History Essays: Why Was Hitler Appointed Chancellor?
The ‘Why’ Question?
Adolf Hitler was appointed the German Chancellor by President Von Hindenburg on 30th January 1933. This was an extraordinary turn of events. Previously, President Von Hindenburg consistently refused to appoint Hitler the Chancellor, despite the impressive electoral performance of NSDAP in July 1932, Hitler’s uncompromising demand of the Chancellor’s post and a repeat election in November 1932 which failed to break the deadlock. Explaining his refusal, Hindenburg wrote in a letter on 24th November, “a presidential cabinet led by you would develop necessarily into a party dictatorship with all its consequences for an extraordinary accentuation of the conflicts in the German people.” The question ‘why’ Hitler was appointed Chancellor, despite the President being acutely aware of what might follow, is therefore a significant one.
The NSDAP had election successes throughout 1932, and was already the biggest single party in the Reichstag and various Landtags across the country. Hitler himself came only second to Hindenburg in the Presidential elections in March/ April 1932, with 13 million votes cast in his favour. Yet, his appointment as Chancellor was deeply fraught. The NSDAP was known as an Anti-Semitic fringe party, committed to the destruction of the Weimar Republic. Hitler himself was not even a German citizen until the early months of 1932. Despite impressive electoral performances of 1932, the party’s influence seemed to be waning by the end of the year, and its votes fell by 2 million in the elections of November 1932. The party membership was demoralised in Hitler’s failure to attain power, and there were clear divisions among the ranks about political strategy, which led to the resignation of Gregor Strasser, the second most senior leader in NSDAP, in December 1932. The party was reportedly facing a financial crisis, as membership dues and attendance at its rallies were falling. In 1932, in Goebbels’ eyes, the NSDAP was ‘triumphing [itself] to death’.
This would change with Hitler’s appointment as the Chancellor. As a direct consequence, through a ‘legal revolution’ over the next few months, all institutions of the Weimar Democracy would be subsumed in a ‘Fuhrer State’. Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor would mark a turning point when the German History really turned.
Some historians argued that the demise of the Weimar Democracy was somewhat a foregone conclusion. The popular post-war narratives, such as William L Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich (first published in the United States in 1960, and in German in 1961) and AJP Taylor’s The Course of German History ( first published in 1945), posited the ‘German Character’ in explaining the weakness of democracy in Germany and its eventual capitulation to the Nazis. The arguments about a ‘democratic deficit’, which drew on the nineteenth century German Historiographic tradition of Sonderweg, see German History to be on a different path from the other Western European nations such as France or Britain. These accounts refer back to different points of German History, and argue that Weimar Republic was destined to a short-lived experiment, an ‘interregnum’ between the wars. The events of 30th January, from this perspective, was to be expected, and Germany was never meant to remain a democratic country for long.
On the opposite side of this argument were the post-war German historians such as Friedrich Meinecke and Gerhard Ritter, writing in the immediate aftermath of the war, who treated the Nazis emerging from a ‘parasitic sub-growth’, gaining strength through a series of developments after the First World War. For these German historians, the ascendancy of the Nazis as a result of an European problem of modernisation, materialism and violence. The Nazi Seizure of Power, from this perspective, is another instance of rise of Fascism, already experienced in different countries in Eastern and Southern Europe, perhaps only of a more powerful and virulent kind.
