Germany 1918 - 1945 Key Figures

Kaiser Wilhelm II

  • Ruled Germany 15 June 1888 - 9 Nov 1918
  • Last German Emperor and King of Prussia
  • Forced to abdicate 9 Nov 1918 as Germany was effectively a military dictatorship ran by Paul von Hindenburg and General Ludendorff
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General Erich Ludendorff

  • 1865 - 1937
  • Key figure, alongside Hindenburg, in the German victories against the Russian army
  • 1916 became a member of the military committee which effectively ruled Germany until the end of the war
  • Reactionary in his politics and an implacable opponent of the New Republic established in 1918
  • The armistice and its terms were too much for Ludendorff to accept, he resigned and fled to Sweden
  • Involved in the Beer Hall Putsch alongside Hitler, they persuaded Kahr and von Lossow to to march on Berlin and install Ludendorff as Commander-in-Chief. This failed and Ludendorff handed himself in to the police.
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Paul von Hindenburg

  • 1847 - 1934
  • Aristocratic landowner and professional soldier
  • 1916, became chief of the general staff
  • After Germany’s defeat in 1918, he shifted the blame for this humiliation onto the politicians who took power after the abdication of the Kaiser
  • Elected President in 1925
  • A symbol of the past, authoritarian views, revered by the right who saw his election as the beginning of the restoration of the old order and a shift away from parliamentary democracy
  • In the beginning he did not abuse his power, by the early 1930s he increasingly used his powers to rule by decree regularly
  • Hindenberg’s inner circle advised him on the appointment of Chancellors and presidential decrees, included Kurt von Schleicher, Oskar von Hindenburg and Dr Otto Meissner
  • Regarded Hitler with disdain and viewed the Nazis as a noisy, undisciplined rabble, reluctant to concede with Hitler’s demand to be made Chancellor
  • Considered dismissing Hitler and handing power over to the army
  • Died 2 August 1934
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Friedrich Ebert

  • 1871 - 1925
  • Became active in the SPD and was elected in the Reichstag in 1912
  • A year later he rose to become President of the party
  • Led the party into supporting German entry into WW1
  • First Chancellor in the new German Republic in Nov 1918 and its first President in 1919
  • Survival of Ebert’s gov depended on army support, Nov 10 Groener assured him the army would support the gov, Groener demanded Ebert should resist the demands of the soldiers’ councils to democratise the army and defend Germany against Communist revolution - Ebert Groener Pact
  • Ebert used Article 48, the power to rule by decree, on 136 occasions
  • Ebert told Groener that he would support the rejection of the Treaty of Versailles if there was any chance that military action would be successful, Ebert was informed that Germany had no other choice but to accept the treaty
  • Died 28 Feb 1925 in office
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Philipp Scheidemann

  • 1865 - 1939
  • Popular, long standing member of the SPD, first joined in 1883
  • Became a Reichstag deputy in 1903
  • Although he supported Germany's entry to the war, he was in favour of negotiated peace
  • Nov 9 1918, Scheidemann announced the birth of the New Republic even before the Kaiser had officially abdicated
  • Chancellor of the first coalition government in the New Republic from Feb to June 1919, when he resigned in protest against the harsh terms of the Versailles Treaty                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                
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Otto von Bismarck

  • 1815 - 1898 
  • Minister-President of Prussia from 1862 to 1871 who led his state through three wars which resulted in the unification of Germany under Prussian domination 
  • Continued to serve as Chancellor in the new German Empire from 1871 to 1890
  • Drew up an autocratic constitution for the German Empire in 1871
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Hans von Seeckt

  • 1886 - 1936
  • Career soldier who had been placed in charge of the German forces in East Prussia at the end of the war
  • He was a member of the German delagation to Versailles and was appointed head of the Truppenaut which replaced the forbidden army general staff
  • He became Commander of the Reichswehr from 1920
  • Instrumental in disbanding the Freikorps units
  • Under his command from 1920 to 1926, the army became privileged elite beyond accountability
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Gustav Bauer

  • 1870 - 1944
  • Had been a trade union official before he entered the Reichstag as an SPD deputy in 1912 
  • In the political upheaval of 191819 he was appointed as Minister of Labour in the cabinets of Prince Max, Ebert and Scheidemann
  • After Scheidemann resigned in June 1920, Bauer became Chancellor, but he was forced to resign in March 1920 after the Kapp Putsch
  • He continued to serve as a minister and a Reichstag deputy for several more years
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Wilhelm Cuno

