Berlin, Germany • September 14, 1930
On this date in 1930 German voters went to the polls to elect a new Reichstag, and the results were shocking. The National Socialist German Workers’ Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or NSDAP) was the ninth and smallest of Germany’s political parties, with but twelve members in the national parliament. In the elections of 1928 the NSDAP had captured a paltry 2.6 percent of the popular vote—810,000 votes out of 31 million cast. But the party’s outspoken, unconventional, dynamic leader, or Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler hoped to quadruple that number by capturing the imagination of a wide cross section of the electorate, not just those who made up his extreme nationalist base. By the end of the day, September 14, 1930, the election results exceeded Hitler’s wildest dreams: the Nazis, as party members were known, had won 107 seats in the 577-seat Reichstag, which vaulted them into the second largest party in Germany after the Social Democrats. Of the 35 million Germans who cast their ballots in September, 17 percent, or 6.5 million, had voted for Hitler’s party.
In the two general elections in 1932, Hitler’s party—helped by the militant tactics of his thuggish brown-shirted supporters, the SA (short for the German Sturmabteilung)—won 37 percent and 34 percent of the vote, which made the Nazi Party the largest party in the Reichstag. Hitler didn’t have a majority of parliamentary seats, but he had enough that politicians and the electorate had to take him seriously. In the tempest of national politics in late January 1933 President Paul von Hindenburg (who belonged to no political party) named Hitler Chancellor of Germany and head of yet another coalition government in the Weimar Republic, an entity spawned in the aftermath of the widely despised 1919 Versailles peace settlement. Within months of being named chancellor Hitler headed a totalitarian government.
With the death of 87-year-old President Hindenburg on August 2, 1934, Hitler lickety-split ordered a plebiscite for August 19, seeking approval to combine the offices of president and chancellor. Germany’s voters went to the polls and a whopping 90 percen voted “Ja.” The next day the cabinet decreed the “Law on the Allegiance of Civil Servants and Soldiers of the Armed Forces.” Known as the Hitler Oath, the law required personnel in the armed forces and civil service to swear obedience to the “Bavarian corporal,” as Hindenburg once referred to Hitler, instead of obedience to the German constitution or nation. From that day on Hitler ruled his nation by decree.
The Rise of der Fuehrer Adolf Hitler, 1930–1934
Left: Newly appointed Chancellor Hitler at the window of the Reich Chancellery on Berlin’s Wilhelmstrasse (government district) receiving ovations on the evening of January 30, 1933. President Hindenburg (elected second president of the Weimar Republic in 1925) was no admirer of Hitler and initially refused to name him chancellor. Instead, he appointed fellow army officer Maj. Gen. Kurt von Schleicher to the position. (Schleicher lasted all of two months in the position, from December 3, 1932, to January 28, 1933.) Political intrigue, cabinet crises, and backroom negotiations prompted an exasperated Hindenburg to end government instability by appointing Hitler to head a new cabinet and naming ex-Chancellor Franz von Papen (in office from June 1 to November 17, 1932) as vice-chancellor, with the understanding that Papen would act as a “check” on Hitler’s more disturbing tendencies and encourage him to tamp down on the lawlessness and ruthlessness of the SA, his party’s paramilitary hooligans.
Right: Hindenburg and Hitler on March 21, 1933, known as the “Day of Potsdam.” On that day the newly elected Reichstag was constituted with an opening ceremony in Potsdam’s Baroque Garrison Church. (A new venue was made necessary by the Reichstag fire on February 27, 1933.) The Potsdam gala was a Nazi propaganda pitch to demonstrate unity between the Hitler’s populist movement and the old aristocratic, conservative, and Prussian military elite represented by Hindenburg.
Left: Hindenburg and Hitler ride in the backseat of a convertible at the May Day rally, where Hindenburg had delivered a speech in Berlin’s Lustgarten, May 1, 1933. The day had been declared the “Day of National Labor.” Twenty-four hours later Hitler banned and disbanded German trade unions.
Right: Hitler, Hindenburg, and Hermann Goering at a massive demonstration at the Tannenberg Memorial near Tannenberg, East Prussia (today Olsztyn, Poland) in August 1933. The castle-like memorial of eight towers around a central courtyard commemorated the anniversary of the Second Battle of Tannenberg (August 23–30, 1914), a victory over the Russians that made Field Marshal Hindenburg a national hero. Against his wishes Hindenburg was buried in the central yard of the Tannenberg Memorial during a large state funeral—this on August 7, 1934, five days after his death.
Hindenburg’s Funeral at Tannenberg Memorial, August 7, 1934; Hitler Addresses Mourners