18 Major Events During Adolf Hitler's Rise to Power
18 Major Events During Adolf Hitler’s Rise to Power

18 Major Events During Adolf Hitler’s Rise to Power

Larry Holzwarth - October 21, 2018

18 Major Events During Adolf Hitler’s Rise to Power
The German tall ship named in honor of Horst Wessel was claimed by the United States and serves as the Coast Guard Training Ship Eagle. US Navy

5. The Horst Wessel Lied becomes a Nazi anthem

In January 1930, two gunmen from the German Communist Party (KPD) shot Horst Wessel in the face at point blank range, severely and painfully wounding him. Wessel was an officer of the Nazi SA and a veteran of several street battles with the communists and other anti-Nazi groups. He was also the writer of a song sung by Nazis as they demonstrated in the streets, which he called “Raise the Flag’. Wessel was essentially a street thug who worked for Goebbels, inciting violence during demonstrations, which Goebbels then blamed on the communists and others in his propaganda newspapers and pamphlets. Shot in his apartment, which he shared with a prostitute, Wessel lingered for more than a month before succumbing to blood poisoning.

As Wessel lay in the hospital, Goebbels wrote articles and speeches delivered by other Nazi leaders which sanctified him, referring to his killers as “degenerate communist subhumans”. The murderer was discovered to have been an acquaintance of the prostitute with whom Wessel shared living spaces, but the Nazis denied any further link between the two. Eventually, more than eleven people were charged with being complicit in Wessel’s murder, which the Nazi propaganda machine quickly turned into martyrdom. Goebbels eulogized him as a “Christian socialist” thereby distancing him and the Nazis further from the godless communists. Three years after the murder Hitler delivered a speech at Wessel’s grave, accompanied by the singing of the song Wessel had written, then known as the Horst Wessel Lied, an anthem which signified Nazi courage and sacrifice for greater Germany.

18 Major Events During Adolf Hitler’s Rise to Power
A card used by the Nazis to justify forcing Jews to wear the star of David, which translates to “Whoever wears this symbol is an enemy of our people” Wikimedia

6. Anti-Jewish actions gained momentum during the depression

With the world’s economy led into a global depression following the collapse of the stock market in the United States, followed by international bank failures, the accusations of an international financial conspiracy led by Jews gained a wider audience. In the fall of 1930 the SA began overt actions against Jewish financial and mercantile interests, smashing shop windows and storefronts. Other, less reactionary German political parties lost strength to the Nazis and the Communists, and Hitler’s influence as the leader of the Nazi party grew with its increasing strength in the Reichstag. The conservative German government appeared helpless against the ravages of the depression, which Hitler blamed on a coalition of Jewish financial interests, western capitalists, and communists. SA and Nazi supporters continued to engage in violent confrontations on Germany’s streets.

The communist party in Germany was nearly equal in strength to the Nazis in the early 1930s, and responded to direction from Moscow, which saw the Nazis as the main threat to their influence in Berlin. From 1930-1932 the Center Party, a group of moderate conservatives, operated the coalition government of Germany with Heinrich Bruning as Chancellor, and Paul von Hindenburg as President. Hindenburg enjoyed the support of the Army, and Bruning used that alliance to govern without the support of the Reichstag, often in opposition to the elected representatives. Senior military officials actively lobbied for the support of the Nazi party, and in 1932, under pressure from his military advisers, Hindenburg removed Bruning from power and appointed Nazi sympathizer Franz von Papen Chancellor, a move Hitler was vocal in approving.

18 Major Events During Adolf Hitler’s Rise to Power
A 1908 postcard depicting the German Reichstag, the seat of the German parliament in which the Nazis made gradual gains. Wikimedia

7. The Nazis achieve a plurality in the Reichstag

In the 1932 elections, the Nazi party achieved the largest body of membership representing the German people in the Reichstag, though a clear majority eluded them. Hitler, formerly a supporter of von Papen as Chancellor, demanded that he be appointed in his stead. Hindenburg responded by dissolving the Reichstag and another election was held in November. Following a summer of heavy street violence, much of it attributed to the Nazi SA, the party lost seats. Major General Kurt von Schleicher maneuvered himself into appointment as Chancellor, which led Hitler and von Papen to reach an accommodation. During the maneuvering between parties, the military, and the politicians Hitler was faced with another problem, which though he resolved it legally it continued to haunt him during attacks from his political rivals.

