Enabling Act: ‘Fanatics, hooligans and eccentrics have got the upper hand.’

The post of chancellor was one that lasted for four years before another election. But Hitler requested more than the prescribed amount of time to deal with the nation’s problems. He proposed the Enabling Act in order to allow him greater time and to dispense with the constitution and the electoral system. Constitutionally, Hitler needed a two-thirds majority to pass the act. Having bullied and threatened any potential opposition into silence, the Reichstag convened in the Berlin Opera House, its grand hall lined with Storm Troopers. Only the Socialist Democrats were brave enough to vote against the proposal but the act was easily passed by 441 votes to 84. There would be neither more elections nor a constitution to keep Hitler in check. The Reichstag had, in effect, voted away its power.

Within a matter of weeks it had become illegal to criticize the government. A new secret police force was established, the Gestapo, which immediately began arresting ‘unreliable’ persons. Dachau, the first concentration camp, was opened within weeks of the Nazis coming to power, to cater for their custody. Trade unions were banned, freedom of the press curtailed, and all other political parties declared illegal, leaving only the Nazi Party. Germany had become a one-party state with Hitler its dictator.

The British ambassador to Germany watched these developments with increasing alarm and, having seen Hitler rip up the constitution, wrote: ‘We are living in a country [Germany] where fanatics, hooligans and eccentrics have got the upper hand.’

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