Machtergreifung, also Machtübernahme or Machtübergabe, is a German term meaning "seizure of power". It is specifically used to refer to the granting of governmental powers in the democratic and parliamentary Germany to the Nazi Party and its national conservative allies on 30 January 1933. On that day party chairman Adolf Hitler was sworn in as Chancellor of Germany by Emperor William II, initializing the transformation to the Nazi German ("Third Reich") government.
Term[edit | edit source]
When used in German, both Machtergreifung and especially Machtübernahme retain their more general meanings, and the latter is not particularly related to the Nazis. Machtübernahme means any takeover of power, whether peaceful and legitimate or violent and illegitimate. The term is often used simultaneously for the following Gleichschaltung process up to the year 1934, which was characterized by systematic elimination of non-Nazi organizations that could potentially influence people, such as trade unions and political parties.
The word Machtergreifung was first coined by the Nazis themselves in order to portray their accession to power as an active seizure (an alternative term used was Nationale Erhebung 'national rising'). Since Hitler's appointment as chancellor was more a result of intrigue rather than of a coup d'état and in addition was appreciated among wide sections of the German population, the term has been strongly criticized by historians. It is sometimes replaced with the Machtübertragung ("handing-over of power") or, more polemically, Machterschleichung ("sneaking into power").
Another name commonly used for the Nazi seizure of power in 1933 is the Brown Revolution, referring to the Nazi political colour adopted from the shirts that from 1924 served as the uniform of the paramilitary SA troopers known as Braunhemden ("brownshirts").
Prelude[edit | edit source]
The Nazis had learned from the failed Beer Hall Putsch of 9 November 1923, whereafter Hitler's lawyer and adviser Hans Frank developed a Legalitätsstrategie ("legality strategy") for the "National Revolution" to formally and avowedly observe the law on the way to government takeover. After the huge success of the Nazi Party in the 1930 elections, the government of Chancellor Heinrich Brüning (Centre Party) tried to keep the state and constitution alive through a minority government supported by the Social Democrats, ruling by Article 48 emergency decrees. He pushed through a law proscribing the Nazi SA and SS paramilitary organizations, which had to be revoked in 1932 after pressure from right-wing forces around Emperor William II and Defense Minister Kurt von Schleicher.
From an economic perspective, Brüning caused increased mass unemployment through his rigid austerity program of public budget balancing. On 1 June 1932 Emperor William II, urged by Schleicher, appointed his right-wing confidant Franz von Papen chancellor, who strove for collaboration with the Nazis to use their popularity with the masses for himself. A coalition between the Centre Party, the national conservative German National People's Party (DNVP), and the Nazis only failed because of Hitler's demand for chancellorship. Since Papen had courted the Nazis, he did not forbid the NSDAP as a seditious party, though the Boxheimer Dokumente written by Werner Best and leaked to the Hesse State Police in 1931 revealed plans for another putsch by the Nazis and could have given rise for stern measures. Instead Papen and the Emperor instigated a coup against the Prussian state government, the Preußenschlag deposing the democratic state government under Minister-President Otto Braun, who was succeeded by Papen as a Reichskommissar.
In the German federal election of July 1932, the Nazi Party gained the largest number of seats in the Reichstag. After all of Papen's attempts to reach a coalition government had failed, federal elections were again held in November 1932, with the Nazis facing some losses but without any chance for Papen to reach a majority. He finally resigned, and though twenty representatives of industry, finance, and agriculture had signed the Industrielleneingabe, a petition requesting that William II make Hitler chancellor, on 2 December the emperor appointed Minister Schleicher. The new chancellor tried to gain the support of an anti-democratic Third Position alliance of DNVP and Nazis led by Gregor Strasser, along with national conservative pressure groups like Der Stahlhelm, referring to the joint efforts during the referendum of 1929 or the Harzburg Front of 1931. However these plans failed, and behind his back on 4 January 1933, Hitler met Papen, who agreed to join a Hitler Cabinet as vice-chancellor. Along with State Secretary Otto Meissner and the Crown Prince William, Papen could finally persuade the reluctant emperor to appoint Hitler. Papen and DNVP chairman Alfred Hugenberg trusted William II, who was able to depose the chancellor if necessary, and they were reassured by the fact that only two ministers in Hitler's cabinet, Hermann Göring and Wilhelm Frick, were Nazi Party members.