WEIMAR REPUBLIC (German : _Weimarer Republik_ (_ listen )) was an
unofficial, historical designation for the German state between 1919
and 1933. The name derives from the city of
Weimar , where its
constitutional assembly first took place. The official name of the
Deutsches Reich _; it had remained unchanged since 1871. In
English the country was usually known simply as Germany. A national
assembly was convened in Weimar, where a new constitution for the
_Deutsches Reich_ was written, and adopted on 11 August 1919. In its
fourteen years, the
Weimar Republic faced numerous problems, including
hyperinflation , political extremism (with paramilitaries – both
left- and right-wing); and contentious relationships with the victors
First World War
First World War . The people of
Germany blamed the Weimar
Republic rather than their wartime leaders for the country's defeat
and for the humiliating terms of the
Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles . However,
Weimar Republic government successfully reformed the currency,
unified tax policies, and organized the railway system.
eliminated most of the requirements of the Treaty of Versailles; it
never completely met its disarmament requirements, and eventually paid
only a small portion of the war reparations (by twice restructuring
its debt through the
Dawes Plan and the
Young Plan ). Under the
Locarno Treaties ,
Germany accepted the western borders of the
republic, but continued to dispute the Eastern border.
From 1930 onwards President Hindenburg used emergency powers to back
Heinrich Brüning ,
Franz von Papen and General Kurt von
Schleicher . The
Great Depression , exacerbated by Brüning's policy
of deflation, led to a surge in unemployment. In 1933, Hindenburg
Adolf Hitler as
Chancellor with the
Nazi Party being part of
a coalition government. The Nazis held two out of the remaining ten
cabinet seats. Von Papen as Vice
Chancellor was intended to be the
"_éminence grise _" who would keep Hitler under control, using his
close personal connection to Hindenburg. Within months the Reichstag
Decree and the
Enabling Act of 1933 had brought about a state of
emergency: it wiped out constitutional governance and civil liberties.
Hitler's seizure of power (_
Machtergreifung _) was permissive of
government by decree without legislative participation. These events
brought the republic to an end: as democracy collapsed, a single-party
state founded the
Nazi era .
* 1 Name
* 2 Flag and coat of arms
* 3 Armed forces
* 4 History
* 4.1 November Revolution (1918–1919)
* 4.2 Years of crisis (1919–1923)
* 4.2.1 Burden from the
First World War
First World War
Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles
* 22.214.171.124 Allied
* 126.96.36.199 Reparations
* 4.2.2 Political turmoil
* 4.3 Golden Era (1924–1929)
* 4.4 Social policy under
* 4.5 Decline (1930–1933)
* 4.5.1 Onset of the
* 4.5.2 Brüning\'s policy of deflation (1930–1932)
* 4.5.3 The Papen deal
* 4.5.4 Elections of July 1932
* 4.5.5 Schleicher cabinet
* 4.6 End of the
* 4.6.1 Hitler\'s chancellorship (1933)
* 4.6.2 Hitler cabinet meeting in mid-March
Enabling Act negotiations
* 4.6.4 Passage of the
* 4.6.5 Consequences
* 5 Aftermath
* 6 Reasons for failure
* 6.1 Economic problems
* 6.2 Institutional problems
* 6.3 Role of individuals
* 7 Constituent states
* 8 See also
* 9 References
* 10 Further reading
* 10.1 Historiography
* 11 External links
Weimar Republic is so called because the assembly that adopted
its constitution met at Weimar,
Germany from 6 February 1919 to 11
August 1919, but this name only became mainstream after 1933. Between
1919 and 1933 there was no single name for the new state that gained
widespread acceptance, which is precisely why the old name "Deutsches
Reich" continued in existence even though hardly anyone used it during
Weimar period. To the right of the spectrum the politically
engaged rejected the new democratic model and cringed to see the
honour of the traditional word "Reich" associated with it. The
Catholic Centre party, Zentrum favoured the term "Deutscher
Volksstaat" (_"German People's State"_) while on the moderate left the
Chancellor\'s SPD preferred "Deutsche Republik" (_"German Republic"_).
By 1925 "Deutsche Republik" was used by most Germans, but for the
anti-democratic right the word "Republik" was, along with the
relocation of the seat of power to Weimar, a painful reminder of a
government structure that had been imposed by foreign statesmen, along
with the expulsion of Kaiser Wilhelm in the wake of massive national
humiliation. The first recorded mention of the term "Republik von
Weimar" (_"Republic of Weimar"_) came during a speech delivered by
Adolf Hitler at a National Socialist German Worker\'s Party rally in
Munich on 24 February 1929; it was a few weeks later that the term
Weimar Republik" was first used (again by Hitler) in a newspaper
article. Only during the 1930s did the term become mainstream, both
within and outside Germany.
FLAG AND COAT OF ARMS
_ The official coat of arms of
Germany (Reichswappen_) from 1919
After the introduction of the republic, the flag and coat of arms of
Germany were officially altered to reflect the political changes. The
Weimar Republic retained the Reichsadler, but without the symbols of
the former Monarchy (Crown, Collar, Breast shield with the Prussian
Arms). This left the black eagle with one head, facing to the right,
with open wings but closed feathers, with a red beak, tongue and claws
and white highlighting.
By reason of a decision of the Reich's Government I hereby announce,
that the Imperial coat of arms on a gold-yellow shield shows the one
headed black eagle, the head turned to the right, the wings open but
with closed feathering, beak, tongue and claws in red color. If the
Reich's Eagle is shown without a frame, the same charge and colors as
those of the eagle of the Reich's coat of arms are to be used, but the
tops of the feathers are directed outside. The patterns kept by the
Federal Ministry of the Interior are decisive for the heraldic design.
The artistic design may be varied for each special purpose.
— — President Ebert; Minister of the Interior, Koch,
Announcement concerning the federal coat of arms and the imperial
eagle of November 11, 1919, Bekanntmachung betreffend das Reichswappen
und den Reichsadler (Announcement concerning the imperial coat of arms
and the imperial eagle).
The republican tricolour is based on the flag that the Paulskirche
Constitution of 1849 introduced, which was decided upon by the German
National Assembly in Frankfurt am Main, at the peak of the German
civic movement that demanded parliamentary participation and
unification of the German states.
The achievements and signs of this movement were mostly done away
with after its downfall and the political reaction. Only the tiny
Principality of Waldeck-Pyrmont upheld the tradition and
continued to use the German colours called
Schwarz-Rot-Gold in German
(English: Black -Red -Gold ).
These signs had remained symbols of the Paulskirche movement. Weimar
wanted to express its origins in that political movement between 1849
and 1858; while anti-republicans opposed this flag. The first German
Confederal Navy (_Reichsflotte_) (1848–1852) had proudly deployed a
naval ensign based on Schwarz-Rot-Gold, the
Weimar republic navy, or
Reichsmarine _ (1918–1933) insisted on using the pre-1918 colours
of the previous
Kaiserliche Marine (1871–1918), which were
Black-White-Red, as did the German merchant marine.
The republicans took up the idea of the German Coat of Arms
established by the Paulskirche movement, using the same charge animal
, an eagle, in the same colours (black, red and gold), but modernising
its form, including a reduction of the heads from two to one.
Friedrich Ebert initially declared the official German coat of arms to
be a design by
Emil Doepler (shown in the infobox above) as of 12
November 1919, following a decision of the German government.
In 1928, however, the _Reichswappen_ (Reich coat of arms) designed by
Tobias Schwab (1887–1967) in 1926 ] replaced it as the official
emblem for the German Olympic team. The
Reichswehr adopted the new
Reichswappen in 1927. Doepler's design then became the _Reichsschild_
(Reich's escutcheon ) with restricted use such as pennant for
government vehicles. In 1949 the Federal Republic of
Germany) adopted all three signs of
Weimar Republic, Reichswappen,
Reichsschild and Reichsflagge as Bundeswappen, Bundesschild and
Reichswehr _ Jack of the Kaiserliche Marine_
(1903–1919). _ Jack of the
Reichsmarine _ (1918–1935).
After the dissolution of the Imperial army, the _
Reichswehr _, in
1918, Germany's military forces consisted of irregular paramilitaries,
namely the various right-wing _
Freikorps _ groups composed of veterans
from the war. The _Freikorps_ units were formally disbanded in 1920
(although continued to exist in underground groups), and on 1 January
1921, a new _
Reichswehr _ (figuratively; _Defence of the realm_) was
Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles limited the size of the _Reichswehr_ to
100,000 soldiers (consisting of seven infantry divisions and three
cavalry divisions), 10 armoured cars and a navy (the _
restricted to 36 ships in active service. No aircraft of any kind was
allowed. The main advantage of this limitation, however, was that the
_Reichswehr_ could afford to pick the best recruits for service.
However, with inefficient armour and no air support, the _Reichswehr_
would have had limited combat abilities. Privates were mainly
recruited from the countryside, as it was believed that young men from
cities were prone to socialist behaviour, which would fray the loyalty
of the privates to their conservative officers.
