Major events that facilitated Adolf Hitler’s rise to power
In less than a year after his appointment as Chancellor of Germany in 1933, Adolf Hitler managed to combine the positions of President and Chancellor, making himself the one who wielded all the power in Germany. Styling himself as “Führer” – which is German for “leader” – Hitler proceeded to establish one of the most brutal dictatorships in world history.
In the process, he and his right-wing Nazi Party unleashed untold horrors in Europe and beyond. It’s worth mentioning that Hitler’s rise to power was done through legal and political means, although with a heavy dose of violence and elimination of all his political opponents.
For many decades historians have pondered how exactly did a relatively unknown Austrian corporal rise to become Chancellor of Germany. It turns out that the bloodthirsty dictator’s rise to power can be attributed to several key factors.
World History Edu presents a general overview of the events and circumstances that paved the way for his ascent:
The Nazi Party and Hitler’s Charismatic Leadership
In 1919, Hitler joined the German Workers’ Party, which later transformed into the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) or Nazi Party. Hitler quickly rose through the ranks, becoming the party’s leader (i.e. Führer) in 1921.
Hitler possessed strong oratory skills and was able to captivate audiences with his passionate speeches. His ability to tap into the grievances of the German people, particularly regarding the country’s economic situation and the terms of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, helped him gain popularity and attract supporters.
Beer Hall Putsch
In 1923, Hitler and his followers attempted a coup known as the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich. The coup failed, and Hitler was arrested and sentenced to prison. During his imprisonment, he wrote an autobiographical manifesto titled Mein Kampf. The book basically outlined his political ideology and future plans for Germany.
How the Great Depression unleashed economic and political turmoil in Germany
In the aftermath of World War I, Germany was facing severe economic hardship, including hyperinflation and widespread unemployment. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles, which imposed harsh terms on Germany, further fueled resentment and a sense of national humiliation.
For some period in the Weimer Republic (1918-1933) Germany did indeed experience relative economic and cultural growth. Known as the Golden Twenties, this period saw Germany move towards normalizing ties with its neighbors as German leaders began recognizing the terms of the peace treaty of World War I.
Having joined League of Nations, the international peace organization and predecessor of the United Nations, Germany seemed all set to tow a peaceful path and never wage war again. Those changes enabled the country’s financial and banking systems to be reintegrated with the rest of the world.
No doubt there was still some bit of resentment emanating from both right-wing and left-wing politicians over the Treaty of Versailles; however, the majority of Germans were pleased with the economic and social strides the Weimer Republic was making.
But all that changed when the Great Depression – the economic shock following the Wall Street Crash of 1929 – ripped through the world and devastated many countries, especially Germany.
Some historians and economists maintain that had Germany’s economic progress in the 1920s not been gulped up by the Great Depression, which caused unemployment to rise to more than 30%, the level of resent against the Weimer Republic would not have been that high. What that means is that political extremists like Adolf Hitler wouldn’t have had the platform to pursue his ultranationalist and deranged anti-Semitic political ambitions.
Did you know…?
Economists point out to the fact that the Great Depression of the late 1920s and 1930s sliced the gross domestic product (GDP) of the world by about 15%. To put things into perspective, the Great Recession of the late 2000s caused just 1% of damage to the global economy. The Great Depression caused unemployment to rise in many countries around the world, with Germany experiencing more than 30% unemployment.
Hitler utilized democratic institutions to fuel anger among Germans
Following his release from prison in 1924, Hitler recognized the importance of participating in democratic processes to gain power. He reorganized the Nazi Party, focused on expanding its membership, and employed propaganda and electoral campaigns to increase its influence.
Fully aware that the wealth of the middle-class had been effectively wiped off by the harsh Treaty of Versailles, Hitler and the Nazi Party were able to convince majority of the citizenry that the democratic Weimer Republic was incapable of lifting the people out of its economic woes. He thus demanded an authoritarian style of leadership.
How Hitler used propaganda to erode public confidence in mainstream parties
His vicious anti-Semitic campaign was given a boost when he managed to turn the democratic institutions against specific groups – Jews and his political opponents. He blamed those groups for being the cause of Germany’s economic and political instability.
