Describe the steps by which Hitler transformed himself from Chancellor to Dictator (January 1933 – August 1934). Which step(s) was/were the most important? Was Hitler a political genius?
Although Adolf Hitler could be named as one of the most brutal politicians in history, having orchestrated the deaths and sufferings of millions of Jews, there was little evidence to incriminate him as an outlaw – he obtained all his powers through legal means, all of his actions could be justified by the German law.
Adolf Hitler was appointed as the Chancellor of the Reichstag on 30 January 1933 by the German president, Hindenburg, following the suggestion of Franz von Papen, who would later be appointed Vice Chancellor. Hitler did not seize power, he was given it. Through taking steps such as passing the Enabling Act, Hitler became the ultimate power of Germany within 18 months of Chancellorship.
The first step in Hitler’s ascension to power was the Reichstag Fire on 27 February 1933. The Reichstag building was set on fire, and later burned down. A Dutch Communist, Marinus van der Lubbe, was found inside the burning Reichstag building with a lighter and flammable material. He was charged with burning down the Reichstag despite sayings that the Nazis were the real culprits. The Nazis exploited the Reichstag Fire to accuse the Communists of plotting against the government and deliberately causing harm to Germany. They took this opportunity to severely weaken their political opponents. In Prussia alone, 4000 Communist leaders were arrested and potentially imprisoned by the police, who was led by Hermann Goering, a prominent Nazi and a close friend of Hitler. On 28 February, ‘Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of the Nation and the State’ was issued by Hindenburg after being persuaded by Hitler, stating that all constitutional civil rights (i.e. personal liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the freedom of assembly etc.) were suspended. Furthermore, the police were given emergency powers to search houses and indefinitely place people in ‘protective custody’. They could ban meetings, close newspapers, and detain any German. The death penalty was brought back, van der Lubbe, the Communist who was said to have caused the Reichstag fire, was the first person who received the death penalty. Hitler abused this decree to seize his political opponents – the Communists and shut down anti-Nazi press and radio stations. Even though it was only meant to be an emergency decree, this decree lasted throughout the period of Hitler’s rule.