By the summer of 1934, the elderly German President,
Paul von Hindenburg, lay close to death at his country estate in East Prussia.
He had been in failing health for several months, thus giving Adolf Hitler
and the Nazis ample opportunity to make plans to capitalize on his demise.
Reich Chancellor Hitler planned to use President
Hindenburg's death as an opportunity to seize total power in Germany by
elevating himself to the position of Führer, or absolute leader, of
the German nation and its people.
On August 2, 1934, at 9 a.m., the long awaited
death of 87 year old Hindenburg finally occurred. Within hours, Hitler
and the Nazis announced the following law, dated as of August 1...
"The Reich Government has enacted the following
law which is hereby promulgated.
Section 1. The office of Reich President will be combined with that
of Reich Chancellor. The existing authority of the Reich President will
consequently be transferred to the Führer and Reich Chancellor, Adolf
Hitler. He will select his deputy.
Section 2. This law is effective as of the time of the death of
Reich President von Hindenburg."
Following the announcement of this (technically
illegal) law, the German Officers' Corps and every individual in the German
Army swore a personal oath of allegiance to Hitler.
A nationwide vote (plebiscite) was then scheduled
to give the German people a chance to express their approval of Hitler's
unprecedented new powers.
Meanwhile, Hindenburg's last will and testament
surfaced. Contrary to Hitler's intentions, Hindenburg's last wishes included
a desire for a return to a constitutional (Hohenzollern) monarchy. These
last wishes were contained in the form of a personal letter from Hindenburg
Hitler simply ignored this and likely destroyed
the letter, as it was not published and has never been found.
However, the Nazis did publish Hindenburg's alleged
political testament giving an account of his years of service with complimentary
references to Hitler. Although it was likely a forgery, it was used as
part of the Nazi campaign to get a large "Yes" vote for Hitler
in the coming plebiscite.
On August 19, about 95 percent of registered voters
in Germany went to the polls and gave Hitler 38 million votes of approval
(90 percent of the vote). Thus Adolf Hitler could claim he was Führer
of the German nation by direct will of the people. Hitler now wielded absolute
power in Germany, beyond that of any previous traditional head of state.
He had become, in effect, the law unto himself.
The next day, August 20, mandatory loyalty oaths
were introduced throughout the Reich...
Oath of loyalty for Public Officials:
"I swear: I shall be loyal and obedient to Adolf Hitler, the Führer
of the German Reich and people, respect the laws, and fulfill my official
duties conscientiously, so help me God."
Oath of loyalty for Soldiers of the Armed Forces:
'I swear by God this sacred oath: I will render unconditional obedience
to Adolf Hitler, the Führer of the German Reich and people, Supreme
Commander of the Armed Forces, and will be ready as a brave soldier to
risk my life at any time for this oath.'
These oaths were pledged to Hitler personally, not the German state
or constitution. And they were taken very
seriously by members of the German Officers' Corps with their traditional
minded codes of honor, which now elevated obedience to Hitler as a sacred
duty and effectively placed the German armed forces in the position of
being the personal instrument of Hitler.
(Years later, following the German defeat in World War Two, many German
officers unsuccessfully attempted to use the oath as a defense against
charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.)
In September, 1934, at the annual Nuremberg Nazi Party rallies, a euphoric
Hitler proclaimed, "The German form of life is definitely determined
for the next thousand years. The Age of Nerves of the nineteenth century
has found its close with us. There will be no revolution in Germany for
the next thousand years."