Enabling Act

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The Enabling Act (Ermächtigungsgesetz in German) was passed by Germany's parliament (the Reichstag) on March 23, 1933. It was the second major step after the Reichstag Fire Decree through which the Nazis obtained dictatorial powers using largely legal means. The Act enabled Chancellor Adolf Hitler and his cabinet to enact laws without the participation of the Reichstag.

The formal name of the Enabling Act was Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich ("Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Empire").

Enabling Act text[change | change source]

As with most of the laws passed in the process of Gleichschaltung, the Enabling Act is quite short, considering its consequences. It is therefore reproduced in full in German and English:

Gesetz zur Behebung der Not von Volk und Reich Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Empire
Der Reichstag hat das folgende Gesetz beschlossen, das mit Zustimmung des Reichsrats hiermit verkündet wird, nachdem festgestellt ist, daß die Erfordernisse verfassungsändernder Gesetzgebung erfüllt sind: The Reichstag has enacted the following law, which is hereby proclaimed with the assent of the Reichsrat, it having been established that the requirements for a constitutional amendment have been fulfilled:
Artikel 1 Article 1
Reichsgesetze können außer in dem in der Reichsverfassung vorgesehenen Verfahren auch durch die Reichsregierung beschlossen werden. Dies gilt auch für die in den Artikeln 85 Abs. 2 und 87 der Reichsverfassung bezeichneten Gesetze. In addition to the procedure prescribed by the constitution, laws of the Reich may also be enacted by the government of the Reich. This includes the laws referred to by Articles 85 Paragraph 2 and Article 87 of the constitution.[1]
Artikel 2 Article 2
Die von der Reichsregierung beschlossenen Reichsgesetze können von der Reichsverfassung abweichen, soweit sie nicht die Einrichtung des Reichstags und des Reichsrats als solche zum Gegenstand haben. Die Rechte des Reichspräsidenten bleiben unberührt. Laws enacted by the government of the Reich may deviate from the constitution as long as they do not affect the institutions of the Reichstag and the Reichsrat. The rights of the President remain undisturbed.
Artikel 3 Article 3
Die von der Reichsregierung beschlossenen Reichsgesetze werden vom Reichskanzler ausgefertigt und im Reichsgesetzblatt verkündet. Sie treten, soweit sie nichts anderes bestimmen, mit dem auf die Verkündung folgenden Tage in Kraft. Die Artikel 68 bis 77 der Reichsverfassung finden auf die von der Reichsregierung beschlossenen Gesetze keine Anwendung. Laws enacted by the Reich government shall be issued by the Chancellor and announced in the Reich Gazette. They shall take effect on the day following the announcement, unless they prescribe a different date. Articles 68 to 77 of the Constitution do not apply to laws enacted by the Reich government.[2]
Artikel 4 Article 4
Verträge des Reiches mit fremden Staaten, die sich auf Gegenstände der Reichsgesetzgebung beziehen, bedürfen für die Dauer der Geltung dieser Gesetze nicht der Zustimmung der an der Gesetzgebung beteiligten Körperschaften. Die Reichsregierung erläßt die zur Durchführung dieser Verträge erforderlichen Vorschriften. Treaties of the Reich with foreign states which affect matters of Reich legislation shall not require the approval of the bodies of the legislature. The government of the Reich shall issue the regulations required for the execution of such treaties.
Artikel 5 Article 5
Dieses Gesetz tritt mit dem Tage seiner Verkündung in Kraft. Es tritt mit dem 1. April 1937 außer Kraft, es tritt ferner außer Kraft, wenn die gegenwärtige Reichsregierung durch eine andere abgelöst wird. This law takes effect with the day of its proclamation. It loses force on 1 April 1937 or if the present Reich government is replaced by another.

Notes[change | change source]

  1. Article 85 outlined the process by which the Reichstag and Reichsrat approved the Reich budget. Article 87 restricted government borrowing.
  2. Articles 68 to 77 stipulated the procedures for enacting legislation in the Reichstag.

The Enabling Act was passed by the Reichstag on March 23 and proclaimed by the government the following day. Following constitutional procedure for legislation, the law was countersigned by President von Hindenburg, Chancellor Hitler, Minister of Interior Frick, Foreign Minister von Neurath, and Minister of Finance von Krosigk.

Passage of the Enabling Act[change | change source]

The Nazis wrote the Enabling act to gain complete political power without the need of the support of a majority in the Reichstag and without the need to bargain with their coalition partners.

Propaganda[change | change source]

Within 24 hours of being appointed chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, Hitler skillfully influenced the outcome by propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels who wrote:

Now it will be easy to carry on the fight, for we can call on all the resources of the State. Radio and press are at our disposal. We shall stage a masterpiece of propaganda.[1]

In the days leading up to the elections, the Nazis organized street violence to intimidate the opposition and to build fear of communism. The burning of the Reichstag six days before the election was the pivotal event of the campaign.

Violence[change | change source]

Later that day, the Reichstag assembled under intimidating circumstances, with SA men swarming inside and outside the chamber. Hitler's speech, which emphasised the importance of Christianity in German culture, was aimed particularly at appeasing the Centre Party's sensibilities and almost incorporated Kaas' requested guarantees.

All parties except the SPD voted in favour of the Enabling Act. With the Communist delegates removed and 26 SPD deputies arrested or in hiding, the final vote was 441 supporting the Enabling Act to 94 (all Social Democrats) opposed.

Consequences[change | change source]

The Communist Party deputies – and a few Social Democratic deputies as well – were already jailed, and the Communist mandates were declared "dormant" by the government shortly after the elections. The remaining free members of parliament were intimidated by the SA surrounding the parliament hall. In the end, only the Social Democrats voted against the bill.

The British tabloid Daily Express described the Jewish reactions of boycott against Germany as "Judea Declares War on Germany" (March 24, 1933).

Presidential consequences[change | change source]

President von Hindenburg seemed to be pleased with Hitler's firm hand. During the cabinet conference on the Enabling Act, von Hindenburg's representative stated that the aged president was withdrawing from day-to-day affairs of government and that presidential collaboration on the laws decreed as a result of the Enabling Act would not be required.

Other pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. Shirer, William L. (1959). The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-62420-2.