  • 1876 - 1933
  • A lawyer and businessman who had no party allegiance 
  • Germany went through many changes of coalition cabinets during this period and Cuno was chosen as Chancellor because it was thought that his business experience would help him to steer Germany through these difficult economic times
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Karl Liebknecht

  • 1871 - 1919
  • The son of Wilhelm Liebknecht, one of the founding members of the SPD in 1875
  • He thus had a thorough grounding in socialist politics in his youth 
  • As a committed Marxist, he adopted a strong anti-war position in 1914 and continued to agitate against the war, for which he was imprisoned in 1916
  • Released in November 1918 in an amnesty for political prisoners, he resumed his political activities as one of the leading figures in the revolutionary Spartacus League
  • During the Sparticst rising in January 1919, he was captured by the Freikorps, tortured and then shot in the back in the back on the pretext he was trying to escape
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Rosa Luxemburg

  • 1871 - 1919
  • Born in Russian Poland but became a German citizen after marrying Gustav Lubeck
  • Had a long career in revolutionary politics in both Russia and Germany, having been involved in the 1905 Russian Revolution
  • In Germany, she was imprisoned in1916 for her involvement in anti-war agitation but was released in Nov 1918 under an amnesty for political prisoners
  • She resumed her revolutionary activities and was a leading figure in the Spartacus rising in Jan 1919, captured by the Friekorps, beaten and shot. Her body was thrown into a canal
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General Walther von Luttwitz

  • 1859 - 1942
  • Army general who commanded forces on the Western Front in the war
  • In 1919 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the army in Berlin and was also in charge of the Freikorps
  • As an outspoken opponent of the Treaty of Versailles, he became the driving force behind the Kapp Putsch
  • After the failure of the putsch, he escaped to Hungary but returned Germany in 1924 after being granted an amnesty 
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Wolfgang Kapp

  • 1868 - 1922
  • Trained in law and worked as a civil servant 
  • He was attracted to right-wing politics and co-founded the Fatherland Party in 1917
  • He was a monarchist and in 1919 was elected to the Reichstag for the nationalist DNVP
  • He attempted a putsch in 1920 and tried to set himself up as Chancellor but, after its failure, he fled to Sweden
  • Returned to Germany in 1922 but died in Leipzig while awaiting trial 
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Gustav Stresemann

  • 1876 - 1929 
  • Leader of the DVP party 
  • Although a monarchist at heart, he came round to working with republican parties in the Weimar and became Chancellor of the Grand Coalition of 1923 
  • He was responsible for the introfuction of a new currency and the ending of hyperinflation but was forced to step down as Chancellor in Nov
  • Nevertheless, he continued to serve as foreign minister from 1923 until his death in 1929
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Gustav Ritter von Kahr

  • 1862 - 1934
  • Right-wing Conservative politician who was Minister-President (1920-21) of the right-wing government in Bavaria 
  • He stepped down after disagreements with the Reich government but, in 1923, he was appointed State-Comimissioner General and given wide powers by the Munich government 
  • He favoured a strong Bavarian state with its own monarchy and he had hoped to use the Nazi Party to this end 
  • However, although sympathetic to Hitler, he was an unwilling participant in the Beer Hall Putsch of November 1923
  • Spent the rest of his career as president of the Bavarian administrative court, but was murdered in 1934 during Hitler's Night of the Long Knives
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Otto von Lossow

  • 1868 - 1938
  • Commander of the Reichswehr in Bavaria
  • He was a staunch Conservative and favoured a strong national state
  • He refused to obey orders from the Reichswehr Ministry in Berlin and only obeyed instructions from von Kahr, with whom he was plotting to establish a new regime in Berlin
  • However, he was ready to be patient (unlike Hitler) and how convinced he really was by Hitler's attempted putsch is unknown
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Hjalmar Schacht

  • 1877 - 1970
  • Had been director of the National Bank from 1916 and was co-founder of the DDP Party in Nov 1918
  • He has been described as a financial genius for his role in the stabilisation of the German currency
  • In 1923, he became Reich Currency Commissioner and head of the Reichsbank, and introduced the Rentenmark
  • He then went on to help negotiate the Dawes and Young Plans, which modified Germany's reparations payments
  • He later became Economics Minister under the Nazis (1934 - 1937) but lost favour and was removed from the Reichsbank in 1939
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Alfred Hugenberg

  • 1865 - 1951
  • Had been a civil servant then a banker before the war
  • Owned newspapers and film companies
  • Deputy in the Reichstag representing the conservative DNVP
  • After becoming leader of the DNVP in 1928, the party became more extreme in hostility to democratic government
  • His money and media influence provided crucial support for the campaign against the Young Plan
  • 1933, Hugenberg was appointed Minister of Economics and Food in the Nazi government
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Hermann Muller