Hitler had been born in Austria, and was thus not a German citizen from birth, and not legally able to hold elected political office in Germany. He renounced his Austrian citizenship in 1925, but was not able to acquire German citizenship until 1931, when he was appointed to a minor post in the Free State of Brunswick. Still, the fact of his non-native status was political fodder for his opponents, who frequently referred to him as an Austrian in response to his claiming to be one with the German people. While Hitler dealt with the arguments over his citizenship, the SA continued its war in the streets with the communists, and German newspapers and radio constantly reported on the violence in the streets, competing with the propaganda machinery of the contending parties. In the spring of 1932 the violence increased as Adolf Hitler ran against Hindenburg in the presidential election.

18 Major Events During Adolf Hitler’s Rise to Power
Ernst Rohm served in Hitler’s government as a Minister without Portfolio before being murdered under Hitler’s orders. Wikimedia

8. The SA and SS were banned following the presidential elections

The election of Germany’s president took place in two cycles during February and April 1932, and Adolf Hitler lost readily to the popular war hero Hindenburg. Nonetheless Hitler received more the 13 million votes, though official Nazi Party membership was counted at less than one million. Three days after the election results were announced, the Nazi paramilitary groups were banned from the streets in response to actions they had taken against Jewish businesses. The emergency decree was repealed less than two months later, and the SA and SS returned to their demonstrations and conflicts with the dwindling communist groups. When the Nazis gained the upper hand in the Reichstag in July, the increasingly desperate KPD increased its attacks, and the Nazis responded with attacks on Jewish activities, blaming the violence on a Jewish-Communist international conspiracy.

In August the Nazis elected Hermann Goering as President of the Reichstag, and although Hitler was offered the position of Vice Chancellor of Germany by von Papen he declined. Instead he focused on pushing the Reichstag, through Goering, to enact laws levying severe penalties for acts of political violence, directed against the increasingly violent communist KPD. In the fall of 1932 Hindenburg was persuaded to appoint Hitler as Chancellor, and the new government was created in January, 1933, with von Papen as Vice Chancellor, a position he was offered in return for his persuasion of Hindenburg to appoint Hitler. The SA and SS conducted demonstrations in the streets of German cities, carrying the symbols of the Nazi Party in torch lit parades. A conservative cabinet prepared to work with the coalition government established by Hitler.

18 Major Events During Adolf Hitler’s Rise to Power
Hitler publicly displayed respect for German president Paul von Hindenburg, though in private he expressed his disdain for the World War One hero. Wikimedia

9. Hitler moves to consolidate political power

In February 1933, the British ambassador in Berlin wrote to the Foreign Office that in his opinion, the Nazis had “come to stay”. Hitler himself reinforced this opinion, telling a British writer, “I tell you that the National Socialist movement will go on for 1,000 years,” giving birth to the myth of the thousand year Reich. On February 27, 1933, a fire damaged much of the Reichstag, destroying much of its main chamber, where the members met, and gutting the offices and other rooms of the building. Hitler and Goebbels arrived at the scene while the fire was still burning, with both immediately declaring that the fire was arson, attributed to the communists. Whether the Nazis had set the fire themselves, as has been proposed by some historians, remains unknown, but Hitler immediately turned the fire to his political advantage.

Under German law, the Reichstag was allowed to pass a measure known as an Enabling Act, granting temporary authority to the Chancellor and the President to enact laws exclusive of the democratic process, as a form of martial law during a national emergency. Hitler and the Nazis argued that Germany was on the verge of civil war with the communists, and Hitler used the fire and the propaganda value accusing the communists of setting it to persuade Hindenburg to enact such a law suspending civil liberties. Following Hindenburg’s acquiescence, communists were banned from the Reichstag and mass arrests of those suspected of being communists began throughout Germany. With the communists deposed from the Reichstag the Nazis went from being a plurality to a majority, and as head of the Nazi party Hitler became the de facto dictator of Germany.

