Voting in Germany: Weimar and NAZI Ballots (1920s-30s)

NAZI children
Figure 1.--

Adolf Hitler like all dictators did not believe in elections, but he did hold several carefully calculated referendums or plebecites. While he abhored liberal democracy and elections, after the failure if the Beer Hall Putch (1933), he realized that he would have to seize power constitutiinally. This meant participating in Weimar Republic elections. Ironically, for a man who hated democratic politics, he was very good at it, thanks in part to the Great Depression.Hitler never won a majority, for himself in the preidentil election (1932) or for the NAZI Party in a series of parlimentary elections. Electoral sucess was minimal until the Depression resulted in widespread unemployment. The NAZIs quickly became the largest Party in the Reichstag (1929-32). While not a majority Party, the fact that Stalin ordered the German Communists not to cooperate with the Socilists, meant that parties opposed to the Weimar Republic were able to bring Germany to a standstill politically and eventually convince President Hindenberg to accept Hitler as Chancellor (January 1933). Hitler used his powers as Chamcellor and the enabling Act to establish a personal dictatorship and police state. As a result there were no further elections, but there were four referenda, the first of which may have involved a relatively free vote. Hitler acceptd refenda because he could control the outcome, in part by detemining the question posed. And they had propaganda value becase they provied the aura of popular support. After the First Rferendum, the outcome was totally controlled by the NAZI Party. It should be stressed that the referenda posed questions that much of the popultio supported. There was neveer a vote on questions like going to war or murdering millions of Jews ans Slavs.

Beer Hall Putch (1923)

Gustav von Kahr, the Bavarian state leader, called a meeting of local officials (November 8, 1923). While von Kahr was speaking, Hitler with armed stormtroopers burst into the building. Hitler jumped on top of a table and fired a pistol. He told the astonished officials that he had just launched the National Revolution. Hitler ordered Goering and the SA to guard the officials. Among those officials in addition to von Kahr were Otto von Lossow (Army commander in Bavaria), and Hans von Lossow (commandant of the Bavarian State Police). He tried to convince these officials to join him. As the new leader of Germany, he offered them posts in the new German government. All three declined. An enraged Hitler threatened to shoot them and then commit suicide. He reportedly told them, "I have three bullets for you, gentlemen, and one for me!" All three then agreed. Then former Field Marshall Eric Ludendorff arrived. Ludendorff was regarded by many Germans as a great war hero. It was he and Hidenberg that had defeated the Russian Army at Tannenberg early in the War (1914). It was, however, also Ludendorff that had planned the final great offensive that had failed (1918). Unwilling to accept the idea that he had failed, he found Hitler's constant claim that the Army had not failed, but was stabbed in the back by Jews and Socialists appealing. He thus supported the NAZIs. I do not know how deply he was involved in the Putsch, but it is curious that he turned up just at this time. Hitler offered him command of the Army and Ludendorff accepted. While Hitler was seizing the Bavarian government. Roehm, leading another group of armed Stormtroopers took control of the War Ministry. Rudolf Hess with other Stormtroopers was arresting Jews and left-wing politicans. Hitler's plan was to march on Berlin and seize control of the national government. Hitler's planning for the Putsch did not include seizing radio stations and the telegraph offices. As a result, national government officials in Berlin learned about the Putsch and prepared to act against it. The following day, Hitler, Ludendorff, Goering, Hess, and about 3,000 armed Stormtroopers and other supporters marched through Munich in an effort to join Roehm at the War Ministey. When they reached Odensplatz they encountered a detachment of the Munich police who ordered them to stop. When the NAZIs refused, the police fired a warning volley. The Stormtroopers returned fire. In the ensuing fire fight 21 people were killed and about 100 wounded, among them Goering. Hitler dropped to the ground, dislocating his shoulder. He then ran away using a car to make his get away. The NAZIs had a larger force than the police, but after Hitler ran away so did most of the Stormtroopers. Ludendorff and his adjutant, however, walked straight at the police despite the fire. Later Hitler's flight was explained with the feletious explanation that he was rushing a wounded boy to the hospital. Hitler had anticipated that Ludendorff's participation meant that the Reichwehr was with him. This proved not to be the case.