In the early 1930s, Germany faced a deep economic depression. The Great Depression, coupled with ineffective governance and political instability, contributed to the erosion of public confidence in mainstream parties. This created fertile ground for extremist groups like the Nazis.
When and why Hitler got appointed as Chancellor of Germany in 1933
In the 1932 elections, the Nazi Party emerged as the largest party in the German parliament, the Reichstag, albeit without an absolute majority. In January 1933, conservative politicians, believing they could control Hitler, persuaded President Paul von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor of Germany.
It must be noted that Hindenburg was no fan of Hitler in the slightest bit. He only acquiesced to Hitler’s demand because the other more moderate parties in the Reichstag could not form a government. Rightfully fearing the worse, Hindenburg appointed the former chancellor Franz von Papen to serve as the vice-chancellor under Hitler.
It was hoped that Von Papen would keep tabs on Hitler, who had become the head of cabinet that had only two out of the ten cabinet seats. As it turned out, Hindenburg, an ageing war hero of World War I, could not have been more wrong. German politicians had seriously underestimated Hitler’s determination to wield absolute power.
The delirium that swept through the crowd who greeted Hitler when he made his appearance on the Reichstag balcony should have served as an indication as to what was to come in the decade that followed. The ceremony had been organized by Joseph Goebbels himself. A fierce anti-Jewish politician like Hitler, Goebbels served as one of Hitler’s closest advisors and chief propaganda officer.
The Enabling Act of 1933
During the Nazi regime, hardly was there any attempt to replace the Weimer Constitution (i.e. the Constitution of the German Reich). Hitler and his Nazi Party technically “operated” within the bounds of the constitution. What really allowed Hitler establish his dictatorial rule in a democratic parliamentary republic was the fact that the various provisions of the Weimer Constitution were not enforced.
Those protections and civil liberties granted by the constitution were sidelined by the Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act of 1933. The latter act in particular allowed Hitler and his cabinet to promulgate laws without the involvement of parliament (the Reichstag) or the state (i.e. President Paul von Hindenburg).
Nazi Propaganda and Repression
The Nazis employed propaganda and censorship extensively to shape public opinion and control information. They targeted specific groups, such as Jews, political opponents, and minority communities, fostering a climate of fear and intimidation.
It is as if General Erich Ludendorff, a former World War I hero, knew exactly where Adolf Hitler was sending Germany to when the former World War I corporal became Chancellor in 1933. Ludendorff bemoaned the decision by Hindenburg and the business industrialists to hand power over to Hitler. The retired German general described Hitler as an “evil man” who would plunge Germany into dark place. He also stated that future generations would hold Hindenburg responsible for his “grave” political decision.
Elimination of Opposition and the desire among many Germans to return to the “old”
Hitler purged rival political factions, such as the Communists and Social Democrats, through arrests, intimidation, and violence. The Night of the Long Knives in 1934 saw the elimination of potential internal threats, including members of the Nazi Party itself.
At the time, a sizeable number of the population, including the middle-class, businessmen and industrialists, saw Hitler and the Nazi Party as a better alternative to the Communists.
For example, quite a number of German industrialists and employers’ association made handsome donations to the Adolf Hitler Fund of German Trade and Industry (Adolf-Hitler-Spende der deutschen Wirtschaft), which was established by leading Nazi Party official Martin Ludwig Bormann in 1933.
As WWII heated up, those donations became mandatory. It’s estimated that by 1945 German industrialists and entrepreneurs had donated more than 680 million Reichsmark, which is the equivalent of about 2.9 billion in today’s Euros.
The whole of Europe had seen what sort of chaos was unleashed by the revolution in Russia in the late 1910s. The purges and gulags set up by the Communists under the leadership of Joseph Stalin in Russia undoubtedly sent shivers down the spines of many Germans.
Therefore, a vote for Hitler was viewed as a means to halt the German Communist Party in its track and thereby secure a stable and prosperous future for Germany.
