Not long after Hitler was appointed chancellor, opposition groups began to shut down. He, of course, had already criminalised the Communist KPD and alleged sympathisers, but I was astonished to learn that many other parties closed themselves voluntarily in the weeks before Hitler shut down opposition via legal edict.

The DDP, DNVP and DVP closed themselves down at the end of June and the Catholic Zentrum and its allies in the early days of July. The DNVP was fairly close to the Nazi agenda and the Zentrum also had sympathies in that direction and were apparently losing membership. However, in the election after Hitler had been confirmed as Chancellor, the Nazis still only won around 44% of the vote.

It would seem at this point, then, that there was still a significant number of Germans - perhaps close to half - who did not support the Nazis. Why, then, were other parties happy to close voluntarily? Was it fear of political violence, given that the Nazis essentially controlled the army and police as well as their own paramilitary wing? Was there a real sense that German political sympathy was shifting overwhelmingly behind the Nazis? Or something else?

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    Maybe because of Night of the long Knives? Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 13:24
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    @BЈовић This was a year before the Night of the Long Knives
    – Bob Tway
    Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 13:32
  • Some people prefer life to "liberty". Commented Mar 2, 2019 at 7:10

2 Answers 2


Three steps to observe:

  1. Hitler was given the chancellory
  2. Election in 1933
  3. Reichstag fire & Enabling decree

First the really unwanted elements were beaten up, imprisoned or just killed. Then a lot of the right-wingers saw their wishes and chances and did not switch sides, to the contrary, they just switched the membership card. Then, after eliminating most of the legal options for opposition some parties were prohibited and many party members of those further down on the list had a sudden loss of membership as well.

The election took place after the Nazis came to power on 30 January, when President Paul von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor. The latter immediately urged the dissolution of the Reichstag and the calling of new elections. In early February, the Nazis "unleashed a campaign of violence and terror that dwarfed anything seen so far." Stormtroopers began attacking trade union and Communist Party (KPD) offices and the homes of left-wingers.

And then the enabling act, with regard to the Centre party:

With the passing of the Enabling Act the Centre Party had set in motion its own demise. As promised during the negotiations, a working committee chaired by Hitler and Kaas and supposed to inform about further legislative measures, met three times (31 March, 2 April and 7 April) without any major impact.

At that time, the Centre Party was weakened by massive defections by party members. Loyal party members, in particular civil servants, and other Catholic organisations were subject to increasing reprisals, despite Hitler's previous guarantees. The party was also hurt by a declaration of the German bishops that, while maintaining their opposition to Nazi ideology, modified the ban on cooperation with the new authorities.

The issue of the concordat prolonged Kaas' stay in Rome, leaving the party without a chairman, and on 5 May Kaas finally resigned from his post. The party now elected Brüning as chairman. The party adopted a tempered version of the leadership principle; pro-Centre papers now declared that the party's members, or "retinue", would fully submit itself to Brüning. It was not enough, however, to relieve the growing pressure that it and other parties faced in the wake of the process of Gleichschaltung. Prominent members were frequently arrested and beaten, and pro-Centre civil servants were fired. As the summer of 1933 wore on, several government officials—including Papen—demanded that the Centre either dissolve or be closed down by the government.

By July, the Centre was the only non-Nazi party that had not been browbeaten into dissolving itself (or had been banned outright, like the SPD). On 1 July, Papen and Kaas agreed that as part of the concordat, German priests would stay out of politics. Earlier, as part of negotiations, it was agreed that the party would dissolve as soon as the concordat had been concluded. As it turned out, the party dissolved on 5 July—much to the dismay of Cardinal Pacelli, who felt the party should at least have waited until after the conclusion of negotiations. The day after, the government issued a law declaring the NSDAP the only legally permitted party in the German state.

from Q: … the Nazis still only won around 44% of the vote. It would seem at this point, then, that there was still a significant number of Germans – perhaps close to half – who did not support the Nazis.

The communists were effectively structurally beheaded by that time and the fiercest opponents, even almost capable of offering armed resistance. While in that sorry state they still raked in 12.3% of votes, the social-democrats took 18.3%. Problem here is that only the SPD was against the nazis and actually for democracy. It's also quite the difference to see 44% of votes in staunch support of dictatorship tied to ony party and concluding that therefore 55% were opposed.

In terms of ordering the political spectrum you would have to count the right-wing DNVP dominated KSWR with 8% towards the nazi seats, the Bavarian People's Party with another 2% as well, and while you're already close to the needed 2/3 dominance majority the rest of the parties were really insignificant by that time.

In 1933 the army was full of sympathetic right-wingers, true. But to say that the nazis "controlled them" is far from the truth. To the contrary, the military elites were unsure of what to think of the Hitlerites and especially of the SA. By the end of 1933 the army was the only element left – short of a popular uprising – that could have stopped the fascists. But there were just no democrats to be found anywhere anymore. Also noteworthy is the fact that the Reichswehr was still at 115000 men. The SA by then had 2.9 million members.

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    +1,000,000 this “First the really unwanted elements were beaten up, imprisoned or just killed.” Commented Mar 1, 2019 at 12:12

People read the "handwriting on the wall."

The Nazis spent the spring shutting down the opposition one by one. First the Communists, then the Socialists.

It is important to know that "perhaps close to half that did not support the Nazis" was a fragmented, not unified block. Take out the "left" (Communists and the Socialists), and you are talking about less than a quarter.The "hard" opposition had already been shut down. The small center parties were far less determined in their opposition than the "left." They would rather "disappear" on their own than to have "enforcement" meted out to them.

It was like France in 1940. At some point, it was easier to give up than to fight on. The operative motto was "sauve qui peut."

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    Having a bit of a problem here that SPD is called Socialists, like in Bismarck times. That element was largely gone and more importantly the SPD was part of the Weimar-coalition of 1919, meaning that SPD was far more centrist than left (without denying that tendency; and the typical right-wing view that they were far too left for their tastes already ;) Thing is that what was 'left' and 'center' then and is today was 'too left' for the nazis and their ilk in police and bureaucracy. For the rest it's +1 from me. Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 20:53
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    Ah. But I think that then conflates being 'left' with really opposing the new regime. The other centrist parties from said coalition, the Center-party and the DDP were weaker but also not really in favour of AH. The center with the SPD as part of it eroded. I think changing that bit or explaining the meaning of your quotes (I also struggle a bit to clearly differentiate 'left-wing' from 'left-over' in my ears) might be beneficial? Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 21:05
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    @LangLangC: I put "left" in scare quotes for just that reason. I referred to the socialists as "left" because they actually opposed the Enabling Act instead of supporting it. (The Communists would have done the same, if they could have). This is to distinguish both parties from the "center" which knuckled under.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 21:06

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