The Nazi party first came into being in 1918 as World War I was coming to a close. A loose alignment of young, unemployed workers, the party began to gain prominence through its opposition to the Communist revolution of 1923 and the oratory of Adolph Hitler, its 55th member. Hitler and his supporters attempted a coup called the Beer Hall Putsch, but it failed miserably and Hitler was jailed.
Realizing that his party could not gain political dominance through a coup, Hitler re-organized the party in 1925 and began focusing on winning elections in the Reichstag. His party didn’t win many seats in the 1926 or 1928 elections (less than 2% of the total seats in the Reichstag) but the party gained power in the depressed working areas where unemployment was high, such as Nuremburg and Thuringia.
Despite these gains, the party never would have gained national prominence without the depression of 1929. Since the Nazi party wasn’t a dominant part of the government, Hitler was able to blame the mass unemployment on rival parties, Jews, communists and anyone else he opposed. This message resonated with the German people, and the Nazi’s took 20% of the Reichstag seats in 1930.
As the depression grew, Hitler began to rise to national prominence. He ran for president, and despite losing, used the opportunity to try and scare the German people into voting for his party by claiming only they could restore law and order. Ironically, it was his party’s paramilitary unit, known as the SA, who caused most of the disorder in Germany’s many cities by starting street fights with the militia of other political parties. This fear proved a powerful motivator, and the Nazi’s controlled 32% of the Reichstag after the 1932 elections.
By this time the depression was lessening, and President Hindenburg was persuaded by his advisors that a good way to control Hitler would be to make him chancellor, which he did. Soon after, in February of 1933, a fire broke out in the Reichstag, and Hitler persuaded the ailing president Hindenburg to grant him emergency powers in order to quell the civil unrest caused by the fire. With these powers, Hitler was able to establish a totalitarian state. He abolished labor unions, outlawed all other political parties and began systematically silencing his enemies.