Although technically in service of the republic, the army was
predominantly officered by conservative reactionaries who were
sympathetic to right-wing organisations.
Hans von Seeckt , the head of
Reichswehr _, declared that the army was not loyal to the
democratic republic, and would only defend it if it were in their
interests. During the
Kapp Putsch for example, the army refused to
fire upon the rebels. However, as right wing as the army was, it
hesitated to assist the Nazis, whom they mostly viewed as thugs. The
SA was the _Reichswehr's_ main opponent throughout its existence, as
they saw them as a threat to their existence, and the army fired at
them during the
Beerhall Putsch . Upon the establishment of the SS ,
the _Reichswehr_ took a softer look upon the Nazis since the SS seemed
more respectable, and openly favoured order over anarchy. In 1935, two
years after Hitler came to power, the _Reichswehr_ was renamed the
NOVEMBER REVOLUTION (1918–1919)
German Revolution of 1918–1919 The rebellion,
In October 1918, the constitution of the
German Empire was reformed
to give more powers to the elected parliament. On 29 October,
rebellion broke out in
Kiel among sailors. There, sailors, soldiers,
and workers began electing workers' and soldiers' councils (_Arbeiter
und Soldatenräte_) modeled after the Soviets of the Russian
Revolution of 1917 . The revolution spread throughout Germany, and
participants seized military and civil powers in individual cities.
The power takeover was achieved everywhere without loss of life.
At the time, the Socialist movement which represented mostly laborers
was split among two major left-wing parties: the Independent Social
Democratic Party of
Germany (USPD), which called for immediate peace
negotiations and favored a soviet-style command economy, and the
Social Democratic Party of
Germany (SPD) also known as "Majority"
Social Democratic Party of
Germany (MSPD), which supported the war
effort and favoured a parliamentary system . The rebellion caused
great fear in the establishment and in the middle classes because of
the Soviet -style aspirations of the councils. To centrist and
conservative citizens, the country looked to be on the verge of a
By 7 November the revolution had reached
Munich , resulting in King
Ludwig III of Bavaria fleeing. The MSPD decided to make use of their
support at the grassroots and put themselves at the front of the
movement, demanding that Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicate. When he refused,
Prince Max of Baden simply announced that he had done so and
frantically attempted to establish a regency under another member of
House of Hohenzollern .
Gustav Noske , a self-appointed military
expert in the MSPD, was sent to
Kiel to prevent any further unrest and
took on the task of controlling the mutinous sailors and their
supporters in the
Kiel barracks. The sailors and soldiers,
inexperienced in matters of revolutionary combat, welcomed him as an
experienced politician and allowed him to negotiate a settlement, thus
defusing the initial anger of the revolutionaries in uniform.
On 9 November 1918 the "German Republic" was proclaimed by MSPD
Philipp Scheidemann at the _Reichstag_ building in Berlin, to
the fury of
Friedrich Ebert , the leader of the MSPD, who thought that
the question of monarchy or republic should be answered by a national
assembly. Two hours later, a "Free Socialist Republic" was proclaimed,
2 km (1.2 mi) away, at the _
Berliner Stadtschloss _. The proclamation
was issued by
Karl Liebknecht , co-leader (with
Rosa Luxemburg ) of
Spartakusbund (Spartacist League), a group of a few
hundred supporters of the Russian revolution that had allied itself
with the USPD in 1917. In a legally questionable act, _Reichskanzler_
Prince Max of Baden transferred his powers to Friedrich Ebert, who,
shattered by the monarchy's fall, reluctantly accepted. In view of the
mass support for more radical reforms among the workers' councils, a
coalition government called "Council of the People\'s Deputies " (_Rat
der Volksbeauftragten_) was established, consisting of three MSPD and
three USPD members. Led by Ebert for the MSPD and
Hugo Haase for the
USPD it sought to act as a provisional cabinet of ministers. But the
power question was unanswered. Although the new government was
confirmed by the
Berlin worker and soldier council, it was opposed by
Spartacist League .
Philipp Scheidemann addresses a crowd
from a window of the
Reich Chancellery , 9 November 1918.
The Executive Council of the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, a
coalition that included Majority Socialists, Independent Socialists,
workers, and soldiers, implemented a programme of progressive social
change, introducing reforms such as the eight-hour workday, the
releasing of political prisoners, the abolition of press censorship,
increases in workers’ old-age, sick and unemployment benefits, and
the bestowing upon labour the unrestricted right to organise into
A number of other reforms were carried out in
Germany during the
revolutionary period. It was made harder for estates to sack workers
and prevent them from leaving when they wanted to; under the
Provisional Act for Agricultural Labour of 23 November 1918 the normal
period of notice for management, and for most resident labourers, was
set at six weeks. In addition, a supplementary directive of December
1918 specified that female (and child) workers were entitled to a
fifteen-minute break if they worked between four and six hours, thirty
minutes for workdays lasting six to eight hours, and one hour for
longer days. A decree on 23 December 1918 established committees
(composed of workers’ representatives "in their relation to the
employer") to safeguard the rights of workers. The right to bargain
collectively was also established, while it was made obligatory "to
elect workers’ committees on estates and establish conciliation
committees." A decree on 3 February 1919 removed the right of
employers to acquire exemption for domestic servants and agricultural
With the _Verordnung_ of 3 February 1919, the Ebert government
reintroduced the original structure of the health insurance boards
according to an 1883 law, with one-third employers and two-thirds
members (i.e. workers). From 28 June 1919 health insurance committees
became elected by workers themselves. The Provisional Order of
January 1919 concerning agricultural labour conditions fixed 2,900
hours as a maximum per year, distributed as eight, ten, and eleven
hours per day in four-monthly periods. A code of January 1919
bestowed upon land-labourers the same legal rights that industrial
workers enjoyed, while a bill ratified that same year obliged the
States to set up agricultural settlement associations which, as noted
Volker Berghahn , "were endowed with the priority right of purchase
of farms beyond a specified size." In addition, undemocratic public
institutions were abolished, involving, as noted by one writer, the
disappearance "of the Prussian Upper House, the former Prussian Lower
House that had been elected in accordance with the three-class
suffrage, and the municipal councils that were also elected on the
On 11 November an armistice was signed at Compiègne by German
representatives. It effectively ended military operations between the
Allies and Germany. It amounted to German capitulation, without any
concessions by the Allies; the naval blockade would continue until
complete peace terms were agreed.
A rift developed between the MSPD and USPD after Ebert called upon
the OHL (supreme army command) for troops to put down a mutiny by a
leftist military unit on 23/24 December 1918, in which members of the
_Volksmarinedivision_ had captured the city's garrison commander Otto
Wels and occupied the _Reichskanzlei_ where the "Council of the
People's Deputies" was situated. The ensuing street fighting left
several dead and injured on both sides. The USPD leaders were outraged
by what they believed was treachery by the MSPD, which, in their view,
had joined with the anti-communist military to suppress the
revolution. Thus, the USPD left the "Council of the People's Deputies"
after only seven weeks. On 30 December, the split deepened when the
Communist Party of
Germany (KPD) was formed out of a number of radical
left-wing groups, including the left wing of the USPD and the
Spartacist League " group.
From November 1918 to January 1919,
Germany was governed by the
"Council of the People's Deputies", under the leadership of Ebert and
Haase. The Council issued a large number of decrees that radically
shifted German policies. It introduced the eight-hour workday ,
domestic labour reform, works councils, agricultural labour reform,
right of civil-service associations, local municipality social welfare
relief (split between _Reich_ and States) and important national
health insurance, re-instatement of demobilised workers, protection
from arbitrary dismissal with appeal as a right, regulated wage
agreement, and universal suffrage from 20 years of age in all types of
elections—local and national. Ebert called for a "National Congress
of Councils" (_Reichsrätekongress_), which took place from 16 to 20
December 1918, and in which the MSPD had the majority. Thus, Ebert was
able to institute elections for a provisional National Assembly that
would be given the task of writing a democratic constitution for
parliamentary government, marginalizing the movement that called for a
To ensure his fledgling government maintained control over the
country, Ebert made an agreement with the OHL, now led by Ludendorff's
Wilhelm Groener . The '
Ebert–Groener pact '
stipulated that the government would not attempt to reform the army so
long as the army swore to protect the state. On the one hand, this
agreement symbolised the acceptance of the new government by the
military, assuaging concern among the middle classes; on the other
hand, it was thought contrary to working-class interests by left wing
social democrats and communists, and was also opposed by the far right
who believed democracy would make
Germany weaker. The new _Reichswehr_
armed forces, limited by the
Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles to 100,000 army
soldiers and 15,000 sailors, remained fully under the control of the
German officer class, despite their nominal re-organisation.
