Military history

7. THE NAZIFICATION OF GERMANY: 1933–34

THE THEORY WHICH HITLER had evolved in his vagabond days in Vienna and never forgotten—that the way to power for a revolutionary movement was to ally itself with some of the powerful institutions in the State—had now worked out in practice pretty much as he had calculated. The President, backed by the Army and the conservatives, had made him Chancellor. His political power, though great, was, however, not complete. It was shared with these three sources of authority, which had put him into office and which were outside and, to some extent, distrustful of the National Socialist movement.

Hitler’s immediate task, therefore, was to quickly eliminate them from the driver’s seat, make his party the exclusive master of the State and then with the power of an authoritarian government and its police carry out the Nazi revolution. He had been in office scarcely twenty-four hours when he made his first decisive move, springing a trap on his gullible conservative “captors” and setting in motion a chain of events which he either originated or controlled and which at the end of six months would bring the complete Nazification of Germany and his own elevation to dictator of the Reich, unified and defederalized for the first time in German history.

Five hours after being sworn in, at 5 P.M. on January 30, 1933, Hitler held his first cabinet meeting. The minutes of the session, which turned up at Nuremberg among the hundreds of tons of captured secret documents, reveal how quickly and adroitly Hitler, aided by the crafty Goering, began to take his conservative colleagues for a ride.*1 Hindenburg had named Hitler to head not a presidential cabinet but one based on a majority in the Reichstag. However, the Nazis and the Nationalists, the only two parties represented in the government, had only 247 seats out of 583 in Parliament and thus lacked a majority. To attain it they needed the backing of the Center Party with its 70 seats. In the very first hours of the new government Hitler had dispatched Goering to talk with the Centrist leaders, and now he reported to the cabinet that the Center was demanding “certain concessions.” Goering therefore proposed that the Reichstag be dissolved and new elections held, and Hitler agreed. Hugenberg, a man of wooden mind for all his success in business, objected to taking the Center into the government but on the other hand opposed new elections, well knowing that the Nazis, with the resources of the State behind them, might win an absolute majority at the polls and thus be in a position to dispense with his own services and those of his conservative friends. He proposed simply suppressing the Communist Party; with its 100 seats eliminated, the Nazis and the Nationalists would have a majority. But Hitler would not go so far at the moment, and it was finally agreed that the Chancellor himself would confer with the Center Party leaders on the following morning and that if the talks were fruitless the cabinet would then ask for new elections.

Hitler easily made them fruitless. At his request the Center leader, Monsignor Kaas, submitted as a basis for discussion a list of questions which added up to a demand that Hitler promise to govern constitutionally. But Hitler, tricking both Kaas and his cabinet members, reported to the latter that the Center had made impossible demands and that there was no chance of agreement. He therefore proposed that the President be asked to dissolve the Reichstag and call new elections. Hugenberg and Papen were trapped, but after a solemn assurance from the Nazi leader that the cabinet would remain unchanged however the elections turned out, they agreed to go along with him. New elections were set for March 5.

For the first time—in the last relatively free election Germany was to have—the Nazi Party now could employ all the vast resources of the government to win votes. Goebbels was jubilant. “Now it will be easy,” he wrote in his diary on February 3, “to carry on the fight, for we can call on all the resources of the State. Radio and press are at our disposal. We shall stage a masterpiece of propaganda. And this time, naturally, there is no lack of money.”2

The big businessmen, pleased with the new government that was going to put the organized workers in their place and leave management to run its businesses as it wished, were asked to cough up. This they agreed to do at a meeting on February 20 at Goering’s Reichstag President’s Palace, at which Dr. Schacht acted as host and Goering and Hitler laid down the line to a couple of dozen of Germany’s leading magnates, including Krupp von Bohlen, who had become an enthusiastic Nazi overnight, Bosch and Schnitzler of I. G. Farben, and Voegler, head of the United Steel Works. The record of this secret meeting has been preserved.

