November 15, 2019

1934. Nazis Declare Absolute Power After Referendum Vote

Hitler Uses Vote to Justify Consolidation of Power
"German Chancellor Adolf Hitler, upper window, returns the salute of a dense crowd, in Wilhelmplatz, Berlin, Aug. 19, 1934, gathered to greet him." (source)
This article is part of a series of posts on how The New York Times covered the rise and fall of fascism in Europe.

From The New York Times, August 20, 1934:
38,279,514 Vote Yes, 4,287,808 No on Uniting Offices
Negative Count Is Larger in Districts of Business Men and Intellectuals
Reich Bishop at Victory Fete Says Hitler's Anti-Semitism Is Fight for Christianity

BERLIN, Monday, Aug. 20 — Eighty-nine and nine-tenths per cent of the German voters endorsed in yesterday's plebiscite Chancellor Hitler's assumption of greater power than has ever been possessed by any other ruler in modern times. Nearly 10 per cent indicated their disapproval. The result was expected.

The German people were asked to vote whether they approved the consolidation of the offices of President and Chancellor in a single Leader-Chancellor personified by Adolf Hitler. By every appeal known to skillful politicians and with every argument to the contrary suppressed, they were asked to make their approval unanimous.

Nevertheless 10 per cent of the voters have admittedly braved possible consequences by answering "No" and nearly 1,000,000 made their answers ineffective by spoiling the simplest of ballots. There was a plain short question and two circles, one labeled "Yes" and the other "No," in one of which the voter had to make a cross. Yet there were nearly 1,000,000 spoiled ballots.

38,279,514 Vote "Yes"

The results given out by the Propaganda Ministry early this morning show that out of a total vote of 43,438,378, cast by a possible voting population of more than 45,000,000, there were 38,279,514 who answered "Yes," 4,287,808 who answered "No" and there were 871,056 defective ballots. Thus there is an affirmative vote of almost 90 per cent of the valid votes and a negative vote of nearly 10 per cent exclusive of the spoiled ballots which may or may not have been deliberately rendered defective.

How Chancellor Hitler's vote declined is shown by a comparison with the result of the Nov. 12 plebiscite on leaving the Disarmament Conference and the League of Nations. The tabulation follows:
                                Yesterday         Nov. 12
Yes ......................  38,279,514    40,600,243
No .......................    4,287,808      2,101,004
Invalid .................      871,056          750,282
Per cent of noes ...              9.8                 4.8
These results therefore show that the number of Germans discontented with Chancellor Hitler's course is increasing but is not yet seriously damaging to it. He is the Fuehrer [leader] of the Reich with absolute power by the vote of almost 90 per cent of the Germans in it but the number of dissentients has doubled since the last test.

It is not yet a matter for international concern but there are other considerations which may be.

Dictatorship Now Complete

The endorsement gives Chancellor Hitler, who four years ago was not even a German citizen, dictatorial powers unequaled in any other country, and probably unequaled in history since the days of Genghis Khan. He has more power than Joseph Stalin in Russia, who has a party machine to reckon with; more power than Premier Mussolini of Italy who shares his prerogative with the titular ruler; more than any American President ever dreamed of.

No other ruler has so widespread power nor so obedient and compliant subordinates. The question that interests the outside world now is what Chancellor Hitler will do with such unprecedented authority.

Nazi opinion is not disposed to be altogether cheerful about the result. When one high official was asked by this correspondent to comment on it he said:

"Obviously we feel the effects of June 30."

He referred to the execution of Ernst Roehm and other Storm Troop chiefs.

That is also the opinion of many other Germans, especially among the more substantial classes. They interpret the result as the beginning of a protest against the rule of arbitrary will and as an effort to force Chancellor Hitler back to the rule of law.

In their view the vote may induce the Fuehrer to steer henceforth a more moderate course and take account of the sensibilities of general opinion. Some of the more optimistic even hope it may induce him to get rid of some of his radical advisers to whom the opposition within Germany is great.

