Hitler Comes to Power
By 1933, Adolf Hitler was a well-known figure with widespread support. He did not seize power in Germany. Rather, a series of political and economic crises helped him rise to power legally.
On January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany by German President Paul von Hindenburg. Hitler was the leader of the Nazi Party. The full name of the Nazi Party was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. Its members were often called Nazis. The Nazis were radically right-wing, antisemitic, anticommunist, and antidemocratic.
There are some misconceptions about how Hitler came to power. It is important to understand that:
- Hitler did not seize power in a coup;
- and Hitler was not directly elected to power.
Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power through Germany’s legal political processes.
Hitler was appointed chancellor in 1933 because, at the time, the Nazi Party was popular in Germany. However, the Nazi Party was not always so popular. In fact, when the Nazi movement first began in the early 1920s, it was small, ineffective, and marginal.
What was Germany like in the early 1920s?
The early 1920s in Germany were a time of social, economic, and political unrest. This unrest was a direct result of World War I (1914–1918). Germany lost the war. As a result, the German Empire collapsed. It was replaced by a new democratic republic. This new German government was called the Weimar Republic. In June 1919, German leaders of the Weimar Republic were forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles. This treaty punished Germany for starting World War I.
In the early 1920s, the Weimar Republic (1918–1933) faced political and economic problems. Wartime devastation had resulted in an economic crisis. German war debts led to hyperinflation and the devaluation of currency.
There were also political movements that tried to overthrow the new government. They ranged from the far left to the far right on the political spectrum.
Their members were reacting to post World War I discontent in Germany. But they were also fostering and sowing more discontent, and sometimes even violence. One group that caused particular alarm was the German Communist Party. A much less prominent new political group was the Nazi Party.
What was the Nazi Party like in the 1920s?
The Nazi Party was one of many radical new political movements active in Germany during the early 1920s. The Nazi Party was based in the city of Munich. But the movement gained attention across Germany in November 1923. That month, the Nazis—led by Adolf Hitler—attempted to violently seize power. This failed coup is known as the Beer Hall Putsch.
Hitler and the Nazis changed tactics after they failed to overthrow the government by violence. Beginning in the mid-1920s, they focused their efforts on winning elections. But the Nazi Party did not immediately succeed in attracting voters. In 1928, the Nazi Party won less than 3 percent of the national vote in elections to the German parliament.
Beginning in 1930, however, the Nazi Party started to win more votes. Their success was largely the result of an economic and political crisis in Germany.
What was the German economic and political situation like in the early 1930s?
In the early 1930s, Germany was in an economic and political crisis.
Beginning in fall 1929, there was a world economic crisis known as the Great Depression. Millions of Germans lost their jobs. Unemployment, hunger, poverty, and homelessness became serious problems in Germany in the early 1930s.
The German government failed to solve the problems caused by the Great Depression. Germany was politically divided. This made passing new laws almost impossible because of disagreements in the German parliament. Many Germans lost faith in their leaders’ ability to govern.
Radical political groups like the Nazi Party and the Communist Party became more prominent. They took advantage of the economic and political chaos. They used propaganda to attract Germans who were fed up with the political stalemate.
How did Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party attract voters in the early 1930s?
Germany held parliamentary elections in September 1930. This was almost a year into the Great Depression. The Nazis won 18 percent of the vote. This shocked some Germans, especially those who recognized that the Nazis were an extremist, fringe political movement.
Adolf Hitler and the Nazis won followers by promising to create a strong Germany. The Nazis promised to
- fix the economy and put people back to work;
- return Germany to the status of a great European, and even world, power;
- regain territory Germany had lost in World War I;
- create a strong authoritarian German government;
- and unite all Germans along racial and ethnic lines.
The Nazis played on people’s hopes, fears, and prejudices. They also offered scapegoats. They falsely claimed that Jews and Communists were to blame for Germany’s problems. This claim was part of the Nazis’ antisemitic and racist ideology.
How did Adolf Hitler come to power in 1933?
The Nazis continued to win over voters in the early 1930s. In the July 1932 parliamentary elections, the Nazis won 37 percent of the vote. This was more votes than any other party received. In November 1932, the Nazi share of the vote fell to 33 percent. However, this was still more votes than any other party won.
The Nazi Party’s electoral successes made it difficult to govern Germany without them. Hitler and the Nazis refused to work with other political parties. Hitler demanded to be appointed as chancellor. German President Paul von Hindenburg initially resisted this demand. However, he gave in and appointed Hitler as Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933.
Hindenburg appointed Hitler to this position as the result of a political deal. Certain conservative politicians convinced President Hindenburg to make the appointment. They wanted to use the Nazi Party’s popularity for their own purposes. They mistakenly believed that they could control Hitler.
In January 1933, Hitler did not immediately become a dictator. When he became chancellor, Germany’s democratic constitution was still in effect. However, Hitler transformed Germany by manipulating the democratic political system. Hitler and other Nazi leaders used existing laws to destroy German democracy and create a dictatorship.
In August 1934, President Hindenburg died. Hitler proclaimed himself Führer (leader) of Germany. From that point forward, Hitler was the dictator of Germany.
June 28, 1919
Treaty of Versailles
Germany loses World War I in November 1918. Germans are shocked and horrified. Many people, including Adolf Hitler, refuse to believe that the loss is real. They falsely blame Jews and Communists for Germany’s defeat.
This shock is intensified in June 1919, when Germany is forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty makes Germany accept responsibility for the war. Many Germans feel that the Treaty’s terms are too harsh. Germany has to make huge payments for damage caused by the war (war reparations). Also, according to the Treaty, the German army is limited to 100,000 troops. Finally, Germany is forced to transfer territory to its neighbors. The Nazi Party makes overturning the Treaty of Versailles a key part of its political platform. Many Germans welcome this Nazi promise.
November 8–9, 1923
Beer Hall Putsch
In the early 1920s, the Nazi Party is a small extremist group. They hope to seize power in Germany by force. On November 8–9, 1923, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party attempt to overthrow the government of the state of Bavaria. They begin at a beer hall in the city of Munich. The plotters hope to march on Berlin. But they fail miserably. The Munich police kill more than a dozen of Hitler’s supporters. Hitler and others are arrested, tried, and convicted of treason. This attempted coup d'état is called the Beer Hall Putsch.
The failure of the Beer Hall Putsch encourages Nazi leaders to change their strategy. Instead of using force, the Nazis focus on winning elections.
October 24 and 29, 1929
Stock market crash in New York
The stock market crashes in New York and sparks a worldwide economic crisis. This crisis is called the Great Depression. By the end of the 1920s, the American and German economies have become closely intertwined. This economic connection is a direct result of financial negotiations relating to World War I reparations payments. Thus, the stock market crash impacts Germany almost overnight. In Germany, about six million people are unemployed by June 1932. These economic conditions make Nazi promises more attractive to voters.