In January, the
Spartacist League and others in the streets of Berlin
made more armed attempts to establish communism, known as the
Spartacist uprising . Those attempts were put down by paramilitary
Freikorps _ units consisting of volunteer soldiers. Bloody street
fights culminated in the beating and shooting deaths of Rosa Luxemburg
Karl Liebknecht after their arrests on 15 January. With the
affirmation of Ebert, those responsible were not tried before a court
martial , leading to lenient sentences, which made Ebert unpopular
among radical leftists. Official postcard of the National
The National Assembly elections took place on 19 January 1919. In
this time, the radical left-wing parties, including the USPD and KPD,
were barely able to get themselves organised, leading to a solid
majority of seats for the MSPD moderate forces. To avoid the ongoing
fights in Berlin, the National Assembly convened in the city of Weimar
, giving the future Republic its unofficial name. The Weimar
Constitution created a republic under a parliamentary republic system
with the _Reichstag_ elected by proportional representation . The
democratic parties obtained a solid 80% of the vote.
During the debates in Weimar, fighting continued. A Soviet republic
was declared in
Munich , but was quickly put down by _Freikorps_ and
remnants of the regular army. The fall of the
Munich Soviet Republic
to these units, many of which were situated on the extreme right,
resulted in the growth of far-right movements and organisations in
Bavaria , including
Organisation Consul , the
Nazi Party , and
societies of exiled Russian Monarchists. Sporadic fighting continued
to flare up around the country. In eastern provinces, forces loyal to
Germany's fallen Monarchy fought the republic, while militias of
Polish nationalists fought for independence: Great
Poland Uprising in
Provinz Posen and three
Silesian Uprisings in
Upper Silesia .
Germany lost the war because the country ran out of allies and its
economic resources were running out; support among the population
began to crumble in 1916 and by mid-1918 there was support for the war
only among the die-hard monarchists and conservatives. The decisive
blow came with the entry of the United States into the conflict, which
made its vast industrial resources available to the beleaguered
Allies. By late summer 1918 the German reserves were exhausted while
fresh American troops arrived in France at the rate of 10,000 a day.
Retreat and defeat were at hand, and the Army told the Kaiser to
abdicate for it could no longer support him. Although in retreat, the
German armies were still on French and Belgian territory when the war
ended on 11 November. Ludendorf and Hindenburg soon proclaimed that it
was the defeatism of the civilian population that had made defeat
inevitable. The die-hard nationalists then blamed the civilians for
betraying the army and the surrender. This was the "Stab-in-the-back
myth " that was unceasingly propagated by the right in the 1920s and
ensured that many monarchists and conservatives would refuse to
support the government of what they called the "November criminals".
YEARS OF CRISIS (1919–1923)
Burden From The First World War
Treaty Of Versailles
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Germany after Versailles
Administered by the
League of Nations
League of Nations Annexed or transferred to
neighbouring countries by the treaty, or later via plebiscite and
League of Nation action
Germany Main article: Treaty of
The growing post-war economic crisis was a result of lost pre-war
industrial exports, the loss of supplies in raw materials and
foodstuffs due to the continental blocus, and the loss of the
colonies, along with worsening debt balances, but above all, the
result of an exorbitant issue of promissory notes raising money to pay
for the war. Military-industrial activity had almost ceased, although
controlled demobilisation kept unemployment at around one million. In
part, the economic losses can also be attributed to the Allied
Germany until the Treaty of Versailles.
The Allies permitted only low import levels of goods that most
Germans could not afford. After four years of war and famine, many
German workers were exhausted, physically impaired and discouraged.
Millions were disenchanted with capitalism and hoping for a new era.
Meanwhile, the currency depreciated. The currency would continue to
depreciate following the French invasion of the Ruhr.
The German peace delegation in France signed the Treaty of
Versailles, accepting mass reductions of the German military, the
prospect of substantial war reparations payments to the victorious
allies, and the controversial "
War Guilt Clause ". Explaining the rise
of extreme nationalist movements in
Germany shortly after the war,
Ian Kershaw points to the "national disgrace" that
was "felt throughout
Germany at the humiliating terms imposed by the
victorious Allies and reflected in the Versailles Treaty...with its
confiscation of territory on the eastern border and even more so its
Adolf Hitler repeatedly blamed the republic and its
democracy for accepting the oppressive terms of this treaty. The
Republic's first _
Reichspräsident _ ("Reich President"), Friedrich
Ebert of the SPD, signed the new German constitution into law on 11
The new post-World War I Germany, stripped of all colonies, became
13.3% smaller in its European territory than its imperial predecessor.
Of these losses, a large proportion consisted of provinces that were
originally Polish, and Alsace-Lorraine, seized by
Germany in 1870,
Germans constituted only part or a minority of local populations
despite nationalist outrage at the fragmentation of Germany.
Allied occupation of the Rhineland
The occupation of the
Rhineland took place following the Armistice
Germany of 11 November 1918. The occupying armies consisted of
American , Belgian , British and French forces.
In 1920, under massive French pressure, the Saar was separated from
the Rhine Province and administered by the
League of Nations
League of Nations until a
plebiscite in 1935, when the region was returned to the _Deutsches
Reich_. At the same time, in 1920, the districts of
Eupen and Malmedy
were transferred to
Belgium (see German-Speaking Community of Belgium
). Shortly after, France completely occupied the Rhineland, strictly
controlling all important industrial areas.
The actual amount of reparations that
Germany was obliged to pay out
was not the 132 billion marks decided in the London Schedule of 1921
but rather the 50 billion marks stipulated in the A and B Bonds.
Historian Sally Marks says the 112 billion marks in "C bonds" were
entirely chimerical—a device to fool the public into thinking
Germany would pay much more. The actual total payout from 1920 to 1931
(when payments were suspended indefinitely) was 20 billion German gold
marks , worth about $5 billion US dollars or £1 billion British
pounds. 12.5 billion was cash that came mostly from loans from New
York bankers. The rest was goods such as coal and chemicals, or from
assets like railway equipment. The reparations bill was fixed in 1921
on the basis of a German capacity to pay, not on the basis of Allied
claims. The highly publicised rhetoric of 1919 about paying for all
the damages and all the veterans' benefits was irrelevant for the
total, but it did determine how the recipients spent their share.
Germany owed reparations chiefly to France, Britain, Italy and
Belgium; the US Treasury received $100 million.
Hyperinflation in the
In the early post-war years, inflation was growing at an alarming
rate, but the government simply printed more currency to pay debts. By
1923, the Republic claimed it could no longer afford the reparations
payments required by the Versailles Treaty, and the government
defaulted on some payments. In response, French and Belgian troops
occupied the Ruhr region , Germany's most productive industrial region
at the time, taking control of most mining and manufacturing companies
in January 1923. Strikes were called, and passive resistance was
encouraged. These strikes lasted eight months, further damaging the
economy and the social life.
The strike prevented some goods from being produced, but one
Hugo Stinnes , was able to create a vast empire out of
bankrupt companies. Because the production costs in
falling almost hourly, the prices for German products were unbeatable.
Stinnes made sure that he was paid in dollars, which meant that by
mid-1923, his industrial empire was worth more than the entire German
economy. By the end of the year, over two hundred factories were
working full-time to produce paper for the spiralling bank note
production. Stinnes' empire collapsed when the government-sponsored
inflation was stopped in November 1923.
In 1919, one loaf of bread cost 1 mark; by 1923, the same loaf of
bread cost 100 billion marks. One-million mark notes used as
notepaper, October 1923.
Since striking workers were paid benefits by the state, much
additional currency was printed, fuelling a period of hyperinflation .
1920s German inflation started when
Germany had no goods to trade.
The government printed money to deal with the crisis; this meant
Germany were made with worthless paper money, and
helped formerly great industrialists to pay back their own loans. This
also led to pay raises for workers and for businessmen who wanted to
profit from it. Circulation of money rocketed, and soon banknotes were
being overprinted to a thousand times their nominal value and every
town produced its own promissory notes; many banks ">
The value of the _Papiermark _ had declined from 4.2 Marks per U.S.
dollar in 1914 to one million per dollar by August 1923. This led to
further criticism of the Republic. On 15 November 1923, a new
currency, the _
Rentenmark _, was introduced at the rate of one
trillion (1,000,000,000,000) _Papiermark_ for one _Rentenmark_, an
action known as redenomination . At that time, one U.S. dollar was
equal to 4.2 _Rentenmark_. Reparation payments were resumed, and the
Ruhr was returned to
Germany under the
Locarno Treaties , which
defined the borders between Germany, France, and Belgium.
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50-million mark banknote issued in 1923, worth approximately one
US dollar when issued. Nine years earlier, 50 million marks would have
been worth approximately 12 million US dollars. Within a few weeks,
inflation made the banknote practically worthless.
The Republic was soon under attack from both left- and right-wing
sources. The radical left accused the ruling Social Democrats of
having betrayed the ideals of the workers' movement by preventing a
communist revolution and sought to overthrow the Republic and do so
themselves. Various right-wing sources opposed any democratic system,
preferring an authoritarian, autocratic state like the 1871 Empire. To
further undermine the Republic's credibility, some right-wingers
(especially certain members of the former officer corps ) also blamed
an alleged conspiracy of Socialists and Jews for Germany's defeat in
World War I.
