Enabling Act

In 1933-34, Hitler and the Nazi Party systematically destroyed the Weimar Republic to gain more power. An essential part of this destruction was the Enabling Act on 23 March 1933 - but what did this Act do, and why was it so significant in Germany's transition from a democracy to a dictatorship? Let's find out!

Get started Sign up for free
Enabling Act Enabling Act

Create learning materials about Enabling Act with our free learning app!

  • Instand access to millions of learning materials
  • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams and more
  • Everything you need to ace your exams
Create a free account

Millions of flashcards designed to help you ace your studies

Sign up for free

Convert documents into flashcards for free with AI!

Table of contents

    Enabling Act Summary

    Essentially, the Enabling Act allowed Hitler to make and pass laws without the approval of the Reichstag. The power of the Act was based on Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, which allowed the President to grant emergency powers to override the Reichstag if necessary.

    The Reichstag

    The democratically-elected legislative body of the Weimar Republic's parliament. The Reichstag members voted on legislation, the country's budget, and Germany's international relations regarding war and peace.

    You might be wondering how such a law was ever passed. There are two critical pieces of context to understand how the Enabling Act came about - the Reichstag Fire and the vote on the Act itself.

    Reichstag Fire Decree and Enabling Act

    On 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set on fire. Although the members of the Reichstag were not there at the time, it was a very shocking event, with everyone immediately wondering who could have done such a thing.

    Enabling Act Reichstag Fire StudySmarterFig. 1 - The Reichstag fire

    In truth, we don't know who was responsible for the fire, though there have been many theories. However, at the time, Adolf Hitler was quick to blame the fire on Communists - this made people scared and presented a real political threat that demanded the use of emergency powers.

    Hitler wasted no time. The next day, the Reichstag Fire Decree (1933) was passed, giving him the power to detain and imprison people without trial. This struck at one of the fundamental principles of democracy and paved the way for the Enabling Act a month later.

    Enabling Act of 1933

    When it came into the Reichstag, the Enabling Act passed with 444 votes to 94. However, it is critical to understand that it was hardly a fair vote. In the days leading up to the vote, the SA and SS intimidated other Reichstag members. Many were arrested and sent to the new concentration camp at Dachau.

    SA

    An abbreviation of the Sturmabteilung, the Nazi paramilitary force active from 1920-45. This group mostly consisted of working-class members.

    SS

    An abbreviation of the Schutzstaffel, a smaller Nazi paramilitary force which answered directly to Hitler as his and other Nazi party officials' bodyguards, active from 1925-45. This group mostly consisted of middle-class members.

    Concentration Camp

    A prison facility where political prisoners or persecuted minorities are sent and forced to do manual labour.

    Enabling Act Adolf Hitler Speech StudySmarterFig. 2 - Adolf Hitler giving a speech on the Enabling Act, March 1933

    On the day of the vote, the Assembly Hall was filled with SS and SA 'guards' and decorated with swastikas - a member of the Social Democratic Party described the scene:

    SA and SS men lined up at the exits and along the wall behind us... later when we tried to interrupt Hitler, the SA and SS people hissed loudly and murmured 'Shut up', 'Traitors', 'You'll be hung today'.1

    - A member of the SDP recounting SA and SS intimidation during the vote on the Enabling Act, 1933.

    Clearly, this was not a democratic vote, which explains why the Enabling Act passed with such a huge majority - the Nazis threatened and intimidated people into voting for it.

    Did you know? 94 members of the Reichstag, all from the SDP, were brave enough to stand up to the Nazis and vote against the Act.

    Effects of the Enabling Act

    Despite the bravery of those who opposed the Enabling Act, it was still passed and was signed into law by President Hindenburg on the same day as the vote. Again, Hitler quickly used his newfound power to further his own political agenda. In the months following the Enabling Act, the Nazis targeted three key sections of society: local governments, trade unions, and political opposition.

    Enabling Act Paul Von Hindenburg StudySmarterFig. 3 - Paul von Hindenburg was President of the Weimar Republic from 1925-1934. He signed off on the Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act, which ultimately allowed Hitler to consolidate totalitarian power over Germany when Hindenburg died in 1934

    Local Government

    On 31 March 1933, Hitler shut down all 18 of Germany's state governments, centralising power with himself in Berlin. He then reorganised the local governments so that the Nazis had a majority in every state and appointed governors who were sympathetic to the Nazis. Finally, in July 1934, Hitler abolished state governments completely so that the various areas of Germany could have no real independence from Berlin.

    Trade Unions

    On 2 May 1933, Nazis broke into trade union headquarters, arrested their leaders, and broke up the trade unions. Later, the Nazis created the 'German Workers' Front' and forced workers to join. This meant that all former trade unions were under government control, making it very difficult for workers to stand up for their rights.