18 Major Events During Adolf Hitler’s Rise to Power
Most of the Nazi officials installed in office by Hitler who survived the war were tried for war crimes, with the trials revealing much information about the inner workings of the Nazi Party. US Army

10. Hitler rules by decree for the next four years

Following the passage of the enabling act and the suppression of the communists, evicting them from the government to which they had been elected, Hitler was able to rule Germany by decree, issuing laws and suppressing civil liberties as he chose. Hindenburg remained in place as President, but he was little more than a figurehead to which Hitler deferred publicly, but ignored privately. On July 14, 1933, all political parties in Germany other than the Nazis were outlawed, and political activity which did not support National Socialism became a crime against the state. The governments of the German states were replaced with the machinery of the Nazi party, their authority coming from the central government in Berlin. Party membership became a prerequisite of government office. Hindenburg died in 1934, and rather than appoint himself to the presidency Hitler combined the offices into one, which he held as the Fuhrer, or leader, of the German people.

On the day of Hindenburg’s death Hitler took steps to ensure that the German military, who had to that time been loyal to the president, would from thence maintain unquestioning loyalty to him. It was not his idea. The oath originated with the military command in the hope that it would strengthen ties between the head of state and the army, to the detriment of Hitler’s links with the Nazi party. The oath required every soldier to swear loyalty to Hitler and the nation’s legal institutions, but in none of the forms of the oath (there were slightly different versions administered to civil servants and other positions) was the Nazi Party mentioned.

18 Major Events During Adolf Hitler’s Rise to Power
Hitler Youth pass the Fuhrer in review in Potsdam in 1932. Wikimedia

11. Nazification of the civil service was critical to Hitler’s power

In 1930s Germany the civil service included not only government workers, but also teachers and professors, officers of the courts including judges and prosecutors, and many other professionals. In April 1933 the Law for the Restoration of a Professional Civil Service was decreed, though with some objections from Hindenburg, which effectively banned Jews from the German civil service, and forced the removal of thousands of former civil servants from their positions. Many, in order to retain their posts, joined the Nazi Party. Others were forced into retirement or simply dismissed. The decree was later supplemented with a series of related ordinances which forced Jews and others known to have opposed National Socialism out of schools, under the guise of relieving overcrowding.

In January 1934, the separate German states were effectively abolished as political entities, reduced to provinces under a centralized government, and Germany for all practical purposes ceased to be a federal republic. The powers of the former states were formally transferred to the Chancellor and President, which Hitler then had combined into the same office through the Law Concerning the Highest State Office of the Reich in August 1934 following the death of Hindenburg. The political moves were possible since the Nazis had banned all opposition in the Reichstag, but the support of the German people was still necessary. Hitler’s moves to control public opinion and gain public support were part of an all-encompassing propaganda campaign which emphasized the superiority of the Aryan race and the international conspiracies against it, led by Jewish control of the world’s economic system.

18 Major Events During Adolf Hitler’s Rise to Power
A man is seen passing out Nazi propaganda in front of a Jewish owned gift shop in Nuremburg during the summer of 1935. Wikimedia

12. The Nazi “co-ordination” effort to control the minds of Germans

In the spring of 1933, Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels delivered a speech in which he stated that the purpose of propaganda was to “permeate the person it intends to grasp”. To Goebbels, successful propaganda seized control and shaped a person’s beliefs and attitudes without the person being aware that they were being, as it were, sculpted by another. Beginning in the spring of 1933, all persons in any position who did not fully support the Nazi philosophy and goals were purged, an important part of the civil service “reforms” installed by the Nazis. Another was the mandatory membership in youth organizations, beginning at the age of six for boys, and ten for girls. Following completion of the youth services boys were directed into the armed forces or the labor services. By 1936 over six million Germans were in the Hitler Youth.