  • 1876 - 1931
  • An SPD politician who had been Foreign Minister from 1919 to 1920 and Chancellor in 1928
  • As Foreign Minister, he was one of the German signatories of the Treaty of Versailles
  • Had a reputation for being a calm, hard-working politician but he lacked charisma
  • Led the Grand Coalition in 1928
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Ernst Thalmann

  • 1886 - 1944
  • Became the Chairman of the Communist KPD in 1925
  • Had been a member of the SPD before 1914 but split with the party in 1917 over its support for the war
  • Having survived an assassination attempt by a right-wing paramilitary group in 1922, he was one of the leaders of the Hamburg communist uprising in 1923
  • Communist candidate in the presidential elections of 1925 and 1932
  • 1933 he was arrested by the Nazis and imprisoned in Buchenwald concentration camp
  • Executed on Hitler’s orders in 1944
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Heinrich Bruning

  • 1885 - 1970
  • Financial expert and leading member of the Centre Party in the Reichstag
  • Had not held any ministerial office before becoming Chancellor in 1930, but became the longest continuously serving Chancellor of the Weimar
  • A controversial figure
  • Authoritarian leanings
  • Led the Grand Coalition - excluded the SPD, the largest party in the Reichstag, so did not have enough support to pass laws
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Kurt von Schleicher

  • 1882 - 1934
  • An aristocratic army officer
  • Played a crucial role in the political activities of the army in the early years of the Weimar - helped to negotiate the Ebert-Groener Pact and handling negotiations with the USSR on the building of German arms factories in Russia
  • After 1926, he was effectively the political head of the army
  • Together with General Groener, he was part of Hindenburg’s inner circle of advisers and helped steer Hindenburg towards imposing a more authoritarian style of gov
  • Although not a Nazi himself, he saw the Nazis’ mass support as the most effective counterweight to the popular support for the SPD and KPD, and looked for ways to work with Hitler
  • Master of political intrigue, largely responsible for later bringing down Bruning’s government in May 1932
  • Despite his attempts to work with Hitler, he was murdered by the Nazis in 1934
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Joseph Goebbels

  • 1897 - 1945
  • Chief propagandist of the Nazi movement from 1928 to 1945
  • He could claim to be an intellectual, having gained a PhD at Heidelberg in 1921
  • Became frantically loyal to Hitler from the mid 1920s
  • Nazi Party leader of Berlin and founded his own newspaper there
  • Experienced in the use of written word to communicate ideas
  • A taste for violence and street fighting, provoked many battles with left-wing opponents
  • As an orator, he was able to make effective use of his talent for sarcasm and insinuation in attacking Jews and communists
  • Goebbels played a key role in the Nazi rise to power and became Minister of Propaganda in 1933
  • Committed suicide in 1945, shortly after Hitler’s death
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Franz von Papen

  • 1879 - 1969
  • Former aristocratic army officer with a wide network of political influence
  • Although a member of the Centre Party, he was thoroughly anti-democratic
  • Wanted to restore the powers of the old elite and re-establish an authoritarian state
  • Minister-President of Prussia
  • Despite not being a member of the Reichstag, he was appointed Chancellor in May 1932 and headed the ‘cabinet of barons’ selected from the industrial and landowning elite
  • Brought down by the intrigues of Schleicher in Dec 1932, but then conspired with Hitler and Hindenburg to remove Schleicher
  • He returned to power in a coalition with Hitler
  • Spared death during the Night of the Long Knives, but put under house arrest and all of his powers taken from him
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Dr Otto Meissner

  • 1880 - 1953
  • Head of the Office of the President under both Ebert and Hindenburg
  • Had considerable influence over Hindenburg and helped organise the talks between Papen and Hitler that led to Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor
  • Continued to serve the Nazi regime after 1933, in a similar capacity, bit with much less power or influence
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Gregor Strasser

  • 1892 - 1934
  • Member of the Nazi Party from 1921
  • Veteran of the Beer Hall Putsch 1924
  • 1926 to 1928 in charge of the party’s propaganda, following which he took over responsibility for the party’s national organisation
  • Advocated a strong anti-capitalist stance to appeal to working-class voters, but also strongly anti-communist and anti-Semitic
  • Purged from party leadership in 1932
  • Murdered by the Nazi ** in the Night of the Long Knives 1934
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The Hitler Cabinet

Wilhelm Frick 1877 - 1946

  • Interior minister 1933 - 1934
  • Joined Nazi Party and elected to Reichstag 1924

