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GCSE History - Hitler's Germany 1929-1939: Nazi Dictatorship

Key Issue

How did Hitler change Germany from a democracy to a Nazi dictatorship, 1933-1934, and then reinforce this?

  • The Reichstag Fire; the election of March 1933; the Enabling Act
  • The elimation of political oppostion: political parties, trade unions; the Night of the Long Knives; the death of Hindenburg; Hitler becomes Führer
  • One party law and order: SS and Gestapo; concentration camps; propaganda; censorship; the media; control of education; youth movements; control of the churches.

How did Nazis establish Dictatorship?

      Nazi Germany under the leadership of Hitler soon became a dictatorship.A dictatorship requires one person and one party to be in control of a nation and a climate of fear - this was provided by Himmler's SS. Personal freedom disappeared in Nazi Germany.

The Reichstag Fire

      The night of February 27, 1933 loomed dark and gray over the city of Berlin. The Reichstag, seat of parliamentary government in Germany had been in recess since December of the preceding year. New elections were scheduled for March 5th.

      The great building was quiet and except for a watchman, empty. At 9:05 that evening, a student passing by saw a man carrying a burning torch through the windows of the first floor but did not report it. Ten minutes later smoke was observed coming from the building and the first fire alarm was received by the Berlin Fire station. In less than ten minutes the firemen were on the scene but already flames were breaking out all over the building. At 9:30 there was a tremendous explosion and the great central chamber was totally enveloped in flames.

      The fire quickly raced out of control despite the efforts of the fire fighters and soon only the walls of the gutted building were still standing. Within minutes police arrested a half naked and seemingly dazed Dutchman, Marinus van der Lubbe, who was discovered at the scene.

March 1933 Election

      Not even their ruthless persecution of political opponents and heavy restrictions on the left-wing parties’ election campaign  – including a ban on the left-wing press – can prevent the fact that an overwhelming National Socialist victory which Adolf Hitler expected in the Reichstag elections on 5 March 1933 did not materialise: The Nazis clearly fall short of an absolute majority with only 43.9 per cent of votes cast.

The 1933 Enabling Act

      March 23, 1933

      The Enabling Act (German: Ermächtigungsgesetz) was passed by Germany's Reichstag and signed by President Paul von Hindenburg on March 23, 1933. It was the second major step, after the Reichstag Fire Decree, through which Chancellor Adolf Hitler legally obtained plenary powers and established his dictatorship. The Act granted the Cabinet the authority to enact laws without the participation of the Reichstag for four years. Under the Act, the government had acquired the authority to pass laws without either parliamentary consent or control. Unprecedentedly, these laws could even deviate from the Constitution. The Act effectively eliminated the Reichstag as active players in German politics, though the existence of the body, alongside that of the Reichsrat and of the office of President were protected under the Act. Together with the Reichstag Fire Decree, it transformed Hitler's government into a legal dictatorship.

      The Act also effectively removed Presidential oversight, as Hindenburg's representative had stated that the aged president was withdrawing from day-to-day affairs of government and that presidential collaboration on the laws decreed as a result of the Enabling Act would not be required. During the negotiations between the government and the Centre Party, it was agreed that the government should inform the Reichstag parties of legislative measures passed under the Enabling Act. For this purpose, a working committee was set up, chaired by Hitler and the Centre's chairman Kaas. However, this committee met only three times without any major impact and rapidly became a dead letter.

      Though the Act had formally given legislative powers to the government as a whole, these powers were for all intents and purposes exercised by Hitler himself. The passage of the Enabling Act reduced the Reichstag to a mere stage for Hitler's speeches. It only met sporadically until the end of World War II, held no debates and enacted only a few laws. Within three months after the passage of the Enabling Act, all parties except the Nazi Party were banned or pressured into dissolving themselves, followed on July 14 by a law that proscribed the founding of political parties. By this, Hitler had fulfilled what he had promised in earlier campaign speeches: "I set for myself one aim ... to sweep these thirty parties out of Germany!"

