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Hitler and the Nazis come to power

Created by Sal Khan.

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Video transcript

Narrator: Where we left off in the last video, in 1924, Hitler was in jail, his famous coup d'état in 1923, his famous Beer Hall Putsched in Munich had failed. He's now in jail, he's writing Mein Kampf. When he gets out of jail, so this is when he's in jail, the Nazi party is banned and a lot of the economic turmoil that made the possibility of overthrowing the government more likely, that we saw in the early 20's, that hyperinflation in Weimar Germany, this was now under control by the time Hitler comes out of jail. They had issued new currency, it was far more stable. To a certain degree the Nazi's and Hitler were starting from scratch, although even at this point Hitler continues to be an ever growing influence. He's a famous speaker, there are more and more people who are knowing about him and who are following him. Over the next few years his book does get published and it sells, actually, tens of thousands of copies over the next several years, but for the most part he's still a relatively small actor in German politics. But then we fast forward as we get to the late 20s, the Nazi's are gaining some influence, but then in 1929, (writing) in 1929, you have a global change for the economy of the world and that's the beginning of The Great Depression. In particular, what's often the first sign that The Great Depression was at hand is you have the U.S. stock market crashes in October of 1929, famous Black Tuesday. That was the mark of the beginning of a, not just American Depression, but a global depression. So you have the whole world going into a depression. Anytime you have economic turmoil it tends give more energy to the more extreme parties, whether it is the parties like the Nazi's, who one could consider maybe to be on the extreme right, or often considered to be on the extreme right, or maybe you could say very nationalistic, or even the extreme left parties who are obviously against capitalist systems and whatever else. So, by the election of 1930, now we're talking about Parliamentary elections and the Parliament in Germany is the Reichstag. (writing) The Reichstag, and I know I'm mispronouncing it. In the Reichstag elections, the Nazi party, for the first time is able to have a significant showing. It gets 18, it gets roughly 18% of the vote and a proportional representation in the Parliament. Now all of a sudden, this kind of marks the beginning of the Nazi's being significant, significant players in German politics. Then we get to 1932 and the economy is not improving, it is only getting worse. (writing) 1932. Adolf Hitler actually makes a run for President. The current President at that point is Paul von Hindenburg, famous for the Hindenburg line, later for the Hindenburg, the Zeppelin, the famous exploding Zeppelin disaster. He was, with Ludendorff, one of the two leaders of the German military effort during World War I. He's President of the Weimar Republic since 1925 and in 1932 he is able to get re-election, but Hitler has a fairly good showing. Hitler is able to get 35% of the vote. (writing) Hitler gets 35% of the presidential election votes, (writing) of the vote. The Weimar Republic had this strange system. It wasn't quite a Presidential system like the U.S. and it wasn't quite a pure Parliamentary system like the current-day Germany. The President was independently elected and had some powers, and then the Parliament was also independently elected and then they would try to build coalitions to have a ruling government. Needless to say, 1932 Hitler is now a major actor, the Nazi's also have a many, many, many seats in Parliament. Now, you have several Parliamentary elections as well in 1932 and as we just talked about two in particular. In order for a government to form in Parliament, in order to find the Cabinet and the Chancellor, who essentially is the Prime Minister, you have an election and the different parties get different amounts of votes. If no party has a majority, the parties have to form a coalition that can make a majority. There's a lot of horsetrading going on with parties negotiating, hey why don't we form a coalition with each other, if we do that maybe someone from my party can be Minister of the Interior, someone of your party could be the Chancellor and maybe we can get a coalition together to rule over the government. But you have two Parliamentary elections and no majority coalition forms. (writing) So, two, two elections. So this is Parliamentary. So this is in the Presidential election, Hindenburg is still President, but Hitler has a good showing and then you have two Parliamentary elections. (writing) Parliament elections, or Reichstag elections where you have no majority, no coalition. (writing) no majority, majority coalition. The Nazi's continue to be a major actor here, they continue to have more and more of a showing inside the Reichstag. Then by 1933 it's a bit of crisis. So as we get in to early 1933 we have a little bit of a crisis. We have no government, we have no Chancellor, we have no Cabinet to essentially be the executive, the government of the country because there's been no major coalitions. The Weimar Constitution allowed a strange thing, it allowed the President to appoint a government, appoint a Cabinet, a Chancellor that might not even be representative of what's going on in Parliament. So, Paul von Hindenburg is convinced that ... hey look, he