What the Nazi leader’s path to power looked like
President Hindenburg initially refused to appoint Hitler as Chancellor and placed von Papen in the post. In the meantime, the escalating situation had almost degenerated into civil war.
The crisis of the Republic deepened in the autumn of 1932. After the newly elected parliament was dissolved in September, another election was held in November, the fifth of the year. The Nazis lost more than four per cent, but remained the strongest party.
However, Hindenburg was still unwilling to appoint Hitler as Chancellor. The existing Reich Minister of Defence, Kurt von Schleicher, therefore persuaded the President to appoint him as Chancellor. He believed that he, unlike Papen, could get the NSDAP to participate in his government. However, he was deeply mistaken in this.
On 4 January, Hitler and Papen held a historic secret meeting at which further developments were sketched out. On 30 January 1933, Hindenburg, having made his opposition to what he was doing sufficiently clear (he was acting under the pressure of circumstances and his surroundings), appointed Hitler as Reich Chancellor.
The next course of action had already been agreed upon by the main protagonists – Hitler formed a coalition government, with von Papen as Vice-Chancellor, which was composed mainly of conservative politicians. After that, events took a rapid turn. On the night of 27-28 February, the Reichstag was set on fire, with the Dutch Communist Lubbe being branded the arsonist.
Immediately on 28 February, the ‚Ordinance for the Protection of Nation and State‘ (the ‚Reichstag Fire Ordinance‘) was issued, suspending all fundamental rights under the German constitution. In the following days, all parties except the NSDAP suffered the same fate, and a law was passed forbidding the formation of new parties.
At the height of power
The final stage was the liquidation of the intra-party opposition. During the Night of the Long Knives (29-30 August 1934), the SS murdered several hundred people on Hitler’s direct orders (although Hitler had announced the death of 77 „enemies of the Fatherland“). Under the pretext of an alleged pending SA coup, prominent SA leaders were murdered.
When President Hindenburg died on August 2, 1934, Hitler officially declared the end of the Republic and the beginning of the „millennial“ Third Reich. He assumed the presidency (becoming, among other things, Commander-in-Chief of the Army) and combined it with the office of Reich Chancellor, whereupon he declared himself Führer of the German people.