The Weimar Republic refers to the democratic government of Germany that was established after the end of World War I and lasted from 1919 to 1933. Named after the city of Weimar where the new constitution was drafted, the Weimar Republic faced numerous challenges during its short existence, including economic instability, political turmoil, and social unrest.
A NEW SYSTEM
The Weimar Republic was established on November 9, 1918, as a result of the November Revolution of 1918, in which a parliamentary democracy replaced Germany's constitutional monarchy. The Republic was named after the city of Weimar, where the constitution was drafted, but it was never known as such until years later. In fact, the German Empire of 1871 changed its political system to fulfill Woodrow Wilson's preconditions to negotiate about peace, namely a democratic system that the people legitimize. Neither did its existence end nor was a new nation founded. Emperor Wilhelm II abdicated his throne on November 28, 1918, after the republic had been proclaimed on November 9 by Social Democratic leader Philipp Scheidemann. From the very beginning, the Republic had to withstand pressure from the radical left and the radical right. Germany's first democracy was characterized by political turmoil, riots, and economic hardship. The political instability was rooted in the stab-in-the-back-legend, arguing that Germany would have been capable of winning World War I if the left's policymakers, namely the Social Democrats, hadn't surrendered. According to the political Right, they were the ones who left Germany's military left in the lurch. Moreover, the Treaty of Versailles was nothing than a weak foundation for Germany's restart after World War I.
TREATY OF VERSAILLES
The Treaty of Versailles, signed in June 1919, codified harsh peace terms between the victorious "Big Four" and Germany. The Allies had different goals concerning the future of Germany. France's prime minister Georges Clemenceau wanted to crush Germany and sought heavy reparations from the country to limit economic recovery, preventing the nation from being a significant world power. Britain also wanted to punish Germany harshly but wanted the country at the same time to be able to recover. Their goal was it to have a strong trading partner. Vittorio Orlando of Italy played only a minor role in the negotiations. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sought a "peace without victory", arguing that the war was everyone's fault. He had outlined an idealistic vision for the post-war world in his famous "Fourteen Points," but in the end, the European Allies implemented harsh peace terms on Germany:
■ article 231 of the Treaty forced Germany to accept full responsibility for starting World War I
■ It forced Germany to surrender 13 percent of its territory and all of its overseas possessions
■ losses of territory to France, Poland, Denmark, Lithuania and Belgium
■ required the country to limit its army to 100,000 men
■ required Germany to limit its navy to no more than 15,000
■ military aircraft, submarines, and tanks became outlawed weapons
■ 40 million tons of coal were demanded annually
The United States didn't request any war reparations from Germany but expected their allies to pay back their war credits. The latter was razed through Germany's payments to America's allies.
DEMOCRACY UNDER ATTACK
The moderate forces in the Weimar Republic were under immense pressure. Both the right and left staged attempted coup d'états, to which the Republic reacted with military force. The left sought a socialist republic as Russia had, and for the right parties, the democratic Republic was a weak, un-German structure, a badge of shame par excellence.
■ Left forces: KPD (Communist Party) , USPD (Revolutionary)
■ Moderate forces: SPD (Social Democrats), DDP (National Liberals), DVP (Educated Monarchists) Center (Conservatives)
■ Right Forces: DNVP (Antiparliamentarian), NSDAP (Nationalists)
One of the first attacks on Germany's democracy was the so-called Kapp Putsch, an attempted coup d'état by a group of right-wing putschists under the leadership of administrative officer Wolfgang Kapp and General Walter von Lüttwitz. The order of the Free Corps dissolution, a group of veterans and paramilitary units, and the ordered dissolution of the navy brigade 2-, triggered a march on the government in Berlin to transfer the governance forcefully. The lawfully government was ousted and had to escape to Stuttgart where the government won the support of the unions and were able to invoke a general strike. Also, the financial backers from Germany's manufacturing industries stepped back and did not support the coup. Even the leaders of the right-wing parties were against the putsch because it imposed tremendous domestic instability. A divided Germany would have been disastrous in dealing with the burdens of the Treaty of Versailles. Moreover, it would have been an easy target for the victorious powers.
The attempted putsch failed due to a lack of support. However, for most Free Corps this was only
the beginning of their fight against the Republic, and they went undercover. Some Germans who feared that Germany could become a socialist country, an argument used by the right-wing supporters,
sympathized with the Free Corps. Indeed, also the radical left strengthened their forces in their undergoing to destroy democracy. The moderate forces were caught between two stools, at risk of
getting squashed in the middle.
Also, the radical-left was trying to destroy German democracy. The Social Democrats and Communists supported proletary militias who promised to defend the Republic against any putsch attempt. However, one Social Democrat, Chief Minister of Saxony, fell in the Social Democrats' back and used the proletary militia to fight against the democratic structures of the Weimar Republic.