Yet other historians have looked at Modern German History for an explanation of the rise of the Nazis and their seizure of power. Historians such as Fritz Fischer pointed to the expansive war aims of the German leaders during the Great War (1914-1918) and the resulting defeat and disappointment as one of the key reasons for the ‘German catastrophe’. Modern historians have looked also at the late German unification under Bismarck in 1871, which sought to preserve the primacy of the old landed aristocracy of Prussia and looked to resist modernisation, is seen as ‘the first real moment in German history which it is possible to relate directly to the coming of Third Reich in 1933’. More recent historical events, such as the totality of the First World War, through direct participation of younger population, the food crisis and the shock of the ‘unexpected loss’, are also seen factors leading to the radicalisation of the population and persistence of political violence, with the presence of different paramilitary organisations on the streets. Yet others have pointed to the structural weaknesses of the Weimar democracy: Despite being an advanced democracy, Weimar Republic was an accommodation between a land-based elite, the professional classes and the working class movement, which sought to allow full participation of the working classes while maintaining the existing social order. After the war, the armed forces were allowed to retain its ultra-conservative officer corps, despite the Republican Government having the opportunity to reform it at that juncture, and they continued to espouse anti-Republican views through the years that followed. The Judiciary and the Civil Services, often drawn from the aristocratic families, continued to work in a partisan and anti-Republican manner through the existence of the Republic. This fragile Republic was brought to the precipice by the ‘Great Depression’, rising unemployment, and the fears of ‘proletarianization’ among the small businessmen and the peasants in 1929, and this was an important factor behind the erosion of support for Liberal Parties in favour of the ‘extremist’ movements, such as the Nazis. The events of 30th January 1933, from this perspective, though not inevitable, were increasingly likely, a development determined by the German history and the post-war German experience.
At the same time, however, it is also possible to read the historical account of the events leading to and on 30th January 1933 as a a set of decisions made by individuals. Nazis claimed this to be a ‘triumph of the will’, with the German Hero, Hitler, prevailing against all odds, and achieving the German leadership.
However, as Kershaw observes
Hitler’s own actions were of only secondary importance in bringing him to power. They consisted exclusively, apart from sustained agitation, of holding out for highest stakes - the Chancellorship in a presidential cabinet - and of refusing all compromise attempts to involve him otherwise in government. The policy worked in the end. But this was as a consequence of the actions of others more than of Hitler himself.
Henry Ashby Turner identifies Franz Von Papen, who was deposed as Chancellor in December 1932, Otto Meissner, the Presidential Chief of Staff, and Colonel Oskar Von Hindenburg, the President’s son, as the key individuals whose influences over President Von Hindenburg led to Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor. Rather than a logical step in the process of German historical development, this makes the events of 30th January look much like a palace intrigue, contingent on motives and dispositions of different individuals close to President Von Hindenburg. Such a reading of the events give the question of Hitler’s Chancellorship a different ‘why’ - ‘why then’ rather than ‘why Nazism’ or ‘why Hitler’. This approach also gives 30th January 1933 a history of its own, interrogating the agency and compulsions of the key actors and groups.
Taking these different views on board, this essay would attempt to answer the question of ‘Why’ as a set of interconnected questions: Why did the Nazis become the pre-eminent political party in Weimar Democracy, despite their professed anti-democratic goals? Why did they fail to achieve power in 1932, leading to an apparent crisis in the party by the end of the year? And, finally, why did Hitler became Chancellor on 30th January 1933 when the Nazi Party seemed to be facing a crisis?
The Legal Path to Revolution: Nazi Electoral Success
In the Reichstag elections of 20th May 1928, the NSDAP secured 2.6% of the popular vote which translated into merely 12 deputies at the Reichstag. With a mere 8.1% vote even at its stronghold of Franconia (where it got 20.7% votes in May 1924, in the aftermath of the Weimar hyperinflation), this was a fringe party with declining appeal. And, yet, only two years later, in the Reichstag elections of 14th September 1930, the NSDAP secured 18.3% of the popular vote (increasing their popular vote from 0.8 million to an impressive 6.4 million), making it the second largest party in a very fragmented Reichstag, with 107 deputies.
Karl Dietrich Bracher points to four reasons for this extraordinary turnaround of the NSDAP after 1928.
First, the radicalisation of DNVP, the pre-eminent Nationalist party, after Alfred Hugenberg, hardline nationalist and media baron, became the Chairman of the Party in October 1928. This allowed Hitler and NSDAP to ‘share in the social respectability, the political influence, and the financial resources of these circles’ and become a part of ‘a broad national opposition to Weimar Republic’.
