Hitler Became Chancellor in January
It signified unity and support behind a cause – unseen since the beginning of the Great War. No longer were nationalists vying for the implausible return of a Kaiser, but joining behind Hitler. Furthermore Nazi support far exceeded that of the parties on the fragmented Left. Whilst in 1930 the SPD retained their lead on the NSDAP by two million votes, in 1932 the Nazi vote was almost double of the SPD’s, with 7 million more votes. By leading the most popular party, Hitler had the confidence of almost 14 million people which was an undeniable force.
Then again, Hitler had not gained the 50% majority needed to become Chancellor. Democracy did not bring Hitler to power and 63. 6% of Germans had not voted for Hitler. Debatably, it was only a protest vote. The loss of two million votes from the July to the November 1932 elections demonstrates how the popularity of the party was perhaps more a symbolic facade which Hitler took advantage of. Some would argue that it was not the quantity of supporters that brought him power but the importance of individual groups.
Having Nazi supporters in crucial interest groups such as industrialists, the army and Hindenburg’s own family was also important for funding and for political sway. Most important of these was popularity in military circles. Essentially the army’s acquiescence and partial support for Nazis meant that when the SA surrounded Berlin in January 1933 threatening to seize power, Wilhelmstra? e was left with little choice. There was as many as four times the number of Stormtroopers as Reichswehr, although the army had machine guns and flame throwers.
The most pressing fact was that General von Hammerstein had told Hindenburg that many soldiers may refuse to obey an order to crush the SA. Whilst the threat of a violent coup pressurized government, that the army was not loyal arguably made Hitler’s appointment inevitable. Ruth Henig argues that it wasn’t the strength of its enemies that brought down the Republic as much as the striking absence of its friends. Not quite a “Republic without Republicans”, but the political naivety of both parties and individuals in failing to cooperate was a considerable factor in Nazi success.
Specifically, the SPD’s refusal as one of the strongholds of democracy: in November 1932 the left combined had 13. 5 million votes, whereas the right had 12 million. By uniting, the Communists and Socialists had potentially the ability to overrule the Nationalists. Stalin’s preference of Hitler over the SPD, who he believed were the real enemy, ensured complete disunity. Arguably a more decisive factor was Von Papen’s active role. His plan to “frame in” the Nazis to utilize their mass support and then dispense with Hitler was short-sighted and naive.
Meeting with Kurt Von Schroder, Papen not only in turn helped solve the Nazi financial debts to ensure the continuation of the party, but presented an opportunity to Hitler which he otherwise would not have been offered. Papen convinced Hindenburg the Nazi support could be harnessed and that its ambitions and extremist policies contained through safety features. The President agreed to only meet with Hitler when the Vice Chancellor, Von Papen, was present. Only two cabinet ministers were included.
By offering this, Von Papen made perhaps the most fatal underestimation of the 20th century. He had had the responsibility of being decisive, thorough and unfaltering when Hindenburg could not be and so his weak acceptance of Hitler’s demands – when he was perhaps not even in a position to demand – is surely a cause of Hitler’s appointment. Debatably, this arrangement was a production of Hitler’s own political skill as opposed to, or as well as, Papen’s great failure. Hitler’s opportunism, vehement desire for power and ability to manipulate people was crucial for his success.
Meeting with Von Papen in December 1932, he resolutely demanded the Chancellorship. Whereas Strasser faltered in making botched agreements with Von Schleicher for a lesser position, Hitler held out against odds. Additionally Hitler’s chameleon nature meant that he was successfully demanding with Von Papen, yet very respectful with Hindenburg, bowing down to him publicly. Popularity got Hitler through the door, but Hitler’s opportunism and manipulation brought his triumph. In summary, Nazi popularity gave Hitler the advantage.
It offered him access to Germany’s leaders so that he was able to exploit the scheming nature of Von Papen and ailing of Hindenburg. Nevertheless, Hitler failed to command a majority and thus his appointment of Chancellor was left to the decisions of incapable and self-seeking men. Perhaps Hitler succeeded because in that dire political situation, those in power could not ignore Hitler’s strength. However the President’s and Papen’s inadequacy and underestimation of Hitler in the face of his resounding obstinacy, as well as the threat his Stormtroopers, were the decisive forces.
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