In May, 1933, all labor unions in Germany were dissolved by decree and replaced with the Nazi run German Labor Front. Under its wing the party established an organization which it called Strength through Joy (Kraft durch Freude) which mandated all recreational organizations throughout Germany, whether they be football leagues or bridge clubs, be members, and thus under the control of the party and subject to its propaganda. The KDF operated recreation centers, organized day trips and vacation excursions, and held mandatory recreational events for workers across Germany, reaching a membership of more than 25 million before World War II. Other organizations were developed to structure worker activities within industry and in government positions, creating in Germany a situation in which the people were isolated from those the Nazis considered unworthy and suspect.

18 Major Events During Adolf Hitler’s Rise to Power
Leading Nazis in a photograph taken in the late 1920s, including Himmler at left, Goebbels standing behind Hitler’s right shoulder, and Goering at the extreme right. Wikimedia

13. Hitler and Goebbels create the myth of the Nazi rise to power

As Hitler consolidated his political power and Goebbels continued to shape the minds of the German people, the party created the myth of the Nazi’s rise to power, in which they were forced to wrest control of Germany’s destiny from the treacherous hands of the Jews and communists. Anti-Jewish propaganda was relentless, presented continuously to the German people in schools and universities, from church pulpits, in radio broadcasts, films, posters, newspapers, magazines, and literature. During Hitler’s rise to power several newspapers and magazines warned against the excesses of the Nazi Party and its aims, and when Hitler achieved control of the government he moved quickly and ruthlessly to eliminate their voices, which he referred to collectively as the “poison kitchen”.

Chief among these political enemies was the Munich newspaper Munchener Post, which had been the subject of numerous legal actions by the Nazis for libel in the 1920s, and less than legal actions by the SA against their delivery vehicles, reporters, and editorial staff. In 1933, immediately after becoming Chancellor, Hitler had the SA seize the paper’s offices and destroy its files and records. Its staff was arrested and sent to concentration camps, a new entity created by the Nazis for the suppression of opposition. The street address of the Post was eliminated from Munich directories and never restored. The Post was just one of the many news outlets destroyed by the Nazis, replaced with the myth creating propagandists which were soon the only voice heard within Germany, other than those who met in secret, for the time being unable to stem the Nazi tide.

18 Major Events During Adolf Hitler’s Rise to Power
The German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer in Gibraltar in 1936. Construction began before the Nazis came to power, as all of Germany’s military forces rearmed secretly during the 1920s. US Navy

14. German rearmament preceded Hitler’s accession to power

Between 1918 and 1933, under the government of the Weimar Republic, the German military, supported by the federal government, began rearming in violation of the Versailles Treaty. The goal of the federal government was the creation of paramilitary organizations which could be rapidly absorbed into the army in case of national emergency. One of the reasons the government did not suppress the development of paramilitary organizations such as the SA, the SS, and the KPD, was the recognition that such forces could become part of a national army in the event of another war. After Hitler came to power in 1933 he made the rearming of Germany, already well underway, an open secret. Rearming became the government’s highest priority, both to enhance German prestige and to combat the Great Depression, then taking jobs from the German economy.

During the 1930s the rearmament of Germany led the German economy into near full employment. Jobs which were plentiful and which paid well enhanced the position of the Nazis in power, as well as helped create a revitalized Germany. By 1935, when the expanding German military strength was well known, Hitler revived conscription in Germany. That same year the British and Germans agreed to a new naval treaty which allowed the German fleet to expand to 35% of the tonnage of the British fleet, which exceeded the limitations imposed by the Versailles Treaty, and which was reached without the approval of England’s French ally. Germany had already begun construction of a new U-Boat fleet, which began to deploy in 1935, another violation of the Versailles Treaty. Britain chose to follow the path of accepting German rearmament under agreed limitations, rather than oppose it vigorously.

