The fact that Hitler’s appointment meant that a fanatical anti-Semite had come to power should have made Germany’s Jews, above all, nervous. But that was not the case at all. In a statement given on Jan. 30, the chair of the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith said, "In general, today more than ever we must follow the directive: wait calmly." He said that although one watches the new government "of course with deep suspicion," President Hindenburg represents the "calming influence." He said there was no reason to doubt his "sense of justice" and "loyalty to the constitution." As a result, he said, one should be convinced that "nobody would dare" to "touch our constitutional rights." In an editorial in the Jüdische Rundschau, a Jewish newspaper,published on Jan. 31, the author argued that "there are powers that are still awake in the German people that will rear up against barbarian anti-Jewish policies." It would only be a few weeks before all these expectations would prove to be illusory.
Foreign diplomats also made false assumptions about the nature of the change of power. The American consul general in Berlin, George S. Messersmith, believed that it was difficult to make a clear prediction about the future of the Hitler government and spoke of his assumption that it represented a transitional phenomenon on the road to a more stable political situation. To British Ambassador Horace Rumbold, it seemed like the conservatives had managed to successfully fence in the Nazis. But he also predicted that there would soon be conflicts between the unequal coalition partners because Papen’s and Hugenberg’s goal of restoring the monarchy could not be reconciled with Hitler’s plans. He recommended that the Foreign Office should take a wait-and-see attitude toward the new government.
French Ambassador Andre François-Poncet called the Hitler-Papen-Hugenberg cabinet a "bold experiment," but he also suggested his government remain calm and wait for further developments. When he met Hitler in the evening of Feb. 8 during a reception held by the German president for the diplomatic corps, he was relieved. The new chancellor seemed "dull and mediocre," a kind of miniature Mussolini.
The Swiss envoy, Paul Dinichert, heard about Hitler’s appointment as he was eating lunch with some "elevated German personalities." He described the reactions in his dispatch to Bern thusly: "Heads were shaken. ‘How long can this last?’ -- ‘It could have been worse.’" Dinichert recognized, correctly, that Papen was the puppet master behind the installation of the new cabinet. But, like most other commentators, he was wrong in describing the outcome: "Hitler, who for years insisted on ruling by himself, has been yoked, hemmed in or constrained (take your pick) with two of his disciples between Papen and Hindenburg."
Rarely has a political project so rapidly been revealed to be a chimera as the idea that the conservatives would "tame" the Nazis. In terms of tactical cunning, Hitler towered high above his cabinet allies and opponents. In a short time, he had upstaged them and driven them against the wall, dislodging Papen from of his preferential position with Hindenburg and forcing Hugenberg to resign.
Hitler needed only five months to establish his power. By the summer of 1933, fundamental rights and the constitution had been suspended, the states had been forced into conformity, the unions crushed, the political parties banned or dissolved, press and radio brought into line and the Jews stripped of their equality under the law. Everything that existed in Germany outside of the National Socialist Party had been "destroyed, dispersed, dissolved, annexed or absorbed," François-Poncet concluded in early July. Hitler, he claimed, had "won the game with little effort." "He only had to puff -- and the edifice of German politics collapsed like a house of cards."
Translated by Thomas Rogers