The Night of the Long Knives

(Source of image: III Percent Patriots)

      The Night of the Long Knives was a turning point in the history of Hitler's Germany. Hitler had made it clear that he was the supreme ruler of Germany who had the right to be judge and jury, and had the power to decide whether people lived or died.     

      By 1934, Adolf Hitler appeared to have complete control over Germany, but like most dictators, he constantly feared that he might be ousted by others who wanted his power. To protect himself from a possible coup, Hitler used the tactic of divide and rule and encouraged other leaders such as Hermann Goering, Joseph GoebbelsHeinrich Himmler and Ernst Roehm to compete with each other for senior positions.

      One of the consequences of this policy was that these men developed a dislike for each other. Roehm was particularly hated because as leader of the Sturm Abteilung (SA) he had tremendous power and had the potential to remove any on his competitors.

      The day and night of June 30 marked the Night of the Long Knives, when the entire leadership of the SA was purged, along with many other political adversaries of the Nazis. At dawn that morning, Hitler flew to Munich and then drove to Bad Wiessee, where he personally arrested Röhm and the other SA leaders. All were imprisoned at Stadelheim Prison in Munich.

      Hitler was uneasy authorising Röhm's execution and gave Röhm an opportunity to commit suicide. On July 2, he was visited by SS-Brigadeführer Theodor Eicke (then Kommandant of Dachau) and SS-Hauptsturmführer Michael Lippert, who lay a pistol on the table, told Röhm he had ten minutes to use it, and left. Röhm refused, and when Eicke and Lippert returned, he stood in the middle of the cell with his shirt opened, theatrically baring his chest as they shot him. Röhm was buried in the Westfriedhof (Western Cemetery) in Munich.

Further reading: "The Night of the Long Knives"

Paul von Hindenburg

      Paul von Hindenburg AKA Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Hindenburg was born in October 2nd, 1847. He was Weimar Germany's second president, after Ebert, and he led the nation through the catastrophe of the Wall Street Crash. Hindenburg dismissed the last hope Weimar really had - Heinrich Brüning and he appointed Hitler chancellor on January 30th 1933.

       Death of Reich President von Hindenburg

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      Reich President Paul von Hindenburg died on 2 August 1934. Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler immediately assumed the office of head of state and called himself „Führer and Reich Chancellor“. At the same time he had the soldiers of the Reich Army swear their oath in future to him personally and no longer to the constitution. In a solemn ceremony several days later, von Hindenburg was buried at the Tannenberg Memorial in Hohenstein (East Prussia). The memorial, constructed in 1927, commemorates Hindenburg’s victory over the Russian Army in the First World War.

       "The last wishes of Hindenburg were that upon his death the monarchy should be restored. Hitler managed to suppress these wishes and did not publish the President's will. Having already ensured the support of the Army, Hitler went a step further by making the whole of the armed forces swear an oath of loyalty to him personally. A plebiscite was then held for the public to decide on whether they approved of the changes already made - 90% of voters gave their approval. Thus Hitler had become "Fuehrer and Reich Chancellor" and the title of President was then abolished". (Source: second world war)

Hitler Becomes Führer

"I swear by God this sacred oath: I will render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the Führer of the German Reich and people, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and will be ready as a brave soldier to risk my life at any time for this oath."

SS and Gestapo

The Nazi Police State

      The Nazi Police State was to ensure that everybody did as they were told - or paid the price. The Nazi Police were controlled by Heinrich Himmler and his feared secret police - the Gestapo - did as it pleased in Nazi Germany.

In brief:

  • SS and Gestapo are the police organisations of Nazi Germany
  • The original founder of Gestapo police is Hermann Goring and Emil Maurice for the SS squadron.
  • The foundation of the Gestapo can be traced back on April 1933 while the SS is as early as 1923.