In the next five years, the central government, assured of the
support of the Reichswehr, dealt severely with the occasional
outbreaks of violence in Germany's large cities. The left claimed that
the Social Democrats had betrayed the ideals of the revolution, while
the army and the government-financed _Freikorps_ committed hundreds of
acts of gratuitous violence against striking workers.
The first challenge to the
Weimar Republic came when a group of
communists and anarchists took over the Bavarian government in Munich
and declared the creation of the
Bavarian Soviet Republic . The
uprising was brutally attacked by _
Freikorps _, which consisted mainly
of ex-soldiers dismissed from the army and who were well-paid to put
down forces of the Far Left. The _Freikorps_ was an army outside the
control of the government, but they were in close contact with their
allies in the Reichswehr.
On 13 March 1920, 12,000 _Freikorps_ soldiers occupied
Wolfgang Kapp (a right-wing journalist) as chancellor (Kapp
Putsch ). The national government fled to
Stuttgart and called for a
general strike against the putsch. The strike meant that no "official"
pronouncements could be published, and with the civil service out on
strike, the Kapp government collapsed after only four days on 17
Inspired by the general strikes, a workers' uprising began in the
Ruhr region when 50,000 people formed a "Red Army" and took control of
the province. The regular army and the _Freikorps_ ended the uprising
on their own authority. The rebels were campaigning for an extension
of the plans to nationalise major industries and supported the
national government, but the SPD leaders did not want to lend support
to the growing USPD, who favoured the establishment of a socialist
regime. The repression of an uprising of SPD supporters by the
reactionary forces in the _Freikorps_ on the instructions of the SPD
ministers was to become a major source of conflict within the
socialist movement and thus contributed to the weakening of the only
group that could have withstood the National Socialist movement. Other
rebellions were put down in March 1921 in
Hamburg . A
disabled war veteran begging, Berlin, 1923.
Germany signed the Treaty of Rapallo with the Soviet Union,
Germany to train military personnel in exchange for
Russia military technology. This was against the Treaty of
Versailles , which limited
Germany to 100,000 soldiers and no
conscription, naval forces of 15,000 men, twelve destroyers, six
battleships, and six cruisers, no submarines or aircraft. However,
Russia had pulled out of World War I against the
Germans as a result
of the 1917 Russian Revolution, and was excluded from the League of
Nations . Thus,
Germany seized the chance to make an ally. Walther
Jewish Foreign Minister who signed the treaty, was
assassinated two months later by two ultra-nationalist army officers.
Further pressure from the political right came in 1923 with the Beer
Hall Putsch , also called the
Munich Putsch, staged by the Nazi Party
Adolf Hitler in Munich. In 1920, the German Workers\' Party had
become the National Socialist German Workers\' Party (_NSDAP_), or
Nazi party , and would become a driving force in the collapse of
Weimar. Hitler named himself as chairman of the party in July 1921. On
8 November 1923, the _
Kampfbund _, in a pact with
Erich Ludendorff ,
took over a meeting by Bavarian prime minister Gustav von Kahr at a
beer hall in Munich.
Ludendorff and Hitler declared that the
Weimar government was deposed
and that they were planning to take control of
Munich the following
day. The 3,000 rebels were thwarted by the Bavarian authorities.
Hitler was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for high
treason , a minimum sentence for the charge. Hitler served less than
eight months in a comfortable cell, receiving a daily stream of
visitors before his release on 20 December 1924. While in jail, Hitler
Mein Kampf _, which laid out his ideas and future policies.
Hitler now decided to focus on legal methods of gaining power.
GOLDEN ERA (1924–1929)
Gustav Stresemann was _Reichskanzler _ for 100 days in 1923, and
served as foreign minister from 1923–1929, a period of relative
stability for the
Weimar Republic, known in
Germany as _Goldene
Golden Twenties "). Prominent features of this period
were a growing economy and a consequent decrease in civil unrest.
Once civil stability had been restored, Stresemann began stabilising
the German currency, which promoted confidence in the German economy
and helped the recovery that was so ardently needed for the German
nation to keep up with their reparation repayments, while at the same
time feeding and supplying the nation.
Once the economic situation had stabilised, Stresemann could begin
putting a permanent currency in place, called the _
(October 1923), which again contributed to the growing level of
international confidence in the German economy.
Wilhelm Marx 's
Christmas broadcast, December 1923. Marx was the longest serving
chancellor of the republic.
Germany meet reparation obligations, the
Dawes Plan (1924)
was created. This was an agreement between American banks and the
German government in which the American banks lent money to German
banks with German assets as collateral to help it pay reparations. The
German railways, the National Bank and many industries were therefore
mortgaged as securities for the stable currency and the loans.
Shortly after the
Locarno Treaties were signed. The British, French,
Germans agreed that the borders between their countries would not
be changed by force, thus the new borders acted by the Treaty of
Versailles were being reinforced by the signing countries, but
weakened the 1919 treaty regarding the eastern borders.
agreed to sign arbitration conventions with France and
arbitration treaties with
Czechoslovakia , undertaking to
refer any future disputes to an arbitration tribunal or to the
Permanent Court of International Justice . Other foreign achievements
were the evacuation of the Ruhr in 1925 and the 1926 Treaty of Berlin,
which reinforced the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922 and improved relations
Soviet Union and Germany. In 1926,
Germany was admitted to
League of Nations
League of Nations as a permanent member, improving her
international standing and conceding her the ability to vote League of
Nations legislation. However, this progress was funded by overseas
loans, increasing the nation's debts, while overall trade increased
and unemployment fell. Stresemann's reforms did not relieve the
underlying weaknesses of
Weimar but gave the appearance of a stable
democracy. The major weakness in constitutional terms was the inherent
instability of the coalitions. The growing dependence on American
finance was to prove dangerous, and
Germany was one of the worst hit
nations in the
Wall Street Crash of 1929
Wall Street Crash of 1929 . The "
Golden Twenties "
in Berlin: a jazz band plays for a tea dance at the hotel Esplanade,
The 1920s saw a remarkable cultural renaissance in Germany. During
the worst phase of hyperinflation in 1923, the clubs and bars were
full of speculators who spent their daily profits so they would not
lose the value the following day.
Berlin intellectuals responded by
condemning the excesses of capitalism, and demanding revolutionary
changes on the cultural scenery. Influenced by the brief cultural
explosion in the Soviet Union, German literature, cinema, theatre and
musical works entered a phase of great creativity. Innovative street
theatre brought plays to the public, and the cabaret scene and jazz
band became very popular. According to the cliché, modern young women
were Americanised, wearing makeup, short hair, smoking and breaking
with traditional mores . The euphoria surrounding
Josephine Baker in
the metropolis of
Berlin for instance, where she was declared an
"erotic goddess " and in many ways admired and respected, kindled
further "ultramodern" sensations in the minds of the German public.
Art and a new type of architecture taught at "
Bauhaus " schools
reflected the new ideas of the time, with artists such as George Grosz
being fined for defaming the military and for blasphemy .
Berlin were influenced by other contemporary progressive
cultural movements, such as the Impressionist and Expressionist
painters in Paris, as well as the Cubists. Likewise, American
progressive architects were admired. Many of the new buildings built
during this era followed a straight-lined, geometrical style. Examples
of the new architecture include the
Bauhaus Building by Gropius ,
Grosses Schauspielhaus , and the
Einstein Tower .
Not everyone, however, was happy with the changes taking place in
Weimar culture . Conservatives and reactionaries feared that Germany
was betraying its traditional values by adopting popular styles from
abroad, particularly those Hollywood was popularizing in American
films, while New York became the global capital of fashion. Germany
was more susceptible to Americanisation, because of the close economic
links brought about by the Dawes plan.
In 1929, three years after receiving the 1926
Nobel Peace Prize
Nobel Peace Prize ,
Stresemann died of a heart attack at age 51. When stocks on the New
York Stock Exchange crashed in October, the inevitable knock-on
effects on the German economy brought the "Golden Twenties" to an
SOCIAL POLICY UNDER WEIMAR
A wide range of progressive social reforms were carried out during
and after the revolutionary period. In 1919, legislation provided for
a maximum working 48-hour workweek, restrictions on night work, a
half-holiday on Saturday, and a break of thirty-six hours of
continuous rest during the week. That same year, health insurance was
extended to wives and daughters without own income, people only
partially capable of gainful employment, people employed in private
cooperatives, and people employed in public cooperatives. A series of
progressive tax reforms were introduced under the auspices of Matthias
Erzberger, including increases in taxes on capital and an increase in
the highest income tax rate from 4% to 60%. Under a governmental
decree of 3 February 1919, the German government met the demand of the
veterans' associations that all aid for the disabled and their
dependents be taken over by the central government (thus assuming
responsibility for this assistance) and extended into peacetime the
nationwide network of state and district welfare bureaus that had been
set up during the war to coordinate social services for war widows and
The Imperial Youth Welfare Act of 1922 obliged all municipalities and
states to set up youth offices in charge of child protection, and also
codified a right to education for all children, while laws were
passed to regulate rents and increase protection for tenants in 1922
and 1923. Health insurance coverage was extended to other categories
of the population during the existence of the
including seamen, people employed in the educational and social
welfare sectors, and all primary dependents. Various improvements
were also made in unemployment benefits, although in June 1920 the
maximum amount of unemployment benefit that a family of four could
receive in Berlin, 90 marks, was well below the minimum cost of
subsistence of 304 marks.
