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What was Hitler's role in the Nazi State?
Transcript of What was Hitler's role in the Nazi State?
Hitler: The Decision Maker?
From 1934, Hitler showed little interest in the day-to-day decisions of government and distanced himself from them. Cabinet government declined from 72 meetings in 1933 to none in 1938.
In July 1934, as President Hindenburg died, Hitler absorbed powers of the Chancellor and President as Fuhrer. This was confirmed by the Law on Head of State of the German Reich signed on 1 August 1934 by Hitler's leading ministers. The following day, the army, on the initiative of General Blomberg, swore an oath of allegiance to Hitler.
On 19 August, a plebiscite of the German people, 89.9% voted in favour of constitutional reform. Hitler's power was unassailable. That summer, Leni Riefenstahl filmed the Triumph of the Will, a record of the Nazi Party rally at Nuremburg and it represented the Fuhrer as a demi-God worshiped by German people and was a coming of age of political religion. The way Hitler was represented in propaganda justifified that he distanced himself from the mundane detail of Government because he was powerful.
However, crucial decisions were made in peacetime by Hitler. The decision to destroy the SA and the Second Revolution by the Night of the Long Knives in June 1934 was Hitler's alone. The need to resolve the tension between the army and SA was a factor in explaining why Hitler destroyed an important element of the Nazi movement. He had support from Goring and Himmler but made the decision. The following years saw disappearance of collective government that strengthened Hitler's power.
The Lack of Formal Mechanisms
Hitler's authority was unchallenged. the lack of mechanisms caused chaos as a result. Hitler rarely read documents before making a decision and disliked signing official papers. So officials got verbal agreement instead. This type o approval (Fuhrer Orders) carried the ultimate authority in the state.
At a meeting in November 1935 to discuss Jewish emigration, Hess' interpretation of the Fuhrer's wishes (he wanted to see them gone ASAP) was contradicted by an official from the Ministry of Interior who insisted that Hitler wanted them to stay in Germany so they could be used as hostages. This did not make clear government.
Fuhrer orders were given prematurely without consultation and provoked protest from within the Party and State hierarchy. In October 1934, head of the Labour Front, Robert Ley, gained the Fuhrer's approval for a measure aimed at strengthening the power of the Labour Front. This opposed leading figures, including Hess, Schacht and leading businessmen. The Fuhrer allowed the measure to strengthening the Labour Front to be shelved.
Was Hitler a weak dictator?
Hitler was popular and selected who he thought was best for the job but that didn't help the regime to run effectively. Hitler relied upon this popularity to make things work but this meant he wouldn't implement anything that would threaten his popularity. He also wasn't very good at making decisions which made him a weak dictator. Hitler used his patronage in order to keep control.
Hitler and the Gauleiter
In memorandum of 1932, Hitler stated the "basis of the political organisation is loyalty". He insisted on loyalty in return for patronage and influence. One of Hitler's acquaintances up to 1934 was Hermann Rauschning who became disillusioned with Hitler and in 1938 published an account of conversations with the Fuhrer entitled "Hitler Speaks". He believed "Hitler was no dictator". He was damning of Hitler's relationship with the Gauleiter. Hitler never went against the Gauleiter. He had technical control of them all but them as a group controlled him. He changed what was happening to suit the majority of the Gauleiters. Hitler relied on them but not them alone. However, Rauchsning fell out with Hitler so his views are seen as biased. The Gauleiter were Hitler's most trusted and loyal lieutenants and they had considerable power in localities in the name of the Fuhrer. Goebbels' power base was strengthened by his appointment as Gaultieter in Berlin as was Forster of Danzig and West Prussia. Their power was enhanced by the lack of collective leadership. The Gauleiter were loyal and virtually omnipotent in local regions. They were guardians of the Nazi faith, wielders of vast patronage and key agents in rallying of morale. Their power increased as the regime consolidated power because their blind enthusiasm, local patronage and control of the district party leaders (Kreisleiter), gave them control of their locality. They were described as the "backbone of Hitler's power".