    Political Opposition

    Perhaps the biggest effect of the Enabling Act was the removal of all political opposition to the Nazis. In May 1933, the Communist and Social Democratic parties were suspended, with the Nazis seizing their headquarters and funds. This was only a stepping stone to the end goal - in July 1933, Hitler passed a law which banned all political parties except the Nazi party.

    Significance of the Enabling Act

    The Enabling Act was an incredibly significant moment in the history of Germany. It marked the end of the Weimar Republic, as Hitler destroyed all democratic systems by concentrating power for himself. It also allowed him to remove anyone who opposed him, creating a totalitarian dictatorship in Germany.

    Did you know? When Hindenburg died on 2 August 1934, Hitler had already passed a law to combine the offices of Chancellor and President to create the title of Führer - and the only approval he needed for this was his own.

    Historian Frank McDonough comments:

    In just one day, he had dispensed with the president’s authority to issue emergency decrees and made himself independent of the Reichstag. The cabinet now had no power to restrain him.2

    - Frank McDonough

    The Enabling Act would also be the legal basis for arresting anyone considered a threat to the country - not just political opponents but also Jews, Roma, Sinti, homosexuals, and disabled people. The Nazis could now arrest them and send them to concentration camps through a completely legal process.

    Enabling Act - Key takeaways

    • The Enabling Act was a law passed by Adolf Hitler in March 1933. It gave him the power to make and pass laws without the approval of the Reichstag.
    • It passed because it was presented as necessary due to the Reichstag Fire a month earlier. Equally, the Nazis used lots of voter intimidation. They arrested opponents leading up to the vote to ensure it would pass.
    • With his new power, Hitler removed all political opposition, broke up the trade unions and abolished state governments.
    • The Enabling Act was significant because it provided the legal basis for the Nazi dictatorship. It allowed Hitler to destroy the Weimar Republic and create a totalitarian state which he reigned unopposed. It also created a legal base for the mass arrest and deportation of political prisoners and those considered 'non-Aryan' to concentration camps.

    References

    1. Victoria Payne 'Germany: Development of Dictatorship, 1918-45', p64. (2017)
    2. McDonough, Frank. 2020. “1933 Death of a Democracy.” History Today 70 (2): pp.70–83
    3. Fig. 2 "Enabling Act in colour" (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Enabling_Act_in_colour.jpg) by German Federal Archives (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/en:German_Federal_Archives) licensed under CC BY SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)
    4. Fig. 3 "Paul V. Hindenburg" (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-C06886,_Paul_v._Hindenburg.jpg) by German Federal Archives (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/en:German_Federal_Archives) licensed under CC BY SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Enabling Act

    What was the enabling act?  

    The Enabling Act was a law that allowed Adolf Hitler to make and pass laws without the approval of the Reichstag.

    How did the enabling act affect Germany? 

    The Enabling Act completed the transformation of Germany from a democracy to a dictatorship. The Nazis set about arresting political opponents, breaking up trade unions and centralising power in Berlin.

    When was the enabling act passed?  

    27 March 1933.

    What did the enabling act do?  

    The Enabling Act allowed Hitler to make and pass laws without the approval of the Reichstag.

    Why was the enabling act passed?  

    The Enabling Act was passed because Hitler wanted to create the conditions in which the Weimar Republic could be destroyed and he could set up an authoritarian dictatorship.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    When was the Reichstag Fire?

    Which group did Hitler blame the Reichstag Fire for?

    True or False. The Reichstag Fire Decree was issued 2 weeks after the Reichstag Fire.

    Next

    Discover learning materials with the free StudySmarter app

    Sign up for free
    1
    About StudySmarter

    StudySmarter is a globally recognized educational technology company, offering a holistic learning platform designed for students of all ages and educational levels. Our platform provides learning support for a wide range of subjects, including STEM, Social Sciences, and Languages and also helps students to successfully master various tests and exams worldwide, such as GCSE, A Level, SAT, ACT, Abitur, and more. We offer an extensive library of learning materials, including interactive flashcards, comprehensive textbook solutions, and detailed explanations. The cutting-edge technology and tools we provide help students create their own learning materials. StudySmarter’s content is not only expert-verified but also regularly updated to ensure accuracy and relevance.

    Learn more
    StudySmarter Editorial Team

    Team History Teachers

    • 8 minutes reading time
    • Checked by StudySmarter Editorial Team
    Save Explanation Save Explanation

    Study anywhere. Anytime.Across all devices.

    Sign-up for free

    Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

    The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

    • Flashcards & Quizzes
    • AI Study Assistant
    • Study Planner
    • Mock-Exams
    • Smart Note-Taking
    Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App
    Sign up with Email

    Get unlimited access with a free StudySmarter account.

    • Instant access to millions of learning materials.
    • Flashcards, notes, mock-exams, AI tools and more.
    • Everything you need to ace your exams.
    Second Popup Banner