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Enabling Act

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In 1933-34, Hitler and the Nazi Party systematically destroyed the Weimar Republic to gain more power. An essential part of this destruction was the Enabling Act on 23 March 1933 - but what did this Act do, and why was it so significant in Germany's transition from a democracy to a dictatorship? Let's find out!

Enabling Act Summary

Essentially, the Enabling Act allowed Hitler to make and pass laws without the approval of the Reichstag. The power of the Act was based on Article 48 of the Weimar Constitution, which allowed the President to grant emergency powers to override the Reichstag if necessary.

The Reichstag

The democratically-elected legislative body of the Weimar Republic's parliament. The Reichstag members voted on legislation, the country's budget, and Germany's international relations regarding war and peace.

You might be wondering how such a law was ever passed. There are two critical pieces of context to understand how the Enabling Act came about - the Reichstag Fire and the vote on the Act itself.

Reichstag Fire Decree and Enabling Act

On 27 February 1933, the Reichstag building was set on fire. Although the members of the Reichstag were not there at the time, it was a very shocking event, with everyone immediately wondering who could have done such a thing.

Enabling Act Reichstag Fire StudySmarterFig. 1 - The Reichstag fire

In truth, we don't know who was responsible for the fire, though there have been many theories. However, at the time, Adolf Hitler was quick to blame the fire on Communists - this made people scared and presented a real political threat that demanded the use of emergency powers.

Hitler wasted no time. The next day, the Reichstag Fire Decree (1933) was passed, giving him the power to detain and imprison people without trial. This struck at one of the fundamental principles of democracy and paved the way for the Enabling Act a month later.

Enabling Act of 1933

When it came into the Reichstag, the Enabling Act passed with 444 votes to 94. However, it is critical to understand that it was hardly a fair vote. In the days leading up to the vote, the SA and SS intimidated other Reichstag members. Many were arrested and sent to the new concentration camp at Dachau.


An abbreviation of the Sturmabteilung, the Nazi paramilitary force active from 1920-45. This group mostly consisted of working-class members.


An abbreviation of the Schutzstaffel, a smaller Nazi paramilitary force which answered directly to Hitler as his and other Nazi party officials' bodyguards, active from 1925-45. This group mostly consisted of middle-class members.

Concentration Camp

A prison facility where political prisoners or persecuted minorities are sent and forced to do manual labour.

Enabling Act Adolf Hitler Speech StudySmarterFig. 2 - Adolf Hitler giving a speech on the Enabling Act, March 1933

On the day of the vote, the Assembly Hall was filled with SS and SA 'guards' and decorated with swastikas - a member of the Social Democratic Party described the scene:

SA and SS men lined up at the exits and along the wall behind us... later when we tried to interrupt Hitler, the SA and SS people hissed loudly and murmured 'Shut up', 'Traitors', 'You'll be hung today'.1

- A member of the SDP recounting SA and SS intimidation during the vote on the Enabling Act, 1933.

Clearly, this was not a democratic vote, which explains why the Enabling Act passed with such a huge majority - the Nazis threatened and intimidated people into voting for it.

Did you know? 94 members of the Reichstag, all from the SDP, were brave enough to stand up to the Nazis and vote against the Act.

Effects of the Enabling Act

Despite the bravery of those who opposed the Enabling Act, it was still passed and was signed into law by President Hindenburg on the same day as the vote. Again, Hitler quickly used his newfound power to further his own political agenda. In the months following the Enabling Act, the Nazis targeted three key sections of society: local governments, trade unions, and political opposition.

Enabling Act Paul Von Hindenburg StudySmarterFig. 3 - Paul von Hindenburg was President of the Weimar Republic from 1925-1934. He signed off on the Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act, which ultimately allowed Hitler to consolidate totalitarian power over Germany when Hindenburg died in 1934

Local Government

On 31 March 1933, Hitler shut down all 18 of Germany's state governments, centralising power with himself in Berlin. He then reorganised the local governments so that the Nazis had a majority in every state and appointed governors who were sympathetic to the Nazis. Finally, in July 1934, Hitler abolished state governments completely so that the various areas of Germany could have no real independence from Berlin.