The DNVP, or the German National People's Party, participated in the Burgerblock government of 1925, a coalition of conservative, nationalist and Catholic parties. This government presided over a period of relative stability and prosperity, the ‘golden twenties’ of the Weimar Republic. The politics of the Weimar Republic moved towards the centre during this period, with ‘Social Democrats, with their strong showing in December 1924, seemed to have eclipsed the Communists, and the Nationalists (until 1924 the most vociferous opponents of the republic) not only vanquished the volkisch coalition but entered the cabinet’. However, having entered the Government, DNVP failed to keep its various constituents happy, and was particularly resented by the Creditor interests. Its campaign message against the dangers of advancing socialism failed to impress its voters, and its votes was down to 14% in 1928, from over 20% in 1924 elections, with a loss of 30 deputies. This led to a transformation of the party with Alfred Hugenberg, the media baron, taking over the party leadership in October 1928. A monarchist and anti-Republican, Hugenberg’s leadership would radicalise the party and move it away from the political centre and close to ‘Volkisch’ parties, including the NSDAP. In an attempt to create a National Opposition against the Young Plan, which proposed a settlement of Germany’s reparation dues, the parties would work closely together in order to promote the so called ‘Freedom Law’ and a Referendum in December 1929. Though this movement would fail to achieve its objectives, NSDAP’s association with DNVP and its public participation in the Anti-Young Plan activities did give it credibility that it sorely lacked.
Second, the economic crisis following the ‘Great Depression’ of 1929, which resulted in rapidly rising unemployment, and fears of ‘proletarianisation’ among the small businessmen and the peasants, helped the Nazis.
The Nazi vote declined greatly through the period of stability between 1925 and 1928, making it one of the fringe parties in Germany. However, the worldwide depression affected Germany greatly: Between June 1928 and May 1930, the German industrial production dropped by 31% and by January 1930, there were 3 million unemployed workers in Germany, a 200% increase in two years. As an example, in German town of Nordheim, a small town of 10,000 people in Baden-Württemberg, the depression era anxiety allowed the Nazis to make inroads,
But the depression engendered fear. Businessmen whose own enterprises were doing well worried about the general situation in Germany. Banks which had no difficulty in collecting on loans began to reduce all credit allotments. Only the workers were directly hurt, but the rest of the townspeople, haunted by tense faces of the unemployed, asked themselves, “Am I next?”, “When will it end?” Because there were no clear answers desperation grew. In this situation, the voice of the Nazi began to be heard.
Bracher argues that the depression-era job losses resulted even more widespread panic among middle classes and peasantry than the Weimar Hyperinflation of 1923. “Politically, this panic was expressed by attacks on Versailles and reparations; socially (particularly on the part of the petty-bourgeoisie), it took the form of fear of proletarianization; and ideologically, it surfaced as fear of Communism.” The Nazi catch-all propaganda, at once Anti-Capitalist, Anti-Communist, Anti-Jewish and Anti-Republic, appeared attractive in this setting. The Nazis were also able, in the 1930 election, win over new voters, those who did not vote in previous elections because of apathy or indifference to established parties.
Third, the death of Gustav Stresemann, ex-Chancellor and Foreign Minister, in October 1929, which changed the dynamic of the Grand Coalition government and a rupture in 1930 that led to a mid-term Reichstag election.
The Weimar Republic enjoyed a period of stability and prosperity between 1924 and 1928. The monetary stabilisation was successfully completed, Germany was admitted to the League of Nations and the elections of 1928 took place as the Reichstag completed its full term. However, the Grand Coalition government that took office after the 1928 election did not last as long. Evans argues that the coalition was bound together by the common effort to secure the Young Plan, and once this was achieved in Autumn 1929, there was not much to keep it together. After Gustav Stresemann, the People’s Party leader and Foreign Minister, suddenly died in October 1929, the coalition lost his negotiating abilities and moderating influence. The rupture came in 1930, when faced with a rapid rise in the number of unemployed people, the People’s Party demanded a cut in the unemployment benefits but the Social Democrats, fearful of losing ground to the Communists, refused to give in. This led to People’s Party walking out of the coalition and the Grand Coalition government tendered its resignation on 27th March 1930, triggering an election at an opportune juncture for the Nazis.