Hitler began a long speech with a sop to the industrialists. “Private enterprise,” he said, “cannot be maintained in the age of democracy; it is conceivable only if the people have a sound idea of authority and personality … All the worldly goods we possess we owe to the struggle of the chosen … We must not forget that all the benefits of culture must be introduced more or less with an iron fist.” He promised the businessmen that he would “eliminate” the Marxists and restore the Wehrmacht (the latter was of special interest to such industries as Krupp, United Steel and I. G. Farben, which stood to gain the most from rearmament). “Now we stand before the last election,” Hitler concluded, and he promised his listeners that “regardless of the outcome, there will be no retreat.” If he did not win, he would stay in power “by other means … with other weapons.” Goering, talking more to the immediate point, stressed the necessity of “financial sacrifices” which “surely would be much easier for industry to bear if it realized that the election of March fifth will surely be the last one for the next ten years, probably even for the next hundred years.”

All this was made clear enough to the assembled industrialists and they responded with enthusiasm to the promise of the end of the infernal elections, of democracy and disarmament. Krupp, the munitions king, who, according to Thyssen, had urged Hindenburg on January 29 not to appoint Hitler, jumped up and expressed to the Chancellor the “gratitude” of the businessmen “for having given us such a clear picture.” Dr. Schacht then passed the hat. “I collected three million marks,” he recalled at Nuremberg.3

   On January 31, 1933, the day after Hitler was named Chancellor, Goebbels wrote in his diary: “In a conference with the Fuehrer we lay down the line for the fight against the Red terror. For the moment we shall abstain from direct countermeasures. The Bolshevik attempt at revolution must first burst into flame. At the proper moment we shall strike.”

Despite increasing provocation by the Nazi authorities there was no sign of a revolution, Communist or Socialist, bursting into flames as the electoral campaign got under way. By the beginning of February the Hitler government had banned all Communist meetings and shut down the Communist press. Social Democrat rallies were either forbidden or broken up by the S.A. rowdies, and the leading Socialist newspapers were continually suspended. Even the Catholic Center Party did not escape the Nazi terror. Stegerwald, the leader of the Catholic Trade Unions, was beaten by Brownshirts when he attempted to address a meeting, and Bruening was obliged to seek police protection at another rally after S.A. troopers had wounded a number of his followers. Altogether fifty-one anti-Nazis were listed as murdered during the electoral campaign, and the Nazis claimed that eighteen of their own number had been done to death.

Goering’s key position as Minister of the Interior of Prussia now began to be noticed. Ignoring the restraining hand of Papen, who as Premier of Prussia was supposedly above him, Goering removed hundreds of republican officials and replaced them with Nazis, mostly S.A. and S.S. officers. He ordered the police to avoid “at all costs” hostility to the S.A., the S.S. and the Stahlhelm but on the other hand to show no mercy to those who were “hostile to the State.” He urged the police “to make use of firearms” and warned that those who didn’t would be punished. This was an outright call for the shooting down of all who opposed Hitler by the police of a state (Prussia) which controlled two thirds of Germany. Just to make sure that the job would be ruthlessly done, Goering on February 22 established an auxiliary police force of 50,000 men, of whom 40,000 were drawn from the ranks of the S.A. and the S.S. and the rest from the Stahlhelm. Police power in Prussia was thus largely carried out by Nazi thugs. It was a rash German who appealed to such a “police” for protection against the Nazi terrorists.

And yet despite all the terror the “Bolshevik revolution” which Goebbels, Hitler and Goering were looking for failed to “burst into flames.” If it could not be provoked, might it not have to be invented?

On February 24, Goering’s police raided the Karl Liebknecht Haus, the Communist headquarters in Berlin. It had been abandoned some weeks before by the Communist leaders, a number of whom had already gone underground or quietly slipped off to Russia. But piles of propaganda pamphlets had been left in the cellar and these were enough to enable Goering to announce in an official communiqué that the seized “documents” proved that the Communists were about to launch the revolution. The reaction of the public and even of some of the conservatives in the government was one of skepticism. It was obvious that something more sensational must be found to stampede the public before the election took place on March 5.

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