Adolf Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933 and the neofascist threat in the United States today


I have been reading William I. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (50th anniversary edition, which was originally published in 1960), only 15 years after the end of World War II.

I am reading this book to refresh my memory of Germany in the 1920’s, 1930’s, and 1940’s, when Adolf Hitler brought untold suffering, destruction, and loss of life to Europe, and other countries.

In college I majored in Modern European History with an emphasis on twentieth cen Germany. My Senior Honors Thesis, written under the direction of a leading American historian of Germany, analyzed the reeximation of their past by Germans in the immediate postwar years (1945-1949). It won the prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History at Stanford that year.

I am reading Shirer not only tom refresh my memory of tbe extraordinary events which led to the rise to power of Adolph Hitler, but also to better understand the forces that have led to the growth of a neofascist movement in the United States that supports Donald Trump and which has taken control of the Republican.

I use the term “neo-fascist” because many readers cannot accept the term “fascist” though Donald Trump and his movement fit very neatly into the dictionary definition of that term. To be sure, Trump has not engaged in the murder of his rivals as Hitler did shortly after assuming dictatorial power following tbe Reichstag Fire on February 27, 1933, which he blamed on tbe Communists. In this wild atmosphere the Nazi Party won the largest bumber of seats in the parliamentary elections on March 5, 1933. With the support of other parties in the newly constituted Reichstag, Hitler succeeded in passing tbe Enabling Act on March 23, 1933, which granted him unchecked dictatorial powers.

The vote was 441 in favor and 84 against (all Social Democrats. A dozen Social Democrats had been “detained” under an emergency decree issued following the Reichstag Fire. The Communists’ headquarters in Berlin were raided and the Nazi government declared they had found plans for an imminent Communist revolution.

Inside the Kroll Opera House, where the new Reichstag was meeting, the aisles were lined with “brown-shirted storm troopers, whose scarred bully faces indicated that no nonsense would be tolerated from the representatives of the people.  Shirer, p.198. Outside, the roar of the storm troopers could be heard shouting , “full powers, or else,”

After the vote, the Nazi deputies rose to their feet shouting and stamping their feet and joined by the storm troopers sang the Horst Wessel song (the Nazi anthem). Shirer, p. 199.

This scene strikes me as errily reminiscent of the January 6, 2021 insurrection and invasion of the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to block the counting of electoral votes and to overthrow the 2020 election and the U.S. Constitution.

Refreshing my memory of the events in Germany, I am reminded of the mass emotions which Hitler so skillfully manipulated as he rose power.

Germany was a country where the Nazi party won only 44% of the vote on March 5, 1933, despite the Nazi takeover of the state of Prussia, its arrests of Communists and Social Democrats, the shutting down of newspapers, and the mass emotions unleashed by the Reichstag fire and the raid on Communist headquarters in Berlin, and the announcement that documents seized revealed a Communist revolution was imminent. The Nazis gained five and a half million votes as a result of these maneuvers, but not a majority of the votes.

Nonetheless, Hitler and the Nazis were able through shrewd maneuvering, disguising their true intentions, and the extraordinary skill of Hitler in maneuvering through political turbulence and taking advantage of the naiveté of leaders of the other parties to come out on top, to gain control of the police in Prussia, and ton-pass the Enabling Act on March 23, 1933.

Hitler and the Nazi knew exactly what they wanted–absolute control of the state–and were willing to go to any extreme to achieve dictatorial powers.

Events moved swiftly in January, February, and March, and by March 23 they had control of the state.

This is all very interesting. In a highly advanced industrialized country, with one of the most highly educated populations in the world, a large fanatical political party dominated by Hitler’s cult following was able to seize dictatorial powers after coming to power by constitutional means.

Could that happen in the United State in 2024?

The Trenchant Observer