Nonetheless, the election results, the Reichstag fire, and the emergency decree had shifted more power into Hitler’s hands. The protocol of the cabinet meeting of March 7, 1933, shows that both Hitler and Frick wanted to hang van der Lubbe but could not do so within the bounds of law, since a prison sentence was the legally prescribed punishment for arson at the time. In order to achieve their objective, Frick found three law professors who believed that the arson law could be toughened retroactively. Bureaucrats who occupied high-ranking positions without being party members, such as State Secretary Franz Schlegelberger (justice ministry), and State Secretary Otto Meissner (who, as head of the Office of the Reich President, had helped persuade Hindenburg to appoint Hitler chancellor in the first place) were willing to make certain concessions, but they were also uneasy about drafting a new law ex post facto and thereby putting President Hindenburg in an awkward position. Even at this early juncture, however, Hitler was confident that he could maneuver around the obstacles – and he did, in fact. The proud German (and Prussian) tradition of the Rechtsstaat [state under the rule of law] was quickly disappearing.
Over the next several weeks, in a process that was partly planned, partly improvised, and partly initiated by party activists and SA men, the Nazis rapidly consolidated power at various levels. Some of what transpired was orchestrated at the top – as, for example, when Hitler overrode the opposition of Reich Minister of Economics Dr. Alfred Hugenberg (1865-1951) and established the Reich Ministry for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda, installing longtime Nazi Party propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) as its head. The new ministry took control of state-owned radio broadcasting and began to banish dissenting political views from all forms of media. Goebbels commandeered various outlets and unleashed a torrent of rhetoric designed to make voters fearful of a Communist revolution and hopeful of an ever stronger Germany.
At the same time, Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945), head of the SS [Schutzstaffel or Protection Squadrons], opened the first concentration camp in Dachau, outside of Munich. Social Democratic and Communist opponents of the regime were rounded up by the Bavarian police and sent there. Spontaneous violence also erupted within Nazi ranks, as Brownshirts and party veterans sought to settle old scores with enemies and grasp what they believed were the spoils of the National Socialist revolution. Communists, Social Democrats, and Jews were the foremost targets of their attacks. Today’s historians still pore over sources, attempting to determine whether – and to what extent – the Nazi revolution originated from above or below. What is certain, however, is that Nazi officials used violence as an excuse for the national government to assume control of some state police forces. This was but one element in a process of “coordination” [Gleichschaltung], whereby the Nazis extended their grip on the national government into other spheres of influence.