The Reichstag Fire and the Enabling Act
World War 2. How was it, that the world traversed the path to warfare for the second time within a period of just 21 years? The simple answer, amongst other things, can be stated with just one word; Nazism. The more important question, is how was it possible that the most ruthless and radical dictator of the 20th Century, debatably history, managed to seize so much control of a seemingly democratic state? On a grand scale, Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP successfully exploited several opportunities open to them during the 1920’s, namely after their agenda shift from a revolutionary renegade militia to a legal democratic party… that was still quite revolutionary and malicious in its way. "If out-voting them takes longer than out-shooting them, at least the result would be guaranteed by their own constitution...Any lawful process is slow...Sooner or later we shall have a majority — and after that, Germany" became Hitler’s adopted opinion throughout the latter half of the decade, and set about doing this through increased propaganda, national rallies and the highly successful Hitler Youth Programme, influencing the younger generations to gain a pro-Nazism perspective on life, more often than not emulated by their parents. Into the 1930’s, Nazism escalated in several forms, but perhaps most famously the one event regarded by historians as the defining moment of the campaign was the Reichstag fire, 27th February 1933. On this day, the historical edifice built in 1894 was set ablaze, leaving the skeletal remains of German democracy embodied by its own governing landmark, apparently by no other than a psychologically challenged Dutch man by the name of Marinus van der Lubbe.
Of course, this traumatic event would co-incidentally play out very well for the national socialist party; not only was fear struck into the people, the government in disarray and the Nazi influence already strong, van der lubbe had supposed communist motives for burning down the Reich, to which the Nazis preached the fire was symbolic of what the red peril would bring to the country. The Chancellor chose to put the country under martial law, until the communist threat was removed. There is strong evidence to suggest that SA foot soldiers were directly involved in the fire, by utilising underground tunnels to the Reich, they were said to have ignited the main hall of the building, leaving van der lubbe to be caught. Van Der lubbe was to have achieved the Reichstag fire with just a shirt and a box of matches, but the Nazis quickly disregarded the idea they were exploiting van der lubbe, by bringing documents to the forefront of his arson background from Prussian archives and projected burn rates of the bone dry material in the Reich. Nevertheless, the quick and effective Nazi depiction of the communists as a disease plaguing Germany was set to bring the Nazis an overwhelming majority, but they still failed to win an overall victory in the election on 5th March, 1933. The NSDAP received 43.9% of the vote and only 288 seats out of the available 647. The increase in the Nazi vote was primarily from catholic rural areas that feared atheistic communism. The fire had been useful largely for the Nazis as they could now attack the majority of communists; many were in concentration camps, in hiding or had left the county, which was true largely for the SDP.
Hitler then proposed an Enabling Bill which would provide him with dictatorial powers, but to do this he would need 75% of the members in the Reichstag to vote in its favour. To do this, Hitler would need the support of the Catholic Centre Party to pass legislation, so he struck a deal with the party: vote for the bill and the Nazi government would guarantee the rights of the Catholic Church. The BVP agreed and when the vote was taken, only 94 members of the SDP voted against the Enabling Bill. Hitler was now a virtual dictator, and he was to act swiftly to disband trade unions to form the new union movement, the Labour Front and to ban communism which was followed by the outlawing of all other political parties, including the catholic centre party. By the end of 1933, 150,000 political prisoners were in concentration camps, and Hitler made sure no one heard anything of their experiences. The gestapo began to sweep the nation, also removing ‘undesirable’ characters in Germany. The Nazis now had the influence and power they sought, all that stood in their way now was Hindenburg.