Reading

Enabling Dictatorship

Read the text of the Enabling Act, the law many historians argue was the legal basis for Hitler’s dictatorship in Nazi Germany.   
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At a Glance

Reading

Language

English — US

Subject

  • History
  • The Holocaust
  • Human & Civil Rights

In response to the fire in its building, within a month the Reichstag passed a series of laws, including the one below, which historians refer to as the “Enabling Act.”


March 24, 1933

Law to Remove the Distress of the People and the State

The Reichstag has passed the following law, which is, with the approval of the Reichsrat [a legislative body whose members were appointed by German states], herewith promulgated, after it has been established that it meets the requirements for legislation altering the Constitution.

Article 1. National laws can be enacted by the Reich Cabinet as well as in accordance with the procedure established in the Constitution. This also applies to the laws referred to in Article 85, Paragraph 2, and in Article 87 of the Constitution.

Article 2. The national laws enacted by the Reich Cabinet may deviate from the Constitution as long as they do not affect the position of the Reichstag and the Reichsrat. The powers of the President remain undisturbed.

Article 3. The national laws enacted by the Reich Cabinet shall be prepared by the Chancellor and published in the Reichsgesetzblatt [Reich Legal Gazette]. They come into effect, unless otherwise specified, the day after their publication. Articles 68–77 of the Constitution do not apply to the laws enacted by the Reich Cabinet.

Article 4. Treaties of the Reich with foreign states which concern matters of national legislation do not require the consent of the bodies participating in legislation. The Reich Cabinet is empowered to issue the necessary provisions for the implementation of these treaties.

Article 5. This law becomes effective on the day of its publication. It becomes invalid on April 1, 1937; it also becomes invalid if the present Reich Cabinet is replaced by another.

Reich President von Hindenburg
Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler
Reich Minister of the Interior Frick
Reich Minister for Foreign Affairs Baron von Neurath
Reich Minister of Finances Count Schwerin von Krosigk 1

Connection Questions

  1. What is the relationship of the title of this law to its contents? Why do you think historians choose to refer to this law as the “Enabling Act” rather than by its official title?
  2. How does this law change how future laws would be enacted in Germany? Who does this text say can enact new laws? What relationship would those future laws have with Germany’s constitution?
  3. Many historians argue that this law established the legal basis for dictatorship in Nazi Germany. What parts of this law do you think undermine democracy and help to establish a dictatorship?
  • 1“Law to Remove the Distress of the People and the State (The Enabling Act),” available from German History in Documents and Images (German Historical Institute), from translation reprinted in US Department of State, Division of European Affairs, National Socialism (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1943), 217–18.

How to Cite This Reading

Facing History and Ourselves, "Enabling Dictatorship," last updated May 12, 2020.

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