Third Reich Day by Day: March 1933

The Nazis gained power via the ballot box, and some political dealings. But once in power Hitler quickly consolidated his control over the German state. New laws were introduced giving him dictatorial power, their passage made easier by the Reichstag fire in February. From then on, Nazi Germany became a centrally controlled totalitarian regime.

5 March

Germany, Elections

Hitler, Germany’s new chancellor, photographed in Berlin in March 1933. To his right stands Papen, to his left, Goebbels.
Hitler, Germany’s new chancellor, photographed in Berlin in March 1933. To his right stands Papen, to his left, Goebbels.

Reichstag elections; the Nazis win a working majority. The Nazis poll 17,277,180 votes out of a total of 39,343,300. This is an increase of 5.5 million votes since the last election but still less than a majority. However, with the help of the Nationalists the Nazis can add an additional 52 seats to their own 288, giving them a majority of 17. The Nazis set about filling local and state government posts with their supporters, while Göring declares that there is no longer any need for individual state governments. Using the state of emergency decree, the Nazis slowly take control of Germany with “planned terror”.

The procedure was simple but effective: local SA and SS groups would start violent protests and unrest, which would be followed by the appointment of Nazi Reich commissioners who would take over local governments in order to restore order. During this period suspects were rounded up and herded into abandoned army and police barracks, where they were beaten and tortured. They were then sent to camps, which later would become infamous as concentration camps. Those rounded up were mostly social democrats and communists, and of course Jews. Most of the first concentration camps sprung up near Berlin, though the one at Dachau was near Munich in the south.

When Hitler came to power in 1933, the most pressing economic problem was high unemployment (it totalled over five million in 1933). Those on the socialist side of the Nazi Party pushed for nationalization and state control. Hitler, however, had no intention of dismantling large industrial enterprises that would be useful for his war economy. To reassure big business, Hitler brought into his government a former president of the Reichsbank and a brilliant economist, Hjalmar Schacht, to run the economy. Nazi economic theory was slender and therefore Hitler turned to Schacht, who had resigned in 1930 in protest at reparation repayments and turned to the Nazis. “I desire a great and strong Germany and to achieve it I would enter an alliance with the Devil,” Schacht exclaimed.

12 March

Nazi Party, Ideology

Baldur von Schirach, Reich Youth Leader. Once the Nazis came to power he sought to re-educate youth in the spirit of Nazism.
Baldur von Schirach, Reich Youth Leader. Once the Nazis came to power he sought to re-educate youth in the spirit of Nazism.
"Sepp" Dietrich (centre), the commander of the SS Stabswache Berlin, Hitler’s bodyguard.

Hitler speaks on Gleichschaltung, “the Co-ordination of the Political Will”. Hitler is determined to fuse every element of German national life into the Nazi social machine. This will have two consequences: first, the consolidation of his dictatorship; second, the eradication of organizations with differing political views.

17 March

Nazi Party, Organization

With Hitler’s coming to power in January 1933, he decided that he was in need of a Praetorian Guard. The state protection rendered by the Reichswehr or police elements cannot, in his eyes, be entirely replied upon. Europe is a hotbed of plot and coup which he himself had been party to, so the Fatherland itself must be seen as suspect. Without delay Hitler decrees that there be formed a new full-time armed SS unit whose primary role would be exclusively to escort him wherever he was in Germany. “Sepp” Dietrich, one of Hitler’s closest associates, is entrusted with the formation of the unit. Dietrich undertakes the task with zeal. By March 17, 1933, the embryo of a new Headquarters Guard named the SS Stabswache Berlin was founded. It comprised 120 hand-picked volunteers, of whom some were former members of the Stosstrupp Adolf Hitler and whose loyalty to the Führer was unswerving. They were garrisoned in the Alexander Barracks on Friedrichstrasse and lightly armed with rifles, bayonets and pistols.

Two months later the unit was reformed as the SS Sonderkommando Zossen and enlarged with three training companies. The terms of engagement for the unit were expanded and the unit could now be employed for armed police and anti-terrorist activities, as well as the guard duties it already undertook. There was another metamorphosis during the proceeding months when a further three companies were formed as the SS Sonderkommando Jüterbog. This was the beginning of a unit that would become one of the greatest fighting formations in the German armed forces: the Leibstandarte.

21 March

Politics, Germany

The new National Socialist Reichstag opens in the Kroll Opera House after the Reichstag building itself had been burnt down. To their eternal credit, the German people still did not give Hitler a majority in the elections, which took place in the first week of March. By then the Nazis were beyond any constitutional refinement and any communist and social democrat deputies who turned up for duty at the Kroll Opera House were simply arrested. Once they were out of the way, the Nazis and their allies had the necessary two-thirds majority to effect major constitutional change. Only one thing still commanded Hitler’s respect: the German Army and its loyalty to Hindenburg.

Before opening the new Reichstag session Hitler lays on a service in the garrison church at Potsdam, shrine of the old Prussian Army, which is attended by the Brownshirts, Nazi deputies and high-ranking officers of the Kaiser’s regime in a show of continuity between the old and new nationalist ideas. As a climax to this display Hitler makes an obsequious tribute to Hindenburg to keep the old soldier content. He then speeds back to Berlin to start the business of dealing with his remaining lesser opponents.

21 March

Politics, Reichstag

The Nazi-controlled Reichstag opens. Decrees are passed on a general amnesty for all Nazis who committed offences during the so-called “struggle”. On the other hand, punitive measures are introduced against malicious gossip. Finally, the setting up of a special court, the “People’s Court”, is approved. This is set up in Berlin to deliver quick verdicts for accused traitors of the Third Reich, though impartiality appears well down the list.

22 March

Germany, Legal

Enabling Law is passed, giving special powers to Chancellor Hitler for four years. In essence the law provides the constitutional foundation for dictatorship. It gives the Nazis the right to pass laws without the consent of the Reichstag, to deviate from the constitution, to conclude treaties with foreign powers, and to place the right of issuing a law into the hands of the chancellor. Hitler said in 1932: “Once we have power, we will never surrender it unless we are carried out of our offices as corpses.” It appears he means to honour his chilling pledge. The fact that the communists have already been eliminated from the Reichstag means the passing of the law is a mere formality.

23 March

Politics, Reichstag

The surviving deputies to the Reichstag attend the Kroll Opera House to sanction an Enabling Bill to give Hitler supreme, untrammelled power. To make sure that all deputies have a rough grasp of the way they are expected to vote, the building has been surrounded and packed inside and out with ranks of SA and SS, who keep up a menacing chant demanding blood if the bill does not go through. With amazing courage, Otto Wels, leader of the Social Democratic Party, rises to oppose the bill, although he is alone and defenceless and the baying of the stormtroopers could be clearly heard in the chamber. The last pretences are abandoned, as Hitler leaps to his feet and screams at Wels that his death-knell had sounded. The bill is then hurriedly passed by an enormous majority. From this moment on Germany is a dictatorship.

29 March

Germany, Legal

Lex van der Lubbe gives retrospective sanction to execution by hanging for arson.

31 March

Germany, Legal

First Coordination Law of States and Reich establishes new state and local assemblies, with membership in the same proportions as the Reichstag parties, i.e. a Nazi majority.

Thousands are rounded up and put into camps by police and the “auxiliary police”, the SA. Dachau concentration camp is opened. SA troops in all states force state government resignations; the Bavarian state government is suppressed. Epp is appointed new Nazi Governor in Bavaria with Himmler as State Police President.