Requires indefinite power, absolute control
When Parliament abolished itself
On March 23, 1933, Adolf Hitler entered the Kroll Opera in Berlin. In a brown uniform, the Chancellor made his way past cheering NSDAP members of the Reichstag. Parliament had withdrawn here, into the opera building, after the building had been destroyed since the fire in February. The opera house had been quickly converted into a boardroom. For the members of the opposition, especially the Social Democrats, entering the opera was a gauntlet. At all entrances stood men from the Sturmabteilung, SA, and the Schutzstaffel, SS, who insulted and intimidated the parliamentarians.
The Enabling Act was the legal basis of the Nazi dictatorship
The Communist MPs were politically sidelined. Many were arrested or fled. Their mandates had been withdrawn. A nasty surprise awaited the parliamentarians who appeared in the plenary hall. An oversized swastika dominated the whole room. In this threatening atmosphere, the MPs were supposed to vote on the most important law since the founding of the Weimar Republic: a law that would give the National Socialists full control over power in the state. A law that for Hitler should be the decisive step towards the permanent establishment of his dictatorship.
A law as the basis of dictatorship
In the elections at the beginning of March, Adolf Hitler clearly failed to achieve his goal, an absolute majority for the NSDAP. On March 23, he presented his draft for the "Law to Eliminate the Need of the People and the Reich" to the members of the German Reichstag. This so-called "Enabling Act" was intended to give Hitler unrestricted power. The decisive sentence of the law, which has only five paragraphs, reads: "In addition to the procedure provided for in the Reich constitution, Reich laws can also be passed by the Reich government".
On January 30, 1933, Hitler became Chancellor of the Reich. Two months later he held all power in his hands.
The drastic consequence: Without any control, the government of Hitler should be able to pass laws and conclude contracts with foreign countries. In fact, Parliament was supposed to disempower itself. The fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution had already been suspended. But now it should even be possible to pass laws that deviated from the Weimar Constitution. The only thing that still separated Hitler from full power was the approval of two thirds of the MPs.
The last free word in the German parliament
Towards the afternoon of March 23, Adolf Hitler spoke to the Reichstag to promote the adoption of the "Enabling Act". The Chancellor gave a speech that contained many promises. Above all, he had set himself the goal of combating high unemployment. He promised the MPs a "thorough moral rehabilitation of the people's body". Some parliamentarians believed Hitler's words, others sat on their benches, intimidated.
Gave a courageous speech: Otto Wels (SPD)
Only Otto Wels, the chairman of the Social Democrats, dared a courageous counter-speech. "At this historic hour we German Social Democrats solemnly acknowledge the principles of humanity and justice, freedom and socialism." Wels also showed no fear of the terror of the National Socialists: "Freedom and life can be taken from us, but not our honor". Wels also dared to mention the arrested members of the opposition: "We greet those who were persecuted and oppressed." After the speech had ended, Hitler went back to the lectern and talked himself into a rage. Now he dropped the mask of peacefulness: He appealed to the MPs to "approve what we could have taken without it."
Parliament is abolishing itself
Appeal in the Oranienburg concentration camp: The National Socialists held many of their opponents prisoner here.
The intimidation worked. 441 voted for the "Enabling Act", only the 94 members of the SPD against. The law was thus adopted - and Hitler made a decisive step towards establishing the dictatorship. The law came into force on March 24, 1933. The German Reichstag was thus marginalized. Fear of reprisals and violence, but also blindly trusting that Hitler would keep his promises, many MPs had approved the law.
The chairman of the Catholic Center Party even supported Hitler with a lot of pathos in his speech. "The fatherland is in great danger, we must not fail." Many MPs and their parties did not see or did not want to see that Hitler was the real threat to Germany. The "Enabling Act" was limited to four years, but a few weeks later there would only be one party. The National Socialists, who repeatedly extended this "Basic Law of the Third Reich".
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