18 Major Events During Adolf Hitler’s Rise to Power
Senior Nazi officials on trial at Nuremburg during the War Crimes Tribunal. They all claimed to have been following orders from Hitler. US Army

15. The creation of the Gestapo and the crushing of the SA leadership

When Hitler became Chancellor Hermann Goering was named as the Interior Minister of Prussia, the largest German state and the one possessing the largest police force. Goering detached the intelligence and political sections of the Prussian police, purged them of non-Nazis, and replaced them with fervent Nazi loyalists, creating the Geheime Staatspolizei, which became known as the Gestapo. In April 1934, under the direction of Hitler, Goering transferred control of the Gestapo to Heinrich Himmler, who was named head of all German police outside of Prussia on April 20, 1934. By the spring of 1934 the power of the SA and its leadership was viewed as a potential threat by Himmler, Goering, and Hitler, and curbing its influence though infiltration became a Nazi priority. Their view was supported by senior German military leaders.

At the end of June 1934, Himmler’s SS and the Gestapo carried out a series of assassinations of senior SA officers who had been instrumental in the Nazi rise to power but were by then viewed as a threat by the Nazi leadership. The murders were sometimes simply acts of revenge for past slights, to settle old scores, or to remove rivals. At least 85 murders were carried out, mostly by the SS, and there are estimates that the killings may have numbered in the hundreds. Another thousand or more Germans who had once been opposed to the Nazis disappeared into concentration camps and prisons. The Night of the Long Knives, as it became known, was so named from a long-standing German phrase for vengeful retribution. Upon its completion Hitler addressed the Reichstag during which he established himself as the final arbiter of justice in Germany. The Gestapo became one of the most feared of the Nazi organizations.

18 Major Events During Adolf Hitler’s Rise to Power
Hitler’s dominance of the German political apparatus was admired by American supporters in the German American Bund. Wikimedia

16. Hitler controls nearly all aspects of German society

By 1935, the Nazi Party – and by extension its head, Adolf Hitler – controlled nearly all of Nazi society with the notable exception of the churches. Many of these also fell into compliance with Nazi philosophy, particularly in regards to policies concerning Germany’s Jews. Others continued to resist, though often covertly, concerned with the prevalence of the Gestapo and its many spies throughout German society. Throughout the remainder of the 1930s and in fact throughout the ensuing war in Europe, the Nazi regime sought to suppress dissent from the churches and religious schools through the issuance of decrees which eliminated Christian symbols and ceremonies, and which attempted to create a national religion by combining the Christian protestant churches under state control.

A special barracks was erected at the Dachau concentration camp for the imprisonment of clergy, eventually more than 2,700 members of the clergy were imprisoned there, more than 2,500 of them Catholics. Other clergymen of all faiths vanished into Gestapo cells and were never seen again. Hitler promised not to interfere with the practice of religion when he assumed power, a promise he immediately broke, and suppression continued throughout his regime. It was one area of German life which he could not completely bring under his control, though efforts to do so continued until the collapse of the Reich in 1945. Hitler decided not to implement plans for the complete destruction of Christianity in Germany until after the war, when he intended to restore the pagan rituals of Germanic history under a thirty point plan which included replacing the Christian cross with the swastika and the bible with Mein Kampf.

18 Major Events During Adolf Hitler’s Rise to Power
Rather than remain in occupation of the Rhineland France began work on its Maginot Line, here being inspected by American troops in 1944. US Army

17. Hitler’s territorial ambitions begin in the Rhineland

The Versailles Treaty had established that German military forces and fortifications would not be allowed in the area known as the Rhineland, and that Allied forces would not withdraw from the region until 1935. In fact the Allies withdrew their occupation troops in 1929 (British) and 1930 (French) as part of the negotiations over the German payment of war reparations. The year before the French withdrew they began construction of the series of forts along the French frontier which became known as the Maginot Line. For the first half of the 1930s French, Italian, British, and Soviet diplomats maneuvered over various means of containing Germany within its borders, and in 1935 France and the Soviet Union signed a treaty of alliance, which the Germans declared was a violation of the Versailles Treaty.

