The History Place - World War II in Europe

Hitler becomes Führer

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 to Hitler.

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...Hitler watching festivities at Nuremberg - 1934

"Article 1. The public officials and the soldiers of the armed forces must take an oath of loyalty on entering service.
Article 2
The oath of loyalty of public officials will be:
'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.'
2. The oath of loyalty of the soldiers of the armed forces will be:
'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.'
Article 3. Officials already in service must swear this oath without delay according to Article 2 number 1."

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."

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(Photo credit: Library of Congress)

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