To many Germans, Hitler was seen as the embodiment of the old ways in Germany – a time before revolutions and WWI with its accompanying Treaty of Versailles. Especially for the ‘haves’ the march of communism simply had to be stopped, and the only one they saw as capable of doing that was Adolf Hitler.
Hitler’s Cult of Personality
When it came to cultivating of cult of personality, there are very few leaders in world history that can hold a candle to Adolf Hitler. The dictator, with the help of his chief propaganda officer Goebbels, portrayed himself as the savior of Germany and the embodiment of the nation’s destiny. Basically, his strong dictatorial rule and effective manipulation of symbols and rhetoric solidified his support among the German population.
Frequently asked questions about the Hitler’s rise to power
When did Hitler truly decide to lead Germany on the path that he did in World War II?
It’s said that at the time that Germany signed the Armistice to end World War I on November 11, 1918, Hitler was in a German hospital.
The young Austrian corporal was recuperating from an injury (i.e. temporary blindness) he had sustained in battle. Upon hearing the news, he was filled with so much disgust as he felt that Germany had been handed to its enemies on a silver platter.
It was in that moment, according to his own account, that he decided to take things into his own hands, stating “…my own fate became known to me…”
How did the early years of the Great Depression facilitate Hitler’s ascension to power?
The profound consequences of the Wall Street Crash of 1929 reverberated throughout the German economy, hampering its fragile recovery from the aftermath of World War One. The early 1930s bore witness to a period of widespread anguish for Germany’s extensive population, who had weathered years of instability since 1918 and now grappled with severe economic adversities of significant magnitude.
How skillful was Hitler when it came to debating and giving speeches?
There is no easy way of putting this. But the fact is Hitler’s debating skills were exceptional, marked by eloquence and persuasive power. He demonstrated meticulous preparation for each debate and speech, investing substantial effort in refining his oratory.
His dedication was evident through the extensive rewriting of speeches and frequent practice sessions, sometimes in front of a mirror. There was even an instance where he was captured on film during a practice session, but he subsequently ordered the destruction of the footage.
The bloodthirsty dictator possessed a distinct rhythm in his speeches, beginning by standing at the podium, patiently awaiting silence from the crowd. He exuded a sense of tranquility, with his sole focus dedicated to delivering the speech at hand. As the audience hushed, he would commence with a subdued tone, drawing the listeners closer, compelling them to lean in attentively and be hooked onto his every word.
Why did a significant percentage of Germans support Hitler?
Aside from Hitler position himself as the only person capable of stopping the communists from taking over the country, there were other reasons why many Germans supported him. As stated, Germany in the late 1920s and early 1930s was staring deep into an economic abyss. Poverty, insecurity, unemployment and any other conceivable social and cultural ill were on the rise.
The infrastructure in the country was nothing to write home about. To many Germans at the time, Hitler was the most capable person to get the country back on track. However, hardly was there anyone at the time who foresaw Hitler’s rule going to such dictatorial and fanatical extent.
What was the conflict between the Nazis and the communists like?
The Nazis won the political as well as the street battles against the Communists. From then onwards, the goal was to root out the causes and culprits of Germany’s humiliation at the hands of the Allies in 1919. They simply wanted to purge society of its weaknesses.
Under Hitler’s leadership, this deranged objective was pushed so far that concentration camps or gas chambers were setup to get rid of opponents, so called “deviants” and ethnic minorities. Carefully orchestrated propaganda made the latter, especially the Jews, as the profiteers of an emasculated Germany post WWI.
When exactly did Hitler gain absolute power?
The rise of the Nazi Party began after the capitulation of Germany in World War I and the eventual signing of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. Hitler, who positioned himself as the unquestionable leader of the far-right and anti-Semitic party, would spend the next decade campaigning viciously as the man to lift Germany out of its political and economic misery.
As a result, the Nazi Party did extremely well at the 1932 Presidential Election, becoming the largest party in the Reichstag. Hitler’s popularity had become simply too much to be ignored by the Weimer Republic President Hindenburg. Therefore, on January 30, 1933, Hindenburg appointed Hitler as the new chancellor of Germany.