In 1923, unemployment relief was consolidated into a regular
programme of assistance following economic problems that year. In
1924, a modern public assistance programme was introduced, and in 1925
the accident insurance programme was reformed, allowing diseases that
were linked to certain kinds of work to become insurable risks. In
addition, a national unemployment insurance programme was introduced
in 1927. Housing construction was also greatly accelerated during the
Weimar period, with over 2 million new homes constructed between 1924
and 1931 and a further 195,000 modernised.
_ The German army feeds the poor, Berlin, 1931. Gross
national product (inflation adjusted) and price index in Deutsches
Reich_ 1926–1936. The period between 1930 and 1932 is marked by a
severe deflation and recession. _ Unemployment rate in Deutsches
Reich_ between 1928 and 1935. During Brüning´s policy of deflation
(marked in purple) the unemployment rate soared from 15.7% in 1930 to
30.8% in 1932. _ Communist Party (KPD) leader Ernst Thälmann
(person in foreground with raised clenched fist) and members of the
Roter Frontkämpferbund _ (RFB) marching through Berlin-Wedding, 1927.
Federal election results 1919 - 1933. The Communist Party (KPD)
(red) and the
Nazi Party (NSDAP) (brown) were radical enemies of the
Weimar Republic. The surge in unemployment during the Great Depression
led to a radicalization of many voters, the
Nazi Party rose from 2,6%
of the total votes in 1928 to 43,9% in 1933. The DNVP (orange) lost
its conservative wing and subsequently joined the radical opposition
Nazi Party (NSDAP) leader
Adolf Hitler saluting
members of the
Sturmabteilung in Brunswick , Lower
Saxony , 1932.
Onset Of The Great Depression
In 1929, the onset of the depression in the United States of America
produced a severe shockwave in Germany. The economy was supported by
the granting of loans through the
Dawes Plan (1924) and the Young Plan
(1929). When American banks withdrew their loans to German companies,
the onset of severe unemployment could not be stopped by conventional
economic measures. Unemployment grew rapidly, at 4 million in 1930,
and in September 1930 a political earthquake shook the republic to its
Nazi Party (NSDAP) entered the Reichstag with 19% of
the popular vote and made the fragile coalition system by which every
chancellor had governed unworkable. The last years of the Weimar
Republic were stamped by even more political instability than in the
previous years. The administrations of Chancellors Brüning , Papen ,
Schleicher and, from 30 January to 23 March 1933, Hitler governed
through presidential decree rather than through parliamentary
Brüning\'s Policy Of
On 29 March 1930, after months of lobbying by General Kurt von
Schleicher on behalf of the military, the finance expert Heinrich
Brüning was appointed as Müller's successor by _
Paul von Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg . The new government was expected to lead a
political shift towards conservatism .
As Brüning had no majority support in the _Reichstag_, he became,
through the use of the emergency powers granted to the
_Reichspräsident_ (Article 48) by the constitution , the first Weimar
chancellor to operate independently of parliament. This made him
dependent on the _Reichspräsident_, Hindenburg. After a bill to
reform the Reich's finances was opposed by the _Reichstag_, it was
made an emergency decree by Hindenburg. On 18 July, as a result of
opposition from the SPD, KPD , DNVP and the small contingent of NSDAP
members, the _Reichstag_ again rejected the bill by a slim margin.
Immediately afterward, Brüning submitted the president's decree that
the _Reichstag_ be dissolved. The consequent general election on 14
September resulted in an enormous political shift within the
_Reichstag_: 18.3% of the vote went to the NSDAP, five times the
percentage won in 1928. As a result, it was no longer possible to form
a pro-republican majority, not even with a grand coalition that
excluded the KPD, DNVP and NSDAP. This encouraged an escalation in the
number of public demonstrations and instances of paramilitary violence
organised by the NSDAP.
Between 1930 and 1932, Brüning tried to reform the
without a parliamentary majority, governing, when necessary, through
the President's emergency decrees. In line with the contemporary
economic theory (subsequently termed "leave-it-alone liquidationism
"), he enacted a draconian policy of deflation and drastically cutting
state expenditure . Among other measures, he completely halted all
public grants to the obligatory unemployment insurance introduced in
1927, resulting in workers making higher contributions and fewer
benefits for the unemployed. Benefits for the sick, invalid and
pensioners were also reduced sharply. Additional difficulties were
caused by the different deflationary policies pursued by Brüning and
Reichsbank _, Germany's central bank . In mid-1931, the United
Kingdom abandoned the gold standard and about 30 countries (the
sterling bloc ) devalued their currencies , making their goods around
20% cheaper than those produced by Germany. As the
Young Plan did not
allow a devaluation of the _
Reichsmark _, Brüning triggered a
deflationary internal devaluation by forcing the economy to reduce
prices, rents, salaries and wages by 20%. Debate continues as to
whether this policy was without alternative: some argue that the
Allies would not in any circumstances have allowed a devaluation of
the _Reichsmark_, while others point to the
Hoover Moratorium as a
sign that the Allies understood that the situation had changed
fundamentally and further German reparation payments were impossible.
Brüning expected that the policy of deflation would temporarily
worsen the economic situation before it began to improve, quickly
increasing the German economy's competitiveness and then restoring its
creditworthiness. His long-term view was that deflation would, in any
case, be the best way to help the economy. His primary goal was to
remove Germany's reparation payments by convincing the Allies that
they could no longer be paid. Anton Erkelenz, chairman of the German
Democratic Party and a contemporary critic of Brüning, famously said
that the policy of deflation is:
A rightful attempt to release
Germany from the grip of reparation
payments, but in reality it meant nothing else than committing suicide
because of fearing death. The deflation policy causes much more damage
than the reparation payments of 20 years ... Fighting against Hitler
is fighting against deflation, the enormous destruction of production
In 1933, the American economist Irving Fisher developed the theory of
debt deflation . He explained that a deflation causes a decline of
profits, asset prices and a still greater decline in the net worth of
businesses. Even healthy companies, therefore, may appear
over-indebted and facing bankruptcy. The consensus today is that
Brüning's policies exacerbated the German economic crisis and the
population's growing frustration with democracy, contributing
enormously to the increase in support for Hitler's NSDAP.
Most German capitalists and landowners originally supported the
conservative experiment more from the belief that conservatives would
best serve their interests rather than any particular liking for
Brüning. As more of the working and middle classes turned against
Brüning, however, more of the capitalists and landowners declared
themselves in favour of his opponents Hitler and Hugenberg . By late
1931, the conservative movement was dead and Hindenburg and the
Reichswehr _ had begun to contemplate dropping Brüning in favour of
accommodating Hugenberg and Hitler. Although Hindenburg disliked
Hugenberg and despised Hitler, he was no less a supporter of the sort
of anti-democratic counter-revolution that the DNVP and NSDAP
represented. In April 1932, Brüning had actively supported
Hindenburg's successful campaign against Hitler for re-election as
_Reichspräsident_; five weeks later, on 20 May 1932, he had lost
Hindenburg's support and duly resigned as _Reichskanzler_.
The Papen Deal
Hindenburg then appointed
Franz von Papen as new _Reichskanzler_.
Papen lifted the ban on the NSDAP's SA paramilitary, imposed after the
street riots, in an unsuccessful attempt to secure the backing of
Papen was closely associated with the industrialist and land-owning
classes and pursued an extreme Conservative policy along Hindenburg's
lines. He appointed as _Reichswehr_ Minister
Kurt von Schleicher , and
all the members of the new cabinet were of the same political opinion
as Hindenburg. This government was expected to assure itself of the
co-operation of Hitler. Since the Republicans were not yet ready to
take action, the Communists did not want to support the republic, and
the Conservatives had shot their political bolt, Hitler and Hugenberg
were certain to achieve power.
