The Totalitarian Regime of the Nazis

From the Lecture series: A History of Hitler's Empire, 2nd Edition

By Thomas Childers, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

The moment Hitler was appointed the chancellor of Germany, the Nazis got the chance to put an end to any kind of opposition. Hitler issued decrees which ended all civil rights that were guaranteed by the Weimar constitution. Were these decrees actually fruitful for the Nazis?

Hitler meeting Catholic dignitaries.
The Nazis signed a concordant with the Catholics after Hitler became the chancellor of Germany. (Image: Unknown author/Public domain)

The Nazis and the March Elections

The Reichstag Fire Decree gave the police authorities power to arrest Communists or anyone connected with them. In the election of March 5, the Nazis were running against a left that was greatly weakened by these arrests and by the harassment of party members and leaders. Yet on March 5, the NSDAP failed to get a majority; it got 44 percent of the vote.

In some polling places, the storm troopers (SA) standing there in their best bully boy fashion, would see a line of people ready to vote, and would simply say, “Is there anybody in this crowd who does not plan to vote for the Government of National Concentration?” Some intrepid souls may have said yes, but even with that, they didn’t get a majority.

This is a transcript from the video series A History of Hitler’s Empire, 2nd Edition. Watch it now, Wondrium.

The Nazis in the New Coalition

The conservatives, a party now associated with Franz von Papen, got 8 percent of the vote, and so together, the Nazis and the conservatives had a coalition majority. And following that, on March 12 introduced a new flag, a black, red, and white one to get rid of the old Weimar flag.

On March 21, 1933, Hitler was sworn in as chancellor in a great ceremony at the Garrison Church in Potsdam. Paul von Hindenburg, the high command of the German army, was also invited. This was a bow to the army.

Learn more about the perpetual campaigning of the Nazis.

The Enabling Act of Hitler

In his speech, Hitler called for a new law called the Enabling Act, that would give the new Government of National Concentration power to enact legislation for a five-year period without having to resort to Article 48, which, after all, still required Hindenburg to sign off.

That Enabling Act was passed on March 21 without the Communist votes in the Reichstag. Hitler waited until after the election so he could run against them first—the Communist menace—then banned them so that he would have a two-thirds majority in the Reichstag for the passage of this Enabling Act. Once that was in place, the government now had all the authority it needed.

Hitler shaking hands with Paul von Hindenburg.
The Nazis invited Paul von Hindenburg for Hitler’s swearing-in ceremony as a mark of respect for the army. (Image: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-S38324/CC-BY-SA 3.0/Public domain)

The Auxiliary Police of the Nazis

Just a bit before May 1, the Nazis declared May Day to be a national holiday—even the Social Democrats hadn’t been able to do this during the Weimar era—to celebrate German labor. That night, the storm troopers moved in and seized union offices all over the country.

One of the things that had happened in the meantime was that Hermann Goering, the chief law enforcement officer of Germany, had said,

We don’t have enough manpower and police to deal with all the turmoil on the streets caused by the Communists. We need auxiliary police.

All over Germany the SA were sworn in as auxiliary police and went about their business. Now, in addition to having their swastika armband on the left arm, they had a white armband on the right to show that they were now the police. The criminals were running the prison.

The Control of the National Socialist

On July 14, the Nazis introduced a law banning all political parties other than the NSDAP. The police were brought into line under Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS.

Without authorization from Hitler, he simply went out to Bavaria, to Baden, to Wuerttemberg and implied that the Führer wanted him to organize police activities in Germany, and surely they didn’t have any objection. And since he was known to be part of the inner entourage, the local Nazi police officials helped him.

The Gestapo would ultimately be brought under Himmler’s control. One by one, the press, the radio, the schools, and the universities, fell to National Socialist control.

In a real coup, the NSDAP, the new government of Germany, signed a concordant with the Vatican. This was extremely important. Catholics still remained the largest potential opponents of the regime. In the concordant, the Nazis promised to leave the church alone, not to infiltrate its organizations or ban them. In return, the church dropped its ban on the NSDAP.

Learn more about the National Socialist Party.

The End of the Storm Troopers

Only the army and Hindenburg himself remained potential threats to the Nazis by the end of 1933. That threat was removed in the summer of 1934.

A photograph of Roehm.
Roehm, the head of the SA, was killed by Hitler’s order in 1934. (Image: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-14393/CC-BY-SA 3.0/Public domain)

The head of the SA, Roehm, was arrested and killed by Hitler’s order in June. The power of the SA was broken. The Nazis and Hitler had decided that they didn’t need the SA, the rowdy militia, anymore.

They didn’t need the Communists roughed up anymore. They were all sitting in a new institution—a concentration camp—or had fled the country. The revolution, Hitler said, was over. They’d won. They had power; they had complete power.

Hitler needed the army, which was not happy with the SA and their rough talk about social revolution. The SA had over a million members; the army had 100,000. So, for the old army leaders, they wanted the power of the SA broken. The Night of Long Knives was greeted in both places.

The Totalitarian Government of the Nazis

On August 2, 1934, Hindenburg died. At his death, Hitler assumed the office of president and chancellor, and the army swore an oath of allegiance, not to the constitution—whatever that would have been at this point—but to Adolf Hitler personally.

About half a million people had disappeared into prison or into the concentration camps—the first of which was opened at Dachau in April of 1933. By the summer of 1934, the NSDAP had that total control.

Common Questions about the Totalitarian Regime of the Nazis

Q: Why was the Roehm, the head of the SA, killed by the Nazis?

In 1934, the Nazis and Hitler had decided that they didn’t need the SA anymore. Also, the German army was not happy with the SA and their rough talk about social revolution.

Q: Why did the Nazis sign the concordant with the Catholics?

In 1933, Catholics still remained the largest potential opponents of the regime. In the concordant, the Nazis promised not to infiltrate the organizations of the church or ban them. In return, the church dropped its ban on the NSDAP.

Q: When and where was Hitler sworn in as chancellor of Germany?

On March 21, 1933, Hitler was sworn in as chancellor at the Garrison Church in Potsdam.

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