“Hanover stays red” is what the city’s biggest social democratic newspaper, the ‘Volkswille’ (‘Will of the People’) optimistically assured its readers in its edition of 22 February, 1933. Shortly thereafter it was prohibited. In their propaganda the National Socialists had never made a secret of how they would use their power over the apparatus of state once it was in their hands. Nevertheless, even their long-standing political opponents were surprised at the goal-directedness and brutality by which the absolute power was established after Adolf Hitler’s declaration as Reich Chancellor on 30 January, 1933. The disempowerment of organisations of the labour movement, the prohibition of their press and afterwards the Gleichschaltung of civil parties, of state constitutions and finally of the entire public life followed in rapid succession – as in the Reich, so in the former Prussian capital Hanover and its surrounding areas.
The last years of the Weimar Republic had already been marked by a climate of increasing social instability and economic depression, by urban violence and militant arguments. A peak of the violence was constituted in the armed attack of National Socialists on social democratic members of the Reichsbanner during a gathering at Lister Turm (Lister Tower) on 21 February, 1933, claiming two lives and injuring numerous others 10. After this incident, negotiations between SPD (Social Democratic Party of Germany) and KPD (Communist Party of Germany) started on local level, aiming at an omission of mutual attacks in the media and a concentration on the common opponent – they ended without result. The long funeral march for the shot labourers became one of the last great demonstrations against the new rulers – today, two honouring graves on Hanoverian graveyards remember the two dead.
The burning of the Reichstag of 27 February, 1933 served as a welcome pretence for suspending fundamental rights of the Weimar Constitution by means of a decree by the Reich President “for repelling communist acts of violence endangering the state”. By this, a state of emergency was legalised. An immediately following wave of arrests was primarily directed against the Communist Labour movement. About 140 prisoners – among them many high-ranking functionaries of the KPD – were sent from Hanover to the police prison in Hardenbergstraße and later to the newly built concentration camp Moringen near Göttingen by the beginning of March. The trade union offices in Nicolaistraße were searched by the police. The crucial blow against this centre of the social democratic part of Hanoverian labour movements took place on 1 April, 1933, when SS (‘Protective Squadron’ of the National Socialist Party) and SA (‘Storm troops’ of the National Socialist Party) stormed the building without resistance 17 and hoisted up the swastika flag on the roof of the house – a final rehearsal for a nationwide occupation of trade unions, the prohibition of trade union offices and the collection of their property on 2 May, 1933.
“Violence was not merely a means of policy for the National Socialist; it was policy.”
“At 5 o’clock in the morning the police appeared and routed us out of our beds. We got to know about the burning of the Reichstag during the night. My brother and I were lead through the streets to the police station at Klagesmarkt with a police escort. From there we were brought to the confinement station of the headquarters in Hardenbergstraße. When we were admitted, there were already 150 citizens present, - mainly communists, but also social democrats, independents and trade unionists. We were imprisoned in two grand halls. Then we were sorted. I went into a tiny single cell in which there already lay three men.”
Except for short interruptions, August Baumgarte had been imprisoned in the concentration camps Esterwegen, Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen for twelve years during National Socialist dictatorship. Further information can be found on the website of the Memorial Moringen
In the night of 10 May, 1933 all over Germany pyres were blazing, burning books by democratic and pacifist authors and scientists. A “Fighting Committee of the German Student Body of Hanover to Combat Dirt and Trash” called for participation in the public burning at the Bismarck column in the Leine marshland. Works of the Hanoverian philosopher Theodor Lessing were thrown into those flames as well. The Jewish scholar had incurred the deep hatred of the political right-wings through his book about the mass murderer Haarmann and even more through critical newspaper articles on Hindenburg’s election for Reich President 26.
The reign of National Socialism had tightened surprisingly fast. The associations and parties of the labour movement were shattered and the SPD forbidden as the last labour party in June 1933. Across the Reich, about 150,000 opponents of the regime were sent to concentration camps and were at the mercy of their supervisor’s inhumane terror by the end of the year. Civil parties forestalled the threatening prohibition by self-dissolution. Germany had become a one-party dictatorship within a few months. Political antagonism could only organise itself illegally – always under highest endangerment of denunciators and the Gestapo (Secret State Police).