reichstag fire decree

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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

The Reichstag fire was an arson attack on the Reichstag building (German parliament) in Berlin on February 27, 1933. The Nazis stated that Marinus van der Lubbe, a young Dutch council communist, had been caught at the scene of the fire, and he was arrested for the crime. Van der Lubbe was an unemployed bricklayer who had recently arrived in Germany. The Nazis stated that van der Lubbe had declared that he had started the fire. Van der Lubbe was tried and sentenced to death. The fire was used as evidence by the Nazi Party that communists were plotting against the German government. The event is seen as pivotal in the establishment of Nazi Germany.

Adolf Hitler, who had been sworn in as Chancellor of Germany on January 30, urged President Paul von Hindenburg (President of the Weimar Republic) to pass an emergency decree, the Reichstag Fire Decree, to suspend civil liberties in order to counter the ruthless confrontation of the Communist Party of Germany; under the decree, most civil liberties in Germany, including habeas corpus, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right of free association and public assembly, and the secrecy of the post and telephone were suspended and were never again renewed under the Nazi regime.

After passing the decree, the government instituted mass arrests of communists, including all of the Communist Party parliamentary delegates. With their bitter rival communists gone and their seats empty, the Nazi Party went from being a plurality party to the majority, thus enabling Hitler to consolidate his power through the passage of the Enabling Act, a special law that gave the Chancellor the power to pass laws by decree, without the involvement of the Reichstag; the Nazis devised the Enabling Act to gain complete political power without the need of the support of a majority in the Reichstag and without the need to bargain with their coalition partners.

The measure went into force on March 27, 1933, and, in effect, made Hitler dictator of Germany. [x]

Adolf Hitler was appointed as Chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933. On 28 February, he persuaded Weimar Republic President Paul von Hindenburg to issue the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspended most civil liberties. On 23 March, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act of 1933, which gave the cabinet the right to enact laws without the consent of parliament.

“Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

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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.