Why did Hitler come to power in 1933?
By Richard Ward
In the election of 1930, the Nazi party made its political breakthrough by gaining a vote of 6.4 million. This was due in part to the dramatic effect of the Depression and the groundwork done in the five years previous to the crash in 1929. In the first election of 1932, the Nazi vote more than doubled up to 13.7 million. It dropped by 2 million in the November election, but was still big enough to warrant Franz von Papen’s alliance with Hitler and consequently Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor in 1933. This was the culmination of many causes, both directly and indirectly related to Hitler’s appointment.
Firstly, Hitler had a great advantage in that he had already built up the groundwork of a nationwide organisation. This had been in place before 1929, but 1933 was the first time at which it could truly be taken advantage of. His charismatic speeches and addresses had attracted both young and experienced men who could run the Nazi party on a larger scale than Hitler was able to. Josef Goebbels, later in charge of Nazi propaganda was appointed Gauleiter of the traditionally socialist Berlin. In other areas of Germany, Heinrich Himmler and Hermann Göring were attracting new members to the party and raising the profile of the Nazis. After 1929 and during the Depression, this strong organisation was put to use at mass rallies. Orchestrated by Goebbels, Hitler would speak for a length of time after which the audience would be captivated by the strong voice and convincing rhetoric of his arguments. Secondly, the organisation of the party was based on one thing across Germany – loyalty to Hitler. Thousands of dedicated party members had had this instilled into them from an early time, and they had passed it on. If Hitler instructed a troop of the SA to jump, then they would be obliged to jump. As long as Hitler traversed Germany, meeting and speaking to members and non-members alike, then the party would continue to grow and the Nazi vote to rise proportionally. Thirdly, the Treaty of Versailles 1919 had angered post-war Germany and given them a sense of resentment for those countries that had imposed it upon them. This resentment was not strong enough for them to vote en masse for the Nazis before 1929 though for several reasons. International relations had improved somewhat between the end of the war and the start of the Depression. There was a level of optimism throughout Germany that things might just get better. Perhaps if reparations had not been changed by the Dawes Plan 1921 and Germany had not risen from the hyperinflation of 1923 then things might have been different for the Nazis. The fourth event that helped get the Nazis into power was the Depression of 1929-32. This totally destroyed the hope of the Germans who had placed their faith in improving international relations and helped Hitler gain a political stranglehold upon those that lost out from the economic collapse. For most Germans, there was a total state of despair. Germany was offered light from darkness and took it with open arms. Fifthly, the Nazi party ideology was tailored to fit exactly the needs of the ailing country of 1929. It offered strong leadership under Hitler, a proven speaker and motivator of men. The particular brand of aggressive nationalism was very appealing to a weak country that had once been great under former leaders. The Nazis offered to ‘make Germany great again’, an offer that no German could really resist, unless of course he or she was a Communist, believing in a revolution akin to that that happened in Russia in 1917. The Germans saw what they wanted to see in the previous statement, i.e. that Hitler would get rid of Versailles, not enter into a second war on the quest for Lebensraum. Sixthly, the Nazis were openly against Communism. They argued that German Communists were traitors who obeyed the evil Stalin in Moscow. They spoke of the destruction of the middle classes and how Russia was doomed in the hands of the Communists. The KPD and the Red Front engaged regularly in fights with the Nazis and SA. That was the Nazi speech to the middle classes. The Nazis offered the working classes Volksgemeinschaft and in that a sense of belonging. This was a seemingly attractive alternative to the Gesellschaft of Weimar Germany, where participation was obligatory, and by this stage unenthusiastically borne by most Germans. The Nazis would organise the country in such a way that everyone would be united underneath the leadership of Hitler and the Nazis. The other thing that the Nazis were seen to offer was a possible end to the Depression. This fell into the all-encompassing claim that the Nazis would ‘make Germany great again’.
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The middle classes were particularly targeted by the Nazis. The upper classes would on the whole vote for whoever was already in power, namely whoever Hindenburg chose, and the lower classes supported either the middle to far left parties such as the SPD and in the extreme KPD. The middle classes had been greatly worried by the Depression, and felt that Weimar Germany was dying a nasty death. The liberal moderate parties (Deutschesdemokratischepartei, Deutschesvolkspartei and the Wirtschaftpartei) were seen as to have failed the middle classes, who had originally been enthusiastic at the prospect of stability. The middle classes were also afraid of the consequences that Communism might have in store. The Russian upper and middle classes had been destroyed by Communist rule, and the Nazis strongly advocated the view that Communist Russia was hell for anyone other than those ruling it.
The last, and probably most singularly important reason for the Nazis getting into power was the alliance of Papen with Hitler and the Nazis. Displaced by Schleicher as Chancellor in May 1932, Papen was keen to get back into power. He offered Hitler the opportunity to be Chancellor, if he (Papen) could have eight of the eleven government posts. Hitler accepted and was appointed Chancellor by the previously reluctant Hindenburg in January 1933. Without the support of this alliance, it is debatable as to whether Hitler would ever have been appointed Chancellor. He certainly would not have been appointed Chancellor by Hindenburg without the support of Papen and although Hindenburg was to die in 1934, Hitler would not necessarily have been successful in any armed attempt to seize power. If he had, he would have faced not only the well-trained German Army, but also the combined masses of the socialists and the communists. Left, middle and a few right-wing groups would have been united against the Nazis.
In conclusion, it is apparent that Hitler’s rise to power was the result of several causes – both long and short term. Hitler was from the beginning of the Nazi party, a charismatic and convincing leader. This helped significantly in the creation of a nationwide organisation before the depression. If Hitler hadn’t been such a charismatic speaker and good motivator, the Nazi party would realistically never have taken off. Although Hitler had not specifically intended it, the Nazi party ideology was well tailored to the needs of the Germans during the depression, had it not been then it is unlikely that voting Nazi would have been an attractive choice for just over 13 million Germans. The Great Depression was a great springboard for the Nazis. A cause apart from all others, the Depression was, although outside of Germany in the first place, probably the single most important reason for the Nazis getting into power. If there had been no depression, then it is agreeable to assume that Weimar would have continued for certainly the immediate future, if not longer. Lastly, the alliance with Papen was a very important short term cause that gave Hitler and the Nazis the opportunity to walk in through the front door of the Reichstag to power, as opposed to attempting (and in all likelihood failing) to kicking the back door in. If Papen had not convinced Hindenburg to appoint Hitler, then quite probably the Nazis would not have had a chance to get into power in this period. Hitler came to power in 1933 as the result of several long and short term causes, the most important being the Great Depression of 1929-32 and the alliance struck with Papen.