Political instabilities were not the only problems the Republic had to cope with. The Weimar Republic emerged from World War I with huge debts and an empty treasury. Germany had also lost 13 percent of its territory, including natural resources and industrial facilities. The Republic struggled very hard to deal with these various crises that resulted in severe hyperinflation (The cost for 1 U.S. Dollar was 7225 Mark in January and only a few months later, by Juli, 160400 Mark).
THE BEER HALL PUTSCH
By fall 1923, the republic was in a stage of chaos. Hyperinflation reached new peaks, and the money was virtually worthless. Heralds who offered a
doctrine of salvation had a guarantee to attract an interested audience who sought relief.
One talented orator was Adolf Hitler, who had been the leader of the Nazi Party since 1921. He promoted German pride and unity in the fight against the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. His speech "National Revolution" on November 8, 1923, triggered an attempted coup d'états (or putsch), which failed the next day on November 9, 1923. Hitler was sentenced to prison for five years but was released for good behavior after one year. He used the time in prison to write his political autobiography "Mein Kampf."
THE ART OF ORATION
"ACTING VERY SMART"
Adolf Hitler was able to cast a spell over his audience as Daniel Binchy, who later became the Irish ambassador to Berlin, witnessed during a beer hall speech in Munich's Bürgerbräukeller (source: TheGuardian).
Hitler was able to connect with the working class. However, his adversaries and skeptics detested his cruel argumentations and raunchy behavior to such an extent that almost no one from the German observers (later also those from the international establishment) would have conceded strategical thinking and target-oriented behavior to Hitler. (Source: Zentner, Christian).
He may have used underestimation as a strategy to achieve his goals step by step. His mentor Dietrich Eckart taught him the art of oration, which
Hitler brought to perfection. He was imitated by sympathizers, for example, by Fritz Julius
Kuhn (leader of the German-American Bund) and those who had similar
goals and left their comfort zones.
THE GOLDEN TWENTIES
By 1924 the economy was stabilized due to the help of the American Dawes Plan (later replaced with the Young Plan). The period lasted for five years and became known as the Golden Twenties (America's counterpart to the Roaring Twenties). The republic became a center for outstanding creativity, and cultural life flourished. Pro-Weimar parties enjoyed strong support in the 1928 elections. Thanks to Gustav Stresemann, a key-policymaker who shaped the republic as foreign minister and as chancellor, the Weimar Republic was a well-respected member of the League of Nations. Furthermore, the income of Germans increased every year. Newer American techniques of Taylorization helped to boost production. The nation believed in a prosperous future again where one can enjoy the fruits of his work. These hopes and optimism were smashed against the wall when the stock market crashed in 1929, and the Great Depression pulled the rug out from under Germans' feet.
Germany's first democracy was a bold experiment that was condemned to fail from the very beginning due to the humiliating and unjust peace terms of 1919 and the economic hardship during the Global Depression. Also, the Dawes and Young Plan were heavily opposed by right-wing parties. The moderate forces were not able to offer real answers and solutions. As a result, the Republic was torn apart by the extremes. Paul von Hindenburg became the second President of the Weimar Republic and struggled to uphold Germany's constitution in the middle of an economic depression with over six million Germans out of work in 1932. Moreover, the movement which was brought to life by the Nazi Party not only used the unemployed masses as grassroots members but took off with the help of disinformation propaganda, civil unrest, and division. Adolf Hitler promised his fellow citizens to make Germany great again. (Source: St. Louis Star and Times, February 24, 1940) In 1932, Hitler became chancellor. Democracy was torn apart to make room for an authoritarian system under one "savior". A man who wanted to smooth the way for Germany's future rapidly transformed the nation and the citizens' ideology. He dreamed big (for those who were lucky enough to call themselves Volksdeutsche), but his dreams resulted in the biggest humanitarian disaster that was witnessed on the planet ever caused by a single mind (for those who were seüarated from their family and friends due to their race or religion and those who were persecuted because of their ancestor´s religion or race. Also for those minors who were later forced to fight on the frontline as child soldiers. Last but not least, also for those who lost their patriotic values, ideas, and their homeland. In the beginning, the polite world applauded).
Sources / Quellenangabe:
Naumann, Günter. Deutsche Geschichte. Wiesbaden: marixverlag, 2018.
McDonald, Henry. "A born natural orator:' Irish students account of Hitler in 1921 emerges'."The Guardian, May 6 2016.
Zentner, Christian. Der Zweite Weltkrieg. Texte, Bilder, Karten, Dokumentationen, Chronik. Köln: Buch und Zeit, 1985.
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