Trade Unions

On 2 May 1933, Nazis broke into trade union headquarters, arrested their leaders, and broke up the trade unions. Later, the Nazis created the 'German Workers' Front' and forced workers to join. This meant that all former trade unions were under government control, making it very difficult for workers to stand up for their rights.

Political Opposition

Perhaps the biggest effect of the Enabling Act was the removal of all political opposition to the Nazis. In May 1933, the Communist and Social Democratic parties were suspended, with the Nazis seizing their headquarters and funds. This was only a stepping stone to the end goal - in July 1933, Hitler passed a law which banned all political parties except the Nazi party.

Significance of the Enabling Act

The Enabling Act was an incredibly significant moment in the history of Germany. It marked the end of the Weimar Republic, as Hitler destroyed all democratic systems by concentrating power for himself. It also allowed him to remove anyone who opposed him, creating a totalitarian dictatorship in Germany.

Did you know? When Hindenburg died on 2 August 1934, Hitler had already passed a law to combine the offices of Chancellor and President to create the title of Führer - and the only approval he needed for this was his own.

Historian Frank McDonough comments:

In just one day, he had dispensed with the president’s authority to issue emergency decrees and made himself independent of the Reichstag. The cabinet now had no power to restrain him.2

- Frank McDonough

The Enabling Act would also be the legal basis for arresting anyone considered a threat to the country - not just political opponents but also Jews, Roma, Sinti, homosexuals, and disabled people. The Nazis could now arrest them and send them to concentration camps through a completely legal process.

Enabling Act - Key takeaways

  • The Enabling Act was a law passed by Adolf Hitler in March 1933. It gave him the power to make and pass laws without the approval of the Reichstag.
  • It passed because it was presented as necessary due to the Reichstag Fire a month earlier. Equally, the Nazis used lots of voter intimidation. They arrested opponents leading up to the vote to ensure it would pass.
  • With his new power, Hitler removed all political opposition, broke up the trade unions and abolished state governments.
  • The Enabling Act was significant because it provided the legal basis for the Nazi dictatorship. It allowed Hitler to destroy the Weimar Republic and create a totalitarian state which he reigned unopposed. It also created a legal base for the mass arrest and deportation of political prisoners and those considered 'non-Aryan' to concentration camps.


  1. Victoria Payne 'Germany: Development of Dictatorship, 1918-45', p64. (2017)
  2. McDonough, Frank. 2020. “1933 Death of a Democracy.” History Today 70 (2): pp.70–83
  3. Fig. 2 "Enabling Act in colour" (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Enabling_Act_in_colour.jpg) by German Federal Archives (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/en:German_Federal_Archives) licensed under CC BY SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)
  4. Fig. 3 "Paul V. Hindenburg" (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_183-C06886,_Paul_v._Hindenburg.jpg) by German Federal Archives (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/en:German_Federal_Archives) licensed under CC BY SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

Frequently Asked Questions about Enabling Act

The Enabling Act was a law that allowed Adolf Hitler to make and pass laws without the approval of the Reichstag.

The Enabling Act completed the transformation of Germany from a democracy to a dictatorship. The Nazis set about arresting political opponents, breaking up trade unions and centralising power in Berlin.

27 March 1933.

The Enabling Act allowed Hitler to make and pass laws without the approval of the Reichstag.

The Enabling Act was passed because Hitler wanted to create the conditions in which the Weimar Republic could be destroyed and he could set up an authoritarian dictatorship.

Final Enabling Act Quiz

Enabling Act Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


The Enabling Act was introduced into the Weimar Republic in ______.

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23 March 1933.

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Which article of the Weimar Constitution allowed the President to grant emergency powers to override the Reichstag if necessary?

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Article 48.

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When was the Reichstag Fire?

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27 February 1933.

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Which group did Hitler blame the Reichstag Fire for?

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True or False. The Reichstag Fire Decree was issued 2 weeks after the Reichstag Fire.

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Hitler and the Nazi's used the ______ and the _______ to intimidate the Reichstag into passing the Enabling Act in 1933.

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How many members of the Reichstag voted against the Enabling Act in 1933?

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True or False. President Paul von Hindenburg passed the Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act.

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Which three groups did Hitler target with the Enabling Act of 1933?

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Political Opposition.

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The Nazi's dissolved all trade unions on 2 May 1933 and replaced them with the ________.

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The German Workers' Front.

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