Weimar Elections: NAZI Rise to Power (1924-32)

Adolf Hitler like all dictators did not believe in elections, but he did hold several carefully calculated referendums or plebecites. While he abhored liberal democracy and elections, after the failure if the Beer Hall Putch (1933), he realized that he would have to seize power constitutiinally. This meant participating in Weimar Republic elections. Ironically, for a man who hated democratic politics, he was very good at it, thanks in part to the Great Depression.Hitler never won a majority, for himself in the preidentil election (1932) or for the NAZI Party in a series of parlimentary elections. Electoral sucess was minimal until the Depression resulted in widespread unemployment. The NAZIs quickly became the largest Party in the Reichstag (1939-32). While not a majority Party, the fact that Stalin ordered the German Communists not to cooperate with the Socilists, meant that parties opposed to the Weimar Republic were able to bring Germany to a standstill politically and evntually convince President Hindenberg, or more accurately the aging President's advisers, to accept Hitler as Chancellor (January 1933).

Parlimentary Elections of 1924

The NAZIs won 32 seats in the elections of May 1924. They had even less success in elections held in December 1924. The NAZIs won only 14 seats in the Reichstag compared with the the 131 won by the obtained by Social Democrats (SD) or Socialists. The Communists (KPD) won 45 seats.

Presidential Election of 1925

Field Marshal Hindenburg was elected president after President Freidrich Ebert died (1925). Hindbenburg was supported by the conservatives (naionalists, the Army Prussian Junkers, and others) and defeated the SDP and center parties. The German presidency was aelatively weak office. The Government was run by the Reich Chancrellor supported by a majority coalition in the Reichstag. With the rise of the NAZIs, however, the Reichstag became deadlocked. This thus increased the importance of the presidency and Hindenburg himself gave the post great prestige.

Parlimentary Elections of 1928

Economic conditions had improved considerably. In the prosperous economic climate even the monarchist People's Party joined in a coalition with the three main republican parties. The NAZIs were still unable to muster muct political success in 1928. They won only 12 Reichstag seats. The Party was, however, growing and were very well organized. Membership stood at 108,000 in 1928.

Parlimentary Election of 1930 (September 14)

The elections of 1930 were a disaster for Germany. In the middle of the building economic crisis, the German electorate reached out to the political extremes, both the left and right. It was the showing of the NAZIs that stunned Germany. Brüning had thought that right-wing parties he could work with (like the German People's Part or the German Natioanlist Part) would take delegates away from the socialists. It was the NAZIs, however, who gained power. While not achieving a majority, the NAZIs increased their number of searts in the Reichstag from 15 to 107. This made the NAZIs the largest party in Germany and meant that Germany was essentially ungovernable. From the day of this election, the central question in German politics was wehther or not the NAZIs would form a government.

Emergency Rule

Brüning At this timec could have formed a government with the socialists. This he adamently refused to do. Instead he ruled by emergency decree. There were provisions for this in the Constitution (paragraph 48). No one had expected, however, that a chancellor would use the provision to rule for any extended period of time. And a government could be dismissed by a majority vote of the Reichstag. The socialists, fearing that the fall of the Government might result in a NAZI Government refused to votecagainst the Government. By absatining, the moderates could narrowly prevent the NAZIs and Coomunists from voting out the Government. Brüning believed thatvhis emergency rule could demonstrate the need for a more authoritarian system. [Gilbert-Large, p. 257.] Brüning did not, however, gain in popularity. An aborted custom's union with Austria and the specter of Brüning and other German officials going hat in hand to Paris and London asking for finacial concessions undermined his standing among the political right which he had hoped to build. After the presidebntial elections of 1932, Hindenburg dismissed him.

Presidential Election of 1932 (March/April 1932)

Hitler throughout Hindenburg's presidency used the Brown Shirts (SA) to commit continual acts of political violence to destabalize the German political sitution and tarnish the image of the Weimar Republic amomg Germans. The Communists, under orders from Moscow, pursued the same course, refusing to form an alliance against the NAZIs with the Socialists and other moderate political parties. With the onset of the Depression (1929), the NAZIs became the single most important political party in Germany, although still a minority party. Desperate people turned to the extremes, both the NAZIs and Communists. Hitler aimed at displacing Hidenberg as president (1932). He conducted one of the first modern political campaigns. He effecitively used the radio and criss crossed Germany by air--giving the image of a youthful, dynamic leader capable cof leading Germany out of its economiv and political crisis. Of course the political, but not the economic, crisis was largely created by the NAZI Brown shirts. Hidenburg honored the terms of the Constitution. Even so, he had never concealed the fact that he was a monarchist at heart. He surrounded himself with advisers who began to see the instability of Weimar as an opportunity of reserecting the monarchy. The Kaiser was across the border in the Netherlands and had quite a number of sons. The NAZIs toyed with the Hohenzollerns and other aristocratic famikies. Royal patronage helped to create the image of moderation and respectability. The Kaiser himself would have nothing to do with Hitler and the NAZIs. A candidate needed to receive an absolute majority of votes to win. Hindenburg with no party association came very close to a majority during the first round (March 13). He polled 49.6 percent. Hitler came in second with over 30 percent of the vote. Ernst Thälmann, the Communist cndidate, was a distant third with 13 percent of the vote. Theodor Duesterberg, another right-wing candidte with the German National People's Party. polled nearly 7 percent ofvthe vote. Hindenburg won a majority duing the second round, although only a plurality was needed April 10).

