People often remember Adolf Hitler for his crimes. For eternity he will be damned in the black book of history for sending Jews to the gas chambers, destroying much of Europe, and all of Germany.
Elections are not often associated with Hitler’s name — certainly not democratic ones — although it was through the democratic process that he came to power on this day in history, exactly 90 years ago.
It happened in 1932 — a vital year for Germany. In less than 12 months, three elections were held, one for the presidency in March and two for parliament in July and November.
Hitler’s National Socialist German Worker’s Party (aka Nazis) campaigned on an anti-communism ticket for the summer elect, winning 35% of the seats in the Reichstag (the German parliament). A landslide victory, no doubt, but it still was not enough for them to rule single-handedly.
Parliament was dissolved and new elections were held in November, where the Nazis took only 32% of the seats. Other parties combined got 36.8%. Again, with no clear majority, all sides had to go for a coalition government.
But given their share of parliament, and the fact that Hitler had rallied businessmen, industrialists, bankers, former noblemen, and officers around him, the aging president Paul von Hindenburg had no choice but to invite him to become chancellor — a post he gladly accepted and into which he was installed on 30 January 1933.
Stint as chancellor
But there was nothing autocratic about the job of chancellor. It was an honourable public office that came with restrictions, duties, and obligations, all specified in the constitution of the Weimar Republic.
On paper he was no different from any of the 10 chancellors who had rotated at the seat of power since the creation of the republic back in 1919. Only six of them had managed to stay in power for more than a year.
His immediate predecessor, Kurt von Schleicher, had held office for 56 days only. The chancellor of Germany was someone who would be hired by procedure and also fired by procedure. But it was Hitler’s moment of glory and the Nazis celebrated it with a solemn procession: young men carrying torches through the streets of Berlin.
This was very different from how Hitler’s wartime friend and ally, Benito Mussolini, had came to power in Italy. In Rome, the Fascist paramilitary Blackshirts had marched on the city back in 1922, forcing the king to appoint Mussolini premier.
Hitler was an ambitious politician with big dreams — both for himself and his country. Like many of his countrymen he hated the humiliating conditions that were forced upon Germany in the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1919, like disarming, ceding territory, and assuming full blame for the destruction (the War Guilt Clause, Article 231).
But more difficult than all of the above was the requirement that Germany pay for Europe’s reconstruction — a whopping $123 billion gold marks (equal to $442 billion USD in 2023).
This was money that Germany did not have, and would have to come from taxes, tariffs, and the sweat of the German people.
Hitler built his entire career on bringing down the Treaty of Versailles, whether politically or by militarily force. In November 1923, he even tried to stage a coup, which failed and landed him in jail.
Failed presidential bid
Then came the World Depression, which crushed whatever resolve the German people still had, leading to massive layoffs, high unemployment, poverty, and crime.
This is where people turned to Hitler and the Nazis, who were promising to right all the wrongs done to the German people.