was no fan, he was no fan of Adolf Hitler but he's convinced that look, Adolf Hitler was your opponent if you make Adolf Hitler the head of an interim Government, the head of an interim Cabinet then that might be a way to create some national unity and then maybe we could have some Parliamentary elections that there can be a majority coalition and you could have, I guess you could say, a more legitimate government take hold. So, Paul von Hindenburg is convinced and so he does, even though the Nazi's are still a minority party, even though they weren't part of any type of a majority coalition, Paul von Hindenburg who is not a fan of Adolf Hitler appoints him as Chancellor. This is in January. So in January, Hitler, (writing) Hitler is appointed Chancellor, Chancellor, which is essentially the Prime Minister of the Reichstag of Germany. Then we get to February and events get really, really, really interesting. In February of 1933 you have a fire in the Reichstag building in Berlin. This is the Reichstag building right over here and it is on fire. They find this gentleman here on the scene, Marinus van der Lubbe, he is a Dutch communist. It is essentially the blame is placed as this was some type of a, the beginning of some type of a communist revolution. This is used as a pretext. Hitler then advises Paul von Hindenburg to essentially use some of his emergency powers as President, which is another strange thing that the Weimar Constitution allowed for, it allowed the President under emergency conditions to start to suspend civil rights. This was an emergency situation and so Paul von Hindenburg does that. He essentially issues ... once you have the Reichstag fire (writing) Reichstag fire, and then Hindenburg is convinced by the Nazi's to pass the Reichstag Fire Decree. (writing) Fire decree, which essentially suspends, it gives the government emergency powers and it suspends civil liberties, which everything up to this point now is actually legal, this was actually allowed for in the Weimar Constitution. (writing) Suspends, suspends civil, civil liberties. And since there's no coalition, the whole point that Hitler's Cabinet was going to be an interim one, you have another Parliamentary election coming in March with the hope of maybe a majority coalition forms, but that March election, especially with civil liberties suspended you could imagine that the Nazi's ... and they have their paramilitary troopers started intimidating other parties, making sure that they had a better showing at the polls, they started intimidating other candidates. The March election start to swing hugely in the Nazi's favor, so in the March election they're able to get 44% of the vote, which is still not enough, by themselves, to form a government. It's still not a majority, but they're able now ... they're now the largest part in the Reichstag, in the Parliament. They're able to now form a majority coalition, and I guess you could say more legitimately ... although this was a election of intimidation, they were able to now form a government, they're able to now form a government based on a majority coalition and Hitler remains Chancellor. But then, this new Parliament passes the Enabling Act in March. (writing) Enabling Act, Enabling Act, which is essentially an amendment to the Weimar Constitution which gives the Cabinet, especially the Chancellor, effectively the Chancellor who's the head of the Cabinet, legislative powers, unlimited legislative powers for the next four years. So, it gives legislative powers and remember we already have suspended civil rights. So, the Reichstag is essentially giving over the legislative powers, (writing) legislative powers, to the Chancellor who happens to be, who happens to be Hitler. There was some check on this by the President, but then we have Hindenburg dying the next year. After this, after the suspension of civil rights and then the Enabling Act shortly afterwards, Hitler is essentially in full control, Hitler and the Nazi's are essentially in full control of the German government. At this point, Hitler is the dictator, (writing) the dictator of, he is the dictator of Germany. They start to act fast, they start to intimidate other parties, they use violence, they start to imprison people and by July of 1933 ... so they're acting very, very fast, by July of 1933 Nazi's are the only legal party. (writing) only legal Pot party and they essentially have full control. Now, this is how Hitler came to power and the question that's probably circling in your mind is, "Who did this fire?" This fire was the catalyst, although Hitler was already Chancellor and maybe he would have found some way to get to power regardless, but this fire, even though there was evidence that it looked like maybe Marinus van der Lubbe did it, it was blamed on the communist, it was the pretext that was used to give the government even more power, especially the Nazi's even more power. This is an open question, one of those great open questions, one of those great open questions of history. Some people feel that maybe it was just a communist plot, maybe it was Marinus van der Lubbe acting on his own and maybe it just happened to fall into the hands of Hitler and they were able to use it, while other historians think that this was actually a plot by the Nazi's to create this emergency state and Marinus van der Lubbe was kind of a puppet in this whole plot. So, open question of history, but needless to say as we go from 1919 to 1933, Hitler goes from a fairly unknown individual to full dictator of Germany.