German federal election, March 1933
|33 of 35 parliamentary districts won by the Nazi Party,
2 (Cologne-Aachen, Koblenz-Trier) by the Centre Party
Federal elections were held in Germany on 5 March 1933. The ruling Nazi Party, led by Adolf Hitler – Chancellor since 30 January – registered a large increase in votes, again emerging as the largest party by far. Nevertheless they failed to obtain an absolute majority in their own right, despite the massive suppression against Communist and Social Democratic politicians, and needed the votes of their coalition partner, the German National People's Party (DNVP), for a Reichstag majority.
To gain absolute power instead, Hitler managed to pass the Enabling Act on 23 March with the support of all non-socialist parties, which effectively made Hitler dictator of Germany (though still subject to President Hindenburg's blessing), and rendered the Reichstag powerless.
Within months, the Nazis banned all other parties and dissolved the Reichstag to replace it by a rubberstamp parliament with only Nazi party list representatives, making the March 1933 elections the last multi-party elections held in Germany before the end of World War II and the formation of the German Bundestag in 1949, and the last for the whole country before reunification in 1990.
The election took place after the Nazi Machtergreifung of 30 January when President Paul von Hindenburg had appointed Hitler Chancellor, who immediately urged the dissolution of the Reichstag and the arrangement of new elections. In early February, the Nazis "unleashed a campaign of violence and terror that dwarfed anything seen so far." Storm troopers began attacking trade union and Communist Party (KPD) offices and the homes of left-wingers. In the second half of February, the violence was extended to the Social Democrats, with gangs of brownshirts breaking up Social Democrat meetings and beating up their speakers and audiences. Issues of Social Democratic newspapers were banned. Twenty newspapers of the Centre Party, a party of Catholic Germans, were banned in mid-February for criticizing the new government. Government officials known to be Centre Party supporters were dismissed from their offices, and stormtroopers violently attacked party meetings in Westphalia.
Six days before the scheduled election date, the German parliament building was set alight in the Reichstag fire, allegedly by the Dutch Communist Marinus van der Lubbe. This event reduced the popularity of the KPD, and enabled Hitler to persuade President Hindenburg to pass the Reichstag Fire Decree as an emergency decree according to Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution. This emergency law removed many civil liberties and allowed the arrest of Ernst Thälmann and 4,000 leaders and members of the KPD shortly before the election, suppressing the Communist vote and consolidating the position of the Nazis. The KPD was "effectively outlawed from 28 February 1933", although it was not completely banned until the day after the election. While at that time not as heavily oppressed as the Communists, the Social Democrats were also restricted in their actions, as the party's leadership had already fled to Prague and many members were acting only from the underground. Hence, the fire is widely believed to have had a major effect on the outcome of the election. As replacement, and for 10 years to come, the new parliament used the Kroll Opera House for its meetings.
The resources of big business and the state were thrown behind the Nazis' campaign to achieve saturation coverage all over Germany. Brownshirts and SS patrolled and marched menacingly through the streets of cities and towns. A "combination of terror, repression and propaganda was mobilized in every... community, large and small, across the land." To further ensure the outcome of the vote would be a Nazi majority, Nazi organizations "monitored" the vote process. In Prussia 50,000 members of the SS, SA and Stahlhelm were ordered to monitor the votes as deputy sheriffs by acting Interior Minister Hermann Göring.
|National Socialist German Workers Party||17,277,180||43.91||288||+92|
|Social Democratic Party of Germany||7,181,629||18.25||120||–1|
|Communist Party of Germany||4,848,058||12.32||81||–19|
|Black-White-Red Struggle Front (DNVP)[a]||3,136,760||7.97||52||–1|
|Bavarian People's Party||1,073,552||2.73||19||–1|
|German People's Party||432,312||1.1||2||–9|
|Christian Social People's Service||383,999||0.98||4||–1|
|German State Party||334,242||0.85||5||+3|
|German Farmers' Party||114,048||0.29||2||–1|
|Socialist Struggle Community||3,954||0.01||0||New|
|Kampfgemeinschaft der Arbeiter und Bauern||1,110||0.00||0||0|
Despite achieving a much better result than in the November 1932 election, the Nazis did not do as well as Hitler had hoped. Notwithstanding massive violence and intimidation, the Nazis won only 43.9% of the vote, rather than the majority that he had expected. Therefore, he was forced to maintain his coalition with the DNVP to control a majority of seats. The Communists forfeited about a fourth of their votes, while the Social Democrats suffered only moderate losses. Shortly after the election, the KPD was banned and its 81 seats (12% of the Reichstag seats) were "annulled" for the purported communist role in the Reichstag Fire. Within a few days, all of the KPD's representatives were either under arrest or were in hiding.
Although the Nazi-DNVP coalition had enough seats to conduct the basic business of government, Hitler needed a two-thirds majority to pass the Enabling Act, a law which allowed the Cabinet to enact laws without the approval of the Reichstag for a four-year period. He obtained this majority by persuading the Catholic Centre Party to vote with him with regard to the Reichskonkordat. The bill was passed on 23 March with 444 against 94 votes. Only the Social Democrats led by Otto Wels opposed the measure, which came into effect on 27 March. Leaving nothing to chance, the Nazis used the provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree to keep several SPD deputies from attending. However, even if all 120 Social Democrats had been present the measure would have still passed with the required supermajority. The provisions of the bill turned the Hitler government into a de facto legal dictatorship.
Within four months, the other parties had been eliminated either by formal banning or Nazi terror, and Germany was firmly a one-party state. Although three more elections were held during the Nazi era, voters were presented with a single list of Nazis and guest candidates, and voting was not secret. As a result, the March 1933 election would be the last multi-party all-German election until the first election held after German reunification, in 1990.
- Evand, Richard J., The Coming of the Third Reich, Penguin Press, New York, 2004, p.317
- Evans, ibid., pp. 318–320.
- Evans, ibid., p. 322.
- Evans, ibid., p. 331.
- Evans, ibid., p.336.
- Evans, ibid., p. 339.
- 1933 elections German Historic Museum (German)