On March 23, 1933, the newly elected
members of the German Parliament (the Reichstag) met in the
House in Berlin to consider passing Hitler's Enabling Act. It was
officially called the 'Law for Removing the Distress of the People and
the Reich.' If passed, it would effectively mean the end of democracy in
Germany and establish the legal dictatorship of Adolf Hitler.
The 'distress' had been secretly
caused by the Nazis themselves in order to create a crisis atmosphere
that would make the law seem necessary to restore order. On February 27,
1933, they had burned the
seat of the German government, causing panic and outrage. The Nazis
successfully blamed the fire on the Communists and claimed it marked the
beginning of a widespread uprising.
On the day of the vote, Nazi storm
troopers gathered in a show of force around the opera house chanting,
"Full powers - or else! We want the bill - or fire and murder!!" They
also stood inside in the hallways, and even lined the aisles where the
vote would take place, glaring menacingly at anyone who might oppose
Just before the vote, Hitler made a
speech to the
Reichstag in which he pledged to use restraint.
"The government will make use of
these powers only insofar as they are essential for carrying out vitally
necessary measures...The number of cases in which an internal necessity
exists for having recourse to such a law is in itself a limited one." -
Hitler told the Reichstag.
He also promised an end to
unemployment and pledged to promote peace with France, Great Britain and
the Soviet Union. But in order to do all this, Hitler said, he first
A two thirds majority was needed,
since the law would actually alter the German constitution. Hitler
needed 31 non-Nazi votes to pass it. He got those votes from the Center
Party after making a false promise to restore some basic rights already
taken away by decree.
However, one man arose amid the
overwhelming might. Otto Wells, leader of the Social Democrats stood up
and spoke quietly to Hitler.
Social Democrats pledge ourselves solemnly in
this historic hour to the principles of humanity and justice, of freedom
and socialism. No enabling act can give you power to destroy ideas which
are eternal and indestructible."
This enraged Hitler and he jumped up
"You are no longer needed! - The star
of Germany will rise and yours will sink! Your death knell has sounded!"
The vote was taken - 441 for, only
84, the Social Democrats, against. The Nazis leapt to their feet
clapping, stamping and shouting, then broke into the Nazi anthem, the
Hörst Wessel song.
They achieved what Hitler had wanted
for years - to tear down the German Democratic Republic legally and end
democracy, thus paving the way for a complete Nazi takeover of Germany.
From this day on, the Reichstag would
be just a sounding board, a cheering section for Hitler's