Elections Of July 1932
Because most parties opposed the new government, Papen had the
_Reichstag _ dissolved and called for new elections. The general
elections on 31 July 1932 yielded major gains for the Communists , and
for the Nazis, who won 37.3% of the vote – their high-water mark in
a free election . The
Nazi party then supplanted the Social Democrats
as the largest party in the _Reichstag_, although it did not gain a
The immediate question was what part the now large
Nazi Party would
play in the Government of the country. The party owed its huge
increase to growing support from middle-class people, whose
traditional parties were swallowed up by the Nazi Party. The millions
of radical adherents at first forced the Party towards the Left. They
wanted a renewed
Germany and a new organisation of German society. The
left of the
Nazi party strove desperately against any drift into the
train of such capitalist and feudal reactionaries. Therefore, Hitler
refused ministry under Papen, and demanded the chancellorship for
himself, but was rejected by Hindenburg on 13 August 1932. There was
still no majority in the _Reichstag_ for any government; as a result,
the _Reichstag_ was dissolved and elections took place once more in
the hope that a stable majority would result.
The 6 November 1932 elections yielded 33.1% for the Nazis, two
million voters fewer than in the previous election. Franz von Papen
stepped down and was succeeded as
Chancellor (_Reichskanzler_) by
Kurt von Schleicher on 3 December. Schleicher, a retired army
officer, had developed in an atmosphere of semi-obscurity and intrigue
that encompassed the Republican military policy. He had for years been
in the camp of those supporting the Conservative counter-revolution.
Schleicher's bold and unsuccessful plan was to build a majority in the
_Reichstag_ by uniting the trade unionist left wings of the various
parties, including that of the Nazis led by
Gregor Strasser . This
policy did not prove successful either. Poster for the
nationalist "Black–White–Red" coalition of
Alfred Hugenberg (DNVP
Franz von Papen and
Franz Seldte .
In this brief Presidential Dictatorship intermission, Schleicher
assumed the role of "Socialist General" and entered into relations
with the Christian Trade Unions, the left-wing members of the Nazi
party, and even with the Social Democrats. Schleicher planned for a
sort of labour government under his Generalship. But the _Reichswehr_
officers were not prepared for this, the working class had a natural
distrust of their future allies, and the great capitalists and
landowners also did not like the plans.
Hitler learned from Papen that the general had not received from
Hindenburg the authority to abolish the _Reichstag_ parliament,
whereas any majority of seats did. The cabinet (under a previous
interpretation of Article 48) ruled without a sitting _Reichstag_,
which could vote only for its own dissolution. Hitler also learned
that all past crippling Nazi debts were to be relieved by German big
On 22 January, Hitler's efforts to persuade
Oskar von Hindenburg ,
the President's son and confidant, included threats to bring criminal
charges over estate taxation irregularities at the President's Neudeck
estate; although 5,000 acres (20 km2) extra were soon allotted to
Hindenburg's property. Outmaneuvered by Papen and Hitler on plans for
the new cabinet, and having lost Hindenburg's confidence, Schleicher
asked for new elections. On 28 January, Papen described Hitler to Paul
von Hindenburg as only a minority part of an alternative,
Papen-arranged government. The four great political movements, the
SPD, Communists, Centre , and the Nazis were in opposition.
On 29 January, Hitler and Papen thwarted a last-minute threat of an
officially sanctioned _Reichswehr_ takeover, and on 30 January 1933
Hindenburg accepted the new Papen-Nationalist-Hitler coalition, with
the Nazis holding only three of eleven Cabinet seats: Hitler as
Wilhelm Frick as Minister of the Interior and Hermann
Göring as Minister Without Portfolio. Later that day, the first
cabinet meeting was attended by only two political parties,
representing a minority in the _Reichstag_: The Nazis and the German
National People\'s Party (DNVP), led by
Alfred Hugenberg , with 196
and 52 seats respectively. Eyeing the Catholic Centre Party 's 70
(plus 20 BVP ) seats, Hitler refused their leader's demands for
constitutional "concessions" (amounting to protection) and planned for
dissolution of the _Reichstag_.
Hindenburg, despite his misgivings about the Nazis' goals and about
Hitler as a personality, reluctantly agreed to Papen's theory that,
with Nazi popular support on the wane, Hitler could now be controlled
as Chancellor. This date, dubbed by the Nazis as the _Machtergreifung
_ (seizure of power), is commonly seen as the beginning of Nazi
END OF THE WEIMAR REPUBLIC
Hitler\'s Chancellorship (1933)
Hitler was sworn in as
Chancellor on the morning of 30 January 1933
in what some observers later described as a brief and indifferent
ceremony. By early February, a mere week after Hitler's assumption of
the chancellorship, the government had begun to clamp down on the
opposition. Meetings of the left-wing parties were banned and even
some of the moderate parties found their members threatened and
assaulted. Measures with an appearance of legality suppressed the
Communist Party in mid-February and included the plainly illegal
arrests of _Reichstag_ deputies.
Reichstag fire on 27 February was blamed by Hitler's government
on the Communists. Hitler used the ensuing state of emergency to
obtain the presidential assent of Hindenburg to issue the Reichstag
Decree the following day. The decree invoked
Article 48 of the
Weimar Constitution and "indefinitely suspended" a number of
constitutional protections of civil liberties, allowing the Nazi
government to take swift action against political meetings, arresting
and killing the Communists.
Hitler and the Nazis exploited the German state's broadcasting and
aviation facilities in a massive attempt to sway the electorate, but
this election yielded a scant majority of 16 seats for the coalition.
At the _Reichstag_ elections , which took place on 5 March 1933, the
NSDAP obtained 17 million votes. The Communist, Social Democrat and
Catholic Centre votes stood firm. This was the last multi-party
election of the
Weimar Republic and the last multi-party all-German
election for 57 years.
Hitler addressed disparate interest groups, stressing the necessity
for a definitive solution to the perpetual instability of the Weimar
Republic. He now blamed Germany's problems on the Communists, even
threatening their lives on 3 March. Former
Brüning proclaimed that his Centre Party would resist any
constitutional change and appealed to the President for an
investigation of the _Reichstag_ fire. Hitler's successful plan was to
induce what remained of the now Communist-depleted Reichstag to grant
him, and the Government, the authority to issue decrees with the force
of law. The hitherto Presidential Dictatorship hereby was to give
itself a new legal form.
On 15 March, the first cabinet meeting was attended by the two
coalition parties, representing a minority in the _Reichstag_: The
Nazis and the DNVP led by
Alfred Hugenberg (288 + 52 seats). According
Nuremberg Trials , this cabinet meeting's first order of
business was how at last to achieve the complete counter-revolution by
means of the constitutionally allowed
Enabling Act , requiring a 66%
parliamentary majority. This Act would, and did, lead Hitler and the
NSDAP toward his goal of unfettered dictatorial powers.
Hitler Cabinet Meeting In Mid-March
At the cabinet meeting on 15 March, Hitler introduced the Enabling
Act , which would have authorised the cabinet to enact legislation
without the approval of the _Reichstag_. Meanwhile, the only remaining
question for the Nazis was whether the Catholic Centre Party
(_Zentrum_) would support the
Enabling Act in the _Reichstag_, thereby
providing the ⅔ majority required to ratify a law that amended the
constitution. Hitler expressed his confidence to win over the Centre's
votes. Hitler is recorded at the
Nuremberg Trials as being sure of
eventual Centre Party
Germany capitulation and thus rejecting of the
DNVP's suggestions to "balance" the majority through further arrests,
this time of Social Democrats. Hitler, however, assured his coalition
partners that arrests would resume after the elections and, in fact,
some 26 SPD Social Democrats were physically removed. After meeting
with Centre leader Monsignor
Ludwig Kaas and other Centre Trade Union
leaders daily and denying them a substantial participation in the
government, negotiation succeeded in respect of guarantees towards
Catholic civil-servants and education issues.
At the last internal Centre meeting prior to the debate on the
Enabling Act, Kaas expressed no preference or suggestion on the vote,
but as a way of mollifying opposition by Centre members to the
granting of further powers to Hitler, Kaas somehow arranged for a
letter of constitutional guarantee from Hitler himself prior to his
voting with the centre _en bloc_ in favour of the
Enabling Act . This
guarantee was not ultimately given. Kaas, the party's chairman since
1928, had strong connections to the Vatican Secretary of State, later
Pope Pius XII
Pope Pius XII . In return for pledging his support for the act, Kaas
would use his connections with the Vatican to set in train and draft
Holy See 's long desired _
Reichskonkordat _ with
possible with the co-operation of the Nazis).
Ludwig Kaas is considered along with Papen as being one of the two
most important political figures in the creation of a National
Enabling Act Negotiations
On 20 March, negotiation began between Hitler and Frick on one side
and the Catholic Centre Party (_Zentrum_) leaders—Kaas, Stegerwald
and Hackelsburger on the other. The aim was to settle on conditions
under which Centre would vote in favour of the
Enabling Act . Because
of the Nazis' narrow majority in the _Reichstag_, Centre's support was
necessary to receive the required two-thirds majority vote. On 22
March, the negotiations concluded; Hitler promised to continue the
existence of the German states, agreed not to use the new grant of
power to change the constitution, and promised to retain _Zentrum_
members in the civil service. Hitler also pledged to protect the
Catholic confessional schools and to respect the concordats signed
Holy See and
Prussia (1929) and Baden
(1931). Hitler also agreed to mention these promises in his speech to
the _Reichstag_ before the vote on the Enabling Act.
