Before Berlin's Kroll Opera House swarmed a crowd of young Nazis last week.
"Give us the Enabling Act!" they chanted, "give us the Enabling Act or there will be another fire!"
The Reichstag was meeting in the Opera House because the central hall of the Reichstag building had been gutted by incendiary fire, a fire that despite popular murmurings the Nazis have persistently blamed on Communists. Because of the fire every Communist deputy was in jail. So the young Nazis' cry was easily answered : The Reichstag passed the Enabling Act 441-94. Adolf Hitler became Dictator of Germany for four years to come.
Socialists did not let the bill go through without one word of protest. Cried Deputy Otto Wels:
"Take our liberty, take our lives, but leave us our honor! If you really want social reconstruction you would need no such law as this."
In full Nazi uniform Chancellor Hitler popped from his seat, his little mustache twitching with excitement.
"You're too late!" he roared. "We don't need you any longer in molding the fate of the nation!"
Not a few U. S. editors, rapidly scanning the Enabling Act for early editions, headlined their stories END OF THE REPUBLIC. Well they might, for the Enabling Act contained the following provisions :
1) Emergency decrees no longer need be signed by President von Hindenburg.
Chancellor Hitler will proclaim them on the authority of his own Cabinet.
2) Emergency laws need the approval of neither the Reichstag nor the Reichsrat (Federal Council of States). The right of popular referendum on them, expressed in the Weimar Constitution, is specifically set aside.
3) Treaties with foreign powers no longer need Reichstag or Reichsrat approval.
4) The Cabinet can decree the annual budget and borrow money on its own authority.
5) Any law proclaimed by the Chancellor may deviate from the Constitution, becomes effective 24 hours after its publication in the Federal Gazette.
Since the rights of free speech, public assembly and inviolability of the home have long been suppressed, here was more power in the Chancellery than even Bismarck dreamed of, but careful investigation showed that canny old Paul von Hindenburg still held two aces up his detachable cuffs: The President still has power to dismiss any or all members of the Cabinet including Handsome Adolf himself. He still remains Commander-in-Chief of the Reichswehr, with sole power to proclaim martial law. The Reichswehr is not yet a Nazi organization. If told to turn Adolf Hitler out of office it could theoretically do so.
Observers agreed that these two cards had been shoved up the President's sleeve by Vice Chancellor von Papen. At the week's end lean-jawed Lieut.-Colonel von Papen was fighting hard for yet another check on the Nazis: the vital post of Prussian Premier. He was holding his own at the week's end. Chancellor Hitler let it be known that the Premiership would not be definitely awarded for some time yet; possibly until after May 1.