The creation of a dictatorship, 1933-34

In January 1933, Hitler became Chancellor of Germany but his real aim was to become a dictator. Before he could realise his ambition, he needed to gain enough seats to be in a position strong enough to allow him to make the changes that would lead to his goal. He convinced President Hindenburg to call a new Reichstag election for March 1933. This set off a series of events that ended with Hitler becoming Führer.

The main steps taken by Hitler to become Führer and taking power
DateEventsHow this helped Hitler to gain power
27 Feb - 5 Mar 1933Reichstag Fire and Reichstag election: on 27 March the Reichstag building was set on fire. A Dutch communist, van der Lubbe, was caught red-handed in the burning building. Days later in the election 44 per cent of the population voted for the Nazis, who won 288 seats in the Reichstag – still not an overall majority. Hitler had to join with the nationalists to form a majority.Hitler used the fire to persuade Hindenburg to pass an emergency law restricting personal liberty. This enabled him to imprison many communist leaders, which stopped them campaigning during the election. Although the Nazis the did not gain the overall majority that Hitler had hoped for in the Reichstag, it gave them enough seats - after Hitler had arrested all the communist deputies and the other parties had been intimidated by the SA - to pass the Enabling Act.
23 Mar 1933The Enabling Act: with the communist deputies banned and the SA intimidating all the remaining non-Nazi deputies, the Reichstag voted by the required two-thirds majority to give Hitler the right to make laws without the Reichstag’s approval for four years.Arguably this was the critical event during this period. It gave Hitler absolute power to make laws, which enabled him to destroy all opposition to his rule. This removed the Reichstag as a source of opposition.
14 July 1933Political parties were banned: only the Nazi party was allowed to exist.Banning political parties made Germany a one-party state and destroyed democracy in the country. This removed other parties as a source of opposition.
30 June 1934Night of the Long Knives: Many members of the SA, including its leader Ernst Röhm, were demanding that the Nazi party carry out its socialist agenda and that the SA take over the army. Hitler could not afford to annoy businessmen or the army, so the SS (Hitler's personal bodyguards) murdered around 400 members of the SA, including Röhm, along with a number of Hitler's other opponents like the previous Chancellor, von Schleicher.This destroyed all opposition to Hitler within the Nazi Party and gave power to the brutal SS. It also showed the rest of the world what a tyrant Hitler was. This removed any internal Nazi Party opposition to Hitler.
19 Aug 1934Hitler became Führer: when Hindenburg died, Hitler declared himself jointly president, chancellor and head of the army. Members of the armed forces had to swear a personal oath of allegiance not to Germany, but to Hitler.This formally made Hitler the absolute ruler of Germany. This neutralised any sources of opposition to Hitler within the army.

Hitler also extended his power in other ways:

  • Local government was reorganised – with Nazi Party officials put in charge of each area of Germany.
  • Trade unions were abolished and their leaders arrested.
  • A Concordat (agreement) was signed with the Pope, which allowed Hitler to increase his power in Germany without opposition from the Catholic Church, as long as he left the Church alone.
  • People's courts: Hitler set up the Nazi people's courts where judges had to swear an oath of loyalty to the Nazis.

By the autumn of 1934 Hitler was in complete control of Germany.

Move on to Test
next