His reign of absolute began sometime after the passage of the Enabling Act of 1933. With the death of Hindenburg in 1934, Hitler proceeded to merge the offices of President and Chancellor into an absolute position so to speak. He became the “Führer”, which means “the leader” in German.
How old was Hitler when he was appointed Chancellor?
Adolf Hitler was 43 years when he appointed Chancellor of Germany by then-President of Germany Paul von Hindenburg. His appointment led to the end replacement of the relatively stable and democratic Weimer Republic with the Nazi regime. The Weimer Republic, which was the first constitutional federal republic in Germany, was in existence for about 14 years – from November 1918 to March 1933.
What was the Enabling Act of 1933?
Passed on March 23, 1933, the act, which was officially titled ‘Law to Remedy the Distress of People and Reich (Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich), gave Chancellor Hitler the powers to make laws without going through parliament or the president of the republic.
Basically, all the checks and balances in the Weimer Constitution were sidelined. Hitler, who served as a corporal in World War I, became absolute ruler of Germany, and his word was considered above all written law. The German term for this is Führerprinzip. The principle requires every government official and individual in the country to work towards the accomplishment of the Führer’s goals.
With full confidence in him, many Germans at the time eagerly followed his vision for the country which he spewed with impeccably prepared rhetoric.
In the nutshell, the Enabling Act of 1933 required Germans to have unquestioning obedience to Hitler’s vision for Germany and the rest of Europe.
What was Hitler’s salary as Chancellor of Germany?
Upon assuming the role of Chancellor, Hitler publicly declared his intention to forego a salary and donate it entirely to charitable causes. However, unbeknownst to the general public, behind the scenes, he was benefiting from undisclosed payments and reimbursements from the German taxpayer, amounting to millions of Reichsmarks annually.
For instance, he instructed the German Post Office to feature his image on postage stamps. In return for this privilege, the Post Office paid him a substantial royalty of several millions of Reichsmarks.
Additionally, as a state-funded initiative, every German couple receiving a marriage certificate was provided with a complimentary copy of his 1925 autobiographical manifesto Mein Kampf, with Hitler receiving royalties amounting to more than a million Reichsmarks in 1933 alone. It is estimated that his earnings from the book totaled approximately RM 7.8 million (equivalent to €35 million in 2021), and the majority of these copies were not acquired voluntarily.
Moreover, the state covered the expenses associated with Hitler’s opulent residence, the Berghof in Berchtesgaden, along with his three private aircraft, fleet of cars, and personal train.
Why couldn’t any German stop Hitler?
There were a small percentage of the German population that collaborated with the Allies to bring an end to Hitler’s brutal reign. Outside of the battlefield, some of those measures involved a number of assassination attempts on the dictator’s life.
However, in almost all those attempts, the Führer emerged unscathed. It’s been estimated that there were more than 35 attempts to kill Hitler. In one instance, the timer attached to the bomb aimed at Hitler got frozen, resulting in the Nazi leader escaping with his life.
How did Hitler become the Führer when he was not even born in Germany?
Adolf Hitler was born on April 20, 1889 to Austrian parents. His exact place of birth was at at Salzburger Vorstadt 15 in Braunau am Inn, a town in Upper Austria. The state lies on the border with Germany. His parents were Alois Hitler and Klara Hitler. The former was stationed in Braunau am Inn as a customs official. Hitler was around three when his family moved to the Lower Bavarian city of Passau (aka Dreiflüssestadt). This explains why he had a distinctive lower Bavarian dialect instead of an Austrian German.
After his participation in the failed Beer Hall Putsch in November 1923, he was arrested for high treason. He was slapped with a five-year prison sentence in April the following year. However, less than a year into his incarceration at Landsberg Prison in the southwest of the state of Bavaria, he was given a pardon by the Bavarian Supreme Court. He was released on December 20, 1924.
In spite of his early release, it’s safe to say that the German government wanted nothing to do with such a radical political agitator as Hitler. Therefore, attempts were made by the Bavarian government to deport Hitler to his country of birth, Austria.