The ceremonial opening of the _Reichstag_ on 21 March was held at the
Garrison Church in
Potsdam , a shrine of Prussianism , in the presence
Junker landowners and representatives of the imperial military
caste. This impressive and often emotional spectacle—orchestrated by
Joseph Goebbels —aimed to link Hitler's government with Germany's
imperial past and portray National Socialism as a guarantor of the
nation's future. The ceremony helped convince the "old guard" Prussian
military elite of Hitler's homage to their long tradition and, in
turn, produced the relatively convincing view that Hitler's government
had the support of Germany's traditional protector—the Army. Such
support would publicly signal a return to conservatism to curb the
problems affecting the
Weimar Republic, and that stability might be at
hand. In a cynical and politically adroit move, Hitler bowed in
apparently respectful humility before President and Field Marshal
Passage Of The Enabling Act
The _Reichstag_ convened on 23 March 1933, and in the midday opening,
Hitler made a historic speech, appearing outwardly calm and
conciliatory. Hitler presented an appealing prospect of respect
towards Christianity by paying tribute to the Christian faiths as
"essential elements for safeguarding the soul of the German people".
He promised to respect their rights and declared his government's
"ambition is a peaceful accord between Church and State " and that he
hoped "to improve our friendly relations with the
Holy See ." This
speech aimed especially at the future recognition by the named Holy
See and therefore to the votes of the Centre Party addressing many
concerns Kaas had voiced during the previous talks. Kaas is considered
to have had a hand therefore in the drafting of the speech. Kaas is
also reported as voicing the Holy See's desire for Hitler as bulwark
against atheistic Russian nihilism previously as early as May 1932.
Hitler promised that the Act did not threaten the existence of either
the _Reichstag _ or the _Reichsrat _, that the authority of the
President remained untouched and that the _Länder _ would not be
abolished. During an adjournment, the other parties (notably the
Centre) met to discuss their intentions.
In the debate prior to the vote on the Enabling Act, Hitler
orchestrated the full political menace of his paramilitary forces like
the storm division in the streets to intimidate reluctant _Reichstag_
deputies into approving the Enabling Act. The Communists' 81 seats had
been empty since the _Reichstag_ Fire
Decree and other lesser known
procedural measures, thus excluding their anticipated "No" votes from
Otto Wels , the leader of the Social Democrats, whose
seats were similarly depleted from 120 to below 100, was the only
speaker to defend democracy and in a futile but brave effort to deny
Hitler the ⅔ majority, he made a speech critical of the abandonment
of democracy to dictatorship. At this, Hitler could no longer restrain
In his retort to Wels, Hitler abandoned earlier pretence at calm
statesmanship and delivered a characteristic screaming diatribe,
promising to exterminate all Communists in
Germany and threatening
Wels' Social Democrats as well. He did not even want their support for
the bill. "
Germany will become free, but not through you," he shouted.
Meanwhile, Hitler's promised written guarantee to Monsignor Kaas was
being typed up, it was asserted to Kaas, and thereby Kaas was
persuaded to silently deliver the Centre bloc's votes for the Enabling
Act anyway. The Act—formally titled the "Act for the Removal of
Distress from People and Reich"—was passed by a vote of 441 to 94.
Only the SPD had voted against the Act. Every other member of the
_Reichstag_, whether from the largest or the smallest party, voted in
favour of the Act. It went into effect the following day, 24 March.
The passage of the
Enabling Act of 1933 is widely considered to mark
the end of the
Weimar Republic and the beginning of the Nazi era. It
empowered the cabinet to legislate without the approval of Reichstag
or the President, and to enact laws that were contrary to the
constitution. Before the March 1933 elections, Hitler had persuaded
Hindenburg to promulgate the Reichstag Fire
Article 48 ,
which empowered the government to restrict "the rights of habeas
corpus freedom of the press, the freedom to organise and assemble,
the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications" and
legalised search warrants and confiscation "beyond legal limits
otherwise prescribed". This was intended to forestall any action
against the government by the Communists. Hitler used the provisions
Enabling Act to pre-empt possible opposition to his
dictatorship from other sources, in which he was mostly successful.
The process of bringing all major organisations into line with Nazi
principles and into the service of the state was called
Gleichschaltung _. _Gleichschaltung_ is usually translated as
"coordination", but sometimes as "forcible coordination". It is a
compound word, consisting of _gleich_, meaning _alike_, and
_schaltung_, which means _switching_. The
NSDAP meant to imply a
particular mechanical meaning of the word: a certain means of wiring
an electrical generator and electric motors, so that when the
generator is made to turn at a given speed or turned to a certain
angle, each motor connected to it will also turn at that speed, or to
the same angle—in other words, synchronisation. The
thought of as the generator, and other civil groups as motors wired to
Hitler's cabinet issued many decrees for the purpose of
_Gleichschaltung_ in the weeks following the passage of the Act. It
removed Jews from the civil service (at Hindenburg's request, an
exception was made for Jews who had served at the front during World
War I). It banned all trade unions and eventually outlawed all other
political parties. After the exiled SPD published its new weekly
_Neuer Vorwarts_ in Prague, Hitler banned the party, confiscating its
assets and abolishing its parliamentary representation, by decree of
However, opposition was frequently not addressed by legislation at
all. The process of _Gleichschaltung_ was often voluntary, or in any
event not mandated by a formal decree. Most other parties had
dissolved before being officially banned: the Nazi Party's coalition
partner, the DNVP, was dissolved on 27 June, one day after Hugenberg's
resignation from the cabinet. The _Staatspartei_ (formerly the DDP)
dissolved itself on 28 June, and the DVP on 29 June. On 4–5 July,
the Catholic parties (the BVP and the Centre) were also wound up. By
the time the formal decree banned the creation of new parties, there
were none left except the Nazis.
... many organisations showed themselves only too willing to
anticipate the process and to "coordinate" themselves in accordance
with the expectations of the new era. By the autumn, the Nazi
dictatorship ... had been enormously strengthened. What is striking is
not how much, but how little, Hitler needed to do to bring this about
... Hitler took remarkably few initiatives.
Willing _Gleichschaltung_ was termed _Selbstgleichschaltung_ or
"self-coordination". There was a rush to join the NSDAP, overrunning
the party's ability to process applications: on 1 May, the party
announced that it was suspending the admission of new members. The
party's membership had increased to 2.5 million, from about 900,000 at
the end of January. Many prominent intellectuals allied themselves
with the new government: the country's most famous philosopher, Martin
Heidegger and its most prominent constitutional scholar, Carl Schmitt
, spoke in favour of it, and Heidegger became the sponsor of a
manifesto of German professors pledging allegiance to "Adolf Hitler
and the National Socialist State". Lists were prepared of writers
whose works were unacceptable in the "New Order", including Freud,
Einstein and Brecht. On the evening of 10 May, under the leadership of
the German Students' Association and without substantial protest by
the university faculties, some 20,000 volumes were burned at Berlin's
Reichswehr had, however, remained mostly untouched by
_Gleichschaltung_. It was not until Hindenburg's death in August 1934
that all military personnel swore an oath of loyalty directly to
Hitler, instead of to the constitution. Thereafter, the military came
under gradually increasing pressure to align itself with NSDAP
ideology, but it never entirely capitulated. Likewise, the holdings of
industrialists and aristocratic "
Junker " landowners remained for the
most part untouched, whilst the administrative and judicial machinery
was only very slightly tampered with. The Nazi efforts to
"co-ordinate" the Christian churches (both
Roman Catholic and
Protestant) were mostly unsuccessful, and were largely abandoned.
However, the churches as a whole did not present any serious
opposition to Hitler.
The constitution of 1919 was never formally repealed, but the
Enabling Act meant that it was a dead letter. The
Enabling Act itself
was breached by Hitler on three occasions in 1934: Article 2 of the
act stated that
'Laws enacted by the government of the Reich may deviate from the
constitution as long as they do not affect the institutions of the
Reichstag and the Reichsrat. The rights of the President remain
The powers of the Länder (states) were transferred to the central
government, rendering the _Reichsrat_ obsolete. A month later, the
_Reichsrat_ itself was dissolved. President von Hindenburg died in
August, and Hitler appropriated the president's powers for himself.
Enabling Act did not specify any recourse that could be taken if
the chancellor violated Article 2, and no judicial challenge ensued.