Fourth, and finally, the shift of strategy of the Nazis, from the Italian style ‘March on Berlin’, to a strategy of ‘legal revolution’, through an ‘unrivalled combination of force and persuasion, terror and propaganda, pseudo-legal measures and deception and violence’ which made possible the transformation of the party from an agitational fringe group to a plausible political alternative within the Weimar system.
After the Nazi failure in the ‘Beer Hall Putsch’ of 8th-9th November 1923 ( as well as that of the earlier armed insurrection such as the Kapp Putsch and the Bolshevik attempts in the immediate aftermath of the War ), Hitler took the view that any armed insurrection was futile without the Army and the Civil Service fully supporting it. While the debate was always an open one within the Nazi party - Gregor Strasser was still ready to commit to ‘capture of power through illegal means’ when resigning from the party role in December 1932 - the political strategy of NSDAP since its re-establishment in 1925 was to attain power through legal means. Its organisation was modelled after the propaganda apparatus of the Marxist parties, of a network of cells spreading across the entire country. The central idea was to “[feed] [information and directives] by a central headquarters not only on a monthly but on a weekly basis” and to be ready for mobilisation at any time. While the idea was to create this structure at the grassroots level, like the working class parties, the finances and membership strength of the party did not permit such grassroots activity immediately. There was a long debate within the party about concentrating on few key areas, industrial heartlands following the ‘urban strategy’ that the party followed at the time, rather than attempting to build the network all over Germany. At the time of 1928 elections, this structure was still being built and the communication lines between the headquarters and the local levels remained fraught with difficulty. After the 1928 elections, when the Party’s failure to break into working class communities became clear, there was a shift of strategy towards greater concentration on smaller towns and rural areas, as ‘with a smaller expenditure of energy, money and time, better results can be achieved there than the big cities’. The resulting shift meant a greater concentration on rural communities and small towns, and creation of a range of associations and bodies of small landowners, peasants and other interest groups. The success of this strategy helped NSDAP to expand its membership base, from 100,000 to 150,000 by October 1929, which was further aided by depression era gains before the elections in 1930s.
It should be noted that while the Nazis took the ‘legal path’ and made gains in the successive elections after 1929, they were clear in its objective to destroy the Weimar Republic, if only by other means. In September 1930, defending three Army lieutenants charged for subversion, Hitler said,
The National Socialist movement will try to achieve its aim with constitutional means in this state. The constitution provides only the methods, not the aim. In this constitutional way we shall try to gain decisive majorities in the legislative bodies so that the moment we succeed we can give the state the form that corresponds to our ideas.
While the Chairman of the Court concluded this as a statement of Nazi intentions to follow the Constitutional path, the stated strategy of the Nazis were to undermine the goal of the constitution - preservation of the Republic - once they gained power through the elections.
Triumphing To Death: The Stalemate of 1932
Heinrich Bruning took over as Chancellor on 30th March 1930 after the resignation of the Grand Coalition government. While Bruning's government hoped that the moderate right wing parties would have an overall majority, the shock election results on 1930 was a disappointment. Bruning’s approach for support was rebuffed by both NSDAP with 107 deputies (out of 577) and by DNVP with 41 deputies, and he was left with no option but to depend on the ‘toleration’ of the SPD, who was still the biggest party in the Reichstag. Bruning continued as the Chancellor, ruling through Presidential assent rather than Parliamentary authority. Though the Social Democrat support ensured that Bruning government was safe from any no confidence motion in the Reichstag, President Von Hindenburg was irreconcilably opposed to any Social Democratic participation in the Government, so they were kept out.
This arrangement, which was to last till the spring of 1932, had many consequences. From the initial days of the Weimar Republic, Presidential decrees were widely used, and President Ebert used them in 136 separate occasions during his tenure. However, Bruning’s cabinet became a Presidential rather than a Parliamentary one, and it relied almost exclusively on Presidential decrees to conduct affairs which would usually be the prerogative of the Parliament. This would become the norm over the following years, with Chancellors serving at the discretion of the President and President Von Hindenburg appointing and sacking Chancellors at will.
