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East Germany


Consolidation of Power

Hitler proceeded to transform the Weimar Republic into a totalitarian dictatorship. The National Socialist "revolution" was accomplished in gradual steps by using legal and semilegal methods as well as terror and persuasion. The NSDAP endeavored initially to establish National Socialist hegemony within the state. In this process, the old conservative-nationalist elite, while partially preserved, was subordinated to Nazi control. The state bureaucratic apparatus and the army, however, were retained, and the country's economic and social structure remained largely unchanged.

Because the government did not have a parliamentary majority, Hindenburg called for the dissolution of the Reichstag and set March 5 as the date for new elections. A week before election day, the Reichstag building was destroyed by fire. The Nazis, who presumably had set fire to the building themselves, blamed the fire on the communists, and on February 28 the president, invoking Article 48 of the constitution, signed a decree that enabled the Nazis to quash the political opposition. Authorized by the decree, the SA arrested socialist and liberal leaders as well as a large number of communists. State governments lacking a National Socialist majority were dissolved and subordinated to control by the central government. In March Hitler presented the Enabling Act to the Reichstag. The Reichstag, purged and intimidated, passed the act by a vote of 441 to 84, thereby according Hitler's cabinet dictatorial powers for a period of 4 years.

Hitler used the Enabling Act to implement Gleichschaltung (forced political coordination), the policy of subordinating all independent institutions and organizations to Nazi control. The state bureaucracy and the judiciary were purged of "non-Aryans," and all members were obliged to swear an oath of personal loyalty to the führer. The Secret State Police (Geheime Staatspolizei--Gestapo) was created, and the People's Tribunal was established to deal with cases of treason. State governments were dismissed and replaced by Reich governors directly responsible to Hitler. Trade unions were dissolved, political parties other than NSDAP were disbanded, and the NSDAP was purged of its social-revolutionary wing. In July Germany was legally declared a National Socialist one-party state.

After Hindenburg's death in August 1934, Hitler promulgated a law that combined the offices of the president and the chancellor. The law violated the Enabling Act, but it was subsequently sanctioned by national plebiscite. Thus, in the pseudolegal fashion characteristic of Nazi tactics, Hitler established himself as German führer. The army swore an oath of allegiance pledging unconditional obedience to him, and Heinrich Himmler's Guard Detachment (Schutzstaffel--SS) replaced the SA as Hitler's private army. Nazi leadership was drawn from the lowermiddle class and, according to some estimates, came from nonPrussian regions such as Bavaria.

Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda, consolidated the National Socialist power and elite structure. Goebbels formulated the concept of "total propaganda" and established the Reich Cultural Chamber. The chamber extended Gleichschaltung to include the educational system, the media, and all cultural institutions. Germanic customs were revived, the worship of Germanic gods was encouraged, and ambiguous and exaggerated vocabulary was introduced into the language to promote Nazi ideology. Hitler's Mein Kampf and other racist-imperialist literature were also widely distributed. In its propaganda campaign, the NSDAP focused primarily on "gathering in" the German youth.

Data as of July 1987