reichstag elections

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March 23rd 1933: Enabling Act passed

On this day in 1933, the German Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, which essentially secured Adolf Hitler’s position as dictator of Germany. The law gave Chancellor Hitler legal powers to establish his dictatorship as it gave the Cabinet the power to enact laws independently of the legislature - the Reichstag. Its formal name was ‘Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich’. Hitler had been appointed Chancellor on January 30th and just before the scheduled election, the Reichstag fire occurred. The Nazis used the incident to suggest a Communist revolution was imminent and passed the Reichstag Fire Decree which suspended civil liberties and habeas corpus. The Nazis failed to gain an absolute majority in the Reichstag, so Hitler drafted the Enabling Act to secure his position. The Nazis pressured and threatened representatives of the Reichstag to pass the bill, positioning SA men and Nazi swastikas in and around the building. With the bill’s passing, Hitler’s dictatorship was assured, and thus began a brutal regime which would last until 1945.

“The authority of the Führer has now been wholly established. Votes are no longer taken. The Führer decides. All this is going much faster than we had dared to hope”
- Joseph Goebbels after the passage of the Act

June 28, 1916 - German Socialist Leader  Karl Liebknecht Arrested, Three-Day Strike Begins in Germany 

Pictured - Hungry Berliners queue at a soup-kitchen for a warm lunch.

More food was imported into Europe at the beginning of the 20th century than ever before in its history.  England and Germany depended especially on food imports from abroad.  England had to tighten its built in the last year of the war.  Germany, on the other hand, suffered from acute shortages almost from the beginning due to the Allied blockade.

In 1916, the German army was still adequately supplied with food, but to do so Germany’s civilian population had to go without.  Women lined up in front of butcher’s shops and bakeries every day, often taking stools with them so they could sit down to knit or chat with their neighbors.  In June, Berlin butcher’s had to close for one five-day stretch, as there was simply no meat at all in the city.  Riots occasionally broke out more often, happening in thirty cities in June.

The German government did not tolerate anti-war agitation, and on June 28 expelled the sole anti-war member of the elected Reichstag, socialist leader Karl Liebknecht.  He was sentenced to two-years hard labor for encouraging soldiers not to fight.  Two months later his sentence was increased to four months.  55,000 German workers took the streets for three days to protest the arrest of Liebknecht..

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March 5th 1933: Nazis win German elections

On this day in 1933, the Nazi Party won 43.9% in the German federal elections, more than any other party. The National Socialist German Workers Party (the Nazis’ official name), capitalising on German frustration by promising ‘work and bread’, won 37.3% in the July 1932 elections. The party leader, Adolf Hitler, was appointed Chancellor by President Hindenberg on January 30th 1933, but the Nazis only had one third of seats in the Reichstag. Upon becoming Chancellor, Hitler announced new elections, while the Nazis secured considerable donations to fund their campaign and stacked the police with their supporters. Just before the scheduled election, the Reichstag fire occurred, and young Dutch Communist Marianus van der Lubbe was immediately arrested. The Nazis used the incident to suggest a Communist revolution was imminent, and passed the Reichstag Fire Decree which suspended civil liberties and habeas corpus. Nazi henchmen arrested electoral candidates from the Communist Party, and began a campaign of violence against left-wingers. This climate of intimidation allowed the Nazis to increase their support and win 43.9% of the vote, but this only translated to 288 out of 647 seats - not an absolute majority. In order to secure the party’s position, the Nazis drafted the Enabling Act, which gave Chancellor Hitler legal powers to establish his dictatorship by giving the Cabinet the power to enact laws independently of the Reichstag. The Nazis pressured and threatened representatives of the Reichstag to pass the bill, positioning SA men and Nazi swastikas in and around the building. With the bill’s passing, Hitler’s dictatorship was assured, and thus began a brutal regime which would last until 1945. The March 1933 elections allowed the Nazis to consolidate their rule, and marked the last election to be held under Hitler’s rule.