While the Bruning government won some Foreign Policy concessions citing the ‘Fascist menace’ in 1931, including an one year moratorium on Germany’s reparation payments, his economic policies proved counterproductive. A a poorly planned attempt for a customs union with Austria were met with resistance from France, which precipitated an Austrian banking crisis, and resulted in run on some German banks and business bankruptcies. This neutralised Bruning’s successes, and the resulting economic crisis, and cuts in wages and salaries meant further loss of support for the Government. Bruning, with emergency degrees and deflationary policies, were being called the ‘Hunger Chancellor’ by the December of 1931 and was extremely unpopular. The government’s lack of popularity was also hurting the Social Democrats, who were seen to be propping it up.
As the economic situation worsened, the Nazis kept agitating. A broad right-wing opposition to Bruning’s Government, the Harzburg Front, was formed between the DNVP, the NSDAP and other groups, which helped the Nazis by propelling it to the leadership of the anti-austerity agitation. This would eventually allow them to win over voters from other Nationalist parties, particularly the DNVP.
This would also help the Nazis to take advantage of one key structural issues of Weimar politics: The fragmentation of the electorate. The Republic’s proportional representation system created a favourable setting for special interest and single issue parties, such as The Real Estate and Homeowners’ Party, The Reich Association of Revalorization, the Tenants Party, the Reich Party of the Middle Class. These parties were a permanent feature in the local elections, and only the presence of the powerful SPD and the need to form coalition against it kept Weimar politics less fragmented than it would otherwise be. In 1928 elections, the single issue parties polled 14% of votes against the combined 13.5% of the Liberal Parties together. The rise of special interest parties affected the Liberals as well as the DNVP, and forced all the parties to appeal of solidarity against communists all the time. The NSDAP, through their numerous associations for special interest groups, with their catch-all agitational stance and their appeal to solidarity against the Socialists and Communists but also the establishment parties of the Republic, would be able to consolidate, by 1932, the special interest votes.
The other important development that helped the NSDAP during this period was the growth of its paramilitary, the SA. While Chancellor Bruning and his Minister of Defence and Interior, Wilhelm Groener, was concerned about the rapid growth of the SA, the Reichswehr establishment, and in particular, General Kurt Von Schleicher, a key advisor to President Von Hindenburg, encouraged the growth of the SA (and other right-wing paramilitary, Stahlhelm) as a part of its military modernisation strategy. These individuals saw the paramilitary as a training ground for the future German army, which was, at the time, limited by the Treaty of Versailles to only 100,000 men. This growth of Paramilitary strength also meant a rapid escalation of political violence, with the right wing militia inflicting more damage. With the judiciary inclined to pass lighter sentences for right wing violence than for left wing violence, the Nazis were winning the street battles.
While the Right wing opposition in general, and the Nazis in particular, was energised by the economic crisis of 1930-31, the Social Democrats gradually lost the momentum. Allen described how after matching the Nazi activities in January/February 1931, over the Spring and Summer, Social Democrats became relatively quiet. With a large number of unemployed on the streets, who were mostly going over to the Communists, the routes of staging general strikes, as they did during the Kapp Putsch, were closed. While they had no role in Bruning Government and could not influence its policies, they were seen as a party in Austerity measures because of their support in the Reichstag. The Middle Classes were now alienated from the Social Democrats not because they were radical, but they were not radical enough, not capable of making any fundamental economic change.
The Communists, the third largest party in the Reichstag, gained ground among the unemployed, but its strategies of violence also drove away many sympathisers, and led to a ‘self-ghettoization’ of the party. Just as Nazis were becoming an ‘omnibus’ movement, the KPD, controlled as it was by the Third International, failed to become “more than just strong enough to serve as bogy and scapegoat for the rightists and National Socialists in their attack on democracy.”
