Reichstag (Nazi Germany)

Reichstag

Großdeutscher Reichstag
Legislative body of Nazi Germany
Coat of arms or logo
Type
Type
History
Established1933
Disbanded1945
Preceded byWeimar Reichstag
Succeeded by
Structure
Seats876 (at dissolution)[1]
Nazi Germany Reichstag 1934.svg
Political groups
     NSDAP (876)
Elections
Direct show elections
Last election
13 March 1938
Meeting place
Bundesarchiv Bild 102-09067, Berlin, Kroll-Oper.jpg
Kroll Opera House, Berlin

The Reichstag ("Diet of the Realm"),[2] officially the Großdeutscher Reichstag ("Greater-German Reichstag") after 1938, was the pseudo-Parliament of the Third Reich from 1933 to 1945. Following the Nazi seizure of power and the passing of the Enabling Act of 1933, it met only as a rubber stamp for the actions of Adolf Hitler's dictatorship — always by unanimous consent — and to listen to Hitler's speeches. In this purely ceremonial role, the Reichstag convened only 20 times, the last on 26 April 1942. The President of the Reichstag (German: Reichstagspräsident) throughout this period was Hermann Göring.

During this period, the Reichstag was sometimes derisively referred to by the German public as the "teuerste Gesangsverein Deutschlands" (the most expensive singing club in Germany) due to frequent singing of the national anthem during sessions. To avoid holding scheduled elections during World War II, in 1943 Hitler extended the term of office of the current Reichstag (elected in late 1938 to serve in 1939–1943) to serve a special eight-year term to end on 30 January 1947.

Background

In 1920–1923 and from 1930 on, the Weimar Republic's democratically elected Reichstag could be circumvented by two legal instruments not provided (as such) by the constitution:

  • The use of special powers granted to the President of Germany under an Emergency Decree in Article 48 of the constitution
  • The use of Enabling acts, especially during 1919–1923 and then finally in 1933

The former practice became more and more common after 1930. Due to the Reichstag's complex system of proportional representation, it was extremely difficult for a government to have a stable majority. Frequently, when a Chancellor was voted out of office, his successor could not be assured of a majority. As a result, Chancellors were forced to use Article 48 simply to conduct the ordinary business of government.

Adolf Hitler declaring war against the United States at the Reichstag, 11 December 1941

Following the Reichstag fire on 27 February 1933, Hitler persuaded President Paul von Hindenburg to issue the Decree for the Protection of People and State, which suspended most of the civil rights enshrined in the constitution. When elections in March did not yield a Nazi majority, Hitler had to rely on his coalition partner, the German National People's Party (DNVP), to command a majority in the Reichstag.

At the new Reichstag's first session, Hitler introduced the Enabling Act of 1933, which allowed the government to enact laws on its own authority for a four-year period. With certain exceptions (which were in practice disregarded), those laws could deviate from articles in the constitution. Though formally only the Government as a whole could enact laws, Hitler in effect exercised that right by himself.

The Nazis used the provisions of the Reichstag Fire Decree to arrest all deputies from the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) and detain several deputies from the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Several other SPD deputies saw the writing on the wall and fled into exile. Ultimately, the Enabling Act passed by a margin of 444–94, with only the SPD voting against it. However, the session took place in such an intimidating atmosphere that even if all 81 KPD deputies and 120 SPD deputies had been present, the Enabling Act would have still passed by more than the two-thirds majority required.

Before the summer was out, all other parties had either been banned or intimidated into closing down, and the Nazi Party was the only legally permitted party in Germany–though for all intents and purposes, Germany had become a one-party state with the passage of the Enabling Act. With the formal ban of opposition parties in July, the provision of Article 48 that allowed the Reichstag to demand the cancellation of the emergency measures was effectively negated.

In the parliamentary elections of 12 November 1933, voters were presented with a single list from the Nazi Party under far-from-secret conditions (see below). The list carried with 92.1 percent of the vote. As a measure of the great care Hitler took to give his dictatorship the appearance of legal sanction, the Enabling Act was subsequently renewed by the Reichstag in 1937 and 1941.

The Reichstag only met 12 times between 1933 and 1939, and enacted only four laws—the Law for the Reconstruction of the Reich of 1934 (which turned Germany into a highly centralized state) and the three Nuremberg Laws of 1935. All passed unanimously. It would only meet eight more times after the start of the war.