By 1935 the German economy was again faltering, with inflation and food shortages driving up prices and German support of the Nazi regime falling, especially in the larger cities. Hitler, desirous of a prestige building foreign policy victory, decided to remilitarize the Rhineland in January 1936. Although Goering counseled against the decision and even attempted to persuade Mussolini to dissuade the Fuhrer, the German army marched into the Rhineland beginning in March, 1936, supported by Luftwaffe aircraft. Hitler followed his coup by offering to return Germany to the League of Nations and offered a treaty of non-aggression to the French. France, which was most threatened by the German move, did nothing to oppose it militarily, and Hitler knew from that point that his other territorial desires in Europe were feasible.

18 Major Events During Adolf Hitler’s Rise to Power
A German postage stamp commemorating the Anschluss, which gave Germany access to badly needed raw materials for their ongoing military buildup. Wikimedia

18. The Anschluss unites Germany and Austria

When Hitler wrote Mein Kampf he stated within it his intention to unite Germany and Austria, despite several formerly Austrian territories being occupied by the Italians. As he moved towards annexing Austria Mussolini at first opposed him, until he was personally reassured by the German Chancellor that there would be no demands for the cession of territory by Italy. Hitler’s desire to annex Austria into the Reich has long been explained as being motivated by the desire to unite all of the Germanic people but in fact he had more mercenary reasons for absorbing the Austrian state. Austria was wealthy in many of the materials needed by the ever-increasing German military buildup, including iron and textiles, magnesium, and other products required of the German economy and growing war machine. The primary means by which Hitler convinced the Austrians to support him was through propaganda.

The slogan, Ein Volk, Ein Reich, Ein Fuhrer was displayed prominently in Germany and Austria, and the Austrian Nazi Party used tactics similar to those it had used successfully in Germany to terrorize opponents and shape public opinion. The Austrian government responded by rounding up Nazis and imprisoning them, leading to a German boycott of Austria. In the mid-1930s Hermann Goering was the loudest voice in Germany calling for Austrian annexation. By 1937 both Austria and Czechoslovakia were targets for German military takeover, to be plundered for their raw materials and industrial bases. Hitler eventually seized Austria though the threat of military invasion and conquest, which was covered by a referendum which established the desire of the Austrian people to join the Reich. Opposition was rapidly suppressed by the SS. The plebiscite vote to ratify annexation was held throughout Germany and Austria and was claimed by the Nazis to represent over 99% approval.


Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Hitler: 1889-1936”. Ian Kershaw. 1999

“Hitler: A Study in Tyranny”. Alan Bullock. 1962

“Where Ghosts Walked: Munich’s Road to the Third Reich”. David Clay Large. 1997

“Press and Politics in the Weimar Republic”. Bernhard Fulda. 2009

“The Making of a Nazi Hero: The Murder and Myth of Horst Wessel”. Daniel Siemens. 2013

“The European Economy Between the Wars”. Charles H. Feinstein. 1997

“The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”. William L. Shirer. 2011

“Germany: Second Revolution?” Time Magazine staff reports. July 2, 1934

“The law that enabled Hitler’s dictatorship”. Marc von Lupke-Schwarz, Deutsche Welle. March 23, 2013. Online

“Hitler endorsed by 9-1 in poll on his dictatorship, but opposition is doubled”. Frederick T. Birchall, The New York Times. August 19, 1934

“The Nazi Conscience”. Claudia Koonz. 2003

“Hitler Youth: 1922-1945, An Illustrated History”. Jean-Denis Lepage. 2008

“Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of his Evil”. Ron Rosenbaum. 1999

“Germany Reborn”. Hermann Goering. 1934

“Franz von Papen Memoirs”. Franz von Papen, translated by Brian Connell and Andre Deutsch. 1952

“The Nazi Persecution of the Churches 1933-1945”. John S. Conway. 1968

“Hitler, Intelligence and the decision to remilitarize the Rhine”. Zach Shore, Journal of Contemporary History. January 1999

“Inside the Third Reich”. Albert Speer. 1997