On 7th January 1932, Joseph Goebbels wrote on his diary, “The endgame of power has began.” The immediate contest in his view would have been the Presidential Election, due later that year. Hitler’s initial position, which he communicated to Bruning, was to support Von Hindenburg’s re-election on the condition that Reichstag would be dissolved and fresh elections would be called, in which the Nazis expected to do very well. When Brunning did not agree, Hitler started considering running for Presidency, but waited till the SPD, following the political alignment of the time, came out in Hindenburg’s support. While this was damaging for Social Democrats as they were seen to be propping up an unpopular government and a President who was not popular with their voters, they were left with little choice as otherwise Hitler would have emerged the winner. Despite this, however, Hitler expected to win, and when after the first round of elections, Hindenburg received 18 million votes against Hitler’s 11 million, the Nazi Party flag was flown half-mast. While Hitler publicly rejoiced NSDAP doubling its vote share from 1930, he admitted, at a party event in Nuremberg on 15th March 1932, that he miscalculated and did not expect SDP members to vote for Hindenburg. In the run-off on 10th of April, Hitler would gain another 2 million votes, a total of 36.8 per cent, when Theodor Duesterberg, the Stahlhelm and the candidate supported by Hugenberg’s DNVP withdrew. However, Von Hindenburg got elected with 53% of the votes, and for all the gains made by the Nazis, they had failed to gain power.
There were four state elections, in Prussia, Bavaria, Württemberg and Anhalt, and a Mayoral election in Hamburg, on 24th April, immediately following the second round of Presidential Election. While Nazis improved their vote share spectacularly in each one of these elections, with the exception of Anhalt, they were unable to form the administration in any of these places.
The NSDAP received another opportunity to power when Bruning resigned, in May 1932, because of the differences with President Von Hindenburg on several issues including the control of the right-wing paramilitaries such as the SA and the question of farm bankruptcies in Prussia. This prompted a Reichstag election, just as Hitler demanded earlier in the year. Nazis, in keeping with their electoral successes, doubled their vote share to 37.3% and emerged as the largest single party with got 230 deputies in the Reichstag.
This success, the only other party to improve their position in the Reichstag was the KPD, meant that no Parliamentary cabinet was possible without NSDAP and KPD both participating in it, which was an impossibility. Hitler was invited to participate in a Coalition government led by Franz Von Papen, a Centre Party politician with aristocratic lineage and military background, who had become Hindenburg’s favourite. Hitler refused to participate if he was not made the Chancellor, and this demand was rebuffed by the President. On 13th August, the negotiations broke down. The Nazis had again failed to capture power despite an impressive electoral performance.
The failure to capture power was having serious impact on the morale of the Nazi party. When the SA unleashed a wave of violence in August 1932 following Hitler’s failure to get Chancellorship, Von Papen’s government issued a number of emergency decrees and the Army informed Goring that they would shoot in case of an attempted Putsch. When Von Papen was forced to resign after a no confidence motion passed against his government at the Reichstag - this time, Social Democrats were neither willing nor able to save the government - another election was called. In the November 1932 elections, the NSDAP vote share dropped to 33.1% and their number of deputies to 196. They lost 2 million votes and 34 deputies from the July elections. Internal Nazi analysis in the wake of November elections already projected that Nazi electoral performance had peaked. The Munich Police was reporting ‘rapid decline of the SA’ and a communique from the Foreign Ministry on 19th January 1933 was pointing to a financial crisis. The Nazis were, as Goebbels observed, ‘triumphing into death’ by the end of 1932.
Triumph Of Intrigue: Hitler As Chancellor
While President Von Hindenburg apparently preferred Von Papen as the Chancellor, he balked at reappointing him after the November elections failed to break the parliamentary deadlock. General Kurt von Schleicher, Hindenburg’s advisor who sponsored Von Papen’s candidature to replace Bruning as Chancellor and served as the Defence Minister in the cabinet, took over the role himself.
