The Preußenschlag (German pronunciation: [ˈpʁɔʏsənˌʃlaːk], Prussian coup) of 1932 was the takeover of the Free State of Prussia, the largest German state, by Chancellor Franz von Papen, using an emergency decree issued by President Paul von Hindenburg under Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, on July 20, 1932. It was a major step towards the end of the Weimar Republic, as it later facilitated the Nazification (Gleichschaltung) of Germany after Adolf Hitler's rise to power.
The pretext for this measure was violent unrest 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 the SA and Communists in Altona on 17 July 1932, which claimed 18 lives.
It is more likely however that the Prussian government headed by Minister-President Otto Braun, with authority over the powerful Prussian police force, was simply one of the last major forces standing in the way of Papen's plans for 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 had ruled Prussia without interruption since 1918, but had lost its majority in the Landtag (state parliament) in the 1932 elections. However, under the Prussian constitution a government could be removed from office only by a majority vote for a successor government. The Communists and National Socialists held over half the seats and would not cooperate with each other or with other parties. Thus, no 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. The emergency decree of July 20 dismissed the Braun government and declared Papen Reichskommissar (Reich Commissioner) for Prussia, vested in him all the competences of the Prussian ministries, and gave him direct control over the Prussian government.
The decree 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. The Enabling Act of 1933 gave Hitler the effective power to enact legislation (including extraconstitutional laws) without the consent of the Reichstag. One of Hitler's first legislative acts was to dissolve all of the state parliaments (except Prussia's) and replace them with legislatures that were constituted based on the results of the partly-free federal election held in March. Prussia was excluded from this measure because it had held state elections at the same time, with a similar result (a Nazi plurality). With the banning of the Communist and Social Democratic parties, the Nazis now had a majority in the Prussian parliament, which elected Hermann Göring as Minister-President. However, under Hitler's rule, German states were quickly stripped of all genuine powers and reduced to mere provinces, so Göring's post was largely ceremonial.
- 20. Juli 1932: Die preußische Regierung wird von der rechtskonservativen Regierung abgesetzt [20 July 1932: The Prussian government is deposed by the right-wing conservative government] (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. [Again and again, conservatives, monarchists, and lately even the Hohenzollern crown prince have openly demanded the ousting of the "republican stronghold of Prussia", of this "Marxist spook".]
- Walter, Franz (2007-07-19), "Putsch am 20. Juli 1932: Wie der Mythos Preußen zerschlagen wurde" [The coup of 20 July 1932: How the myth of Prussia was smashed], Der Spiegel (in German), Hamburg, 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. [One day as an object lesson: in the antidemocratic unscrupulousness of the conservatives of those years, in the helplessness and fatigue of the Social Democrats, who only rhetorically ever seemed powerful, in the erosion and breakup of the republican center — months before the establishment of the Nazi regime.]
- Lexikon der deutschen Geschichte – Ploetz, Verlag Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau, Österreich 2001 (German)