Is there reason to worry? No, thought Nikolaus Sieveking, an employee at Hamburg’s World Economy Archive. "I find the act of viewing Hitler’s chancellorship as a sensational event to be childish enough that I will leave that to his loyal followers," he wrote in his diary on Jan. 30, 1933.
Like Sieveking, many Germans didn’t initially recognize this date as a dramatic turning point. Few sensed what Hitler’s appointment as chancellor actually meant, and many reacted to the event with shocking indifference.
The chancellor of the presidential cabinet had changed twice in 1932 -- Heinrich Brüning was replaced in early June by Franz von Papen, who was replaced in early December by Kurt von Schleicher. People had almost gotten used to this tempo. Why should the Hitler government be anything more than just an episode? In the Wochenschau news programs shown in cinemas, the swearing-in of the new cabinet came last, after the major sporting events.
This, despite the fact that Hitler had plainly explained in "Mein Kampf" and countless speeches before 1933 what he wanted to do once in power: to abolish the democratic "system" of Weimar Germany, to "eradicate" Marxism (by which he meant both social democracy and communism) and to "remove" the Jews from Germany. As for foreign policy, he made no secret of the fact that he wanted to revise the Versailles Treaty and that his long-term goal was the conquering of "Lebensraum in the East."
German President Paul von Hindenburg’s camarilla, which had hoisted him to power through a series of intrigues, agreed with Hitler’s goals of preventing a return to parliamentary democracy, of cutting the chains of the Versailles Treaty, massively arming the military and once again making Germany the dominant power in Europe. As for the rest of Hitler’s stated intentions, his conservative coalition partners were inclined to dismiss them as mere rhetoric. Once he was in power, they argued, he would become more reasonable. They also believed they had "framed in" Hitler in a way that would enable his ambitions for power and the dynamics of his movement to be kept in check. "What do you want?" Vice Chancellor Papen, the actual architect of the January 30 coalition, asked critics. "I have the confidence of Hindenburg! In two months, we’ll have pushed Hitler so far into the corner that he’ll squeal."
Hitler’s thirst for power couldn’t have been more grossly underestimated. The nine conservative ministers in the so-called "Cabinet of National Concentration" clearly carried more weight than the three National Socialists. But Hitler also made sure that two key ministries were filled by his men. Wilhelm Frick took over the Ministry of the Interior of the German Reich. Hermann Göring became a cabinet minister without a portfolio, but also Prussia’s interior minister, thus acquiring power over the police in Germany’s largest state -- an important precondition for the establishment of the Nazi dictatorship.
Media mogul and head of the German National People’s Party Alfred Hugenberg was seen as the strongman in the cabinet. He was given the Ministry of Economy and Agriculture of both the Reich and Prussia. The new super minister purportedly told Leipzig Mayor Carl Goerdeler he had made the "biggest mistake" of his life by aligning himself with the "biggest demagogue in world history," but his assertion is hard to believe. Hugenberg, like Papen and the remaining conservative ministers, was convinced that he could steer Hitler to go along with his own ideas.
Big-business representatives shared the same illusion. In an editorial in the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, which had close ties to heavy industry, editor-in-chief Fritz Klein wrote that working together with the Nazis would be "difficult and exhausting," but that people had to dare to take "the leap into darkness" because the Hitler movement had become the strongest political actor in Germany. The head of the Nazi party would now have to prove "whether he really had what is needed in order to become a statesman." The stock market didn’t seem spooked either -- people were waiting to see what would happen.
The conservatives who helped Hitler rise to power, and his opponents in the republican camp, were wrong in their assessment of the true division of power. On Jan. 31, Harry Graf Kessler, the diplomat and arts patron, reported having a conversation with Hugo Simon, a former close colleague of Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau, who was murdered in 1922. "He sees Hitler as a prisoner of Hugenberg and Papen." Apparently Kessler felt similarly, because only a few days later he prophesized that the new government wouldn’t last long, since it was only held together by the "Papen’s cream puffery and intrigues." He argued, "Hitler must have noticed by now that he has fallen prey to a deception. He is bound, hand and foot, to this government and can move neither forward nor backward."