I am currently following a free course provided by the Open University which features a brief timeline on the rise and fall of Adolf Hitler.

This timeline dates Hitler's entry into politics to 1920, 13 years before the Enabling Act.

As early as 1923, armed putsch attempts are made by the NSDAP and here, the police steps in, showing loyalty to the government.

I read further sources on the Enabling Act of 1933 and if get them correctly, coercion (e.g by armed SA staff) was used to a great extent to persuade delegates of other parties to vote for the Act. Members of the KPD were even detained (and / or murdered?) to neutralize them.

Why did armed, governmental forces not step in here, anymore?

I do understand that in the interjacent years, a good deal of Germans gained confidence in the NSDAP and that, naturally, a considerable portion of the forces must have supported the ascending Hitler. But given the fact that in early 1933 only a third of Reichstag seats were held by the NSDAP, I deduce that a significant share of personnel must have been at least in doubt about the party's ambitions.

So, why did the German Military and Police not intervene during the years of NSDAP ascend?

2 Answers 2


Very simplified, confidence in the democratic center deteriorated and the extreme edges, the Communists and the Nazis, grew. Many cops and soldiers sided with the Nazis.

  • For much of the 20s and early 30s, it was far from clear that the Nazis and not the Communists would win. Given this choice, many of the more conservative Germans would side with anyone who was against the Communists.
  • In a slightly different context, the head of the military is quoted as saying "the army won't shoot the army." He was talking about right-wing paramilitary forces.
    The Versailles treaty had limited Germany to 100,000 troops. This was seen as insufficent even by non-Nazi politicians, who helped organizing the schwarze Reichswehr, inofficial military units with no clear separation from the right-wing thugs.
  • In 1932, the Franz von Papen (who would become vice chancellor under Hitler) took control of Prussia, the largest and most important German state, including the police in Berlin and surrounding areas.
  • The starement "In 1932, the Nazis took control of Prussia," is grossly incorrect. Papen was far from being a Nazi; rather he was a moderate attempting to hold the line against both the Nazi's and the Communists. Unfortunately his loss of majority coalition in the July 1932 elections convinced him that a decree of martial law was required to curb street violence - but this led to a further collapse of his coalition support that fall, and Hindenburg's reluctant decision to appoint Hitler Chancellor. Jul 1, 2019 at 15:08
  • @PieterGeerkens, I would call it a simplification appropriate to the level of detail in the question.
    – o.m.
    Jul 1, 2019 at 15:52

Why did the German Military and Police not intervene during the years of NSDAP ascend?

The German military was basically bought off. The German government and military believed that they could deal with Hitler politically and that it was his para military arm which was the real threat.

The Brown Shirts (SA or Sturmabteilung) were the Nazi's largest paramilitary branch in the early 1930's and played a prominent role in the Nazi's rise to power through intimidation. The SA had grown to 3 million members. The German Army (Reichswehr) was limited by treaty to only 100,000 men. The Brown shirts lead by Ernst Röhm used to like to refer to themselves as the "people's army" and began floating the idea that they should absorb the professional German Army given they were 30 times its size. The German army as you can imagine found this proposal alarming. Likewise German President Paul Hindenburg was similarly alarmed at the SA's tactics during 33 elections and early 34 and he warned if Hitler didn't moderate the SA he would dissolve the government and declare martial law. There were other reasons but that's the gist of it. The military agreed to look the other way if Hitler purged this movement which the military believed was the larger existential threat to their power.

So Hitler solitified himself in the government of Hindenburg and with the German Military and silenced one of his major rivals within the Nazi Party with a bloody crackdown on the SA; June 30 – July 2, 1934. The Night of the Long Knives

In 1933, General Werner von Blomberg, the Minister of Defence, and General Walther von Reichenau, the chief of the Reichswehr's Ministerial Department, became increasingly concerned about the growing power of the SA. Röhm had been given a seat on the National Defence Council and began to demand more say over military matters. On 2 October 1933, Röhm sent a letter to Reichenau that said: "I regard the Reichswehr now only as a training school for the German people. The conduct of war, and therefore of mobilization as well, in the future is the task of the SA."
President Hindenburg informed Hitler in June 1934 that if a move to curb the SA was not forthcoming, then he would dissolve the government and declare martial law.

Remember Hitler and the Nazi's did not come to power by democratic means. They never won the majority of the seats in the Reichstag, they never were invited to form a government, nor did they attract political allies and form a coalition government of which they were the leaders. They were invited into a coalition government and then seized power.

From Comments:

@Mark Johnson You have to take the distrust that existed between the (Sozial Democratic) government and those (police, army) that had to inforce these laws into account. The police were state based organizations and the army was a 'state inside the state'. So the control of the national government was over both organizations was minimal.

That's an interesting comment. I don't know if I'm in a position to appreciate your point. From my perspective the military was political but they weren't out of control. The German military saw a vacum created by the instability of the Weimar Republic and they were trying to influence how the impending vacuum would be filled.

  • Hindenburg was 85 in 1933 and was the force which held the republic together. Everybody understood his days were numbered and everybody was trying to figure out what was going to happen next.
  • Hitler's Nazi's or NSDAP had more seats in the Reichstag (Germans Parliament) than any other party but not a majority.
  • Hitler's NSDAP party were so poorly thought of by all the other political parties in Germany that even with control of as much as 37% of the seats in the Reichstag, they were not able to form a majority; or even participate in the government prior to Jan 30, 1933.

From the Militaries perspective Hitler and the NSAP was just another political organization and could be managed if they were separated from the Brown Shirts / SA who were causing all the civil unrest and threatening the military's future.

The Social Democrats who had lead the previous coalition government which excluded the Nazi's and their seats in the Riechstag. At the end of 1932 believed they had their own formula to control Hitler. Hitler was motivated to compromise because:

  • In the July 31, 1932 election Hitler's NSDAP controlled 230 seats or 37% of the Reichstag and were excluded from participation in the government.
  • In the Nov 31, 1932 election Hitler's NSDAP support was dwindling. They controlled only 196 seats.

So Hitler who still had the largest number of seats, settled for just 3 cabinet seats out of 21 leaving the Social democrats with the majority of the cabinet seats and in real control of the government. Or so they thought. They all underestimated Hitler.

  • Thank you. This sounds somewhat incredible. Do you have any tips on sources to look up how it was possible to assemble and arm three million men in a paramilitary fashion without anyone doing anything great about it? I don't imagine there were very strict laws regarding arms but it sure does strike me as odd that they were able to come up with enough guns to provide all these men. Jul 1, 2019 at 14:23
  • You have to take the distrust that existed between the (Sozial Democratic) government and those (police, army) that had to inforce these laws into account. The police were state based organizations and the army was a 'state inside the state'. So the control of the national government was over both organizations was minimal. Jul 20, 2019 at 14:39
  • The Reichswehr was pretty much out of control. Imperium in imperio. Start with en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebert%E2%80%93Groener_pact and see that they were keen to shoot left uprisings, but denied to do so when right-wingers wanted to putsch ("troops don't shoot troops") en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hans_von_Seeckt Until long knives night the RW was indeed very right-wing as well, but skeptically distant to AH and his SA. Jul 20, 2019 at 18:05

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