Today in German History: March 24th

Today is the 87th anniversary of one of the darker moment in the history of Germany. On March 24th of 1933, the Reichstag and the Reichsradt, the two chambers of the Weimer government’s legislature, passed the Enabling Act. In just two pages the Act gave the Chancellor, Adolf Hitler dictatorial powers and near total complete control of the nation. The Act followed the Reichstag Fire Decree which had already taken away most civil liberties. The Enabling Act was signed by President Paul von Hindenburg, of First World War fame, on the 25th of March and on that day democracy in Germany ended. The Act was voted on and signed with members of Hitler’s SA paramilitary troops in the room and against the votes of the Social Democrat Party. The Communist Party also opposed the Act, but it had been prevented from voting altogether. The only obstacle that prevented Hitler from taking total control of the country was Hindenburg, but his death the next year would leave Hitler with no major enemies and allow him to merge the office of Chancellor and President into the position of Fuhrer.

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The second page of the Enabling Act.
Image Source: Wikipedia

It is critical that we remember this event because it provides a clear example of the dire consequences that result from a degradation of democratic institutions. Further, that the majority of the population did not oppose the Act shows the danger posed by a population becoming so fearful of an enemy. In Hitler’s case, it was the communists who were accused of burning the parliament building, and so distrustful of the established government that the population was willing to turn to the most radical of leaders to restore security and order. While America’s democracy is certainly stronger than Weimar Germany’s, it is still vital that the American people not become complacent in the belief that it could never happen here. History has shown us that if the people do not stay vigilant, even stable governments and strong institutions can be taken over and used by one individual to further his own goals.

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