This view, however, is not shared generally and the dissent is borne out by the remark of a Nazi official who said bitterly, "We have become too soft."

Ex-Marxists Support Hitler

A feature of the election was that former Marxists cast a far heavier vote for Chancellor Hitler than the so-called bourgeoisie. In Berlin especially, judging by their vote, former Communists still are Leader Hitler's most loyal followers. In one voting district in Wedding, where a few years ago Communists fought from behind barricades against the police, the "yes" votes amounted to 949; the "no" votes and invalid ballots totaled 237.

In one district west of Berlin, inhabited mainly by business men and intellectuals, the "yes" vote was only 840 and the "no" votes and invalid ballots totaled 351. Other tests provided similar results.

In the Communist districts protest votes with Communist inscriptions were rare. In Western Berlin they were more frequent. In one district five ballots had the name "Thaelmann" written in. [Ernst Thaelmann is an imprisoned Communist leader.] One ballot contained this inscription, "Since nothing has happened to me so far I vote 'Yes.'" It was signed "Non-Aryan."

Interesting also are the following results: the hospital of the Jewish community in one district cast 168 "Yes" votes, 92 "Noes," and 46 ballots were invalid. The Jewish Home for Aged People in another district cast 94 "Yes" votes, four "Noes" and three invalid ballots. This vote is explainable, of course, by the fear of reprisals if the results from these Jewish institutions had been otherwise. It is paralleled by other results outside Berlin.

In all Bavaria Chancellor Hitler received the largest vote in his favor in the concentration camp at Dachau where 1,554 persons voted "Yes" and only eight "No" and there were only ten spoiled ballots.

Hamburg Leads Opposition

Hamburg, which only two days ago gave Herr Hitler the most enthusiastic reception he had ever received anywhere, led the country in the opposition vote. The official figures were: Total vote cast, 840,000; "Yes," 651,000; "No," 168,000; invalidated ballots, 21,000.

The "No" vote, in other words, was 20 per cent of the total vote. Counting the invalid ballots as negative in intent, the total opposition votes exceeded 22 per cent. The percentage of the electorate voting was 92.4.

Hamburg is the home city of Ernst Thaelmann and on his triumphant entry into the city on Friday, Herr Hitler made it a point to drive past Herr Thaelmann's former home.

As far as observers could ascertain, the election everywhere was conducted with perfect propriety, and secrecy of the ballot was safe-guarded. The ballots were marked in regular election booths and placed in envelopes and these were put in the ballot boxes. After the voting had ended the ballot box was emptied on a large table and the vote was counted publicly in the regular manner. Appraising of individual votes seemed impossible.

One check on possible non-voters, however, was exercised by instructions that the voting authorizations issued to those who for one reason or another planned to be outside their regular voting district on election day must be returned unless used. The number of such authorizations issued for this election exceeded anything known before.

Throughout the day Storm Troopers stood before each polling place with banners calling on the voters to vote "Yes." Otherwise voters remained unmolested. Inside the polling places uniforms and even party emblems had been forbidden, but the execution of this order was lax. In some apparently doubtful districts brown uniforms dominated the scene as a warning to would-be opponents.

Nazis Try for Record Vote

All past efforts in getting out the German vote were eclipsed in this election. During Saturday night a huge final poster was plastered on billboards everywhere. It said:

Your leader [Hitler] has traveled 1,500,000 kilometers by airplane, railway and motor car in the cause of Germany's rebirth. You have but to walk 100 meters to your voting booth to vote "yes."

All over Germany means were taken to get the Sunday late-sleeping population out of bed early. The polls opened at 8 o'clock, but in Berlin Storm Troops, Hitler Youth Troops and Nazi labor union groups took to the streets as early as 6 o'clock to wake the populace by shouting at them to do their duty. Many of these groups had bugles or drum corps and an occasional band was heard.

In Munich twenty-five brass bands started marching through the city about the same hour with the same object. At Frankfurt-am-Main Storm Troops' bands played at the most important street intersections all morning.

