The Rise of the Nazi Party
The Rise of the Nazi Party



The rise of the Nazi Party in Germany during the 1920s and 30s resulted in the development of a fascist military dictatorship that would attempt to dominate Europe under what became known as the 3rd Reich. Hitler's 3rd Reich was based on his beliefs of a continuation of the 1st (Holy Roman Empire under Charlemagne 768- 1807) and 2nd (Bismarck 1871- 1918) Reich. Hitler also published a range of philosophical principles that would later guide his government's policies and result in the deaths of 60 million people during World War II. These casualties include over 40 million civilians, of which 6 million were Jewish people of occupied territories who were specifically targeted by the Nazi SS after the Wannsee Conference in 1942.

The failure of successive chancellors to deal with Germany's economy during the Great Depression (1929) led to an increase in the popularity of Hitler's Nazi Party as they campaigned on a protest vote in the general elections leading up to 1932. The Nazi Party were able to appeal to a broad audience in the German working middle and wealthy middle classes during the Depression because most had lost their savings in the hyperinflation of 1923. Large amounts of foreign loans in Germany led to a huge foreign account deficit and even though by 1930 the Dawes and Young Plans had seen the repayment of over 6 billion pounds in war debts from WWI, Germany had borrowed over 10 billion pounds from foreign banks. These loans were highly successful in assisting with the repayments and by 1930, Germany was again the most productive industrialised nation in Europe.  The Wall St. stock market crash in November 1929 led to a reduction in cash flow in the U. S. banks and they sought to recall all their loans and reduce spending. After the collapse of the Muller government in 1930, Bruning attempted to reign in spending by cutting the amount of government salary positions and freezing wages. An important example of the popularity of the Nazi economic campaign for the protest vote is Albert Speer who would attend a Nazi Party meeting in 1931 after losing his job as a university tutor after Bruning's expenditure cuts. These domestic economic policies were highly unpopular and led to an increase in the popularity of the Nazi Party. The inability for the government to form a majority in the Reichstag resulted in the need for Presidential Decrees under Article 48 of the constitution and a reduction in the legitimacy of the democratic nature of the Republic.

The Nazi Party's propaganda campaign was attractive to Germans who were convinced that the current Republic needed restructuring into a new Nationalist Socialist economy that was self sufficient and free of foreign debt. Hitler's Nazi ideals about tearing up the Treaty of Versailles (cancelling war repayments), uniting all German speaking peoples and expanding German living space to the east appealed to the anger that Germans and Austrians felt at their unfair treatment from the League of Nations. This anger reached a peak in 1931 when the German- Austrian 'free trade agreement' was banned by the League after French protests. The reduction in tariffs (taxes) from the agreement would have increased trade between Germany and Austria and helped cash flow in the depression stricken economies of both nations. This failure of foreign policy is argued to have been the final straw in the failure of the Weimar Republic. Unemployment in Germany soared to 33.7% in 1931 despite US President Hoover organising 15 nations to participate in a war debt moratorium in July. Unemployment continued to rise to 40% in 1932 despite the savings from Bruning's cost cutting measures and political violence reached a crisis as Bruning attempted to make a coalition government with Hitler without giving the him any authority. Bruning's popularity decreased further when in April 1932, he banned both the communist "Rotfrontkämpferbund" and the Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA) in an attempt to prevent the growth of the Nazis.

Bruning resigned his government in May 1932 after being politically attacked by the Prussian Junkers (landowners) because of his policy of redistributing land to the unemployed workers. In June 1932 at the Lusanne Conference the Allies agreed to cancel the repayments but the US congress failed to ratify the agreement and the repayment plan defaulted to the Young Plan. This failure again decreased the economic legitimacy of the Weimar government and in July 1932 the Nazi Party increased their percentage of votes in the general elections to 37.4%.