However, his own country rejected him, with the Austrian federal chancellor office stating that grounds that his service in the Germany Army in WWI made his Austrian citizenship void. Hitler responded by formally renouncing his Austrian citizenship on April 7, 1925.
For the next seven years, he was stateless. As a result, he could not run for public office. On February 25, 1932, Dietrich Klagges (aka Rudolf Berg), senior Brunswick minister and a known associate of Hitler, appointed Hitler as an administrator for a foreign delegation to the Reichsrat (i.e. the upper house of the Germany’s parliament). By so doing, Hitler became a citizen of Brunswick and by extension Germany.
That same year, Hitler contested the 1932 German presidential election against incumbent Paul von Hindenburg. The leader of the Nazi Party (the National Socialist German Workers Party) pulled about 36% of the votes.
Despite Hindenburg winning a second seven-year term, the Nazi Party, under Hitler’s leadership, went on to secure huge gains in two successive federal elections later that year. This made the Nazi Party the largest in the Reichstag.
A year later, Hitler was appointed Chancellor. And upon the death of Hindenburg in 1934 as well as with the help of acts passed by the Reichstag, Hitler was able combine the chancellorship (Reichskanzler) with the presidency (Reichspräsident) and become the Führer und Reichskanzler (the Führer and Chancellor of the Reich).
How did Hitler’s rise to power change Europe?
The ascent of Hitler in Germany in 1933 marked a decisive juncture in European history. The erosion of democratic principles, intertwined with a combination of economic adversities, political upheaval, Hitler’s compelling leadership, and the pervasive impact of manipulative propaganda, culminated in his successful seizure of power.
This momentous event fundamentally altered the course of German and global history, leaving an indelible impact on the trajectory of both. Simply put, Europe and the rest of the world suffered immensely as a result of Hitler coming to wield absolute power in Germany.
It is said that President Hindenburg, who absolutely disliked the Nazi Party, was opposed to giving the chancellorship to Hitler. However, he was convinced by former chancellor Papen and his own son Oskar von Hindenburg. The two men hoped that by filling Hitler’s coalition cabinet with conservatives, Hitler’s radicalism could be quelled.
Boy were they dead wrong! Hitler and his Nazi Party completely understood the intentions of Hindenburg’s allies. Therefore, he ordered his paramilitary group to eliminate all forms of opposition, especially the conservatives, in a reign of terror that came to be called the Night of Long Knives in 1934. The few conservatives that survived in Hitler’s cabinet became bureaucrats.
Who succeeded Hitler following Nazi Germany’s defeat in WWII?
The title of Fuehrer, which was legally a combination of the offices of Chancellor (head of government) and President (head of state) died with Hitler.
In Hitler’s Political Testament, he named Grand Admiral Karl Doenitz as the new President of the Reich. Joseph Goebbels succeeded Hitler as Chancellor, but only served in the office for roughly 24 hours (30 April-1 May 1945) before committing suicide himself on May 1, 1945.
What the above means Hitler was the only one to hold the title of Führer in Germany – a position which combined the presidency and the chancellorship. Also, the entire military leadership of Germany swore allegiance to Hitler alone.
Who was Hitler’s second in command?
For quite some time, it was Heinrich L. Himmler, the commander of the SS – i.e. the Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel (Protection Squadron; SS). Infamous for ordering the deaths of more than six million Jews, Himmler is said to have increased the size of the SS from few hundred men to in 1929 to more than million during WWII.
Realizing that Germany had its back to the wall in the war, Himmler tried to negotiate a peace deal with the western Allies. He did so without the approval of his boss, Hitler. As a result, he was relieved from his duties. An order was issued for his arrest; however, he managed to go into hiding. While evading capture, he fell into the hands of the British. On May 23, 1945, Himmler would commit suicide while being held by British forces.
