For first-time students of Nazi Germany, it is crucial to understand the process through which Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party consolidated power and established the Third Reich. This period, spanning from 1933 to 1934, witnessed a series of legal, political, and social measures that transformed Germany from a struggling democracy to a totalitarian dictatorship. This article provides an overview of the key events and developments during this critical phase in German history.
This article follows on from The Rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party (1918-1933)
- The Reichstag Fire and the Enabling Act
In February 1933, a fire destroyed the Reichstag building, home to the German parliament. Hitler and the Nazis exploited the event, blaming communists for the arson and stoking fears of a leftist uprising. The government responded by implementing the Reichstag Fire Decree, which suspended civil liberties and allowed the Nazis to suppress political opponents. This led to the mass arrests of communists, socialists and trade unionists and the rapdid establishment of a concentration camp network in Germany. The following month, the Enabling Act was passed, granting Hitler dictatorial powers and enabling him to bypass the Reichstag when making laws.
- The elimination of political opposition
With their newfound power, the Nazis swiftly targeted their political rivals. Communist and socialist leaders were arrested, their parties banned, and their assets seized. By the summer of 1933, all non-Nazi political parties had been dissolved, effectively establishing a one-party state in Germany. Throughout this period, the Nazis used intimidation, violence, and propaganda to silence dissent and consolidate their power.
- The coordination (Gleichschaltung) of German society
To further entrench their control, the Nazis pursued a policy of Gleichschaltung (coordination), whereby all aspects of German society were aligned with Nazi ideology. Organizations, including trade unions, professional associations, and cultural institutions, were either disbanded or brought under Nazi control. The media, education, and the arts were subjected to strict censorship and were utilized as tools for Nazi propaganda.
- The Night of the Long Knives
In June 1934, Hitler took decisive action against potential internal threats to his rule. The Night of the Long Knives saw the SS and the Gestapo execute a purge of the SA (Sturmabteilung), the Nazi Party’s paramilitary organization. SA leader Ernst Röhm and other potential rivals were arrested and executed, securing Hitler’s undisputed control over the Nazi Party and eliminating potential opposition within the military establishment.
- The death of President Hindenburg and Hitler’s consolidation of power
President Paul von Hindenburg’s death in August 1934 marked the final step in Hitler’s consolidation of power. Hitler merged the positions of Chancellor and President, proclaiming himself Führer and Reich Chancellor. The military and civil servants were required to pledge an oath of loyalty directly to Hitler, further solidifying his position as the supreme leader of the Third Reich.
In conclusion, the consolidation of Nazi power and the establishment of the Third Reich between 1933 and 1934 involved a systematic dismantling of democratic institutions and the suppression of political opposition. The Nazis employed a combination of legal measures, coercion, and propaganda to secure their dominance and control all aspects of German society. This article serves as an introduction to this critical period in German history, with the understanding that a wealth of additional information and perspectives awaits you in your further studies.
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