotting to toss aside Hindenburg
and the elected Reichstag.
Later that same day, Hindenburg signed two decrees put before
him by Hitler. The first offered full pardons to all
Nazis currently in prison. The prison doors sprang open and out came an
assortment of Nazi thugs and murderers.
The second decree signed by the befuddled old man allowed
for the arrest of anyone suspected of maliciously criticizing the
government and the Nazi party. (Sound familiar?)
A third decree signed only by Hitler and Papen allowed for
the establishment of special courts to try political offenders. These
courts were conducted in the military style of a court-martial without a
jury and usually with no counsel for the defense.
On March 23, the newly elected Reichstag met in the Kroll Opera House
in Berlin to consider passing Hitler's Enabling Act.
It was officially called the "Law for Removing the Distress of the
People and the Reich." If passed, it would in effect vote
democracy out of existence in Germany and establish the legal
dictatorship of Adolf Hitler.
Brown-shirted Nazi storm troopers swarmed over the fancy old building
in a show of force and as a visible threat. They stood outside, in the
hallways and even lined the aisles inside, glaring ominously at anyone
who might oppose Hitler's will.
Before the vote, Hitler made a speech in which he pledged to use
"The government will make use of these powers only insofar as they
are essential for carrying out vitally necessary measures...The number
of cases in which an internal necessity exists for having recourse to
such a law is in itself a limited one," Hitler told the
He also promised an end to unemployment and pledged to promote peace
with France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union. But in order to do all
this, Hitler said, he first needed the Enabling Act.
A two-thirds majority was needed, since the law would actually
alter the constitution. Hitler needed 31 non-Nazi votes to pass it. He
got those votes from the Catholic Center Party after making a false
promise to restore some basic rights already taken away by decree.
Meanwhile, Nazi storm troopers chanted outside: "Full powers -
or else! We want the bill - or fire and murder!!"
But one man arose amid the overwhelming might. Otto Wells, leader of
the Social Democrats stood up and spoke quietly to Hitler.
"We German Social Democrats pledge ourselves solemnly in this
historic hour to the principles of humanity and justice, of freedom and
socialism. No enabling act can give you power to destroy ideas which are
eternal and indestructible."
Hitler was enraged and jumped up to respond.
"You are no longer needed! - The star of Germany will rise and yours
will sink! Your death knell has sounded!"
The vote was taken - 441 for, and only 84, the Social Democrats,
against. The Nazis leapt to their feet clapping, stamping and shouting,
then broke into the Nazi anthem, the Hörst Wessel song.
Democracy was ended. They had brought down the German Democratic
Republic legally. From this day onward, the Reichstag would be just a
sounding board, a cheering section for Hitler's pronouncements.
Interestingly, the Nazi party was now flooded with applications for
membership. These latecomers were cynically labeled by old time Nazis as
'March Violets.' In May, the Nazi Party froze membership. Many of those
kept out applied to the SA and the SS which were still accepting.
However, in early 1934, Heinrich Himmler would throw out 50,000 of those
'March Violets' from the SS.
The Nazi Gleichschaltung now began, a massive coordination of all
aspects of life under the swastika and
the absolute leadership of Adolf
Hitler. Under Hitler, the State, not the individual, was supreme.
From the moment of birth one existed to serve the State
and obey the dictates of the Führer. Those who disagreed were disposed
Many agreed. Bureaucrats, industrialists, even intellectual and
literary figures, including Gerhart Hauptmann, world renowned dramatist,
were coming out in open support of Hitler.
Many disagreed and left the country. A flood of the finest minds,
including over two thousand writers, scientists, and people in the arts
poured out of Germany and enriched other lands, mostly the United
States. Among them - writer Thomas Mann, director Fritz Lang, actress
Marlene Dietrich, architect Walter Gropius, musicians Otto Klemperer,
Kurt Weill, Richard Tauber, psychologist Sigmund Freud, and Albert
Einstein, who was visiting California when Hitler came to power and
never returned to Germany.
In Germany, there were now constant Nazi rallies, parades, marches
and meetings amid the relentless propaganda of Goebbels and the
omnipresent swastika. For those who remained there was an odd mixture of
fear and optimism in the air.
Now, for the first time as dictator, Adolf Hitler turned his
attention to the driving force which had propelled him into politics in
the first place, his hatred of the Jews. It began with a simple boycott
on April 1, 1933, and would end years later in the greatest tragedy in
all of human history.
Maybe there is a connection???
At half past six on the evening of April
20th, 1889 an innocent child was born in the small town of Braunau Am
Inn, Austria. The name of the child was Adolf Hitler.
He was the son a Customs official Alois Hitler,
and his third wife Klara. Initially Alois had taken his mother's name,
Schicklgruber, but changed it in 1876 and became Hiedler, or Hitler.
Quite important - it is hard to imagine tens of thousands of Germans
shouting "Heil Schicklgruber!" instead of "Heil Hitler!"