Following the death of Hindenburg in 1934, the constitution was
largely forgotten, with some minor exceptions. In The Political
Adolf Hitler , written shortly before his suicide, he
Karl Doenitz to succeed him but as President rather
than Fuehrer, thereby re-establishing a constitutional office dormant
since Hindenburg's death eleven years earlier. On 30 April 1945,
Doenitz formed what became known as the
Flensburg government , which
_de facto_ controlled only a tiny area of
Germany near the Danish
border and the town of
Flensburg . It was dissolved by the Allies on
On 5 June, the Allied
Berlin Declaration stated in its preamble that
the Allies assumed "supreme authority with respect to Germany,
including all the powers possessed by the German Government... and any
state, municipal, or local government or authority." It also declared
that there was "no central Government or authority in
of accepting responsibility for the maintenance of order, the
administration of the country and compliance with the requirements of
the victorious Powers." Article 13 of the declaration read:
he four Allied Governments will take such steps, including the
complete disarmament and demilitarisation of Germany, as they deem
requisite for future peace and security. The Allied Representatives
will impose on
Germany additional political, administrative, economic,
financial, military and other requirements arising from the complete
defeat of Germany.... All German authorities and the German people
shall carry out unconditionally the requirements of the Allied
Representatives, and shall fully comply with all such proclamations,
orders, ordinances and instructions.
These provisions, not legally challenged by either of the subsequent
German governments, meant that neither any
NSDAP decree nor the 1919
constitution held any legal force over the Allies' administration of
The 1949 Constitution of East
Germany (officially, the German
Democratic Republic) contained many passages that were originally part
of the 1919 constitution. It was intended to be the constitution of a
Germany and was thus a compromise between liberal-democratic
and Leninist ideologies. It was replaced by a new, explicitly Leninist
constitution in 1968, which was substantially amended in 1974. In
1990, the GDR was dissolved and incorporated into West Germany.
The Basic Law of the Federal Republic of
Germany (commonly referred
to as West
Germany ), enacted in 1949, stated: "The provisions of
Articles 136, 137, 138, 139 and 141 of the German Constitution of 11
August 1919 shall be an integral part of this Basic Law."
These articles of the
Weimar constitution (which dealt with the
state's relationship to various Christian churches) remain part of the
German Basic Law.
REASONS FOR FAILURE
The reasons for the
Weimar Republic's collapse are the subject of
continuing debate. It may have been doomed from the beginning since
even moderates disliked it and extremists on both the left and right
loathed it, a situation often referred to as a "democracy without
Germany had limited democratic traditions, and Weimar
democracy was widely seen as chaotic. Since
Weimar politicians had
been blamed for the _Dolchstoßlegende _ ("Stab-in-the-back myth"), a
widely believed theory that Germany's surrender in World War I had
been the unnecessary act of traitors, the popular legitimacy of the
government was on shaky ground. As normal parliamentary lawmaking
broke down and was replaced around 1930 by a series of emergency
decrees , the decreasing popular legitimacy of the government further
drove voters to extremist parties.
No single reason can explain the failure of the
Weimar Republic. The
most commonly asserted causes can be grouped into three categories:
economic problems, institutional problems and the roles of specific
Great Depression in Central Europe ,
Dawes Plan , and
Weimar Republic had some of the most serious economic problems
ever experienced by any Western democracy in history. Rampant
hyperinflation , massive unemployment, and a large drop in living
standards were primary factors. From 1923 to 1929, there was a short
period of economic recovery, but the
Great Depression of the 1930s led
to a worldwide recession.
Germany was particularly affected because it
depended heavily on American loans. In 1926, about 2 million Germans
were unemployed, which rose to around 6 million in 1932. Many blamed
Weimar Republic. That was made apparent when political parties on
both right and left wanting to disband the Republic altogether made
any democratic majority in Parliament impossible.
Weimar Republic was severely affected by the
Great Depression .
The economic stagnation led to increased demands on
Germany to repay
the debts owed to the United States. As the
Weimar Republic was very
fragile in all its existence, the depression was devastating, and
played a major role in the
NSDAP 's takeover.
Germans thought the
Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles was a punishing and
degrading document because it forced them to surrender resource-rich
areas and pay massive amounts of compensation. The punitive
reparations caused consternation and resentment, but the actual
economic damage resulting from the
Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles is difficult
to determine. While the official reparations were considerable,
Germany ended up paying only a fraction of them. However, the
reparations damaged Germany's economy by discouraging market loans,
which forced the
Weimar government to finance its deficit by printing
more currency, causing rampant hyperinflation. In addition, the rapid
Germany in 1919 by the return of a disillusioned
army, the rapid change from possible victory in 1918 to defeat in
1919, and the political chaos may have caused a psychological imprint
Germans that could lead to extreme nationalism, later epitomised
and exploited by Hitler.
Most historians agree that many industrial leaders identified the
Weimar Republic with labour unions and the Social Democrats, who had
established the Versailles concessions. Although some saw Hitler as a
means to abolish the latter, the Republic was already unstable before
any industry leaders were supporting Hitler. Even those who supported
Hitler's appointment often did not support all of Nazism and
considered Hitler a temporary solution in their efforts to abolish the
Republic. Industry support alone cannot explain Hitler's enthusiastic
support by large segments of the population, including many workers
who had turned away from the left.
Princeton historian Harold James argues that there was a clear link
between economic decline and people turning to extremist politics.
It is widely believed that the 1919 constitution had several
weaknesses, making the eventual establishment of a dictatorship
likely, but it is unknown whether a different constitution could have
prevented the rise of the Nazi party. However, the 1949 West German
constitution (the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of
Germany ) is
generally viewed as a strong response to these flaws.
* The institution of the _Reichspräsident_ was frequently
considered as an _Ersatzkaiser_ ("substitute emperor"), an attempt to
replace the emperors with a similarly strong institution meant to
diminish party politics.
Article 48 of the Constitution gave the
President power to "take all necessary steps" if "public order and
security are seriously disturbed or endangered". Although it was
intended as an emergency clause, it was often used before 1933 to
issue decrees without the support of Parliament (see above) and also
Gleichschaltung _ easier.
* During the
Weimar Republic, it was accepted that a law did not
have to conform to the constitution as long as it had the support of
two thirds of parliament, the same majority needed to change the
constitution (_verfassungsdurchbrechende Gesetze_). That was a
precedent for the
Enabling Act of 1933 . The Basic Law of 1949
requires an explicit change of the wording, and it prohibits
abolishing the basic rights or the federal structure of the republic.
* The use of a proportional representation without a large
thresholds meant a party with a small amount of support could gain
entry into the _Reichstag _. That led to many small parties, some
extremist, building political bases within the system. To counter the
problem, the modern German
Bundestag introduced a 5% threshold limit
for a party to gain parliamentary representation. However, the
Reichstag of the monarchy was fractioned to a similar degree even if
it was elected by majority vote (under a two-round system ). The
republic fell not by the small parties but by the strength of the
communists, conservatives and ultimately the national socialists.
* The _Reichstag_ could remove the _Reichskanzler_ from office even
if it was unable to agree on a successor. The use of such a motion of
no confidence meant that since 1932, that a government could not be
held in office when the parliament came together. As a result, the
1949 _Grundgesetz_ stipulates that a chancellor may not be removed by
Parliament unless a successor is elected at the same time, known as a
"constructive vote of no confidence ".
* The political parties started to have a role in creating a
government only in October 1918. They were massively inexperienced.
ROLE OF INDIVIDUALS
Brüning's economic policy from 1930 to 1932 has been the subject of
much debate. It caused many
Germans to identify the Republic with cuts
in social spending and extremely liberal economics. Whether there were
alternatives to this policy during the
Great Depression is an open
Paul von Hindenburg
Paul von Hindenburg became _Reichspräsident_ in 1925. As he was an
old style monarchist conservative, he had little love lost for the
Republic, but for the most part, he formally acted within the bounds
of the constitution; however, he ultimately - on the advice of his son
and others close to him - appointed Hitler chancellor thereby
effectively ending the Republic.
Main article: States of the
Prior to World War I, the constituent states of the German Empire
were 22 smaller monarchies, three republican city-states and the
Imperial territory of
Alsace-Lorraine . After the territorial losses
Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles and the German Revolution of 1918–1919,
the remaining states continued as republics. The former Ernestine
duchies continued briefly as republics before merging to form the
Thuringia in 1920, except for
Saxe-Coburg , which became part
FREE STATES (Freistaaten_)
COBURG – to
Bavaria in 1920
THURINGIA (Thüringen_) – from 1920
WALDECK-PYRMONT – to Prussia
Prussia in 1921, Waldeck followed in 1929)
FREE AND HANSEATIC CITIES (Freie und Hansestädte)_
STATES MERGED TO FORM THURINGIA IN 1920
These states were gradually _de facto_ abolished under the Nazi
regime via the
Gleichschaltung process, as the states were largely
re-organised into Gaue . However, the city-state of Lübeck was
formally incorporated into
Prussia in 1937 following the Greater
Hamburg Act , apparently motivated by Hitler's personal dislike for
the city. Most of the remaining states were formally dissolved by the
Allies at the end of World War II and ultimately reorganised into the
modern states of
Weimar Republic portal
* Württemberg Landtag elections in the
* Timeline of the
* The 1920s
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