German Enabling Act?
The Decrees of 1933
(a) The February 28 Decree.
One of the most repressive acts of the new Nazi government, this one allowed for the suspension of civil liberties in the
wake of the false crisis created by the Nazis as a result of the fire that gutted the Reichstag (parliament) building on the
previous day. Without firm evidence, it was put about that it had been set by the Communists as the opening act in the attempt
to overthrow the state. The president was persuaded that the state was in danger and, hence, that the emergency measures embodied
in the decree were necessary. Even though under Art. 48 of the constitution, the decree would have been withdrawn once the
so-called emergency had passed, any hope of this happening was prevented by the establishment of Hitler's dictatorship following
the Enabling Act (see below). It was in fact never withdrawn and remained until the end as an instrument of Nazi terror against
ordinary citizens who ran foul of the regime.
ARTICLE 1. In virtue of paragraph 2, article 48,* of the German Constitution, the following is decreed as a defensive measure
against communist acts of violence , endangering the state:
Sections 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153 of the Constitution of the German Reich are suspended until further notice.
Thus, restrictions on personal liberty , on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press ,
on the right of assembly and the right of association , and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic, and telephonic
communications , and warrants for house-searches , orders for confiscation as well as restrictions on property ,
are also permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.
*Article 48 of the German Constitution
of August 11, 1919:
If public safety and order in Germany are materially
disturbed or endangered, the President may take the necessary measures to restore public safety and order, and, if necessary,
to intervene with the help of the armed forces. To this end he may temporarily suspend, in whole or in part, the fundamental
rights established in Articles 114, 115, 117, 118, 123, 124, and 153
(b) The Enabling Act
Although Hitler won the office of German chancellor in legal fashion (the Nazis, after all, were the largest group in the
Reichstag or lower house of parliament)), he was, of course, determined to rule Germany without the restraint of a democratically
elected parliament. For this to happen he had to set aside the guarantees of civil rights and democratic procedures established
by the Weimar Constitution, a tactic that required the approval of two-thirds of sitting representatives. This was achieved
by calling a new election (which increased the Nazi vote) and using force and intimidation against the existing parties, especially
those of the Socialists and Communists, many of whose elected representatives were jailed as political enemies or forced to
flee the country. Once assured of the votes of the Catholic Center party, the two-thirds majority was assured. Thus, over
the unavailing opposition of Socialist deputies, the March 24 session gave Hitler approval of legislation enabling him to
exercise dictatorial rule for four years, leaving the Nazis free to suborn Germany's hitherto free institutions and subordinate
both state and people to the ideological demands of the new regime. Of course the compliant Reichsrat (upper house) followed
suit. Inevitably, the Act was renewed in 1937 and persisted until the collapse of Germany in 1945.
The official name of
the Enabling legislation was "Law for the Removal of the Distress of People and Reich."
The Reichstag [the lower house of parliament] has passed the following law, which is, with the approval of the Reichsrat
[the upper house], herewith promulgated, after it has been established that it satisfies the requirements for legislation
altering the Constitution.
ARTICLE 1. In addition to the procedure for the passage of legislation outlined in the Constitution, the Reich Cabinet
is also authorized to enact Laws. . . .
ARTICLE 2. The national laws enacted by the Reich Cabinet may deviate from the Constitution provided they do not affect
the position of the Reichstag and the Reichsrat. The powers of the President remain unaffected.
ARTICLE 3. The national laws enacted by the Reich Cabinet shall be prepared by the Chancellor and published in the official
gazette. They come into effect, unless otherwise specified, upon the day following their publication . . .
ARTICLE 4. Treaties of the Reich with foreign states which concern matters of domestic legislation do not require the consent
of the bodies participating in legislation. The Reich Cabinet is empowered to issue the necessary provisions for the implementing
of these treaties.
ARTICLE 5. This law comes into effect on the day of its publication. It ceases to be valid on 1 April 1937: . . .
(c) Law Against the Establishment of Parties,
July 14, 1933
The German Cabinet has resolved the following law, which is herewith promulgated:
ARTICLE 1. The National Socialist German Workers Party constitutes the only political party in Germany.
ARTICLE 2. Whoever undertakes to maintain the organizational structure of another political party or to form a new political
party will be punished with penal servitude up to three years or with imprisonment or with imprisonment of from six months
to three years, if the deed is not subject to a greater penalty according to other regulations
[Ref.: R.E. Murphy et al., National Socialism (U.S. Gov. Ptg. Office, 1943]
Nazi Germany: The Decrees of 1933