On 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set on fire. The police found a Dutch Communist, van der Lubbe inside the building, nd he was arrested and charged for the incident. Although it is uncertain whether or not van der Lubbe or the Communist Party were responsible for the fire, or whether it was a Nazi set up, Hitler used the evidence that van der Lubbe was found in the building as proof that the Communists were plotting to overthrow the government. That night, 4000 Communist leaders were imprisoned. As a result of this Communist fear increased significantly and the Nazi Party, as the contrary political group to the Communists, gained support and therefore more power. Furthermore, as a result of the Reichstag fire, Hitler persuaded President Hindenburg to pass an emergency decree suspending articles in the constitution giving freedom of speech, press and assembly. Thus, the police and Nazi administration had the power to search homes, confiscate property and detain people. The death penalty was decreed for a variety of crimes. The police could ban political meetings and detain opponents of the Nazi Party. Hitler’s exploitation of the Reichstag fire enabled him to consolidate power and limit personal and political freedoms of German citizens.
As Chancellor, Hitler called for new elections on the 5 March 1933. He did this in order to gain a Nazi majority – that is, over 50 percent - in the Reichstag. As a result of the fear of Communism that had been caused by the Reichstag fire, support for the Nazi party rose. Furthermore, Nazi scare tactics involving the SA breaking up political meetings and uniformed Nazis oversaw polling stations and intimidated voters into voting for the Nazi Party. A coalition with the Nationalist party enabled Hitler to create a government, with him leading it as the Chancellor. Essentially, Hitler’s exploitation of the Reichstag fire as well as other forms of Nazi propaganda enabled him to consolidate power.
Hitler introduced the Enabling Act in March 1933, once he had formed a government in the Reichstag. This act allowed Hitler to make laws without the approval of the President or the Reichstag. The Reichstag (albeit after the Communists had been banned from it, and other members of it had been sufficiently intimidated) voted to pass this law, effectively consolidating Hitler’s power. This Enabling Act effectively established Hitler as dictator of Germany, and ended the period of Weimar Democracy. Hitler now had the power to eliminate opponents and make his own laws.
Although the Enabling Act had silenced political opponents and threats, Hitler was now threatened by the SA, lead by Ernst Rohm. The SA was made up of more than 3 million men from the lower middle class, and had been a major factor in getting the Nazis into power. Their function was to serve as Hitler’s private army, and in doing so they terrorised others and broke up other political meetings. In 1934, the SA had become restless and unstable. They interfered at various levels of the government. While Hitler believed that the so called ‘Nazi Revolution’ had come to a close, Rohm and the SA wanted to continue it by reducing the power of big business and carrying out the more socialist aspects of the Nazi programme – that is, taking over major industries. Rohm also wanted the SA to take over the army and be the chief military force of Germany. Although the army was much smaller than the SA, Hitler viewed it as essential in gaining control of Germany. Hitler would need the support of the army if he was to consolidate power and become president when Hindenburg died. In April 1934, Hitler organised secret meetings with army and navy leaders and agreed to ‘deal’ with the SA in return for the army supporting Hitler as Hindenburg’s eventual successor. Hitler also assured the army that they would be the ‘sole bearer of arms’ in Germany. Hitler himself organised the elimination of the SA leadership – called the ‘Night of Long Knives’. On 30th June 1934, SS troops, under the direction of Goring, Himmler and Hitler, arrested Rohm and hundreds of SA officers in Berlin and Munich, and they were accused with plotting to overthrow the state. The next day, Rohm was shot, along with von Schleicher and other opponents of the Nazi Party – over two hundred were murdered. The Night of the Long Knives strengthened the army’s devotion to Hitler, removed the threat of the SA and Rohm and consolidated Hitler’s power buy giving him more control over Germany and the German army.
On August 2nd, 1934, Hindenburg died. Hitler took over the position of president, after passing a law that combined the offices of Chancellor and President. Therefore, Hitler was directly involved in consolidating his power in this respect. Hitler was head of state, government, and the army, and the armed forces took an oath of loyalty to Hitler.
Although Hitler in early 1933 had little to do with consolidating his power through being given the role of chancellor, to a large extent his own actions and initiatives throughout later 1933 and 1934 as a virtual dictator allowed him to consolidate his power. In the March 1933 elections and the consequences of the Reichstag fire, Hitler’s actions and initiatives were relatively covert, and the power he consolidated was achieved largely through the Nazi party as a whole. However, after the crucial Enabling Act, which was Hitler’s initiative, he was able to rule Germany as a dictatorship. The events and initiatives that followed that were initiated by Hitler, to a large degree were significant in consolidating his power – events such as the Night of the Long Knives which removed the threat of the SA and Rohm, and increased Hitler’s power through the army. Although initially Hitler’s consolidation of power involved both him and other groups, throughout the majority of 1933 and 1934, Hitler’s own actions and initiatives were largely responsible for the consolidation of his power.