The Political Upheavals in Germany in 1932

From the Lecture series: A History of Hitler's Empire, 2nd Edition

By Thomas Childers, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

In the spring of 1932, the government of Heinrich Brüning was no closer to finding a solution to the Depression than it had been at the beginning. The extremely unpopular measures of raising taxes and cutting benefits had alienated many people. Were the Nazis able to take advantage of these circumstances?

Silver coins of the Weimar Republic.
The devastating economic slowdown of 1929 created more problems for the Weimar Republic. (Image: Double-Matt/Shutterstock)

While the German economy was in a free-fall, there was a palpable sense of desperation, confrontation, and polarization on the streets of Germany. The Communists had picked up support in the regional elections, taking votes away from the moderate Socialists, whereas the Nazis were picking up votes largely from middle-class parties, but with some workers as well.

Business leaders were convinced that Brüning had to go. He hadn’t been able to undo the Weimar welfare system. And people in the military, particularly General Kurt von Schleicher, an influential man in the military, couldn’t understand why Brüning was unable to make a deal with the Nazis.

This is a transcript from the video series A History of Hitler’s Empire, 2nd Edition. Watch it now, on The Great Courses Plus.

Schleicher’s Strategy

Schleicher believed that the time had come to scrap the Weimar Constitution and establish an authoritarian regime. He believed that he could use the Nazis to build support with conservatives in the business community, military, and agriculture.

Schleicher used his influence on Paul Von Hindenburg and convinced the latter to dump Brüning. He wanted to establish an authoritarian sort of government above parties. He hand picked the man he wanted—Franz von Papen, a man so obscure that even his Catholic Center Party colleagues weren’t quite sure exactly who he was.

Papen: Germany’s New Chancellor

 A photograph of Franz von Papen.
Papen succeeded Heinrich Brüning as the chancellor of Germany in 1932. (Image: Bundesarchiv/CC-BY-SA/3.0/Public domain)

Hindenburg appointed Papen at Schleicher’s suggestion as chancellor. Papen talked about a government above parties, which was good, because none of the parties supported him. The conservatives were reluctantly drawn to him.

Papen tried to send signals to the business community that he really meant business. He was going to do what Brüning hadn’t done—scrap the Weimar welfare system—and hinted very broadly that what he wanted to do was get rid of parliamentary democracy. After all, it hadn’t worked.

So new elections were called for on July 31, 1932. Papen believed that he could win over the Nazis and that he could win conservatives to his side, but it was all a miscalculation.

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A Big Achievement for the Nazis

The Nazis tore into the Papen government and attacked it saying it was not what Germany needed. The NSDAP once again conducted a very ambitious campaign, and emerged with 38 percent of the vote. It had become the largest party in Germany.

The Nazis argued that they had become a true people’s party, a volkspartei. They certainly had got votes from not only the lower-middle-class Germans, but they had also appealed to farmers. They also picked up a considerable vote from blue-collar workers.

They didn’t do so well with workers who had been in union industries, but they did very well with workers in small shops and small local factories. They were above class, above region, above religion.

They still didn’t do as well with Catholic voters as they did with Protestants.

Religion and the Nazis

Nazi philosopher Alfred Rosenberg wrote a book called The Myth of the 20th Century. He argued that Christianity was really the flip side of the coin of Judaism—that they were both evil, and the key was to go back to this ancient Germanic sort of religion.

So, every Sunday morning—the elections in Germany took place on Sundays—every Catholic priest in Germany would stand at the pulpit and say to their parishioners, “If you vote Communist or Nazi, your soul’s in peril.”

Needless to say, this had a dampening effect on Nazi popularity in Catholic areas. In 1932, they had made headway; Catholics were turning more and more to the Nazis, but still not in the numbers the Nazis wanted.

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A Disappointment for the Nazis

However, the July elections of 1932 were a disappointment to the Nazis. They had convinced themselves that this was the last election—that they really were going to get a majority. Even though it was a great achievement in German politics to have 38 percent of the vote, it still played badly in Nazi circles.

Hitler also came with refused power by Hindenburg. He had an audience with the field marshal; Hindenburg hated him. Hitler played an all-or-nothing game. He demanded from Hindenburg to be named chancellor.

Hindenburg refused because Hitler also wanted to be chancellor with presidential powers. He wanted to have access to Article 48 standing, he didn’t want to have a coalition.

The End of Parliamentary Government in Germany

A photograph of Hermann Goering.
Hermann Goering had put the issue of dissolving the Reichstag to vote in 1932. (Image: Robert Röhr/Public domain)

Parliamentary government in Germany had now become a farce. The new members of the Reichstag comprised of 38 percent of the Nazis and over 15 percent Communists, the two anti-parliamentary parties had a majority.

So, when the swearing in of the new Parliament took place, the head of the Reichstag or the Speaker of the House was not a Social Democrat. It was Hermann Goering, one of the leaders of the NSDAP.

And Goering, before the Reichstag could even be called into session, recognized a Communist deputy who wanted to dissolve the Reichstag. Goering put this issue to a vote; the Nazis and the Communists voted it out. So the Parliament, before it had even been in power, was kicked out.

A Terrifying Irony of the World History

New elections were held in November 1932 in Germany. For the first time, the Nazis’ vote suddenly dropped to 33 percent. They had run out of money, they had run out of energy, and they had run out of issues to woo the electorate.

The Nazi vote continued to drop in regional elections later in November and in December. And, at this point when the Nazi constituency was beginning to fray, through a back-door intrigue, Adolf Hitler was named chancellor on January 30, 1933.

Common Questions about the Political Upheavals in Germany in 1932

Q: Why did Paul Von Hindenburg refused to appoint Hitler the chancellor of Germany?

Hindenburg refused because Hitler wanted to be chancellor with presidential powers.

Q: Who was Hermann Goering?

Hermann Goering was one of the leaders of the Nazi Party and the Speaker of the House or the head of the Reichstag. He had put the issue of dissolving the parliament to vote in 1932.

Q: What was the outcome of the July 1932 elections for the Nazi Party?

The Nazi Party emerged with 38 percent of the vote in the July 1932 elections. It had become the largest party in Germany.

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