communications; warrants for house searches; orders for confiscation as well as restrictionsonproperty, are permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed."In his memoir Defying Hitler, Sebastian Haffner--a German lawyer who fled to England in1938--recalls that the presidential decree "abolished freedom of speech and confidentiality of the mail and telephone for all private individuals, while giving the police unrestricted rights of search and access, confiscation and arrest. That afternoon [of the day after the decree was issued]men with ladders went around, covering campaign posters with plain white paper. All parties of the left had been prohibited from any further election publicity. Those newspapers that stillappeared reported all this in a fawning, fervently patriotic, jubilant tone. We had been saved!What good luck! Germany was free! Next Saturday all Germans would come together in afestival of national exaltation, their hearts swelling with gratitude! Get the torches and flags out!"But even after the initial decree, Haffner records, there was no visible "sign of revolution"--atleast, not yet. "The law courts sat and heard cases," he recalls. "At home, people were a littleconfused, a little anxious, and tried to understand what was happening." Haffner himself wasamong those relatively few Germans who understood theimplications of President Hindenburg'sdecree. "I consider it a personal insult that I should be prevented from reading whichevernewspaper I wish, because allegedly a Communist set light to the Reichstag," he complained to afellow lawyer. "Don't you?" "No. Why should I?" replied Haffner's injudicious friend.Besides Haffner, few Germans understood that the Nazis were using the terrorist strike as asteppingstone to total power. "Armed with these all-embracing powers, Hitler and Goering werein a positionto take any action they pleased against their opponents," observed historian AlanBullock in his 1953 book Hitler: A Study in Tyranny.
Following the Plan
But the presidential decree was merely an overture. Hitler and his party were determined to seetheirpre-positioned agenda for "Fatherland security" adopted. Following a speech by Hitler onMarch 23, 1933, about two months after the Reichstag fire, the German Parliament--unnervedby the public concern about a possible Communist terror campaign, and intimidated by mobs of Nazi stormtroopers--passed Hitler's Enabling Act. "Its five brief paragraphs took the power of legislation, including control of the Reich budget, approval of treaties with foreign states and theinitiating of constitutional amendments, away from Parliament and handed it over to the Reichcabinet for a period of four years," wrote historian William Shirer in his study The Rise and Fallof the Third Reich. While the Enabling Act explicitly permitted the Reich cabinet to enact lawsthat "might deviate from the constitution," it also specified that the powers of Parliament wouldbe protected.In his speech, Hitler promised that his government "will make use of these powers only insofaras they are essential for carrying Out vitally necessary measures." This was a lie, of course.Between 1933 and 1937, as Hitler's party consolidated control over Germany, the Reichstagwould pass only four laws, including the three Nuremberg Laws that imposed the regime'sodious racialist and anti-Semitic doctrines. On July 14, 1933, Hitler's cabinet enacted a lawcriminalizing all parties except the Nazi Party; by December of that year, all but 20