Weimar Republic (German: Weimarer Republik [ˈvaɪmaʁɐ
ʁepuˈbliːk] ( listen)) is an unofficial, historical
designation for the German state during the years 1919 to 1933. The
name derives from the city of Weimar, where its constitutional
assembly first took place. The official name of the state remained
Deutsches Reich, unchanged since 1871. In English, the country was
usually known simply as Germany.
A national assembly was convened in Weimar, where a new constitution
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) as well as contentious relationships with
the victors of the 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.
Germany fulfilled most of the requirements of the Treaty of
Versailles although 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,
the western borders of the republic, but continued to dispute the
From 1930 onwards President Hindenburg used emergency powers to back
Chancellors Heinrich Brüning,
Franz von Papen
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 Fire
Decree and the
Enabling Act of 1933
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, the founding
of a single-party state began the Nazi era.
2 Flag and coat of arms
3 Armed forces
4.1 November Revolution (1918–1919)
4.2 Years of crisis (1919–1923)
4.2.1 Burden from the First World War
126.96.36.199 Treaty of Versailles
4.2.2 Political turmoil
4.3 Golden Era (1924–1929)
4.5 Social policy under Weimar
4.6 Decline (1930–1933)
4.6.1 Onset of the Great Depression
4.6.2 Brüning's policy of deflation (1930–1932)
4.6.3 The Papen deal
4.6.4 Elections of July 1932
4.6.5 Schleicher cabinet
4.7 End of the
4.7.1 Hitler's chancellorship (1933)
4.7.2 Hitler cabinet meeting in mid-March
Enabling Act negotiations
4.7.4 Passage of the Enabling Act
6 Reasons for failure
6.1 Economic problems
6.2 Institutional problems
6.3 Role of individuals
7 Constituent states
8 See also
10 Further reading
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
National Socialist German Worker's Party rally in Munich
on 24 February 1929—it was a few weeks later that the term Weimarer
Republik was first used (again by Hitler) in a newspaper article.
Only during the 1930s did the term become mainstream, both within and
According to historian Richard J. Evans:
The continued use of the term 'German Empire', Deutsches Reich, by the
Weimar Republic....conjured up an image among educated
resonated far beyond the institutional structures Bismarck created:
the successor to the Roman Empire; the vision of God's Empire here on
earth; the universality of its claim to suzerainty; and a more prosaic
but no less powerful sense, the concept of a German state that would
include all German speakers in central Europe--'one People, one Reich,
one Leader', as the Nazi slogan was to put it.
Flag and coat of arms
The official coat of arms of
Germany (Reichswappen) from 1919 to 1928
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, Bekanntmachung
betreffend das Reichswappen und den Reichsadler ("Announcement
concerning the imperial coat of arms and the imperial eagle"), 11
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 German
Principality of Waldeck-Pyrmont
Principality of Waldeck-Pyrmont upheld the tradition and continued to
use the German colours called
Schwarz-Rot-Gold in German, (English:
Black-Red-Gold) that had originated within a German-held state as
early as 1778.
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
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 (or 1924) 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
Germany (West Germany) adopted all three signs of
Reichswappen, Reichsschild and Reichsflagge as Bundeswappen,
Bundesschild and Bundesflagge.
Main article: Reichswehr
Jack of the
Kaiserliche Marine (1903–1919)
Jack of the
After the dissolution of the army of the former German Empire, known
as the Deutsches Heer (simply "German Army") or the Reichsheer (Army
of the Realm) in 1918; Germany's military forces consisted of
irregular paramilitaries, namely the various right-wing Freikorps
("Free Corps") 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 created.
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 Reichsmarine) 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
the Reichswehr, declared that the army was not loyal to the democratic
republic, and would only defend it if it were in their interests.
Kapp Putsch for example, the army refused to fire upon the
rebels. However, as right wing as the army was, it was reluctant 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,[dubious – discuss] and
the army fired at them during the Beerhall Putsch. Upon the
establishment[dubious – discuss] of the SS, the
Reichswehr took a
softer line about 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 Wehrmacht.
November Revolution (1918–1919)
Main article: German Revolution of 1918–1919
The rebellion, November 1918
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 communist
By 7 November, the revolution had reached Munich, resulting in King
Ludwig III of Bavaria
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
Prince Max of Baden simply announced that he had done so and
frantically attempted to establish a regency under another member of
the 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 the communist
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, Imperial
Prince Max of Baden
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
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 the 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 by 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 class vote".
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 (People's Army Division) had captured the city's
Otto Wels and occupied the Reichskanzlei (Reich
Chancellery) 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
successor General 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 and
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 Assembly
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
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
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".[need quotation to verify]
Years of crisis (1919–1923)
Burden from the First World War
Template:Heinzelmann, Ursula. Beyond Bratwurst: A History of Food in
Germany. London: Reaktion Books, 2014.
In the first 4 years following the First World War, the situation for
German civilians remained dire. The heavy food shortages inflicted
throughout the war, improved little to none up until 1923. Many German
civilians expected life to return to prewar normalcy at the removal of
the naval blockade in June of 1919. Contrastingly, the struggles
induced by the First World War pursued for the decade following.
Throughout the war German officials made rash decisions to combat the
growing hunger of the nation, most of which were highly unsuccessful.
Examples include the nationwide pig slaughter, Schweinemord, in 1915.
The German government's rationale behind exterminating the population
of swine in German was to decrease the use of potatoes and turnips for
animal consumption, transitioning all foods toward human consumption.
