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Section: How did the Nazis gain power?

How did the Nazis gain support?

President Paul von Hindenburg travels in a car with Hitler, the newly appointed Chancellor of Germany on 20 January 1933
President Paul von Hindenburg travels in a car with Hitler, the newly appointed Chancellor of Germany on 20 January 1933 © 2011 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

By 1932, the Nazis were the largest party in the Reichstag, and Hitler was appointed Chancellor on 30 January 1933. How did the Party gone from relative obscurity in the mid-1920s to being in contention for power by 1932?

The role of direct action

The NSDAP became involved in direct action very early in its life. In this picture we can see troops supporting Hitler during the Munich Beer Hall Putsch on 9 November 1923.
The NSDAP became involved in direct action very early in its life. In this picture we can see troops supporting Hitler during the Munich Beer Hall Putsch on 9 November 1923. © 2011 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The political and social chaos in Germany immediately after the First World War led to rise of many violent and extreme political groups. Hitler’s NSDAP was one of these.

Hitler’s time in the army and the military background of many of his supporters led to the NSDAP becoming like a military organisation. There was a section of the party called the ‘stormtroopers’ (Sturm Abteilung – SA – ‘Brownshirts’). NSDAP meetings looked like military parades, and Hitler addressed them with passionate speeches that roused strong emotions in his followers.

This made it easy for them to take part in acts of violence, and party members attacked members of other political groups. In September 1921 Hitler was sent to prison for his part in a mob attack on a rival politician. The SA aimed to protect Hitler from physical attack and to disrupt political meetings of other parties.

The SA’s leaders were Hermann Goering, a former pilot, and Ernst Rohm, a former army captain. Hitler would make speeches to the SA inciting acts of violence against Jews and left-wing political parties. This led to street violence against socialists and communists. In addition, Jews were harassed and subjected to humiliation and violence.

Political campaigns

Brownshirts campaigning for Nazi party during an election in 1932. The placards they are carrying are asking people to vote for list 10; the NSDAP Party candidates.
Brownshirts campaigning for Nazi party during an election in 1932. The placards they are carrying are asking people to vote for list 10; the NSDAP Party candidates. © 2011 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

In the Reichstag elections of December 1924, the Nazis won 3 per cent of the vote, while the Social Democratic Party (SPD) won 26 per cent. Hitler wanted to gain power over the country and, after the failure of his attempt to overthrow the government (‘putsch’), he realised he would have to use the democratic methods of the Weimar Republic.

In February 1925 Hitler told the NSDAP that, instead of using force, they would stand for election and campaign for votes.

Initially, this was not very successful. In 1928 the NSDAP got only 2.6 per cent of the vote, gaining 12 seats in the Reichstag. Despite this, the Nazis were well organised with more than 100,000 members throughout Germany.

Propaganda and promises

By 1928 the Nazis were a well-organised political party with over 100,000 members. Local leaders organised meetings with important speakers to attract new members. The Nazis used propaganda to increase their support and appeal. They spent huge sums of money on newspapers, leaflets and poster campaigns with simple slogans encouraging people to support the party. The military style of the Nazis involved using large political rallies to gain support. These were vast, highly organised events with banners and marching bands.

The rallies were broadcast on radio and had audiences of many thousands. Joseph Goebbels, began to build an image of Hitler as a great leader. Goebbels used people’s fear of uncertainty and instability to portray Hitler as a man with a great vision for prosperity and stability. Hitler used his own skills of oratory to appeal to the patriotism of the German people by promising to break free of the restrictions of the Treaty of Versailles. His aim of ending the payment of reparations was especially popular.

Hitler’s plans to re-arm Germany were also popular. By recruiting a large army and building a whole new navy and air force, he would be able to reduce unemployment. With so many people out of work, this was an appealing prospect. Germany’s economy was in such a poor state that Hitler’s promise of strong government and stability was widely supported and not least by industrialists. By attacking Jews in the world of business, Hitler appealed to their non-Jewish rivals.

The Nazis' appointment to power

Between 1929 and 1932, support increased for parties with extreme solutions to Germany’s problems. 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. The political system made it very difficult for the democratic parties to keep governments in power.

People began to blame the political parties for Germany’s problems. Extremist groups proposed drastic measures, and these seemed more appealing to people desperate for solutions. As democratic governments failed to deal with Germany’s problems, the Nazis looked to many to be the strongest option. In the election of July 1932 the Nazis won 37 per cent of the vote.

This made them the largest single party in the Reichstag. Hitler, as their leader, demanded to be made Chancellor, that is head of the German government. However, President Hindenburg mistrusted Hitler’s motives, so was keen to avoid giving Hitler power.

Eventually, Franz von Papen, hoping to return to a position of power, proposed making Hitler Chancellor with himself as Vice-Chancellor. Only two other Nazis would be allowed government posts, with the remaining jobs going to the moderate parties.

Fear of communism helped this plan. President Hindenburg was persuaded that Hitler could be kept under control as the Nazis had lost votes in an election in November 1932. On 30 January 1933 Hitler was made Chancellor. Von Papen boasted that: “in two months, we will have pushed Hitler into a corner so that he squeaks”.

Hitler becomes Chancellor

Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany, President Hindenburg reluctantly stands by his side.
Hitler becomes chancellor of Germany, President Hindenburg reluctantly stands by his side. © 2011 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Between 1929 and 1932, support for the Communist and Nazi parties increased.

The less extreme parties were blamed for causing Germany’s problems. As these parties had been unable to work together to solve country’s problems, people became more afraid that the Communists may take over. The moderate parties turned to the Nazis to keep the Communists out. In the election of late 1932 the Nazis won 37 per cent of the vote, and became the largest single party in the Reichstag.

Hitler demanded the right to become Chancellor, but President Hindenburg appointed Franz von Papen instead. As he did not command Reichstag support, von Papen was soon replaced by General Kurt von Schleicher.

However, Schleicher’s government was also unable to control the Reichstag. Anxious to regain power, von Papen struck a deal to make Hitler Chancellor, with himself as Vice-Chancellor. The moderate parties would hold all but three of the government posts, which would go to the Nazis; one of these would be Hitler as Chancellor. In the hope of creating a stable government, the elderly President Hindenburg agreed to the plan. So on 30 January 1933, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany.

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