Federal election results

Date Votes (in thousands) Percentage Seats in Reichstag Background
May 1924 1,918.3 6.5 32 Hitler in prison
December 1924 907.3 3.0 14 Hitler is released from prison
May 1928 810.1 2.6 12  
September 1930 6,409.6 18.3 107 After the financial crisis
July 1932 13,745.8 37.4 230  
November 1932 11,737.0 33.1 196  
March 1933 17,277.0 43.9 288 After Hitler had become Chancellor


The Nazi campaign on the protest vote had worked and when in June 1932 Hindenburg appointed Von Papen, he called for new elections in November to try to install a majority coalition to govern the unstable democracy. Von Papen lifted the ban on the SA in an attempt to gain Nazi support for himself but he quickly became unpopular and failed to form a majority government. The Nazi Party lost 34 seats in the November election but Von Papen was unable to gain a majority and was forced to resign in December. Von Papan's successor, Schleicher was also unable to form a coalition and Von Papen sought to undermine Schleicher by asking HIndenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor. Despite Hindenburg's dislike for Hitler, the assurances of Von Papen that Hitler would remain a minor influence, convinced Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor on 30th January 1933.

Schleicher would later be assassinated on June 30 1934 (The Night of the Long Knives) because of his attempts to negotiate the return of the House of Hohenzollern and on July 13 Hitler justified his actions to the Reichstag by accusing Schleicher and Ernst Röhm of conspiracy to overthrow the government. The Nazi Party had officially taken power although the debate remains about the legitimacy and legality of the campaign of terror and political violence that the SA waged to suppress their opposition. This campaign of terror and violence also demonstrates the Nazi methodology that can be used as evidence in the argument that it was them and not a lone communist sympathiser that started the Reichstag Fire on 27th February 1933. The Nazis are thought to be responsible for destroying the Reichstag not only because of their violent methods in the lead up to Hitler becoming Chancellor but also because of the harsh restrictions imposed by The Reichstag Fire Decree  or the Order of the Reich's President for the Protection of People and State. The new laws enabled the Nazi Party to violently crush and imprison tier main opposition - the Communist Party. Hitler called for new elections in March 1933 and Nazi success saw the Enabling Act passed on 23rd March 1933.

Though the Act had formally given legislative powers to the government as a whole, these powers were for all intents and purposes exercised by Hitler himself; as Joseph Goebbels wrote shortly after the passage of the Enabling Act: "The authority of the Führer has now been wholly established. Votes are no longer taken. The Führer decides. All this is going much faster than we had dared to hope". The Social Democrats became the 2nd political party to be banned on 22nd June 1933 and following this, the Nazi government banned the formation of new parties on 14 July 1933, turning Germany into a one-party state


Further reading:


Download a powerpoint presentation about Hitler's rise to power

or watch the slideshow here


Some more notes about Hitler's foreign policy


A map of Hitler's foreign policy


Hitler's ideas expressed in Mein Kampf


The Wall St Crash


The Weimar Republic 1918- 33


The Weimar Constitution powerpoint presentation


The Weimar parliament


The Weimar Republic article




Laws and decrees issued by Hitler in the first year of his Chancellory:



The Law to Combat the Crisis of the People and State - March 24, 1933


The Law for the restoration of the Civil service - April 7, 1933


First Decree for the Execution of the Law for Restoration of the Civil Service - April 11, 1933


Decree Concerning the Tasks of the Ministery for public Enlightenment and Propaganda - June 30, 1933


Law Concerning the Perpetuation of Inheritable Diseases - July 14, 1933


Hereditary Farm Laws - September 29, 1933


Law to regulate national Labor - January 20, 1934


One year after his appointment as Chancellor by Hindenburg:


Law for the Reorganisation of the Reich - January 30, 1934.


The text of the above law is as follows:


Article 1: The popular assemblies of the states are hereby abolished


Article 2: (1) The sovereign rights of the states are hereby transferred to the Reich

Article 2: (2) The governments of the states are subordinate to the Reich government


Article 3: The Federal Governors of the states are subject to the supervision of teh Reich Minister of Interior


Article 4: The Reich government may lay down new constitutional laws


Article 5: The Reich Minister of the Interior is to issue the necessary legal decrees and administrative measures for the carrying out of this law


Article 6: This law becomes effective on the day it is promulgated



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