Section: How did the Nazis gain power?

How did the Nazi consolidate their power?

Between 1929 and 1932, the catastrophic economic and political situation increased support for parties with extreme solutions to Germany’s problems. Politics polarised in Germany.

While the communists promised to give the unemployed and working classes control of the country and ownership of industry, the Nazis were seen as the strongest group capable of preventing what others saw as the threat of communism.

How significant was the Reichstag fire?

Marinus van der Lubbe (lower left) stands before the tribunal at the opening of the proceedings of the Reichstag Fire trial in Leipzig.
Marinus van der Lubbe (lower left) stands before the tribunal at the opening of the proceedings of the Reichstag Fire trial in Leipzig. Copyright - public domain.

Just 24 hours after taking office, Hitler had called for new elections to be held on 5 March 1933. He felt that new elections would not only increase the Nazi share of the vote, but also increase his own status within the country.

Rather than the usual events of a democratic election, the SA and SSembarked on a violent campaign. In addition, Hermann Goering, a leading Nazi who had become head of the police in Bavaria, recruited 50,000 SA and SS members into the police. The ensuing campaign of violence and terror was waged against Communists and other Nazi opponents.

On 27 February 1933, just as the campaign moved into its final days, the Reichstag (Parliament building) was set on fire and burnt down. A young Dutch communist (van der Lubbe), was arrested and imprisoned along with 4,000 other Communists.


Emergency Powers

Hitler exploited the Reichstag fire. On 28 February, the ‘Decree for the Protection of People and State’ was drawn up by the Nazis and signed by Hindenburg. The ‘emergency’ powers contained within the decree marked the beginning of the breakdown in the democratic process.

In the aftermath of the fire, during the final week of the election the SS and SA arrested thousands more Communists and other enemies of the Nazis. The new powers meant that they could be imprisoned indefinitely without trial.

Again, using these new powers, the Nazis banned newspapers, leaflets and meetings of opponents. The ensuing violence led to the deaths of more than 50 people and injuries to many more.


The Enabling Law: from Chancellor to Führer

Having failed to achieve an outright majority in the election of 5 March 1933, Hitler proposed to the new Reichstag a new law that would give him the power he longed for. The proposed Enabling Law (see above) would effectively give Hitler control of parliament and the country.

At the opening of the Reichstag on 21 March, in the presence of Hindenburg, Hitler made a speech that likened the Nazi Party to the traditional elites of Germany.

Two days later the Reichstag met at the Kroll Opera House to discuss the Enabling Law. Communists were banned from the meeting, whilst those who were in attendance were subjected to heavy intimidation from members of the SA.

In order to gain the votes of the Catholic Centre Party Hitler made a promise to respect the rights of the Catholic Church and uphold moral and religious values.

Hitler had gained 444 votes for the Enabling Act with 94 against. Only the SPD had voted against.



By passing the ‘Enabling law’ the Reichstag had effectively voted itself out of existence; giving the Hitler and the Nazi Party the power to make laws without parliamentary approval. Within a few short weeks of coming to power, Hitler had dismantled the failing Weimar Constitution and established in its place the Nazi dictatorship.

Later, Josef Goebbels wrote in his diary:

“The authority of the Führer has now been wholly established. Votes are no longer taken. The Führer decides. All this is going much faster than we had dared to hope.”

The significance of the March 1933 elections

Adolf Hitler casts his vote at a Berlin polling station set up in a schoolroom, 1 March 1933.
Adolf Hitler casts his vote at a Berlin polling station set up in a schoolroom, 1 March 1933. © 2012 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

In the final days of the election campaign the Nazis increased their anti-communist and antisemitic propaganda, using the radio, newspapers, leaflets, rallies and all other opportunities at their disposal. Dr Joseph Goebbels, who became Nazi minister of culture, masterminded the campaign.

Fuelled by a campaign of violence, fear and corruption, the turnout at the 5 March election reached 88 per cent. However, whilst the Nazis increased their share of the vote to 43.9 per cent, they had still not achieved the majority that would enable them to form a government. Having gained 288 seats Hitler still required the support of small right-wing Nationalist parties and the Catholic Centre Party.

If Hitler was to achieve the power and dictatorship he had strove for he would need to develop a new more radical plan.

Continue to next topic
The significance of the March 1933 elections

The significance of the March 1933 elections

What happened in February