On February 1, 1933, President Hindenburg granted Hitler’s wish for new elections. Immediately thereafter, Hitler requested an emergency decree allegedly aimed at Communist acts of terror. The “Decree for the Protection of the German People,” issued under presidential authority on February 4, 1933, allowed the new interior minister, Wilhelm Frick (1877-1946), to work with local police to prohibit public meetings and to suppress publications deemed “dangerous” to public security and order. Additionally, Frick’s ministry and police authorities were given the power to ban strikes in vital areas. They were also granted expanded powers of arrest, which meant that they could arrest individuals who knew about forbidden activities but failed to inform the authorities. The “Decree for the Protection of the German People” ultimately allowed the government to round up Communist and Social Democratic candidates and to cripple anti-government campaign activities in the weeks leading up to the elections.
At the cabinet meeting of February 8, 1933, Hitler introduced his new vision for German rearmament. Reichswehr Minister Werner von Blomberg (1878-1946), who had already been appointed to the post by Hindenburg, quickly put in his claim for resources, arguing that the state of the German army made emergency rearmament an absolute priority. Only after this was achieved could the government move on to other objectives. The transcript of the meeting reveals a good deal of common ground between the new chancellor and the German military. Moreover, it also shows that Hitler intended to remain chancellor far longer than his immediate predecessors in office – in power for little more than a week, he was already plotting to rearm Germany within five years.
As a whole, German big business had not given the Nazis significant support in previous elections (1). Hitler hoped to change that situation, however. On February 20, 1933, Hermann Göring (1893-1946) hosted a private meeting of approximately twenty of Germany’s leading industrialists and financiers. A decorated World War I pilot and a genuine bon vivant, Göring enjoyed far better connections among the business elite than Hitler, whose modest Austrian background, awkward mannerisms, and demagogic style made many prominent businessmen wary. Also in attendance that day was Dr. Hjalmar Schacht (1877-1970), who had served as president of the Reichsbank from 1923 to 1930. Having once occupied the middle of the political spectrum, Schacht had started moving to the right in the late 1920s. By the time Hitler came to power, he had been flirting with the Nazis for years. Still, Schacht’s presence at the meeting reassured and encouraged the business community, and he managed to collect pledges of financial support for the government’s election campaign. The following month, he was reappointed head of the Reichsbank, this time under the new Nazi regime.
(1) See Henry Ashby Turner, Jr., German Big Business and the Rise of Nazism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985).