30 January 1933: Adolf Hitler takes power

The Great Depression hit Germany hard, with one in three German workers unemployed by early 1933. Political support drained away from the main parties, benefiting Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party (better known as the Nazi Party). In the July 1932 national election they came first, with 37% of the vote. They were unable to form a government and Hitler was defeated in the presidential election, but they had become a major political force.

Other parties were also unable to form a majority government and Germany was in political limbo. So in January 1933 former Chancellor Franz von Papen persuaded President Paul von Hindenburg to form a national government with Hitler as Chancellor. The idea was that von Papen would retain real power, while using Nazi support to get legislation through parliament. This proved a miscalculation that had tragic consequences for Germany and the rest of the world.

Hitler immediately insisted on calling fresh elections. In the weeks leading up to the vote on March 1933, the new government tried every means at its disposal to intimidate the other parties. It also used the burning down of the Reichstag to pass laws curtailing freedom of speech and assembly. Despite this, and the fact that many election observers were Nazis, it had to rely on the support of another far-right party to gain a majority.

But immediately after the election Hitler set about dismantling the remaining elements of democracy. He used a mixture of diplomacy and coercion to force parliament to pass the Enabling Act, which allowed him to bypass parliament. This effectively ended the Weimar Republic.