Hitler Becomes Führer
At the risk of appearing to talk nonsense I tell you that the Nazi movement will go on for 1,000 years! … Don’t forget how people laughed at me 15 years ago when I declared that one day I would govern Germany. They laugh now, just as foolishly, when I declare that I shall remain in power!
After the Night of the Long Knives, nothing stood between Hitler and absolute power in Germany, except the aging, 87-year-old German President Paul von Hindenburg, who now lay close to death at his country estate in East Prussia.
Though Hindenburg was in increasingly bad health, the Nazis made sure that whenever Hindenburg did appear in public it was in Hitler’s company. During these appearances, Hitler always made a point of showing the utmost respect and reverence for the President. In private, Hitler continued to detest Hindenburg, and expressed the hope that “the old reactionary” would die as soon as possible, so that Hitler could merge the offices of Chancellor and President into one.
Hitler was always very conscious of the fact that the President was the Supreme Commander-In-Chief of the German armed forces, and that given that Hindenburg was a revered figure in the German Army, that if the President decided to sack Hitler as Chancellor, there was little doubt that the Reichswehr would side with Hindenburg. Thus, as long as Hindenburg lived, Hitler was always very careful to avoid offending him.
Hindenburg remained in office until his death at the age of 86 from lung cancer at his home in Neudeck, East Prussia on 2 August 1934.
The day before Hindenburg’s death, Hitler flew to Neudeck and visited him. Hindenburg, old and senile as well as bedridden from being very sick, thought he was meeting Kaiser Wilhelm II, and he called Hitler “Your Majesty” when Hitler first walked into his bedroom.
For Hitler, Hindenburg’s demise couldn’t have come at a better time. He had just broken the back of the rowdy Brownshirts and cemented the support of the Army’s General Staff. Now he just needed to resolve the issue of who would succeed Hindenburg as president.
Hitler, of course, decided that he should succeed Hindenburg, but not as president, instead as Führer of the German people.
However, there were still a handful of influential old-time conservatives in Germany who hoped for a return of the monarchy or perhaps some kind of non-Nazi nationalist government after Hindenburg’s death. Although they loathed democracy, they also loathed the excesses of the Hitler regime. These were proud men from the 1800s reared in the days of princes and kings and ancient honor codes. And they knew their beloved Fatherland was now in the hands of murderous fanatics such as Himmler and Heydrich who cared nothing about their old-fashioned notions.
Among those conservatives was Franz von Papen, Germany’s Vice Chancellor, who was a confidant of President Hindenburg. Just before the Night of the Long Knives, Hindenburg had told him concerning the Nazis: “Papen, things are going badly. See what you can do.” But Papen had been unable to do anything except to barely escape with his own life.
Papen, however, had one last trick up his sleeve. In April 1934 he almost convinced Hindenburg to declare in his will that Germany should return to a constitutional monarchy upon his death. Hindenburg at first agreed to put it in his will, but then changed his mind and put it in the form of a personal letter to Hitler, to be delivered after his death.
However, for Hitler and his followers, the idea of returning to a monarchy at this point was utterly laughable. Hitler had the Nazi Reichstag completely in his pocket and exercised his power to prevent any such thing from happening. He simply had a law drafted abolishing the office of president and proclaiming himself as Führer.
About 9 a.m. on August 2, 1934, the much anticipated death of President Hindenburg finally occurred. Within hours, the Nazi Reichstag announced the following law, back-dated to August 1st:
The Reich Government has enacted the following law which is hereby promulgated.
Section 1. The office of Reich President will be combined with that of Reich Chancellor. The existing authority of the Reich President will consequently be transferred to the Führer and Reich Chancellor, Adolf Hitler. He will select his deputy.
Section 2. This law is effective as of the time of the death of Reich President von Hindenburg.
The law was technically illegal since it violated provisions of the German constitution concerning presidential succession as well as the Enabling Act of 1933 which forbade Hitler from altering the presidency. But that didn’t matter much anymore. Nobody raised any objections. Hitler himself was becoming the law.
Immediately following the announcement of himself as Führer, the German Officer Corps and every individual soldier in the German Army was made to swear a brand new oath of allegiance:
“I swear by God this sacred oath: I will render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the Führer of the German Reich and people, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and will be ready as a brave soldier to risk my life at any time for this oath.”
The unprecedented oath was to Hitler personally. Obedience to Hitler would now be regarded as a sacred duty by all men in uniform, in accordance with their military code of honor, thus making the German Army the personal instrument of the Führer.
On August 7, during Hindenburg’s elaborate State funeral, General Werner von Blomberg, caught up in the pomp and circumstance of the moment, offered to have the Army officially refer to Hitler as “Mein Führer” instead of the customary “Herr Hitler.” Hitler immediately accepted Blomberg’s offer.
After the funeral, the Nazis prepared to hold a nationwide plebiscite giving the German people an opportunity to express their approval of the Führer’s new powers and thus legitimize Hitler’s position in the eyes of the world.
Hindenburg’s alleged political testament was published in the run-up to the plebiscite giving an account of his years of service to the Fatherland and containing complimentary references to Hitler. The testament was skillfully used as part of the intensive propaganda campaign to get a big ‘Yes’ vote for Hitler.
On August 19, about 95 percent of registered voters in Germany went to the polls and gave Hitler 38 million “Ja” votes (90 percent of the vote). Thus Adolf Hitler could claim he was Führer of the German nation by direct will of the people. Hitler now wielded absolute power in Germany, beyond that of any previous traditional head of state. He had become, in effect, the law unto himself.
The next day, August 20, mandatory loyalty oaths were introduced throughout the Reich…
Oath of loyalty for Public Officials:
“I swear: I shall be loyal and obedient to Adolf Hitler, the Führer of the German Reich and people, respect the laws, and fulfill my official duties conscientiously, so help me God.”
Oath of loyalty for Soldiers of the Armed Forces:
‘I swear by God this sacred oath: I will render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the Führer of the German Reich and people, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and will be ready as a brave soldier to risk my life at any time for this oath.’
These oaths were pledged to Hitler personally, not the German state or constitution. And they were taken very seriously by members of the German Officers’ Corps with their traditional minded codes of honor, which now elevated obedience to Hitler as a sacred duty and effectively placed the German armed forces in the position of being the personal instrument of Hitler.
In September, 1934, at the annual Nuremberg Nazi Party rallies, a euphoric Hitler proclaimed, “The German form of life is definitely determined for the next thousand years. The Age of Nerves of the nineteenth century has found its close with us. There will be no revolution in Germany for the next thousand years.”