How was Hitler towards his country?

January 30, 1933: Hitler becomes Chancellor

On January 30, 1933, President Paul von Hindenburg appointed the chairman of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (NSDAP) and "leader" of the strongest parliamentary group, Adolf Hitler, as the new Reich Chancellor. Hitler was the sixth politician that Hindenburg had commissioned with the government since the beginning of his term in office in 1925 - and since 1930 he was the fourth Reich Chancellor in a row to lead a presidential cabinet without a parliamentary majority. Against this background, what looked like a routine matter in the daily political business of the Weimar Republic, which was ravaged by economic and social crises, soon turned out to be the most momentous decision by Hindenburg and the most dramatic political turning point in German history of the 20th century.

In the Reichstag election on July 31, 1932, the NSDAP received the most votes with 37.4 percent. Strengthened by this election success, Hitler uncompromisingly demanded all the political power that Hindenburg still denied him in the summer of 1932. Based on the emergency ordinance law of the Reich President, Franz von Papen remained in office, but his cabinet had no political backing. On the day of the opening of parliament, the majority of the representatives of the Reich government expressed their distrust: for Papen an expected verdict, with Hindenburg's order he dissolved the newly elected Reichstag. In the resulting Reichstag election on November 6, 1932, the NSDAP was indeed the strongest parliamentary force with 33.1 percent, but now it too was affected by the electoral fatigue of large parts of the population and lost two million votes.

Nevertheless, Hitler stuck to his "all-or-nothing strategy" and, with the support of influential bankers and industrialists, demanded chancellorship again in November 1932. In contrast, the hapless Papen had no noteworthy support in the economy, in the Reichstag or in the population. For Hindenburg this was reason enough to appoint Reichswehr Minister Kurt von Schleicher as the new Reich Chancellor on December 3, 1932. In his so-called cross-front concept, Schleicher intended to gain a broad base in the population through an alliance of the Reichswehr, professional organizations and the workers across the party system. However, when the trade unions refused to work with Reichswehr General Schleicher, his ambitious, but largely unrealistic concept had already failed at the beginning of January 1933.

Meanwhile, with the consent of Hindenburg, Papen conducted several exploratory negotiations with Hitler in order to return to the government. His plan to take over the office of Chancellor himself had to be postponed by Hitler's claim to leadership. The 85-year-old Reich President finally gave in to the urging of his advisors from politics and business and put his political and personal reservations about Hitler on the back burner. Papen in particular convinced Hindenburg that an NSDAP leader who was "framed" and neutralized by a conservative cabinet majority posed little danger as the bearer of government power. The appointment of Hitler as Reich Chancellor and the swearing-in of his cabinet on January 30, 1933 took place in a hectic atmosphere due to a rumor of an imminent military coup. Allegedly, with the arrest of Hindenburg, Schleicher planned to prevent Hitler from being appointed Reich Chancellor. This dispelled the President's last possible misgivings about Hitler's chancellorship.

"It's almost a dream. Wilhelmstrasse is ours," Joseph Goebbels noted in his diary on January 30, 1933. What the National Socialists strived for was nothing less than the complete political and social transformation of Germany. Too many Germans followed the NSDAP and also dreamed of a stable, transfigured alternative world to the economic crisis, party disputes and "democratic chaos" of the Weimar Republic. When Adolf Hitler announced the conclusion of the "National Socialist Revolution" at the Nazi Party Congress in September 1934, political, social and cultural life in Germany had actually changed in an almost revolutionary way in just 20 months. And for many Germans it actually seemed like a dream to be able to get back on their wages after years of crisis, fear of the future and unemployment and thus to have gained social prestige and self-confidence.

Social policy measures and institutions brought the Nazi regime just as sustained sympathy in the years that followed, as did foreign policy successes with which Hitler broke the "chains of Versailles" that were perceived as shameful and gradually lifted Germany up on par with other great powers. And even on fearful nights of bombing in air raid shelters or in the cold expanses of Russia during the war, an astonishing number of Germans remained loyal to the Nazi regime and the dream of a better future in Nazi Germany, which began on January 30, 1933. For hundreds of thousands, however, the date was the beginning of an imminent nightmare: A large-scale "catalog of measures" successively eliminated basic rights and, with unions and parties, the entire opposition. Politically dissenters and people who did not conform to the Nazi racial ideal were persecuted and disenfranchised and crammed into newly built concentration camps. If they survived, their ordeal often did not end until the spring of 1945.

From 1933 onwards, people fled National Socialist Germany en masse to save their lives or to continue to be artistically or politically active. They often left large gaps in a country where social diversity was systematically destroyed.

© German Historical Museum, Berlin