In 1922, now three years after the German signing of the Treaty of
Versailles, meat consumption in the country had not increased since
the war era. 22 kg per person per year was still less than half of the
52 kg statistic in 1913, before the onset of the war. German citizens
felt the food shortages even deeper than during the war, because the
reality of the nation contrasted so significantly from their
expectations of a postwar nation. The burdens of
World War I
World War I saw
little improvement in the immediate years following, and with the
onset of the Treaty of Versailles, coupled by mass inflation, the
Germany still remained in a crisis. The continuity of pain introduced
Weimar authority in a negative light, having public opinion being
one of the main sources behind its failure.
Treaty of Versailles
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Germany after Versailles
Administered by the League of Nations
Annexed or transferred to neighbouring countries by the
treaty, or later via plebiscite and League of Nation action
Main article: Treaty of Versailles
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 blockade, 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
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, British
Ian Kershaw points to the "national disgrace" that was "felt
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 'guilt
Adolf Hitler repeatedly blamed the republic and its
democracy for accepting the oppressive terms of this treaty. The
Reichspräsident ("Reich President"), Friedrich Ebert
of the SPD, signed the new German constitution into law on 11 August
The new post-
World War I
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.
Main article: 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
industrialist, 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
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 and industrial
firms did the same.
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
Germany under the Locarno Treaties, which defined the
borders between Germany, France, and Belgium.
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A 50 million mark banknote issued in 1923, worth approximately one
U.S. dollar when issued, would have been worth approximately 12
million U.S. dollars nine years earlier, but 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
On 13 March 1920 during the Kapp Putsch, 12,000
Berlin and installed Wolfgang Kapp, a right-wing journalist,
as chancellor. 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 March.
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
Saxony and Hamburg.
A disabled war veteran, 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
World War I against the
Germans as a result
of the 1917 Russian Revolution, and was excluded from the League of
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
German Workers' Party had
become the National Socialist
German Workers' Party
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
dictated 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
Weimar Republic, known in
Germany as Goldene Zwanziger
("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
1923), which again contributed to the growing level of international
confidence in the German economy.
Wilhelm Marx's Christmas broadcast, December 1923
Germany meet reparation obligations, the
Dawes Plan was
created in 1924. 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.
Germany was the first state to establish diplomatic relations with the
new Soviet Union. Under the Treaty of Rapallo,
Germany accorded it
formal (de jure) recognition, and the two mutually cancelled all
pre-war debts and renounced war claims. In October 1925 the Treaty of
Locarno was signed by Germany, France, Belgium, Britain and Italy; it
recognised Germany's borders with France and Belgium. Moreover,
Britain, Italy and
Belgium undertook to assist France in the case that
German troops marched into the demilitarised Rhineland. Locarno paved
the way for Germany's admission to the
League of Nations
League of Nations in 1926.
Germany signed arbitration conventions with France and
arbitration treaties with
Poland and 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 foreign troops from the Ruhr in 1925. In 1926,
Germany was admitted to the
League of Nations
League of Nations as a permanent member,
improving her international standing and giving the right to vote on
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. Even Stresemann's 'German People's
party' failed to gain nationwide recognition, and instead featured in
the 'flip-flop' coalitions. The Grand
Coalition headed by Muller
inspired some faith in the government, but that didn't last.
Governments frequently lasted only a year, much like the situation in
1940's France. The major weakness in constitutional terms was the
inherent instability of the coalitions. The growing dependence on
American finance was to prove fleeting, and
Germany was one of the
worst hit nations in the Great Depression.
The "Golden Twenties" in Berlin: a jazz band plays for a tea dance at
the hotel Esplanade, 1926
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
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,
Stresemann died of a heart attack at age 51. When the New York Stock
Exchange crashed in October, 1929, American loans dried up and the
sharp decline of the German economy brought the "Golden Twenties" to
an abrupt end.
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 orphans.
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 Weimar
Republic, 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 while the period between 1930 and 1932 is
marked by a severe deflation and recession
Unemployment rate in
Deutsches Reich between 1928 and 1935 as 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)
Nazi Party (NSDAP) (brown) were radical enemies of the Weimar
Republic and the surge in unemployment during the
Great Depression led
to a radicalization of many voters as the
Nazi Party rose from 2,6% of
the total votes in 1928 to 43,9% in 1933 while 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 foundations. The
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 consultation.
Brüning's policy of deflation (1930–1932)
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
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
the 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
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
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
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 leader),
Franz von Papen
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 business.
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
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
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 Germany.
End of the
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 Fire
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
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 to
the 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
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. In return for pledging his support for the act, Kaas
would use his connections with the Vatican to set in train and draft
the Holy See's long desired
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 that his government's
"ambition is a peaceful accord between Church and State" and that he
hoped "to improve [their] 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
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
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
the balloting. 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
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.
Main article: Nazi Germany
The passage of the
Enabling Act of 1933
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
Decree using 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 of the
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 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 NSDAP
was thought of as the generator, and other civil groups as motors
wired to it.
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 22 June.
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 [Gleichschaltung] 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
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 Opernplatz.
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
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
Testament of 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 23 May.
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:
[T]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 united
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
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 Dolchstoß ("stab-in-the-back"), a widely believed
theory that Germany's surrender in
World War I
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[who?] agree that many industrial leaders identified
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
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 made Gleichschaltung
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
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
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 ("Basic Law") 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 of the
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 state of
Thuringia in 1920, except for Saxe-Coburg, which became part of
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
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 Germany.
Weimar Republic portal
Württemberg Landtag elections in the
Timeline of the
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^ Cf. Reichswappen as depicted in the table: "Deutsches Reich: Wappen
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(in German)—Documentarchiv.de: Historical documents
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