Reichstag (Nazi Germany)

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Reichstag
Großdeutscher Reichstag
Legislative body of Nazi Germany
Coat of arms or logo
Type
Type
History
Established 1933
Disbanded 1945
Preceded by Weimar Reichstag
Succeeded by
Seats 813 (at dissolution)
Elections
Direct non-competitive elections
Last election
13 March 1938
Meeting place
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-09067, Berlin, Kroll-Oper.jpg
Kroll Opera House, Berlin
Session of the Reichstag, 1940
Adolf Hitler declaring war against the United States at the Reichstag, December 11, 1941

The Reichstag ("diet of the realm"[1]), officially the Großdeutscher Reichstag ("Greater German Reichstag") after 1938, was the pseudo-Parliament of the Third Reich from 1933 to 1945. Following the Nazi Seizure of Power and the passing of the Enabling Act of 1933, it met only as a ratifying body for the actions of Adolf Hitler's dictatorship, always by unanimous consent. In this purely ceremonial role, the Reichstag convened only twenty times, the last on 26 April 1942. The President of the Parliament (German: Reichstagspräsident) throughout was Hermann Göring.

During this period, the Reichstag was sometimes derisively referred to by the German public as the "teuerste Gesangsverein Deutschlands" (the most expensive singing club in Germany) due to frequent singing of the national anthem during sessions. To avoid holding scheduled elections during World War II, in 1943 Hitler extended the term of office of the current Reichstag (elected in late 1938 to serve in 1939-1943) to serve a special eight-year term ending on 30 January 1947.

Background[edit]

In 1920–1923 and from 1930 on, the Weimar Republic's democratically elected Reichstag could be circumvented by two legal instruments not provided (as such) by the constitution:

  • The use of special powers granted to the President of Germany under an Emergency Decree in Article 48 of the constitution
  • The use of Enabling acts, especially during 1919-1923 and then finally in 1933

The former practice became more and more common after 1930. Due to the Reichstag's complex system of proportional representation, it was extremely difficult for a government to have a stable majority. Frequently, when a Chancellor was voted out of office, his successor could not be assured of a majority. As a result, Chancellors were forced to use Article 48 simply to conduct the ordinary business of government.

Following the Reichstag fire on February 27, 1933 and the issuing of the Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of People and State the day after, Hitler used these legislative loopholes to force passage of the Enabling Act of 1933 on March 23. In ratifying the act, the Reichstag voted by a two-thirds majority to formally dispense from itself all responsibility for the exercise of legislative power. This allowed the government--in practice, the Chancellor--to enact laws on its own authority for a four-year period. With certain exceptions (which were in practice disregarded), those laws could deviate from articles in the constitution. From then on, though officially only the Reich Government could enact laws, the de facto power always lay with the Führer.

Leaving nothing to chance, the Nazis used the provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree to detain several deputies from the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Others saw the writing on the wall and fled the country. The Communist Party of Germany (KPD) had been banned outright, and all of its deputies had either been arrested or fled into exile. Ultimately, the Enabling Act passed by a margin of 444-94, with only the SPD voting against it. However, the Nazis had intimidated the other parties to the point that even if all 120 SPD deputies had been present, the Enabling Act would have still passed with well above the two-thirds majority required.

Before the summer was out, all other parties had either been banned or intimidated into closing down, and the Nazi Party was the only legally permitted party in Germany. In the parliamentary elections of 12 November 1933, voters were presented with a single list from the Nazi Party. As a measure of the great care Hitler took to give his dictatorship the appearance of legal sanction, the Enabling Act was subsequently renewed and rubber-stamped by the Reichstag in 1937 and 1941.

The Reichstag only met 12 times between 1933 and 1939, and enacted only four laws--the Law for the Reconstruction of the Reich of 1934 (which turned Germany into a highly centralized state) and the Nuremberg Laws of 1935. It would only meet eight more times after the start of the war.

Building[edit]

The Kroll Opera House, 1930
Main article: Reichstag (building)
Main article: Reichstag fire
Main article: Kroll Opera House

The actual Reichstag building (German: Reichstagsgebäude) was unusable after the Reichstag fire, so the Kroll Opera House was modified into a legislative chamber and served as the location of all parliamentary sessions during the Third Reich. It was chosen both for its convenient location facing the Reichstag building and for its seating capacity. The Kroll Opera House was devastated by Allied bombing on November 12, 1943 and was then essentially destroyed in the Battle of Berlin in 1945.

