This text comes from our book, Light to the Nations, Part 2.
With the power of the chancellor in his hands, Hitler began purging the government of his opponents. Most of the Reichstag was not Nazi, so he dissolved it. New elections were called. The Nazi party’s brown-shirted storm troopers terrorized Communists, Social Democrats, and Center Party members. The government shut down newspapers belonging to opposition parties and forbade or broke up their meetings. The Nazi party seized control of radio stations so that only the Nazi message could be broadcast to German voters.
Then, on February 27, 1933, the Reichstag building in Berlin caught fire and nearly burned to the ground. The Nazis blamed the Communists, and hundreds of Communist leaders were arrested. The upper and middle classes were seized with the fear of Bolshevism. The Nazis appeared to be the only bulwark against Communist revolution. To “protect” the public, the government suspended the constitutional guarantees of freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and other personal liberties.
In the election held March 5, 1933, three parties (Social Democrats, Communists, and Centrists) won 17.3 million votes, while the Nazis garnered 17 million votes and their allies, the Nationalists, 3 million. This meant that the Nazis and Nationalists would hold 341 out of 648 seats in the new Reichstag—or 52 percent of the seats, enough to control the Reichstag.
On April 1, 1933, Hitler, clad in his Nazi uniform, stood before the newly elected Reichstag and demanded the powers of a dictator for a period of four years. Though Nazis and Nationalists dominated the Reichstag, Hitler still needed the support of the Center Party to get the two-thirds vote he needed. After receiving guarantees that the Nazi government would not violate the freedom of the Church and would allow their party to continue, Center Party members gave Hitler their support. They would soon regret it. The Führer thus came to hold absolute power in Germany.
Hitler’s regime was very similar to Mussolini’s, except that it was perhaps even more thoroughly centralized and brutal. Like Mussolini, Hitler forbade freedom of speech and of the press. Like Mussolini, he decreed that all political parties were illegal, except for his own. Like Mussolini, Hitler outlawed labor unions and forbade strikes; only the Nazicontrolled German Labor Front could represent workers in Hitler’s Germany. Like Mussolini, Hitler, through his propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, used newspapers, the radio, and the cinema to spread party propaganda. And, finally, like Mussolini, Hitler established a secret police, the Gestapo, which, under the direction of Hermann Göring, arrested Hitler’s political enemies, placing thousands of them in concentration camps.
Hitler and the Nazis’ power over Germany was greatly increased when on January 30, 1934, the Reichstag transferred all the powers held by the individual German states to the central government of the Third Reich. Even local governments came under the direct control of the Berlin government. In August 1934, President Hindenburg died and Hitler became president as well as chancellor. By the end of 1934 Hitler could confidently say, “The National Socialist Party is the state.”
With all the power of the state in his hands, Hitler turned his attention to his enemies—Communists, members of opposition parties, and the Jews. Each of these groups suffered under the Nazi regime, but none more than the Jews. Shortly after the March 5, 1933, election, Nazi storm troopers committed violent acts against Jews and their property. When it was pointed out that the police provided no defense to the Jews, Hermann Göring said, “The police are not a defense squad for Jewish stores or there to protect rogues, vagabonds, swindlers, profiteers, and traitors.”
The government claimed that it was not responsible for such violence. It was, however, responsible for the laws it subsequently passed. Under Hitler, Jews (including those of Jewish blood who had become Christian) could not hold government jobs. They could be banned from practicing law. Jewish professors and teachers were dismissed from schools and universities. Germans were forbidden to marry Jews, even those of mixed Jewish and German blood (whom the government called hybrids). As the months and years passed, Jews were treated less and less as full members of German society. In 1935, Hitler’s government deprived Jews of citizenship.
Such were the measures Hitler took to drive what he called the Jewish “menace” from Germany. More horrible measures were yet to come.
Music of a Jewish Refugee
Arnold Schoenberg wrote this piece, Drei Lieder (“Three Songs”), Opus 48, in 1933, the year he fled Berlin for Paris to escape Nazi violence. Schoenberg, a Austrian Jew, is known as the father of serialism (atonality) in music.