Reengineering the Weimar Republic (1)

IMG_0671On March 23rd, 1933, the German parliament (both Reichstag and Reichsrat chambers) passed the Enabling Act. After it was signed into law by President Paul von Hindenburg on the same day, it gave Adolf Hitler enormous, almost absolute power in Germany.

With this power came enormous responsibilities. Not just do away with unemployment, but guarantee every able-bodied man the job that will earn sufficient income to provide for himself, his homemaking wife and children.

Radically improve financial, material, emotional and spiritual well-being of Germans, making German people a genuinely happy nation. Provide German workers with a solid “safety net” of unemployment, disability, health insurance and sufficient retirement income.

And, of course, make sure that the horrors of hunger of 1917-19, hyperinflation of 1921-23 and the Great Depression of 1929-33 never happen again.

Restore the power and the glory of Germany by making it again an economic, political and military superpower. Return territories taken at gunpoint by the “Versailles criminals” in 1920. Unite all German lands (including Austria) into Ein Reich.

Transform German people into a nation of Übermenschen – “superhuman beings”. Make Germany self-sufficient in foodstuffs, natural and financial resources. Provide the German people with economic, social and political stability. Make Germany a genuine “equal opportunity nation” where anyone can achieve anything regardless of which class or social group one has been born into.

But, first and foremost, fight and win the existential war with the Bolshevist Soviet Union and thus save Germany, Europe and the whole Western civilization from being conquered and destroyed by the “Red Plague”.

Adolf Hitler incorrectly believed that this existential war was the “racial war” with the “Jewish race” (that existed only in his imagination). Consequently, he sincerely (and incorrectly) believed that it was his responsibility to make Germany and all German-controlled territories Judenrein – “clean of Jews”.

To fulfil these enormous, mind-boggling responsibilities and achieve these grandiose objectives, he had not only to transform a tiny Reichswehr into a mighty Wehrmacht making the latter the most powerful, efficient and fearsome military force in the entire world, but to transform the German state and the German society into a mighty and invincible army based on the omnipresent and all-important Führerprinzip.

In other words, he had to radically reengineer the Weimar Republic into the army-style Führerstaat. Not an easy job to do as the former in 1933 was very much a federative state where the governments of the Lands (German states) possessed significant political and economic powers. For starters, there was no national police force – all law enforcement functions were performed by local, municipal and Land police agencies.

To remedy that unacceptable situation, on April 7th, 1933 (just two weeks after the Enabling Act was passed), Adolf Hitler re-established the Office of Reichsstatthalter (Imperial Governor), radically expanding the functions bestowed on this office in the Imperial Germany.

This law was established by the Second Law for Synchronization of the States with the Reich (Zweites Gesetz zur Gleichschaltung der Länder mit dem Reich) which assigned one Reichsstatthalter (governor) to each German states.

Doing away with the state, local and municipal political freedoms and powers and essentially transforming the federative Weimar Republic into a centralized Third Reich. For all practical purposes, killing the former.

In Prussia, the largest of the German Lands, Hitler took direct control by appointing himself as Reichsstatthalter. However, he delegated his authority to Hermann Göring, who had been installed as Prussian prime minister without an election. The Prussian provinces were administered by an Oberpräsident, usually the local Gauleiter (the provincial NSDAP leader).

Formally, the Reichsstatthalters had purely political, not administrative, functions. According to the abovementioned law, they were tasked to “carry out the general policy of the Chancellor” (i.e. Adolf Hitler).

In reality, they were given complete administrative powers over the state governments: appointing and dismissing the state minister-president (head of state government); dissolving the state parliament and calling new elections; issuing and announcing state laws (making the abovementioned law the “Enabling Act” for the state level); appointing and dismissing key state officials and judges; and even granting amnesty.

Thus, the Enabling Act and the Second Law for Synchronization of the States with the Reich de-facto transformed Germany from a federal republic into a highly centralized state.

To make it de-jure, on January 30th, 1934 (exactly a tear after he was appointed Chancellor) Adolf Hitler signed into law the Law for the Reconstruction of the Reich (Gesetz über den Neuaufbau des Reiche).

This law – for the first time in German history – formally de-federalized the Reich. The state parliaments were abolished, and their powers were transferred to the Reich government. The Reichsstatthalters were made responsible to the Reich Minister of the Interior. For all intents and purposes, the once powerful and semi-autonomous states were reduced to mere provinces.

To expand and strengthen his control over the state governments, exactly a year later (it appears that he really liked that date), Adolf Hitler signed into law The Reich Governors Law (Reichsstatthaltergesetz).

This law essentially stripped the heads of state governments of just about all their executive powers transferring the latter to the Reichsstatthalters. Formally, the governors the authority only to “inform” the heads of provincial governments about the guidelines and the recommended measures to fulfill them. In practice, this “information” was an order – cut and dry, loud and clear, plain and simple.

For all practical purposes, this law resulted in Reichsstatthalters taking over just about all functions of state government, and gave the governors power to appoint the mayors of all towns and cities with populations fewer than 100,000. Giving them (and thus the Reich Interior Ministry) almost total control over local government as well.

The Interior Minister directly appointed the mayors of all cities with populations greater than 100,000 (though Hitler reserved the right to appoint the mayors of Berlin and Hamburg himself if he deemed it necessary).

After the Anschluss of Austria in 1938, the latter (at that time also a federal republic) was incorporated in a centralized totalitarian Ein Reich using the same system of Reichsstatthalters and the corresponding laws which now were in force in the formerly Austrian territory as well.

 

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