Elections and plebiscites in Nazi Germany[edit]

Election poster for Hindenburg and Hitler in November 1933. It reads: "The Marshall and the Corporal fight with us for peace and equality"
Referendum ballot in April 1938. It reads: "Do you agree with the reunification of Austria with the German Reich that was enacted on 13 March 1938, and do you vote for the party of our leader Adolf Hitler?" The large circle is labelled "Yes", the smaller "No".

The federal election in March 1933 was the last parliamentary ballot in Germany (until after the war) which was at least partly free and fair. From then on, general and parliamentary elections were still held, but voters were presented with a single list comprising Nazis and "guests" of the party. These "guests," however, fully supported Hitler. While it was theoretically possible to vote no, in several areas voters were threatened with reprisals if they did so or failed to vote.

Special referendums were held, under similar conditions. The most famous of these was the plebiscite on the Anschluss with Austria in 1938. That vote officially recorded a 99.7% "yes".[2] Following the Anschluss, the Reichstag became the Großdeutsche Reichstag (roughly translated the Greater German Imperial Diet).

In accordance with the provisions of the Weimar Republic electoral law of 1933, one seat was granted for each block of 60,000 votes. Because voter turnout was very high, and also because of new territories added to the Reich, the Reichstag grew to significantly greater and greater proportions. Finally, there were 855 deputies; Adolf Hitler was No. 433, elected to the Reichstag constituency 24 Upper Bavaria - Swabia.

  • 1933, 5 March: General parliamentary elections immediately following the Seizure of Power. Six days before the scheduled election date, the German parliament building burned in the Reichstag fire. Opposition parties were thwarted in their campaigns. The Nazi Party won 33 of the 35 direct seats from parliamentary districts and 43,9 % of the overall vote, giving the Nazis together with the DNVP (8.0 % of the votes) a slight majority of seats.
  • 1933, 12 November: Parliamentary elections and referendum on the withdrawal of Germany from the League of Nations. All Reichstag delegates are now Nazi Party members or sympathizers. According to formal results, 92 % of the voters "approved" the referendum proposal.
  • 1934, 19 August: Special Plebiscite to retrospectively approve Adolf Hitler's succession to the office of President, following the death of Paul von Hindenburg. 88.1 % of the voters voted yes.
  • 1938, 10 April: General parliamentary elections and referendum retrospectively approving the annexation of Austria Anschluss. Elected to serve for a four-year term beginning in 1939, it convened for the last time in early 1942.
  • 1938, 4 December: Parliamentary by-election for newly acquired territory of Sudetenland. Like the previous occasions, the Nazis won all seats in this last election under their rule.

Last session[edit]

The Großdeutsche Reichstag convened for the last time in the Kroll Opera House on April 26, 1942. It unanimously passed a decree proclaiming Hitler "Supreme Judge of the German People," officially allowing him to override the judiciary and administration in all matters. Any last remnants of the privileges of the members were removed and the Führer became de jure the only and final decision-maker with the power of life and death over every German citizen. For all intents and purposes, this extended the provisions of the Enabling Act indefinitely.

On January 25, 1943, five days before the expiration of the current Reichstag's term of office, the inauguration of a new body was postponed for another electoral term until January 30, 1947. This was to avoid holding elections while the war was still underway. Because of the outcome the 1938 elections were the last for the German Reichstag ever.

See also[edit]

Literature[edit]

  • Peter Hubert The Uniformed Reichstag. The history of the Pseudo-Parliament from 1933 to 1945. (Düsseldorf: Droste Verlag, 1992) ISBN 3-7700-5167-X
  • Joachim Lilla: Extras in Uniform. Members of the Reichstag from 1933 to 1945. (Düsseldorf: Droste Verlag, 2004), ISBN 3-7700-5254-4

References[edit]

  1. ^ Moonis Raza. Geographical Dictionary Of The World In The Early 20th Century With Pronouncing Gazetteer (in 2 Vos.). New Delhi, India: Concept Publishing Company, 1990. Pp. 712.
  2. ^ "Die propagandistische Vorbereitung der Volksabstimmung". Austrian Resistance Archive. 1988. Retrieved 2007-03-11.