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Hitler’s Enabling Act

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about events leading up to WWII in the Winter of 1933. One of the most significant events of that time was the passage of Hitler’s Enabling Act.

On March 23 of that year, the newly elected members of the Reichstag (German Parliament) met in the Kroll Opera House in Berlin to consider the Act, which was officially called the “Law for Removing the Distress of the People and the Reich.” They were meeting in the opera house because on February 27, the Nazis had burned the Reichstag building and blamed the fire on the Communists. The fire caused the “distress” and an atmosphere of crisis in Germany as the German people were led to believe an uprising was coming.

The next day, March 24, the vote to pass Hitler’s Enabling Act was held. Nazi Storm Troopers intimidated those who might oppose Hitler, glaring menacingly and chanting “Full powers – or else! We want the bill – or fire and murder!” They had gathered around the opera house, in the hallways, and lined the aisles.

Just before the vote, Hitler addressed the group. He said,

The government will make use of these powers only insofar as they are essential for carrying out vitally necessary measures…

The number of cases in which an internal necessity exists for having recourse to such a law is in itself a limited one.

Hitler made other promises he did not intend to keep, to end unemployment and to promote peace with France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union. But he said in order to do these things, he needed the Enabling Act.

To pass his Act, Hitler needed a two thirds majority as the law would change the German Constitution. He had the Nazi vote, but he needed thirty-one non-Nazi votes, which he would get that day from the Center Party by making a false promise to restore some basic rights that had been taken away.

Before the vote, Otto Wells, leader of the Social Democrat party, bravely spoke before the group, addressing Hitler.

We German Social Democrats pledge ourselves solemnly in this historic hour to the principles of humanity and justice, of freedom and socialism. No enabling act can give you power to destroy ideas which are eternal and indestructible.

An enraged Hitler responded,

You are no longer needed! – The star of Germany will rise and yours will sink! Your death knell has sounded!

When the vote was taken, four hundred forty-one voted for the Enabling Act. Only eighty-four, the Social Democrats, voted against it. With well over two thirds of the vote, the Nazis achieved what Adolf Hitler had wanted to do for years, legally end democracy in Germany and claim dictatorial powers. The passage of Adolf Hitler’s Enabling Act paved the way for the Nazi takeover of Germany.

These events happened eighty-five years ago this week. It seems like a very long time ago, and then again, it doesn’t.

For many of us, our parents were school children during this time in history. Merely a decade later, our fathers, who were in their late teens or early twenties, and should have been chasing girls, were chasing Nazis instead.


The History Place

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018

WWII Timeline – Winter 1933

I’m continuing my WWII Timeline series with a look at January – March 1933 in this post.

A Timeline of WWII, Winter 1933



In 1933, Germany’s Jewish population is estimated to be more than 500,000, but less than 600,000, or about three-quarters of one percent of the total German population.

January 30, 1933

German President von Hindenburg names Adolph Hitler Chancellor of Germany.

February 22, 1933

In Germany, forty thousand SA (Sturmabteilung) and SS men are sworn in as auxiliary police.  (The SA was eventually replaced by Himmler’s SS).

February 27, 1933

The Nazis set the Reichstag building, the seat of the German government, on fire and it burns. This creates a crisis atmosphere which enables Adolf Hitler to seize power under the pretext of protecting the nation from threats to its security.

February 28, 1933

The Nazis’ plan works and as a result of the Reichstag fire, emergency powers are granted to Hitler.

March 12, 1933

The Oranienburg Concentration Camp opens as one of the first detention facilities established by the Nazis. The camp was located in the state of Prussia and held political opponents of the Nazis, mostly members of the Communist Party of Germany and social-democrats, as well as homosexual men and other so-called “undesirables.”

March 21 or 22, 1933

The Nazis open the Dachau concentration camp near Munich for political enemies of the Third Reich. The opening of other camps follows in later years:  Sachsenhausen (July 1936) in northern Germany near Berlin, Buchenwald (July 1937) near Weimar in central Germany, and Ravensbrück (1939) for women in northern Germany north of Berlin.

March 23, 1933

The newly elected members of the Reichstag (German Parliament) meet in the Kroll Opera House in Berlin to consider passing Hitler’s Enabling Act. The Act was officially called the “Law for Removing the Distress of the People and the Reich.” Passage of the Act would effectively mean the end of democracy in Germany and would establish the legal dictatorship of Adolf Hitler.

March 24, 1933

The Reichstag passes the Enabling Act giving Hitler dictatorial powers.

March 27, 1933

Japan withdraws from the League of Nations.


This series of posts is based on a compilation of timelines from:

The Holocaust Encyclopedia

The History Place:

The National WWII Museum Interactive Timeline

And other information from Wikipedia

Most recent post from the series:

The Early 1930’s

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2018