General Blomberg 1878 - 1946

  • Army commander then Defence Minister in Hitler’s cabinet
  • Described as weak
  • Persuaded by Hitler’s promise of an aggressive foreign policy and rearmament to steer the army towards increasingly enthusiastic support for the regime
  • 1938, Hitler removed Blomberg from the government

Freiherr von Neurath 1873 - 1956

  • German aristocratic diplomat
  • Foreign Minister in Papen’s government 1932
  • Joined the Nazi Party 1937, but was dismissal from the Foreign Ministry in 1938 after opposing Hitler’s aggressive plans for German expansion
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Hermann Goering

  • 1893 - 1946
  • Fighter pilot in WW1
  • Joined the Nazi Party in 1922
  • Took part in the Munich Putsch 1923
  • Elected to the Reichstag in 1928 and became the President (speaker) of the Reichstag in 1932
  • 1933, appointed Chancellor and Interior Minister of Prussia
  • He also became Reich Aviation Minister in 1933 and was responsible for the rebuilding of the Luftwaffe (Air Force)
  • As Interior Minister of Prussia, he established the Gestapo and first concentration camps
  • 1936, he was placed in charge of the Four Year Plan
  • After the failure of the Luftwaffe to defeat the RAF in the Battle of Britain, his influence decline and he was expelled from the party in 1945
  • He was captured by the Allies and put on trial but committed suicide in prison
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Ernst Roehm

  • 1887 - 1934
  • Captain in WW1
  • Joined Freikorps and was employed by the army to gather information on opposition groups
  • Met Hitler in 1919 and recruited him to infiltrate the German Workers’ Party
  • Later joined the renamed NSDAP and helped set up the SA
  • Took part in Beer Hall Putsch, briefly jailed following its failure
  • Recalled to Germany by Hitler in 1930 to take control of the SA
  • Turned the SA into a formidable fighting force but his radical views and lifestyle - alcoholism and homosexuality - proved a source of embarrassment to Hitler
  • Killed during Night of the Long Knives
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Heinrich Himmler

  • 1900 - 1945
  • Reichsfuhrer of the **
  • Joined Nazi Party in 1923
  • Took over ** leadership 1929
  • When Hitler came into power, Himmler extended his power within the Nazi state, gradually taking control over police forces and running concentration camps
  • Under his command the ** established military units
  • ** responsible for rounding up and killing Jews in occupied countries
  • Near the end of the war, Himmler was appointed military commander but was dismissed by Hitler because of his lack of military experience
  • Had been one of Hitler’s most trusted subordinates but the rift between the two led Himmler to betray him by attempting to negotiate a secret peace deal with the Allies
  • Committed suicide when captured by the British
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Dr Philipp Bouhler

  • 1899 - 1945
  • Served in WW1
  • Worked for Nazi newspaper in the 1920s
  • Became Reich secretary of the NSDAP in 1925
  • 1933, appointed head of Hitler’s party office, handling internal correspondence
  • Used his control over letters to Hitler to influence the decision to introduce the euthanasia programme, Aktion T4, in 1939
  • Together with Karl Brandt, Bouhler was one of the chief architects of the killings programme
  • Committed suicide in 1945 to avoid arrest by American forces
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Dr Karl Brandt

  • 1904 - 1948
  • Senior ** doctor
  • Member of Hitler’s inner circle
  • Together with Philipp Bouhler, he founded the Nazi euthanasia programme in 1939
  • Rose to the rank of ** Major General
  • Appointed Reich Commissioner of Health and Sanitation
  • Guilty of supervising medical experiments during the war
  • Arrested in 1945, executed for war crimes in 1948
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Reinhard Heydrich

  • 1904 - 1942
  • Most important senior commander in the ** after Himmler
  • Played a vital role in organising the Reich Security Head Office
  • 1941, responsible for coordinating the ‘Final Solution’ and the plans launched at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 were code-named ‘Operation Reinhard’
  • Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, governing the Czech territories incorporated in the Reich
  • July 1942, Heydrich was assassinated by Jewish partisans trained in Britain
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Adolf Eichmann

  • 1899 - 1961
  • Rose to prominence in the Race and Resettlement unit of the **
  • Involved in planning for Jewish emigration to Palestine in the 1930s, but later became one of the architects of the Final Solution
  • Had a key role in arranging the 1942 Wannsee Conference and was the main driving force behind the deportation and mass murder of Hungarian Jews in 1944
  • After the war, he escaped to South America
  • Israeli secret agents kidnapped him
  • Brought back to face trial as a war criminal, sentenced to death
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