Concentration Camps

(Source of image: Quality Information Publishers)

 What are Concentration Camps?

      Concentration camps were camps that the Jewish, Gypsie, or other people were forced to go to, to be tortured or forced to do work. Adolf Htiler and the German Nazi Soldiers did not like those kind of people so they decided to put them in camps, called Concentration camps. They put them in these camps mostly because of their looks and their religion. The camps were built to fit many people in them. They also had many bunk beds to save room.


      Censorship was rampant throughout Nazi Germany. Censorship ensured that Germans could only see what the Nazi hierarchy wanted people to see, hear what they wanted them to hear and read only what the Nazis deemed acceptable. The Nazi police dealt with anyone who went outside of these boundaries. Censorship dominated the lives of the ordinary citizen in Nazi Germany.

Nazi Censorship of the Arts:

 "Entartete Kunst" - Degenerate Art


Example of paintings condemned and called Degenerate by the evil Nazis

      The years 1927-37 were alarming and terrifying for artists in Germany.   In 1937 The National Socialist Society for German Culture held an art exhibition in Munich.  The Nazis  called the exhibit Entartete Kunst, or Degenerate Art.   During this time  over 22 thousand art-works by more than 200 artists of that time were confiscated.

"I have at last learned the lesson that has been forced upon me during this year, and I shall not ever forget it. It is that I am not a German, not a European, indeed perhaps scarcely a human being (at least the Europeans prefer the worst of their race to me) but I am a Jew."--Arnold Schoenberg

      After the horrors of World War I, most Europeans expressed their sense of freedom by embracing the roaring twenties. A decadent lifestyle was emerging from the nightlife of jazz clubs and cabarets. Berlin was at the heart of the bold and innovative music trends of the 1920s and 1930s. Musicians experimented with their art by pushing away from accepted musical forms and finding new ones.

      A hundred years before the advent of Hitler, the German-Jewish poet, Heinrich Heine, had declared: "Wherever books are burned, human beings are destined to be burned too."

      On the night of May 10, 1933, an event unseen in Europe since the Middle Ages occurred as German students from universities once regarded as among the finest in the world, gathered in Berlin to burn books with "unGerman" ideas.

Nazi Youth and Education

Nazi Education:

      Education played a very important part in Nazi Germany in trying to cultivate a loyal following for Hitler and the Nazis. The Nazis were aware that education would create loyal Nazis by the time they reached adulthood. The Hitler Youth had been created for post-school activities and schools were to play a critical part in developing a loyal following for Hitler - indoctrination and the use of propaganda were to be a common practice in Nazi schools and the education system.


Controlling education

      Controlling education was a way of taking over the minds of children from kindergarten to university. Education was a major tool by which the Nazis’ racial policies were promoted and implemented.

Further reading: "Nazi Education"

Youth Movement:

      The Hitler Youth, known in German as Hitler-Jugend (HJ), was founded in 1926, though its roots stretch back a few years. Its origins come from the Jungsturm Adolf Hitler (Adolf Hitler Boy’s Storm Troop), an arm of the storm troopers founded in 1922. It was originally the youth movement of the German Workers’ Party, founded in 1919, which, in 1920, Hitler renamed the National Socialist German Workers’ Party.

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Further reading: "Hitler Youth"

The Church in Nazi Germany

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Joseph Goebbels, 12/28/1939:

                   "The Führer is deeply religious, though completely anti-Christian; he views Christianity as a symptom of decay. Rightly so. It is a branch of the Jewish race. Both [Judaism and Christianity] have no point of contact to the animal element, and thus, in the end, they will be destroyed." (Boelcke 1970).

      The Church in Nazi Germany was subjected to as much pressure as any other organisation in Germany. Any perceived threat to Hitler could not be tolerated - and the churches of Germany potentially presented the Nazis with numerous threats.

Further reading: "Nazis and the Chruch"