When Adolf Hitler walked into the presidential office of Paul von Hindenburg
to become chancellor, the Old Gentleman was so annoyed he would hardly
look at him.
He had been kept waiting while Hitler and conservative leader Alfred
Hugenberg argued over Hitler's demand for new elections. It was the final
argument in what had been a huge tangled web of political infighting and
backstabbing that finally resulted in Adolf Hitler becoming Chancellor
Germany was a nation that in its history had little experience or interest
in democracy. In January 1933, Adolf Hitler took the reins of a 14-year-old German democratic republic which in the minds of many had long outlived
its usefulness. By this time, the economic pressures of the Great Depression
combined with the indecisive, self-serving nature of its elected politicians
had brought government in Germany to a complete standstill. The people
were without jobs, without food, quite afraid and desperate for relief.
Now, the man who had spent his entire political career denouncing and
attempting to destroy the Republic, was its leader. Around noon on January
30th, Hitler was sworn in.
"I will employ my strength for the welfare of the German people,
protect the Constitution and laws of the German people, conscientiously
discharge the duties imposed on me, and conduct my affairs of office impartially
and with justice to everyone," swore Adolf
But by this time, that oath had been repeatedly broken by previous chancellors
out of desperation and also out of personal ambition. Chancellors Schleicher
and Papen had seriously suggested to Hindenburg the idea of replacing the
republic itself with a military dictatorship to solve the crisis of political
stagnation. He had turned them both down.
When a teary-eyed Adolf Hitler emerged from the presidential palace
as the new chancellor, he was cheered by Nazis and their supporters who
believed in him, not the constitution or the republic.
"We've done it!" Hitler had jubilantly shouted to them.
He was to preside over a cabinet that contained,
including himself, only 3 Nazis out of 11 posts. Hermann Göring was
Minister without Portfolio and Minister of the Interior of Prussia. Nazi,
Wilhelm Frick, was Minister of the Interior. The small number of Nazis
in the cabinet was planned to help keep Hitler in check.
Franz von Papen was vice-chancellor. Hindenburg had promised him that Hitler
would only be received in the office of the president if accompanied by Papen.
This was another way to keep Hitler in check. In fact, Papen had every
intention of using the conservative majority in the cabinet along with
his own political skills to run the government himself.
"Within two months we will have pushed Hitler so far in the corner
that he'll squeak," Papen boasted to a political colleague.
Papen and many non-Nazis thought having Hitler as chancellor was to their
advantage. Conservative members of the former aristocratic ruling class desired
an end to the republic and a return to an authoritarian government that would
restore Germany to glory and bring back their old privileges. They wanted
to go back to the days of the Kaiser. For them, putting Hitler in power was
just the first step toward achieving that goal. They knew it was likely he
would wreck the republic. Then once the republic was abolished, they could
put in someone of their own choosing, perhaps even a descendant of the Kaiser.
Big bankers and industrialists, including Krupp and I. G. Farben, had
lobbied Hindenburg and schemed behind the scenes on behalf of Hitler because
they were convinced he would be good for business. He promised to be for
free enterprise and keep down Communism and the trade union movements.
The military also placed its bet on Hitler, believing his repeated promises
to tear up the Treaty of Versailles and expand the Army and bring back
its former glory.
They all had one thing in common – they underestimated Hitler.
On the evening of January 30th, just about every member of the SA and
SS turned out in uniform to celebrate the new Führer-Chancellor, Adolf
Hitler. Carrying torches and singing the Hörst Wessel song, they were
cheered by thousands as they marched through the Brandenburg gate and along
the Wilhelmstrasse to the presidential palace. Cops on the beat who used
to give them trouble now wore swastika armbands and smiled at them. Everywhere
was heard the rhythmic pounding beats of jackboots, drums and blaring military
saluted Hindenburg as he looked out from a window of the presidential palace.
Then they waited at the chancellery for Hitler in a scene carefully staged
by Joseph Goebbels. A sea of hand held burning torches cast flickering
light on red and gold Nazi banners amid the slow beating of drums in anticipation
of seeing the Führer. Men, women and children along with the SA and SS
waited. He kept them waiting, letting the tension rise. All over Germany,
people listened to this on the radio, waiting, and hearing the throngs
calling for their Führer.
When he appeared in the beam of a spotlight, Hitler was greeted with
an outpouring of worshipful adulation unlike anything ever seen before
in Germany. Bismarck, Frederick the Great, the Kaiser, had not seen this.
"Heil! Sieg Heil!," (Hail! Hail Victory!) went the chorus
of those who believed the hour of deliverance had come in the form of this
man now gazing down at them.
"It is almost like a dream – a fairytale. The new [Third] Reich has been
born. Fourteen years of work have been crowned with victory. The German
revolution has begun!" Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary that night.
Meanwhile, an old comrade of Hitler's sent a telegram to President Hindenburg regarding
his new chancellor. Former General Erich Ludendorff had once supported
Hitler and had even participated in the failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923.
"By appointing Hitler Chancellor of the Reich you have handed over
our sacred German Fatherland to one of the greatest demagogues of all time.
I prophesy to you this evil man will plunge our Reich into the abyss and
will inflict immeasurable woe on our nation. Future generations will curse
you in your grave for this action," the telegram from
Within weeks, Hitler would be absolute dictator of Germany and would
set in motion a chain of events resulting in the Second World War and the
eventual deaths of nearly 50 million humans through that war and through
To begin, Hitler would see the German democratic republic go down in
flames, literally. In February 1933, the Nazis hatched a plan to burn
the Reichstag building and end democracy once and for all.