Parlimentary Elections of 1932 (July 1932)

The presidential election was closely followed by Reichstag (parlimentary) elections. The Deporession and rising unemployment dominated the political lanscape in 1932. After the Reichstag was prematurely disolved, Federal parlimentary elections were held (July 31, 1932). The results were shocking gains for the NAZI Party. Hitler and the NAZI promised to deal decisevely with the unemployment problem. And the German elkectirate rewarded the NAZIs with major gains--adding 123 seats. The NAZIs became for the first time the largest party in parliament, but did not gain a majority. The SDP only lost 10 seats, but the many small parties lost seats to the NAZIs. The Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands (Communust Party--KPD) remained strong, adding 12 seats. As a result, parties trying to destroy the Weimar Republic now had a majority in the Reichstag. This was what has been described as a 'negative majority'. While the anti-republican parties had a majority, they would not cooperate with each other by forming a coalition government. Even so by having a majority, they essentially made Germany ungovernable. Josef Stalin who had gained ccontrol of the Soviet Union saw the SDP as the great threat to the KDP. And the KDP was vitally importabt to the Soviets. If the KDP could destroy the Weimar Republic and gain control of Germany, the Communists would suddenly become the dominant force in Europe. Stalin exercized effective control of Communist parties throughout Europe. He saw the SDP as the great threat and ordered the KDP not to cooperate with the SDP. The resulting division of the left, proivided Hitler the opportuniy he needed. Ironically, Stalin would evenbtually sign an alliance with Hitler--the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact that launched World War II.

NAZI Referenda: Government Years (1933-38)

Hitler used his powers as Chamcellor and the enabling Act to establish a personal dictatorship and police state. As a result there were no furthr elections, but there were four referenda, the first of which may have involved a relatively free vote. Hitler acceptd refenda because he could control the outcome, in part by detemining the question posed. And they had propaganda value becase they provied the aura of popular support. After the First Referendum, the outcome was totally controlled by the NAZI Party. It should be stressed that the referenda posed questions that much of the popultion supported such as nnexing territory most Germans thought to be German. There was never a vote on questions like going to war or murdering millions of Jews, Slavs, and others judged to be undesirable.

First NAZI Refendum: Exiting the League of Nations (1933)

Voting did not end completely in Germany after Hitler seized power. What ended were competitive free elections in which opposition parties were allowed to contest the NAZIs with access to an independent media and the votes were actually counted correctly. Hitler's who railed against democracy allowed four votes during his 12 years in office. His preferred form of election was the referendum. And he organized four different referendums. Hitler preferred referendums because they could be focused on issues which even non-NAZIs might agree with him. Also they did not threaten his control of power as a real election might have. The First Referendum focused on the League of Nations, an institution most Germans associated with the hated Versailles Peace Treaty (November 12, 1933). Specifically it called on the German people to ratify Hitler's decision to withdraw from the Geneva Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations. The referendum was posed using the familiar 'Du' rather than the formal 'Sie'. Hitler was seeking to suggest an inimate relationship with the German people. [Rommelfanger, p. 144.] The German press reported that 96 percent of registered voters participated and 95 percent voted "Ja". It is not known what the actual vote was. Surely the yes vote would have been high even it had been a competive vote, 95 pecent obviously suggests the tally was manipulated. The press even reported that 2,154 of 2,242 inmates at the Dachau concentration camp voted "Ja". The issue chosen was well calculated. The sole challenge to Hitler's control of Germany was the Army and Hitler correctly calculated that both these decesions would be well received by the Army. This referendum was held in conection with a carefully controlled Reichstag election.

