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1933 - Rise o Nazis

Reichstag Fire + Rise of the Nazis - Adolf Hitler blames the Reichstag Fire on communists, and uses it as a pretext to seize almost unlimited power, setting the stage for the rise of the Nazis

By 1930, the Nazis had become the second largest party in Germany after the Social Democrats, with 18% of the vote.   

The economic unrest of the early 1930s meant that no single political party had a majority in the Reichstag, so fragile coalitions held the nation together. Faced with political chaos, President Paul von Hindenburg dissolved the Reichstag again and again. Frequent elections followed.


The Nazis aligned with other right-leaning factions and gradually worked their way up to 33 percent of the vote—but were unable to reach a full majority. In January 1933, Hindenburg reluctantly appointed Hitler as chancellor on the advice of Franz von Papen, a disgruntled former chancellor who believed the conservative bourgeois parties should ally with the Nazis to keep the Communists out of power. 

Meanwhile, the Nazis seized even more power, infiltrating the police and empowering ordinary party members as law enforcement officers. On February 22, Hitler used his powers as chancellor to enroll 50,000 Nazi SA men as auxiliary police. Two days later, Hermann Göring, Minister of the Interior and one of Hitler’s closest compatriots, ordered a raid on Communist headquarters. Following the raid, the Nazis announced (falsely) that they’d found evidence of seditious material. They claimed the Communists were planning to attack public buildings.


On the night of February 27, around 9pm, pedestrians near the Reichstag heard the sound of breaking glass. Soon after, flames erupted from the building. It took fire engines hours to quell the fire, which destroyed the debating chamber and the Reichstag’s gilded cupola, ultimately causing over $1 million in damage. Police arrested an unemployed Dutch construction worker named Marinus van der Lubbe on the scene. The young man was found outside the building with firelighters in his possession and was panting and sweaty.

“This is a God-given signal,” Hitler told von Papen when they arrived on the scene. “If this fire, as I believe, is the work of the Communists, then we must crush out this murderous pest with an iron fist.”


A few hours later, on February 28, Hindenburg invoked Article 48 and the cabinet drew up the “Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of the People and State.” The act abolished freedom of speech, assembly, privacy and the press; legalized phone tapping and interception of correspondence; and suspended the autonomy of federated states, like Bavaria. That night around 4,000 people were arrested, imprisoned and tortured by the SA. Although the Communist party had won 17 percent of the Reichstag elections in November 1932, and the German people elected 81 Communist deputies in the March 5 elections, many were detained indefinitely after the fire. Their empty seats left the Nazis largely free to do as they wished.

Whether or not he had help from the Nazis, van der Lubbe confessed to the arson, was found guilty and sentenced to death. The four other defendants were acquitted due to lack of evidence, but the fire continued to be brandished as a Communist plot.


On March 23, the Reichstag passed the Enabling Act, the partner piece of legislation to the February 28 Decree for the Protection of People and State. The Enabling Act assigned all legislative power to Hitler and his ministers, thus securing their ability to control the political apparatus. When President Hindenburg died in August 1934, Hitler wrote a new law that combined the offices of president and chancellor. 


Further Reading


Eyewitness to History - The Reichstag Fire

Anne Frank HouseGermany 1933: From Democracy to Dictatorship

History Place - Hitler Becomes Dictator

1933 - Prohibition Ends

Repeal of Prohibition - the increasingly ineffective ban on alcohol in America is overturned, to the joy of many

A major failing of prohibition was to create a black market for liquor, providing lucrative business opportunities for gangsters like Al Capone, as well as thousands of “bootleggers” across the country whose products were often of dubious quality. It also sparked a proliferation of “speakeasies” – businesses that offered secret places for people to drink, out of the sight of official law enforcement, and largely unregulated for other illegal activities.

Presidential candidate Franklin Roosevelt made the repeal of prohibition part of his campaign platform. In a speech in New Jersey in 1932 he explained how alcohol abuse was “bound up with crime, with insanity and, only too often, with poverty. It is increasingly apparent that the intemperate use of intoxicants has no place in this new mechanized civilization of ours. In our industry, in our recreation, on our highways, a drunken man is more than an objectionable companion, he is a peril to the rest of us…. Prohibition has been accompanied in most parts of the country by complete and tragic failure. A general encouragement of lawlessness has resulted; … corruption, hypocrisy, crime and disorder have emerged; and … instead of restricting, we have extended the spread of intemperance. This failure has come for this very good reason: we have depended too largely upon the power of governmental action instead of recognizing that the authority of the home and that of the churches in these matters is the fundamental force on which we must build”.

The newly-elected Roosevelt wasted no time whittling away at Prohibition, and signed the Beer-Wine Revenue Act on March 22, 1933. .which raised the permitted percentage of alcohol to 3.2 percent and taxed it. After Roosevelt signed the act he “reportedly remarked to his aide, Louis Howe, ‘I think this would be a good time for a beer’”.

The anti-Prohibition movement culminated in the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which repealed the 18th Amendment. In a proclamation declaring the repeal, Roosevelt urged Americans to drink responsibly and “… not bring upon themselves the curse of excessive use of intoxicating liquors, to the detriment of health, morals and social integrity”. The federal government “collected more than $258 million in alcohol taxes in the first year after repeal. Those millions, which accounted for nearly nine percent of the government’s tax revenue, helped to finance Roosevelt’s New Deal programs in the ensuing years.


Further Reading


Prohibition Interactive History - The Repeal of Prohibition - How the Misery of the Great Depression Helped Vanquish Prohibition

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