The Reichstag (Diet of the Realm) was a legislative body of Weimar Germany from 1919 until the Nazi takeover in 1933. The German Parliament consisted of two Houses, it was a bicameral body as is the Congress of the United States. All adults, with only a few exceptions, were eligible to vote in a system similar to our electoral college. As a minimal number of votes were required to gain a seat, it was a legislative body with innumerable voices represented and subsequently
“each political party wanted to pull Germany in a different direction and parties often refused to compromise with, or even recognize, other parties.”
In the election of 1928, the Nazi Party won only 12 seats in the Reichstag making it the smallest of nine parties in the chamber. Four years later in the election of 1932, the Nazis and the Communists, both having been declared enemies of the parliamentary system, held an absolute majority of the seats. From 1930 onwards , the parliament was often circumvented by two instruments not strictly provided for by the constitution.
- the extensive use of powers granted to the President by the use of the Emergency Decree of Article 48 of the constitution allowing that President to take emergency measures without prior consent of the Reichstag. This power was understood to include “emergency decrees”
- the use of enabling acts of 1919-1923 and then in 1933 after Hitler had been appointed Chancellor. These acts became an important building block of his dictatorship. The Enabling Act of 1933 was an amendment that gave the German Cabinet – in effect, Chancellor Hitler – the power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag.
With this latter enabling act, the Reichstag formally gave up its exclusive responsibility for the exercise of the legislative power.
An arson attack on February 27, 1933 at the Reichstag building (home of the German parliament) occurred just one month after Hitler was elected Chancellor. It was blamed on communist agitators in general although it was later decided that it was the act of a lone council communist. This, however, provided the fuel that the Nazis needed to sway public opinion in favor of Hitler and the Nazis.
The Reichstag Fire Decree imposed on February 28, 1933 less than a day after the fire, rescinded most German civil liberties , including the rights of assembly and freedom of the press.
Should we learn anything from this piece of history?
- lack of compromise in the legislative branch
- economic hardships in search of a scapegoat
- extreme nationalism
- civil liberties rescinded
- freedom of press abolished
In a time period of one month in 1933, Hitler and his white supremacist, nationalist Nazi party transformed Germany from a deeply divided and troubled country, much like ours today, into the dictatorship responsible for over 6 million deaths.