Second NAZI Refendum: The Saarland (1935)

he Saar was a small territory in southwestern Germany with a population of about 800,000 people in 1933. It is located in southwestern Germany and is bounded by France on the south, Luxembourg in the west, and the German Rhineland-Palatinate on the north and east. The capital is Saarbrücken, a city on the Saar River. The Saarland was not a region that had any notable cohesion or historical role before World War I. The population was largely German-speaking Catholics. The region is named after the Saar River which rises in the French Vosges Mountains and is located west of the Rhine. Important coal mines are located in the Saarland and is heavily industrialized. After World War I, the Treaty of Versailles made the Saarland an autonomous territory to be administered by France until 1935 when a plebiscite would determine its final status. This reflected the general principle of national self-determination employed by the Allies after the War. The Versailles and other treaties which ended the War did not determine the final disposition of several territories. This was left to a series of plebiscites. The population in the Saarland voted in a plebiscite to rejoin Germany which at the time meant NAZI Germany (January 1935). The vote probably reflected a the population's desire to rejoin Germany and not a referendum on the NAZIs. It is likely that the vote would have gone to rejoin Germany regardless of the government in Berlin. One author describes it as a choice for "ethno-unification". The Saarlanders were the first German speakers to rejoin Reich under NAZI rule. The whole process was totally legal under the terms of the Versailles Treaty. Hitler who at the time was attempting to establish an image as a moderate leader, took the opportunity to renounce any further claims on France (January 1934).

Third NAZI Referendum: The Rhineland (1936)

The third such NAZI Referendum ratified Hitler's remilitarization of the Rhineland, which under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, was to have remained demilitarized. The Versailles Treaty with its trasfer of territoiry and limitations on German military power was widely unpopular in Germany, The remilitarization of the Rhneland was hugely popular in Germany. The Referendum was a landslide victory for the NAZIs (March 29, 1936). The NAZI-controlled press reported that 99 percent of registered voters participated. And 98.8 percent of those voters voted voted "Ja"--44.5 million votes out of 45.5 million. There is no doubt that German voters were impressed with Hitler's action and the vote would have been heavily yes. What the actual vote was, however, is not known.

Fourth NAZI Referendum: The Anschluss (1938)

The fourth and last NAZI referendum was held to ratify the Austrian Anschluss (March 1938). The vote was taken the following month (April 10, 1938). This was an action widely approved in both Austria and Germany. It was another step taken in defiance of the Vesailles Treaty which had prohibited Austrian union with Germany. The German press reported that 99 percent of registered voters voted "Ja" on that question. The refendum was held throughout the reich, but even if held just in Austria probbly would have been approved. The Referendum was held in conjunction with a Reichstag election. There was, however, no choice of candidates. Rather the electorate by voting 'Ja' simply approved a list of NAZI candidates drawn up by the government. [Suksi, p. 101.] These would be the final elections for the 813 Reichstag deputies during the NAZI era. The purpose of the referendum was to demonstrte public support for adding Austria, now Ostmark, to the Rich. Axtually there were subsequent elections for 41 seats were in the annexed Sudetenland (December 1938). NAZI candidates and 'guests' officially received 97 percent of the votes. The new Reichstag elected (actually approving their appointment) was the last one for years. It convened for the first time (January 30, 1939). They elected a presidium headed by incumbent President of the Reichstag -- Hermann Göring. Hitler was not chosen because like Kaiser Wilhelm and PresudentbHindenerg he wantd to maintain an ura as being above politics. It convened only seven nore times and never in the Richstag building which ws never repired after the fire. The last meeting was July 26, 1942. Hitler when the Sixth Army dieing in Stalingrad postponed further elections for a new Reichstag until after the war (January 25, 1943).

Sources

Suksi, Markku. Brining in the People: A Comparison of Constitutional Forms and Practices (Nijhoff).








CIH -- WW II







Navigate the CIH World War II Section:
[Return to Main NAZI government page]
[Return to Main NAZI page]
[About Us]
[Biographies] [Campaigns] [Children] [Countries] [Deciding factors] [Diplomacy] [Geo-political crisis] [Economics] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[POWs] [Resistance] [Race] [Refugees] [Technology] [Totalitarian powers]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War II page]
[Return to Main war essay page]
[Return to CIH Home page]




Created: 7:24 PM 5/15/2015
Last updated: 7:24 PM 5/15/2015