In 1939, Hitler tapped Hermann Göring as his successor. Göring was the president of the Reichstag from 1932 to 1945. As a matter of fact, he was the one who created the Gestapo (i.e. the Geheime Staatspolizei), the official secret police of Nazi Germany. He was undoubtedly a very powerful individual in the Nazi regime, only behind Hitler. He also served as the commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe (air force) from 1935 to 1945. He had a slight fallout with Hitler after Germany suffered a number of setbacks against the Allied forces. His biggest fallout with his boss came in April 1945, when he requested that Hitler hand over the leadership of the Reich to him. Although the German Führer was contemplating committing suicide, he still went ahead to perceive Goring’s request as an act of treason. As a result, Goring was fired from all his positions, expelled from the Nazi Party, and then an order for his arrest was issued.
After Goring, Joseph Goebbels, chief propagandist for the Nazi regime from 1933 to 1945, was seen as Hitler’s successor. This was contained in Hitler’s will. Goebbels, a skilled orator infamous for his virulent antisemitism, became Chancellor of Germany on April 30. He served for just a day as he and his family, including his six children, committed suicide.
From 1933 to 1934, Hitler’s Vice Chancellor was Franz von Papen, the conservative politician who was tasked to keep tabs on Hitler by the conservative politicians. Hitler and his allies were quick to catch on to moves by Papen.
The conservative-dominated cabinet of Hitler were sidelined and eliminated by the Nazi Party. Papen was fortunate to survive the Night of the Long Knives in 1934. He went on to serve in a number of diplomatic roles, including serving as ambassador to Austria from 1934 to 1938.
Where did the word “Nazi” come from?
It turns out that Adolf Hitler and his National Socialists (i.e. Nationale-Sozialisten Deutsche Arbeiter Partei) did not refer to themselves as “Nazis”. Interestingly, the word “Nazi” was a kind of snarky remark or insult for a Bavarian peasant who was not educated. Hitler’s party and sympathizers were called Nazis by their political opponents, especially the German communists. The “Na” was taken from the “Nationale”, while the “zi” was taken from “sozialisten”.
Where did the “Mein Führer” salute come from?
The salute is said to have become very popular after 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor. The dictator’s followers used the salute as a means to show the bond that existed between the German people and Hitler.
Was Hitler the only one to hold the position of Führer in German history?
Yes, he was also the last one to hold that position. It turns out that the title Führer was given to Hitler beginning around the time he became leader of the Nazi Party.
Having consolidated power in such a ruthlessly cunning manner, Hitler styled himself as Führer – a position that combined the presidency and chancellorship. It is often the case that in many totalitarian dictatorships, after the supreme leader or their brutal regime is defeated or toppled, their successors don’t get wield the same amount of supreme power. This is why no German to this day has held the position Führer.
So, for example, were the socialist regime in North Korea collapse, it would be very unlikely for someone to succeed to Kim Jong Un and become the supreme commander (i.e. Comrade Supreme Commander). It is often the case that the successor of supreme leader lacks the ability to sustain an absolute power; hence, he/she engages in a power-sharing – almost similar to what happened after the deaths of Joseph Stalin of the USSR and Mao Zedong of the PRC (People’s Republic of China).
What do Germans think of Hitler today?
In German schools, the history of Hitler and World War II is taught extensively, nearly every day, as a reminder of the atrocities that occurred. Towns and cities are adorned with landmarks and memorials, serving as poignant reminders of the past.
Notably, in front of houses once inhabited by Jewish residents, plaques display their names, memorializing those who lived there and the individuals who tragically perished after being forcibly transported on trains. These plaques are embedded in the sidewalks, right in front of the respective houses.
Germans openly acknowledge the grave actions of their past, expressing deep remorse for the atrocities committed during that dark period. They are resolute in their determination to ensure such horrors are never repeated.
The German people, recognized as compassionate and empathetic, actively reject prejudice and discrimination, standing firm against any form of bigotry. Their commitment to learning from history and building a more inclusive society serves as a testament to their admirable character.
Sure, there is a minute percentage that adore the dictator to this day. But generally speaking the vast majority of Germany loath him for all the atrocities he unleashed upon his country and the world. Basically, they see Hitler as a deranged person who betrayed their trust. Hitler had promised his country salvation but ultimately delivered damnation through his totalitarian reign of terror.
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