1933 German Federal Elections

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Federal elections were held in Germany on 5 March 1933. The 1933 poll was held after the Nazi seizure of power and the Reichstag fire, just six days before the election. Nazi storm troopers had unleashed a campaign of violence against the Communist Party (KPD), left-wingers, trade unionists, the Social Democratic Party of Germany, and the centre-right Catholic Centre Party.

The 1933 election followed the previous year’s two elections (July and November) and Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor. In the months before the 1933 election, brownshirts and SS displayed terror, repression and propaganda across the land, and Nazi organizations monitored the vote process. In Prussia 50,000 members of the SS, SA and Stahlhelm were ordered to monitor the votes by acting Interior Minister Hermann Göring, as auxiliary police.

Berlin, Polizeipatrouille am Wahltag

The Nazis registered a large increase in votes in 1933. Despite waging a campaign of terror against their opponents, the Nazis only tallied 43.9 percent of the vote, well short of a majority. They needed the votes of their coalition partner, the German National People’s Party (DNVP), for a bare working majority in the Reichstag.

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This would be the last contested election held in Germany before World War II. Two weeks after the election, Hitler was able to pass an Enabling Act on 23 March with the support of all non-socialist parties, which effectively gave Hitler dictatorial powers. Within months, the Nazis banned all other parties, dissolved the Reichstag and replaced it with a rubberstamp legislature comprising only Nazis and pro-Nazi “guests.”

Despite achieving a much better result than in the November 1932 election, the Nazis did not do as well as Hitler had hoped.

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In spite of massive violence and intimidation, the Nazis won only 43.9% of the vote, rather than the majority that he had expected.

Therefore, Hitler was forced to maintain his coalition with the DNVP to control a majority of seats. The Communists (KPD) lost about a fourth of their votes, while the Social Democrats suffered only moderate losses. Although the KPD had not been formally banned, it was a foregone conclusion that the KPD deputies would never be allowed to take their seats. Within a few days, all of the KPD’s representatives were either under arrest or were in hiding.

Although the Nazi-DNVP coalition had enough seats to conduct the basic business of government, Hitler needed a two-thirds majority to pass the Enabling Act, a law which allowed the Cabinet–in effect, the Chancellor–to enact laws without the approval of the Reichstag for a four-year period.

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With certain exceptions, such laws could deviate from the Weimar Constitution. Leaving nothing to chance, the Nazis used the provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree to arrest all 81 Communist deputies and keep several Social Democrats out of the chamber.

Hitler then obtained the necessary supermajority by persuading the Catholic Centre Party to vote with him with regard to the Reichskonkordat. The bill was passed on 23 March with 444 votes for and 94 against. Only the Social Democrats led by Otto Wels opposed the measure, which came into effect on 27 March.

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As it turned out, the atmosphere of that session was so intimidating that the measure would have still passed even if all Communist and Social Democratic deputies had been present and voting. The provisions of the bill turned the Hitler government into a de facto legal dictatorship.

Within four months, the other parties had been shuttered either by outright banning or Nazi terror, and Germany was firmly a one-party state. Although three more elections were held during the Nazi era, voters were presented with a single list of Nazis and guest candidates, and voting was not secret.

 

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