At Erfurt late Saturday night Storm Troopers with torches marched the streets, and soon after daybreak again were under way shouting to the citizens to get up and vote. In Bremen all the church bells rang for fifteen minutes before 8 o'clock. In Karlsruhe saluting cannon reinforced the brass bands.

Berlin Goes to Polls Early

The result was that at Berlin's twenty-seven polling places throughout the morning there were long lines before each, waiting to vote. In the working class districts crowds assembled before the polling places were opened. By 11 o'clock 40 per cent of the vote had been polled, but all day trucks equipped with buglers and cheering corps went through the city rallying the laggards.

Ambulances for the sick voters and volunteered private cars for the aged and infirm were busy all day. The polls were open until 6 o'clock, but in the late afternoon comparatively few votes were registered. The voting had been done.

An odd feature of the election was the large number of voters who voted outside their home districts. This is the holiday season, so 2,500,000 had special permission to vote away from home. Four Saxon cities granted 130,000 such permissions to vote in other parts of the Reich.

At the central railway station in Munich 10,000 travelers had voted in thirteen special booths set up there before 11 o'clock. Polling places were set up along the wall of the Kiel Canal for sailors on German ships.

In foreign ports German Consuls hired vessels and took voters out to the high seas, making a celebration of it. Lieut. Col. Franz von Papen, envoy to Vienna, came back to Berlin from Austria to vote.

In Berlin enthusiasm was skillfully maintained by every conceivably device. Around the chancellery, where Chancellor Hitler slept, there was a crowd from daybreak onward. By 8 o'clock the police had to rope off Wilhelmstrasse for through traffic.

A loud-speaker in an open window in the Propaganda Ministry across the street led the crowd in singing Nazi songs. During the day Chancellor Hitler appeared in a chancellery window about twelve times and was madly cheered.

At all important traffic centres in Cologne busts of Chancellor Hitler had been set up and at the polling places his picture was wreathed in evergreens hung over the entrances. All cities were beflagged as for triumph.

In Breslau the polling places were decked with flowers and there were long parades of Storm Troopers and war veterans through the streets all day. At Neudeck the ninety-six voters of the Hindenburg manor went to the polls in a body to vote "yes."

More to attain the universal "joyous affirmation" that all Nazis speakers demanded throughout the campaign could hardly have been done.
The New York Times, August 19, 1934:
Hitler Now World's Supreme Autocrat; Legally Answerable to Nobody for Acts

BERLIN, Aug. 19 — Powers greater than those held by any ruler in the modern world are put in the hands of Adolf Hitler as a result of today's plebiscite.

As Reich leader and Reich Chancellor he holds the powers that belonged to the late President von Hindenburg and he has in addition the enormous authority conferred on him as Chancellor by an act adopted when the Nazis obtained full power in the Reich. Under that act he has virtually supreme legislative authority. He now inherits any and all executive authority that he has not enjoyed previously. In short, Herr Hitler alone has the powers formerly exercised by the Kaiser, the President and Parliament. It must be realized that the Reichstag has become a mere rubber stamp for his decrees.

Herr Hitler has the power to declare war and to make peace. He inherits from the late President the exclusive right to make binding agreements with other nations. Hence he alone may sign treaties and make alliances. His consent is required to all diplomatic appointments, and all German diplomatic representatives must report to him at his request.

Moreover, Herr Hitler may annul existing legislation or call for new legislation. He employs and discharges all state employees unprotected by the complex civil-service law. He has the power to pardon any person sentenced by a Reich court, thus holding the power of setting aside a court decision.

Further, Herr Hitler is commander-in-chief of the army, the navy and the air force. Under Article XLVIII of the Weimar Constitution—which is now moribund but which can be invoked at Herr Hitler's will—he may employ force against any German Province that in his opinion fails in its duty toward the Reich.

Under the same article he has the widest dictatorial powers in times of national emergency, and under precedents set by the Bruening Government he may make virtually any internal difficulty the excuse for declaring a state of national emergency.