In 1932, the Preußenschlag, or "Prussian coup", was one of the major steps towards the end of the German inter-war democracy of the Weimar Republic, which would later greatly facilitate the "Gleichschaltung" of Germany after Adolf Hitler's rise to power. On July 20, 1932, President Paul von Hindenburg issued an emergency decree under Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution which dismissed the cabinet of the Free State of Prussia, the largest German state.
The pretext for this measure was violent unrest which was occurring in some areas of Prussia and the alleged inability of the Prussian government to handle the matter. The main trigger was the "Altonaer Blutsonntag" ("Altona Bloody Sunday"), a shootout between SA demonstrators and communists in Altona on 17 July 1932, which claimed 18 lives.
The true reason however, was that the Prussian government, headed by Minister-President Otto Braun, with authority over the powerful Prussian police force, was one of the last major forces standing in the way of Chancellor Franz von Papen's plans to replace Weimar's foreign-dictated internationalism with home-grown nationalist rule.
The move was facilitated by the unstable situation of the Prussian government. The centre-left coalition of the Social Democrats, Centre Party and liberal German Democratic Party, which had ruled Prussia without interruption since 1918, had lost its majority in the recent elections to the Prussian Landtag (state parliament). However, a provision in the Prussian constitution stipulated that a government could only be removed from office if a prospective successor also had a majority. The opposition, consisting mainly of Communists and National Socialists, would not cooperate with each other or with other parties. As a result, no politically realistic alternative government was possible, and the Braun-led coalition remained in office.
However, Papen also lacked majority support in the Reichstag. His only means to govern was through presidential emergency powers and the decrees issued by the senile Hindenburg, over whom Papen had great influence. Papen and his supporters, mostly right-wing nationalists and monarchists (his cabinet, packed with aristocrats, was dubbed "Kabinett der Barone" ("cabinet of the barons"), loathed Weimar's foreign-dictated internationalism and hoped to replace it with a home-grown nationalist government. The emergency decree of July 20 declared Papen Reichskommissar (Reich Commissioner) for Prussia, which vested in him all the competences of the Prussian ministries and thus gave him direct control over the Prussian government.
The Preußenschlag was declared partially unconstitutional on October 25, 1932, by the German Constitutional Court, but only in so far as the formal existence of the Prussian cabinet was concerned. The transfer of power to Papen was upheld, while the Braun cabinet retained the right to represent Prussia in the Reichsrat.
Prussia remained under direct administration of the federal government until April 1933, when the Prussian parliament, now controlled by the Nazis, elected Hermann Göring as Minister-President. However, under Hitler's rule, German states were stripped of all genuine powers and were reduced to mere provinces, so Göring's post was largely ceremonial. The state of Prussia was finally dissolved by the Allies after the end of World War II.
- 20. Juli 1932: Die preußische Regierung wird von der rechtskonservativen Regierung abgesetzt (in German), archived from the original on 7 October 2001, retrieved 4 May 2013:
- Immer wieder haben Konservative, Monarchisten und zuletzt sogar offen der Hohenzollern-Kronprinz eine Beseitigung der „republikanischen Festung Preußen“, dieses „marxistischen Spuks”, gefordert.
- Walter, Franz (2007-07-19), Putsch am 20. Juli 1932: Wie der Mythos Preußen zerschlagen wurde (in German), Hamburg: Der Spiegel, retrieved 4 May 2013:
- Ein Tag als Lehrstück: für die antidemokratische Skrupellosigkeit der Konservativen jener Jahre, für die Hilflosigkeit und Ermattung der stets nur rhetorisch kraftvoll auftretenden Sozialdemokratie, für die Erosion und den Zerfall der republiktreuen Mitte - schon Monate vor der Etablierung des NS-Regimes.
- Lexikon der deutschen Geschichte – Ploetz, Verlag Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau, Österreich 2001 (German)