19th March 1932Hermann Goering holds a press conference for all foreign correspondents, at Adolf Hitler’s suite at the Hotel Kaiserhof. He claims that the Nazis were always prepared to act within framework of the constitution; it was only natural to have had the SA[i] and the SS[ii] ready to act on 13th March for protection of Nazi families.
‘It was most commendable of us to concentrate our 350,000 storm troopers in their own quarters on election day. By so doing, we prevented bloodshed. As for the allegations of the police that we Nazis were preparing to surround Berlin, the whole idea is absurd. We are surely entitled to take our own measures for the evacuation from the city of our women and children so as to protect them from injury by government mobs.’[iii]This was the first time that the Nazi party had paid much attention to the foreign press and now the party’s great war hero was brought out to impress them. Goering’s air of affability and assumed innocence did not fool the majority of the foreign correspondents.
Six days prior to this press conference Adolf Hitler had come second in the ballot for president of Germany. Hitler won 30% of the vote. The incumbent president Hindenburg failed to win an overall majority with 49%. The third placed candidate was Ernst Thälmann of the German Communist Party who received 13%. The candidates now had to take part in a second ballot.Goebbels was depressed by the failure to win outright on this first ballot; it was he who had persuaded Hitler to stand in the election[iv].
‘’We’re beaten; terrible outlook…..party circles badly depressed and dejected……We can save ourselves only by a clever stroke.’[v]But Hitler set out to campaign on the stump; flying from town to town, giving speeches to the faithful and the curious.
On the 17th March police raided the SA offices in Berlin belatedly discovering detailed orders from the chief of the SA Ernst Rohm for the SA & SS to stay in barracks on polling day ready to carry out a coup d'état if Hitler had won the ballot. The plans did not just relate to Berlin but orders stated that the local SA in Pomerania were not to resist in the event of a Polish invasion of the country.
Rohm assured the Chief of Police that the orders were merely precautionary. However Goebbels had noted in his diary on the 11th March
‘Talked over instructions with the SA and SS commanders. Deep uneasiness is rife everywhere. The word Putsch haunts the air.’[vi]By the 5th April Bavaria, Prussia and other Lander were demanding the suppression of the SA and the SS, which were dissolved into law by Hindenburg three days after the election.
Hitler increased his share of the vote in the second ballot on the 10th April to 37%, well short of Hindenburg’s 53%, now over the 50% barrier. Thälmann’s share of the vote dropped to 10%. But Hindenburg, now 84, was to be a lame duck president until his death in 1934 as he edged into senility; his son Oscar was very influential and was to be involved in the bringing of the Nazis to power in January 1933.Bibliography
Hitler, a Study in Tyranny – Alan Bullock, Penguin 1990The Life and Death of Hermann Goering – Ewan Butler & Gordon Young, David & Charles 1989
Goring – Roger Manvell & Heinrich Fraenkel, Greenhill Books 2005The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler – Roger Payne, Jonathan Cape Ltd 1973
The Devil’s Disciples – Anthony Read, Pimlico 2004The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich – William L Shirer, Book Club Associates 1985
[i] Sturmabteilung – the Nazi paramilitary organisation
[ii] Schutzstaffel – the Nazi internal security organisation
[iii] The Devil’s Disciples - Read
[iv] At the time the decision was made for him to run for president Hitler was not even a German citizen, a situation hastily rectified a few days later.
[v] The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich - Shirer