General Schleicher was aware of the limited mandate of his Presidential cabinet and wanted to reach out to Nazis to lend it a mass acceptance. However, he was acutely aware of Hitler’s position - Chancellorship or nothing - as well as growing dissatisfaction in the Nazi ranks with the failure to gain power. Schleicher took the approach of bypassing Hitler and offering Gregor Strasser, the leader of the party organisation and second to only Hitler within the Nazi party, the Vice-Chancellor role in the cabinet. While Schleicher might have hoped for a split in the Nazi party, and calculated that they desperately needed to be in power at this point, he miscalculated the ability of Strasser to defy Hitler and split the party. This overture came to nothing, as the discussions were reported to Hitler and Strasser resigned from his party posts, on 8th December 1932.
Strasser’s resignation, given his seniority and public profile, was a shock to the Nazi rank and file, coming at a time when the morale was already low. This was, however, a bigger setback for Schleicher’s government. Otto Meissner, the State Secretary to President, told the Nuremberg Tribunal
Papen was dismissed because he wanted to fight the National Socialists and did not find in the Reichswehr the necessary support for such a policy, and..Schleicher came to power because he believed he could form a government which would have the support of the National Socialists. When it became clear that...Schleicher on his part was unable to split the National Socialist Party.. The policy was shipwrecked.
As a result Schleicher wanted the President to dissolve the Reichstag and postpone elections for a period of time, effectively suspending the constitution and imposing a Military dictatorship. This was the riskiest of all available options, Turner notes, and one Hindenburg was least likely to agree to. There was a risk that the SA would have marched if an Emergency was declared: As Gregor Strasser wrote in his resignation letter: “The National Socialist stormtroopers are still intact; they are prepared for the final march..For who could withstand this well-organised army which has a firm ideological commitment, which has already passed the half-million mark, and the whole of which are under the leadership of Frontline officers and soldiers?” With Reichswehr limited to 100,000 men by Versailles Treaty, it was Schleicher’s own policy to encourage strong paramilitary organisations such as the SA, and this had made his attempts to impose a Military Dictatorship unworkable.
Schleicher was also unaware of the contacts between Papen and Hitler, facilitated by Kurt Von Schroeder, a banker. After various negotiations, Hitler agreed to participate in a right-wing Coalition Cabinet with himself as the Chancellor, Papen as Vice Chancellor, and with representation from DNVP (Hugenberg) and Stahlhelm (Seldte and Dusterberg). Hindenburg’s reluctance to appoint Hitler was overcome with the influence of President’s son, Oskar Von Hindenburg, and the State Secretary, Otto Meissner. Hindenburg’s chosen candidates were given the Defence and Foreign Office ministries, the two positions he wanted to keep out of reach of the Nazis. Papen also agreed to the other key demands Hitler made, that this was to be a Presidential cabinet, Reichstag would be dissolved and new elections would be called, acutely aware that this would be opportunity for NSDAP to win popular mandate after Hitler had succeeded in winning power.
Once he was presented with this plan, and concerned about rumours that Schleicher and the army under General Kurt Von Hammerstein was planning a coup, President Hindenburg dismissed Schleicher and appointed Hitler as Chancellor on January 30th, 1933.
The Question of Contingency
In conclusion, one may see the events of 30th January 1933 as one of those conjunctures when individual actions and historical trends interplayed, and allowed men to make history, but not, to paraphrase Marx, as they wanted. But determining responsibility is a perilous enterprise. While research in Contingency is useful, it is fallacious to decide that while Hitler’s Chancellorship was made possible at a moment of weakness of the Nazi movement, and perhaps because of its weakness, by a group of men acting on diverse motives, everything that followed was determined by this one turn of history. The usefulness of the Contingency view is to move beyond deterministic tendencies of German historiography, but not to establish a new one.
In conclusion, therefore, it is perhaps more rewarding to study the ideas of Post-War West German basic law, which attempted to correct the ‘mistakes’ of the Weimar, by ‘limiting the role of plebiscites, restricting the power of president, eliminating the ability of the parliament to paralyse the government, and asserting the primacy of basic rights over both legislative and executive powers.’
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