After World War I, Germany faced a time of depression and political upheaval that created a favorable environment for Hitler and the Nazi Party to take power. During his reign as Führer, Hitler strengthened the German economy and expanded the German Empire, but this aggressive strategy in Europe caused World War II and the deaths of millions of Jews and “undesirables” in concentration camps. The Nazi Reich taught the world how hatred and power could build up a nation, but would ultimately destroy it.
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Hitler Came to Power Legally?
Adolf Hitler came to power legally in Germany through intrigue and public approval. After World War I, Hitler joined a small party called the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. The National Socialists or Nazis grew in popularity as conditions in Germany deteriorated. Because many men were left desperate and unemployed, they joined the Nazi party and were recruited into the Nazi Storm Troopers or brown shirts. Hitler used the Storm Troopers to intimidate the German electorate and inspire loyalty amongst party members. Steadily, the Nazis returned more votes each election, aspiring tirelessly for a place in the German government.
Fortunately for the Nazis, the German people were more afraid of Socialists and Communists than a right-wing, nationalist party. Due to this common fear, President von Hindenburg fired Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher when he tried to incorporate trade unionists into the government. This move, widely supported by the German conservatives, required a new Chancellor be appointed. President von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor on January 30, 1933. Adolf Hitler brought with him a coalition of Nationalists and other conservatives that were suppose to protect conservative values in Germany, but really worked as a spring-board for Hitler’s agenda.
Once Hitler achieved the position of Chancellor, he took very little time in establishing himself as Führer. The Reichstag fire, an event blamed on the Communists, gave Hitler the justification to suspend constitutional guarantees of personal liberty and the chance to arrest thousands of Communists. Since the government could not convene in the Reichstag, Hitler moved all meetings out to the Garrison Church at Potsdam. There he ceremoniously illustrated his solidarity with the conservatives and Germany’s past. He re-kindled the hope of a German Empire placing himself at the head. After this display, the government passed Hitler’s Enabling Act on March 23, 1933. This became the cornerstone of the Nazi dictatorship and gave the government power to rule by decree for four years. Because of the Enabling Act and the Reichstag fire, most of Hitler’s opponents were in jail, hiding, exiled, or imprisoned in concentration camps. Although Hitler held an extraordinary amount of power, he could not attain complete control while President von Hindenburg lived.
Conveniently, President von Hindenburg died in August 1934. Hitler presented the people with a plebiscite to combine the offices of President and Chancellor. Almost nine-tenths of the German people voted for the measure. Hitler therefore declared himself Führer, a title which he not only achieved legally but with outrageous public support.
Source Consulted: James Wilkinson and H. Stuart Hughes, Contemporary Europe A History (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2004).